The first week of preseason action is officially in the books. We got to see a little glimpse of what our favorite starting teams’ offense and defense will look like. Some new faces in new uniforms definitely looked refreshing.
Some teams looked like they have a new life this season, and let’s face it: Right now, every team is undefeated.
We got a lot to cover, so let’s dive right into this edition of the Weekly Scout’s Take.
*The first week of preseason definitely reminded a lot of people why it’s such a rough time before the season starts. Every year, preseason seems to claim a couple players from teams that have big offensive roles. Ask Houston’s Ben Tate. His ankle injury was a big blow to a Texans team who desperately needs an efficient running game to keep up with the red hot Colts in the AFC South. This puts more pressure on the Texans to stay as productive in other areas.
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With TE Owen Daniels returning this year from a bad knee injury, the increase in production with the passing game might have to slightly cover for the loss in the run game. That’s a tall task to ask a QB who threw for over 4,700 yards and 29 touchdowns. I still believe they can stay efficient, but to topple the Colts in the South, I just can’t see that happening anytime soon. As long as Peyton Manning’s under center, the Colts should stay dominant.
*I know the Brett Favre story has captured so many headlines with "FavreWatch", what he is gonna do, is he gonna retire, etc, etc… I think that half the media guys are sick of writing and covering it, but when you’re dealing with a future 1st Round Hall of Famer coming back to a loaded team that has the chance to win it all, the sooner you can be on top of that story, the better you look. I just wanted to bring up some food for thought on this whole situation that I haven’t really heard discussed from any media outlet.
Think for a second about the pressure cooker that Favre is walking into. Minnesota wouldn’t be giving him another $3.5 million dollar raise if they didn’t believe that this could be the year they change the history of the franchise. I personally believe that as long as Brett’s healthy, he’ll play. If he’s 50 and can still throw a 40 yard bomb and scramble, he’ll be on the field. This team has somehow found a way to improve their roster from last year. The only key to driving this machine is having a QB under center that can run it properly. Anything less than an appearance in Dallas this year is going to be considered a failure. I know Brett is looking for that storybook ending, but this has to be sitting in the back of his head that it’s basically Superbowl or Bust for the Vikes.
The window is closing for Minnesota too. This team is getting old in various positions and not to mention, Green Bay is right at their heels in the fight for the NFC North title. I think everyone expects to see Minnesota in the playoffs whether it’s a wild card or division title. I hope the wily veteran can make the best of it, because he’s carrying the hopes for the entire state of Minnesota.
*I wanted to say farewell to Glen Coffee for dropping his unexpected retirement on the 49ers this past week. He looked promising but seemed to struggle during the regular season. However, with that situation seemingly blindsiding San Francisco, it brought in what I feel was a much better move with the signing of Brian Westbrook. The combination of Frank Gore, Westbrook, and Dixon in San Fran just gave them a truly legitimate power running threat. With Alex Smith struggling and lets face it, its his make-or-break year, he can have a little comfort knowing he’s got one of the best RB’s in the screen game today.
I know a lot of people are concerned about his concussion problems, which are all legitimate issues. Remember this one fact: The Eagles used to put a staggering average 53% of their offensive plays into his hands. That’s a ridiculous number to entrust into one position player, especially when he’s playing the NFC East 2 times a year. The fact that he’s still playing football to me is amazing. Plus, think about the quality of opponents he’ll see this season. He’ll see a rebuilding Seattle D, Arizona who’s missing some key playmakers thanks to free agency, and whatever players the Rams can put together to form 11 men.
They also play the NFC South and AFC West as their remaining divisions. Out of the South, the Saints and "possibly" Atlanta, depending on if this unit wants to play up to its potential. The AFC West is in the same boat as the NFC West, where KC won’t have much of anyone to put on the field, Oakland might, depending on if they can play up to their potential much like Atlanta, and the Chargers will be the best test. Denver’s best defensive player won’t even be on the field when they meet in week 8. I wouldn’t be surprised in the least to see San Fran as one of the higher seeds this year in the playoffs just by scheduling alone.
To add, he’s not going to be the feature back in San Fran. He probably won’t get anything more than 10-15 touches a game which is plenty for him to be productive. He can be the change of pace back that the Niners really need. Dixon and Gore both have that hard, up-the-gut running style. With no one really to spread the ball around the flat or even line up in the slot occasionally, Westbrook fits what they needed perfectly. I think the Niners were favorites in the NFC West; this might have just solidified them there now.
One final note to add on this topic, since I’m a longtime football fan like I’m sure many of you out there are. Both Dallas and San Fran seem to be getting back to the top of their respective divisions and are pretty young teams. I know it won’t be like the late 80’s and 90’s where you had the clash of the Titans when the ‘Boys and Niners met, but its fun to think that a historic rivalry like that might be able to come back again in modern times. It’s a wild thought, but I know a lot of fans out there would love to see it again, or at least I would.
*The state of New York just learned one new name after Monday night: Victor Cruz. This 2nd year wideout came out when he was given the opportunity and just flat out showed off in primetime. I found myself actually rooting on for Cruz just for the pure fact of what he was doing. In case you missed it, he finished out with around 150 yards and 3 TD’s and was doing this against a mix of starters and backups of the vaunted Jets D. He was a practice squad/special teams player and got a chance to show what he was made of. When asked about Cruz in practice, Coughlin gave him a great vote of confidence saying he’d like to see more of him with the starting offense rotation.
I truly believe this guy has the ability to crack the starting lineup and challenge Mario Manningham for the #3 receiver spot. The catches he made showed his ability to stay focused on the ball and dedication to the catch. I would like to see him playing with Eli Manning under center, just because Jim Sorgi didn’t look the freshest when he was in the game. I think the Giants might have found another contributing playmaker, and it couldn’t have come too soon with Steve Smith still nursing an injury and the Giants not really having that true receiving threat.
*It was good to see the Ram’s first overall pick, Sam Bradford get out on the field and see some starting time. His welcome to the NFL was not as pleasant as he would have liked, getting sacked 4 times by the Minnesota defense. He got himself back up off the field each time, and seemed to take it in stride and kept moving.
After the game, he said he was happy to get hit and that his shoulder felt fine afterwards. This week in practice, he’s supposed to be seeing some more time with the starters and getting into the mix with the 1st team offense. I know he’s going to end up starting some games this season, I just hope they don’t make the mistake of putting him on the field too early. While he took a few sacks in preseason and felt good afterwards, preseason isn’t moving at full speed like week 1 will. His offensive line isn’t exactly a group of All-Stars so he can expect pressure to get to him week in and week out if he gets the starting nod. Hopefully St. Louis sees this and won’t put him in situations to get beat up too much, that might be the most expensive mistake they’ll make if that shoulder gets reaggrivated.
*After Washington’s 42-17 whomping of the Buffalo Bills, Donovan McNabb said he was very happy with what he saw and how things were developing with the ‘Skins starters. The team seems to be taking to McNabb’s leadership and veteran approach to the game. This is the first real approach at true franchise leadership that Washington has had in a very long time. McNabb was quoted saying "I plan on being here for a long time". Good for you Donovan, you deserve it.
As for the Eagles, I really hope they knew what they were doing. Kolb’s first appearance looked good, with Kolb’s efficiency and accuracy really shining in his first start of the year. I know they were approaching a fork in the road with the 2 QB’s both wanting new contracts and Kolb being the future of the franchise, but I still believe that the McNabb to Washington move will come back to haunt them for the next few years. I’ve been a fan of McNabb for years, with what he’s done in Philly and his overall performance for the past decade. The love/hate relationship he endured in Philly always amazed me since the Eagles have been one of the most successful teams of the 2000’s, only being surpassed by Indy and New England.
I don’t believe Donovan has the tools yet to make the Redskins a contender for the divisional title yet, but if he’s going to be there for the next 5 to 6 years, there’s no reason to think they can contend in the next couple. Defensively, they’re a solid unit and I believe their 34 transition will only help them, since they have an underrated LB core. Give them another draft or 2 to sure up that offensive line and get a true WR threat, and there’s no reason to think they can’t be a team to worry about on the schedule.
Just some Final Thoughts:
I can’t seem to understand why Dennis Dixon isn’t getting as much of a shot at the starting offense in Pittsburgh for the first 4-6 weeks of the season. His first appearance last season against the Baltimore Ravens looked pretty good considering the level of talent he was facing. I understand Byron Leftwich is the more veteran QB, but I believe Dixon gives them a better chance to win. Tomlin, don’t overlook him for being young. People never dismissed you for being a younger coach and you proved them right, I think Dixon will show you the same. His arm and mobility will give them what they’re used to with Big Ben until he can return to the field.
I know they won’t be doing much this year, but watch to see what Detroit has going on. That defensive front 4 that Jim Schwartz has put together is quietly looking like they can put pressure on people, something Detroit hasn’t seen since the recession. I don’t think they’ll be able to contend yet just because the strength of their division, but they are a very young team. They can afford to have a couple years of 6-10 seasons, because Minnesota’s clock is winding down. Plus with what Jahvid Best has brought to their running game, Detroit might actually give people a run for their money this season.
That hit Eli took in the Monday night game against the Jets was brutal. He took it in stride and bounced up immediately. Granted he was leaking like a sieve, but he didn’t blink a bit. Good thing they found a way for him to practice, because that would have been a big setback with him getting in sync with his receiving core this season. I don’t think he’ll be in the next preseason game, but at least he can be out on the practice field still getting reps.
I think the G-Men also dodged another huge bullet with Chase Blackburn’s MRI coming up negative. Granted, he’s a backup, but he’s a good fill-in to get some starters occasional rest and can play in situational downs. Injuries destroyed this team last year, and it almost started to look that way again.