So as the new season approaches and the rosters settle down, let’s take a look at what I learnt this preseason.
Overall I didn’t get to see every game for all four teams, but I did see each team at least twice, and I’ve even picked up a couple of extra teams due to how the schedule fell. There is no coaching tape for the preseason and this has only highlighted to me how much I am going to want to look at it during the season. I watch the condensed games as I only have so much time, and have had to dip into the broadcast several times to pick out plays or get better angles to identify lineman. It has been occasionally hard to pick out particular players on the lines unless something obviously good or bad has happened, and I’d like to take a much closer look at receiver and DB overages than I have been able to.
I will be briefly talking about headline figures from the excellent Football Outsider Almanac 2014, which provide advanced statistical analysis of the NFL and are well worth an investigation.
So in alphabetical order here are the four teams I’ve looked at:
The Bengals went 11-5, and like all the teams I’ve looked at this was within one win of the Pythagorean win projection for 2013 that Football Outsiders provided. Their total for this season is 8.8 with a strong score for the 8-10 win range.
I’ve enjoyed watching the team this season for the most part. I was interested to read about Andy Dalton’s offseason and the early signs to me are that his work with a throwing coach, his extra time with the receivers and the new offense is paying off. I thought he looked sharp and there were several nice long plays. I was also happy to see Mohamed Sanu step up and play well with Marvin Jones sidelined currently with a broken foot, I certainly think he’s capable of playing as the second receiver.
It quickly became apparent that Jeremy Hill was a good pick up for the run game and it was not a surprise that Green-Ellis got cut. Cedric Peerman also looked good, although I’m not sure how much time in the offense he will see. The rookie Russell Bodine slotted in straight away as the starter at centre, seeing more playing time than usual as they bedded him in. Also noticeable for his good play was the undrafted rookie Ryan Hewitt who made the team as an H-back and blocked well.
The defense has looked good, with possibly a few more blitzes but we’ll know for sure once the season starts rolling. I was also impressed with the improvement of Estonian Margus Hunt in his second year, who seems to have settled in to playing left end and it will interesting to see how he goes throughout the year.
Roll on the Ravens in week one.
I was pleasantly surprised by the Dolphins, and not just by their uniforms, which are right up their with the Charger’s powder blues for the nicest in the NFL. They went 8-8 last season, but Football Outsiders has their win figure going back to 6.5 this year. I think this is likely to be to do with the teams around them, rather than their team, which I think is looking up.
The good news is that I like the design of their new offence and at time it looked pretty crisp. However, despite the improvement from the mess of last year, their line still seemed to not be giving Tannehill a clean pocket to work in. I also thought that Tannehill seemed to be playing better and going through his progressions, although as soon as I thought that he locked onto a receiver and threw an interception, without looking at the other side of the field where he had an open check down.
On defence they looked pretty stout and had a decent pass rush that hopefully will stand them in good stead.
The problem I think will continue to be the way the front office runs the team. There were five players that really caught my eye and four of them were undrafted rookie free agents. Unfortunately, Kamal Johnson has gone on injured reserve and is done for the year, but running backs Orleans Darkwa and Damien Williams both made the team, as did defensive tackle Anthony Johnson. It is good that these players were picked up, but you would hope that the players they drafted would have caught the eye more.
Sadly, although fifth year receiver Damian Williams made the 53 man roster initially, he was later released for depth at other positions despite making some good plays, I wonder if he’ll get picked up somewhere else, but not so far.
My worry for this team is whether the plan that is shaping up in Miami will be given enough time to go somewhere, but I do see some potential.
The scouting report from my friend Dolphins Dan, offensive line looks better but Tannehill needs to work on his long ball connection with Wallace to get more comfortable. I wouldn’t disagree.
There can only be one place to start my summary of the Rams, and that is with sympathy for Sam Bradford, who was looking pretty solid in the time I got to see him play before he was lost for the year. Losing your starting quarterback for the year is pretty much the worse outcome for your preseason whatever else is happening.
Last year the Rams went 7-9, but although losing Bradford is a blow, they were missing him for nine games last year so all may not be lost. Certainly on defence they look excellent in the front seven. My favourite play of the preseason was Robert Quinn going round Joe Thomas of the Browns for a sack and barely being touched, it was pro-bowler on pro-bowler crime that’s well worth checking out if you have NFL Gamepass.
On offense I was impressed by rookie running back Trey Watts, but was worried by left tackle Jake Long who I saw beaten twice before he gave up the play where Bradford got hurt. If Shaun Hill is to succeed as the starter he’ll need not to be worried about his blindside.
Michael Sam did not make the roster and of this moment hasn’t been signed to a practice squad having cleared waivers. He got sacks and tackles, but didn’t jump off the screen whilst I was watching, although I did enjoy him borrowing Manziel’s money celebration having sacked him. He couldn’t however, match up to the undrafted rookie Ethan Westbrook who could play more spots along the line and who made the team.
The Rams are in probably the toughest division in the league and so I fear it could be a long season for them.
The Vikings went 5-10-1 last year and have Pythagorean win total of 7.4, although their likelihood of being in 5-7 wins and 8-10 wins were within 1 percentage point.
As you would expect from Mike Zimmer, the defense looked pretty stout and whilst no one player jumped out at me, I think they’ll do pretty well.
I loved first time head coach Zimmer hiring Norv Turner to run the offense, as well as being someone to lean on who has also been a head coach. The hire also seems to be working out for that side of the ball with both Matt Cassell and Teddy Bridgewater looking good running the new offense. I was also impressed with receiver Cordelle Patterson and the play of full back Jerome Felton and I’m really looking forward to seeing Adrian Peterson cut loose with some more creative play calling.
I think that in a division with Aaron Rodgers, a resurgent Bears team and a talented Lions team that may finally have a coach who will get everything out of that talent, the Vikings might not have the record to match it, but I think Zimmer is going to make progress with this team compared to last year.
I got to see the Chiefs and the Cardinals twice this season and a couple of things jumped out at me even though I wasn’t focussing on them.
Keep an eye out for De’Anthony Thomas on the Chiefs, I saw him run back a punt against the Bengals and he is seriously quick. He is seeing time at running back and receiver for the Chiefs and has changed his number from 1 to 13. On defence, I was reminded again of how good Dontari Poe is, he gets excellent penetration and I think he’s going to have a great season.
For the Cardinals, I was really impressed by their defence. They caused the Bengals first team offense real problems for the first four drives and I think they will do well. I was also impressed by Jaron Brown at receiver, although Larry Fitzgerald also looked like he has plenty left in the tank, even if it is unlikely he can live up to his enormous contract.
So there you have it, I have thoroughly enjoyed the preseason, but now the real fun begins. On to Week 1!