Before we lunge into Week 2 game observations I wanted to touch on some roster shuffling that impressed me this week. This past off-season was a personnel nightmare for GM TRENT BAALKE of the 49’ers. Premature retirements like that of CHRIS BORLAND and off-field issues going beyond League suspensions for off field indiscretions like ALDON SMITH have ravaged the roster structure. As opposed to the ravaging of the LB unit, the team entered Training Camp with 8 TE on the roster raging from ages 22-31. None of the 8 was pure roster fodder. Each and every one had a chance to compete for an NFL job. Some other teams were not so lucky and loaded. Thusly, in the past week or so BAALKE has fielded phone calls and used his TE excess to add to his 2016 Draft war chest. He traded ASANTE CLEVELAND (NE) and DEREK CARRIER (WASH) away and still had 6 TE on the roster with 3-4 likely to remain on the final September roster. Many NFL teams, no matter how deep they may seem at a position hoard healthy bodies, sometimes to excess. There is always chatter about injuries wiping out a roster position in a heartbeat and that can indeed happen, like the BILLS with their RB group this month. But sometimes it seems logical that you roll the dice for the overall, long term good. Well done TRENT BAALKE.
In early game action this week it was once again Defenses that shined in most cases, as offensive starters played very little overall and defenses made most of the back-ups look bad. An exception of sorts occurred in old DC where the Washington club pulled off a 21-17 victory over the LIONS thanks in good part to back-up QB KIRK COUSINS. COUSINS was 8/12 for 91 yards and 1 TD. The bigger story may have been the absolute pounding taken by ROBERT GRIFFIN their starter. RG3 dropped backed to pass 8 times and was hit, and hard, on 6 of those drop-backs. Eventually, GRIFFIN suffered a concussion and a should injury, and mercifully exited the game. The ‘SKINS found a few things to be heartened by however, especially at the RB slot, where the team is looking for help to share the load with ALFRED MORRIS. Two Rookies stood up to be counted in this game. TRAY WILLIAMS & MATT JONES combined to tote the rock for 96 yards total, at a pace exceeding 5 ypc and 1 TD. The boys from old D.C. also have to impressed with the play of some of their Rookie LB. MARTRELL SPAIGHT & UDRFA/HOUSTON BATES are both looking like heat seeking missiles on Special Teams units and made plays in the backfield during second half action. BATES, with a Sack in the game now has 3 sacks in 2 games. That will get the attention of DC JOE BARRY every time. Another Draftee, EVAN SPENCER/WR, has also been a stud on Special Teams and showed good hands as a receiver once again. A very interesting storyline for the SKINS is that of Rookie WR/QUINTON DUNBAR, an URFA. DUNBAR has been moved to CB this summer and is holding his own in game action the first two weeks. SKINS color-man JOE THEISMAN was effusive in his praise of DUNBAR, who looks like a natural as a defender so far.
The LIONS didn’t show much for their fans to get excited about overall, other than their initial DL onslaught against RG3 to open the game. Despite the losses of SUH & FAIRLEY at DT it appears after 2 games that reports of the total demise of the LIONS DL unit may have been greatly exaggerated, and we haven’t even seen a guy named NGATA yet in his new venue. Another Rookie stepped up for the LIONS in this one by the name of ZACH ZENNER/RB. An URFA, small-school star ZENNER led the team in rushing (22 yards) and receptions (4) in this one. He excels on Special Teams and may have a solid shot to make this team as the No. 4 RB, behind BELL, ABDULLAH & RIDDICK. He’s especially tough running between the tackles.
The BILLS trip to Cleveland was marred in part by an epidemic of injuries to the BILLS RB group in the first month of Camp/Pre-season. McCOY, DIXON, BROWN, JACKSON & R/KARLOS WILLIAMS were all nicked to varying degrees. THe leading rushers for the BILLS in this game were named HILL, SEALE & WOOD. Those 3 were all signed in the past week as street free agents. Need I tell you the BILLS running attack was rather anemic in this contest?! Rookie CB/RONALD DARBY was just fine however. AFter getting picked on in coverage a bit in Week 1 DARBY was the aggressor this game and picked off JOSH McCOWN twice in the first quarter of play. Another solid young contributor for the BILLS was URFA CEDRIC REED/DE. REED spent a lot of time in the 2nd Half harassing the BROWNS in their own backfield and pocket.
Clearly, the best news of the night for the BROWNS was the play of JOHNNY MANZIEL, who put in his second solid performance in two weeks. MANZIEL went 10/18, 118 yards and 1 TD pass. He also ran for 19 yards, including a TD. Best of all he stayed in the pocket much of the time, and used good judgement wen he did scramble. He was NOT intercepted on the night. An emerging player for the BROWNS appears to be 3rd year URFA JOSH LENZ, who has also been a steady contributor on Special Teams. The BROWNS continue to get disruptive play from DE/XAVIER COOPER, another draftee, who is a solid 300+ lb.DE who spent a lot of time crashing into the BILLS backfield. As expected he looks like a natural fit as a 5-Technique in a base 3-4 scheme.
We actually got to see some Offense in the FALCONS/JETS game as the home team prevailed 30-22. The FALCONS dominated early with first team units facing off and MATT RYAN was accurate and productive. But with some hefty defensive emphasis the JETS wore down the FALCONS subs greatly due to outstanding play by two Rookies; QB/BRYCE PETTY and DE/LEONARD WILLIAMS. PETTY played almost 3 full quarters and looked significantly better than in the Week 1 game. For the game PETTY was 12/19, 168 yards, 1TD, 0 INT. He looked comfortable in the pocket and seemed to read the field to find open targets quite well. WILLIAMS was flat-out dominant at times getting credit for 5 tackles and 1.5 sacks. One of those sacks was for a Safety that changed game momentum completely. The current JETS Offense under OC CHAN GAILEY reminds me a lot of the early FAVRE years in Green Bay under MIKE HOLMGREN when many passes were purely “long hand-offs” that relied on YAC from the receivers. VFA HENRY MARSHALL/WR played extensively and had a significant impact on the JETS offense. The biggest negative for the JETS was perhaps the seeming Ghost of REX, which had the JETS with 13 penalties thru 3 quarters of play.
After the FALCONS starters left the game there wasn’t much good going on. Overall, backup QB RENFREE and YATES were mediocre, at best. Rookie WR/JUSTIN HARDY was again a bright spot leading the team with 4 catches in the second half. On the defensive side Top Pick VIC BEASLEY, playing mostly with his hand down, had an impact on the game flow early on with some penetration and pursuit work. A work in progress continues to be the FALCONS secondary which is very young, especially beyond the starters. The back-ups feature 6 Rookies and 2 second year men. There are almost too many guys to split time amongst right now. URFA CB/KEVIN WHITE seemed to flash at times, more often positive than negative.
Once again it was the defenses setting the pace with the SEA HAWKS visiting the CHIEFS in Arrowhead. Both ALEX SMITH and RUSSELL WILSON helped put some points on the scoreboard early, but the defenses dominated, especially in the area of applying pass-rush pressure on all QB who played in the contest. That should come as no surprise to most, since pass-rush pressure is a big feature of both teams’ defensive success. VFA JEREMY MACLIN made his game debut and it is clear that ANDY REID intends to get the ball into his hands as often as possible. THis would include return game action and reverses, in addition to pass catching. The passing attack would really flourish if R/CHRIS CONLEY would emerge quickly as their No.2 receiver, but that looks unlikely right now, as a lack of playing experience in college sets his pro learning curve quite high short term. R/TE/JAMES O’SHAUGHNESSY had a couple of nice grabs, including a TD, and would be a big help if he could emerge as another TE threat to compliment TRAVIS KELCE. In part due to injuries Rookie MITCH MORSE started the game at OC. He’s going to hard to move out of the lineup now. He may not be a super stud, but he is smart and strong, and a good athlete in a short area. A guy who could stand-out as a starting OT in the SEC ought to have a solid chance to make it as an OC in the pros. The best feature of this game, at least for me, was the return of ERIC BERRY to the playing field at S for the Chiefs. After battling cancer for the past 8 months he’s cleared for action. RAMIK WILSON/LB & MARCUS PETERS/CB were two other Rookie draftees who saw extended playing time and looked solid overall. They are clearly both already in solid rotational roles in that defense for DC BOB SUTTON.
The SEA HAWKS are seeing some excellent early signs with the play of multiple new players on their roster. JIMMY GRAHAM/TE (trade) and Rookie WR/TYLER LOCKETT were the two leading receivers in the game for SEATTLE. Rookie CB/TYE SMITH is getting extended second half playing time and fits the Seattle mold of aggressive, athletic DB in their secondary. Speaking of which, SS/RONALD MARTIN an URFA, was lighting up CHIEFS players in the 4th quarter with some vicious hits. At 6’1/217, he’s a bit smaller than the missing KAM CHANCELLOR, but the way he threw his body around caught my eye. FRANK CLARK the Rookie Edge Rusher got my attention last week, and did so again in this game. He looks to me like an even more aggressive, and more experienced player at this stage than BRUCE IRVIN was as a Rookie.
It is critical for the SEA HAWKS to find players like these every year to supplement their roster talent and depth, because their success has led to an annual departure of key players to other teams as VFA signees. Word is that EVAN MATHIS/OG was in Seattle this weekend for contract talks and perhaps a physical with the team. His veteran presence, for the short term, could bolster the talent base for OL Coach TOM CABLE, who seems to work miracles turning unknown players into solid NFL OL. MATHIS could buy CABLE some time to coach up some younger guys.
Oh yeah, not that it matters much but the CHIEFS eeked out a home win 14-13.
My apologies for disappearing from these pages without posting results from a final handful of games last week. But I had to have my faithful/beloved pet Boxer Sadie put down on Wednesday after 11 years of companionship. My heart still aches, and I could not bring myself to write up more games through eyes filled with tears. Pet lovers will understand. Now I will use this venue as a healing place to carry on without her love. RIP Mercedes!