I’d like to tell you that I saved the best week two games for last, but that s not the case. By and large these were as lackluster as the previously reported contests. Usually the starters played so briefly there wasn’t enough time to get truly excited and beyond that you’d have to be rooting for some young hopeful that you went to school with, or who was born in your home town, to keep from dozing off or surfing the viewing guide.
The vIKINGS hosted the RAIDERS and playing around an hour plus rain/lightning delay came away with a 20-12 victory. Best news for the VIKES was the continued good play of QB/TEDDY BRIDGEWATER, who went 10/14 for 89 yards and 1 TD. HE started a bit shaky with some less than well timed throws to his receivers in the first possession, but got rolling soon thereafter. T.J. CLEMMINGS/Rookie, was starting at RT for PHIL LOADHOLT,who is out for the season with a knee injury. They gave him a little help with chip blocks from the TE on passing downs, but overall he looked pretty solid. Trial under fire will have to be his learning regimen. Former PACKERS draftee CHARLES JOHNSON/WR led the team with 4 catches, including a nice TD grab. SHAUN HILL looks to be the best back-up QB the vIKES have had in a while. He’s the ind of guy who can start a couple of games if needed and if he gets the anticipated quality running attack once ADRIAN PETERSON hits the grass lead the team to a few wins. The learning curve for TRAE WAYNES has been decelerated and he’s now playing against second team offenses. But the talent and athleticism shows, now he has to adjust to the mental part of the pro level offenses.
An early concern for the VIKES might be PK/BLAIR WALSH. WALSH went 0-3 on field goal attempts and even missed 1 extra point. WALSH had a miserable slump year as a collegian, which is how the VIKINGS got him in Round 6 back in 2012. He has been outstanding as a pro, but could he be headed to an off year, which kickers have been known to suffer through?
The RAIDERS continue to have bright spots in their play, though not enough to call themselves a good team yet. DEREK CARR still looks like the future despite average numbers on the night. But I counted 2 drop balls in his limited playing time. The highlight play for him was a sideline throw of about 25 yards that was pulled in by AMARI COOPER/WR for a 30-yard gain into the VIKINGS Red Zone. BEN HEENEY, Rookie ILB, appears to have a lock on the slot as CURTIS LOFTON’s back-up at ILB, as well as a Special Teams stud. HEENEY was in on 7 tackles, forced a fumble and had 1/2 Sack.
The new RAIDERS Defensive scheme under DC KEN NORTON and HC JACK DEL RIO is now back to a 4-3 base set with KHALIL MACK, last season’s 1st Rounder and All-Rookie team player, with his hand down as a DE. I realize the team wants him to pass rush as much as possible, but with his all-around athleticism I think he should be standing up and moving around the formation. IMO, DE limits his potential overall.
The DOLPHINS headed a ways north to Charlotte to play the PANTHERS, but after a very good start on both sides of the ball their reserves gave up the game to 3rd strong QB/JOE WEBB, who plays WR and Special Teams in his spare time for the PANTHERS. He went 12/17, 131 yards, 1 td pass and 0 INT in the second half and led his team to the win. While the PACKERS lost JORDY NELSON for the season to injury, JARRETT BOYKIN, who they cut after the Draft caught 6 balls for 53 yards in this contest. He’s part of a contingent of receivers trying to make up for the loss of WR/KELVIN BENJAMIN for the season. The pANTHERS let DeANGELO WILLIAMS go in the off-season because of age and dollar issues, but look to have cashed in replacing him with draftee CAMERON ARTIS-PAYNE and VFA/JORDAN TODMAN, who both look comfortable backing up JONATHAN STEWART as runners and receivers. TODMAN can also spell TED GINN in the return game if need be.
The DOLPHINS got off to a great start under the leadership ob RYAN TANNEHILL, who went 12/15 for 102 yards, 1 TD , 0 INT. The OL protected TANNEHILL well and also opened some nice running lanes. Former Niners/Oregon RB/LaMICHAEL JAMES, who now wants to be called LaMike flashed strongly running and returning kicks in this game. He rushed 6 times for 45 yards, had 1 KR for 31 yards and 2 Punt Returns for 28 yards. DAMIEN WILLIAMS/RB almost got himself 3 TD on the night but settled for 2 when a close goal line call went against him after HC JOE PHILBIN challenged a ruling of out at the 1-yard line. The challenge revealed WILLIAMS actually fumbled the ball through the end zone. Touchback, ball to Carolina. OOPS to someone on the DOLPHINS staff who wanted that challenge. Another nice weapon on offense for the Phins in this one was WR/MATT HAZEL who struggled last year as a small-school Rookie. HAZEL pulled in 4 caches for 47 yards and a TD.
There may be some tough cut decisions for LB COACH MARK DUFFNER in the next few weeks. He has 3 solid URFA who are all physically limited, but very smart and 100% effort guys, and he can’t possibly keep all three. MIKE HULL, ZACH VIGIL & NEVILLE HEWITT are the names to watch. I doubt any will make it thru wavers to a practice Squad spot in Miami.
DA BEARS drove down the highway to INDY to play the COLTS and looked solid again in another victory, 23-11. The colts had their moments, but have some concerns to work through. Remember the team cut RT/GOSDER CHERILUS and moved 2nd year OG/JACK MEWHORT outside to replace him. MEWHORT is getting whipped badly by speedy edge-rushers so far and ANDREW LUCK is running for his life. THat has to get better, but the team is pretty much bereft of veteran OT help to plug in. The team tried very hard to get the ball into the hands of Rookie/PHILLIP DORSETT to utilize his speed and it worked pretty well until he limped off the field with a lower leg injury. With COBY FLEENER out injured the team is also a bit thin at TE, but on the bright side JACK DOLYE is showing how good he is. He caught 1 ball for 7 yards, has another catch called back by penalty and blocked quite well. Not a Pro Bowl effort but a good wore carried 13 times for 61 yards and a workmanlike performance again for DOYLE. IT also appeared to me that the team has found another young RB to help in the running game. JOSH ROBINSON/RB, a 6th Rounder this year looked explosive and hard charging as a one cut bull of a back. He broke multiple tackles and pushed the pile on his runs. JUNIOR SYLVESTRE/LB another URFA made his mark on he defense with 7 tackles and excellent pursuit. He’s a bit undersized for an NFL LB at 6’0/227, but if he can’t make this team he’ll end up elsewhere i September.
The BEARS may have some tough roster cut decisions when they decide whether to go for every victory they can get in 2015, or cut some vets to keep promising, but raw players like WR/CAM MEREDITH, a converted QB from Illinois State, who shows deceptive maturity beyond a conversion project as a Rookie. I also like backup Rookie LB/JOHN TIMU another URFA who though only 6’0/230 really brings the lumber and covers a lot of ground in pursuit of the ball. JEREMY LANGFORD, Rookie RB, is in a crowded RB competition, but his 9 carries for 80 yards and a TD gives you a feel for his talent. Another long-shot favorite of mine is 2nd year RB and Special Teams maven SINORISE PERRY who is a solid participant in the RB competition, returns kicks and is a Gunner on Special Teams coverage units.
I would also note that JAY CUTLER looks like a new man under OC ADAM GASE. He ducked his head and ran for it, avoided any INT and went 8/9 for 69 yards.He was also still paying attention to the game and talking with back-ups and his coach into the 4th quarter of play. Yes we saw some of that under TRESTMAN two years ago, but not in 2014. The biggest negative I have seen from the 2-0 BEARS is what looks like a bit less than desirable personnel fit along the DL. Most of their guys are better suited for a 4-3 defensive scheme not DC VIC FANGIO’s 3-4. Everybody is playing along for now but if things go badly the grumbling could start from vets like JARED ALLEN, now playing OLB for the first time in his 12th NFL season.