It’s back! First full week of preseason is here. While performances should be taken with a grain of salt, extremely bad performances can sometimes trickle over into the regular season. Here are three story lines to follow for each NFC East Team throughout the exhibition season.
Jerry Jones felt strong enough about offensive line play that he spent their first pick on Travis Frederick, center from Wisconsin. There have been reports that the cowboys felt that interior line play affected both the run and passing games. Is this the final piece for a long post season run for the ‘Boys?
2. Transition from the 3-4 to a 4-3
Switching to the 3-4 defense is all the rage in the current NFL. Often, a good strategy is to do the opposite of the trend to reap big results. Word around the league is that Jerry Jones and crew believe that simplifying things with Lane Kiffin’s 4-3 will improve their defensive play. It remains to be seen if Demarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer can hold up against the run or remain effective pass rushers from a three point stance. Also, how will the corners perform moving from press-man to a zone coverage scheme.
3. Jason Garrett no longer calling plays
I would pay attention to how the team flows on offense and how Garrett manages the preseason games, particularly the third game. The Cowboys are trying to simplify things to improve efficiency and effectiveness. While the games do not count and many parts are scripted, you do not want to see the team have to burn time outs to avoid delay of game penalties and you want to see the team use their time outs and challenges judiciously. This is the period to work out the kinks, but things would bode better for Garrett if he would avoid any silly mistakes (like in the Baltimore game last year).
1. Who’s the QB
Will it be Vick or will it be Foles? Reports are mixed, but most I have found have Vick slightly leading. Chip Kelly has said he will alternate them each series and that he expects the battle to last all the way up until a week before the regular season.
2. Eagles Offense
While we do not expect Kelly to pull a Steve Spurrier (Never forget Okinawa), it will be interesting to see what Kelly shows in the preseason. Will the Eagles look like Oregon or will they look like the Patriots? It remains to be seen, but there have been some reports that the Eagles bolstered their tight ends this season to roll out a Patriots like spread system. This tight end heavy spread system exploits size and speed advantages and could help the Eagles wide receiver core that has been decimated by injuries.
3. Transition to the 3-4
The Eagles are doing the opposite of the Cowboys and switching to a 3-4. Questions remain around their personnel, however. Do they have enough pieces to be an effective defense early in the season? Some reporters are down on the prospects of Philly’s defense, expecting performances like Brady’s and more big plays (sound familiar?).
New York Giants
1. Who will tote the rock?
Tom Coughlin has came out and stated the running back who can protect the best will start. As of right now, Andre Brown has more experience and the necessary size to keep Eli Manning’s jersey clean. However, David Wilson has game breaking speed and athleticism. This will be one of the more contested battles throughout the league and bears watching even though the games do not count.
2. State of the Defensive Line
The Giant’s D-Line was not as formidable as years past with Jason Pierre Paul and Justin Tuck coming off of injuries. Jerry Reese finally let Osi walk; who will step up in his place? While the G-Men have never neglected their lines, they are banking on a number of young players to perform at a high level. Also, do Cullen Jenkins and Shaun Rogers have much left in the tank? These all bear watching as a banged up group last year hopes to rebound.
3. Back up Wide Receiver
Hakeem Nicks is good to miss a game or two every season or so. Is Rueben Randle ready to take the torch? Randle was highly touted coming out of LSU and reports have noted he is having a strong camp. But will he put it together this year? And if Randle falters a bit, who else will step up? Can Louis Murphy put it together with stronger QB play? Will Rasmes Barden finally develop into Plaxico-lite? Pay attention to the performance of this unit this late summer.
1. Defensive. Backs.
We cannot talk about the Redskins without bringing up the corners and safties. Last year, this unit was almost epically bad in terms of yardage and big plays surrendered. To combat this, Washington spent 3 picks on the defensive secondary (including two on safties). How will the young players perform in stripped down schemes employed during the preseason. I would not get too discouraged should the young players struggle a bit; defensive coordinators often leave DB’s on islands and in one on one situations that they normally would not during the exhibition period. But still, you do not want to see this part of the Redskins defense fall flat on their face after giving up so many big plays last year.
2. Kirk Cousin’s play
You cannot go a whole post without mentioning RG3, can you? Nope (even if it is indirectly). The redskins were criticized by some for spending a high pick on Kirk Cousins. Well this offseason is when this investment should show its biggest growth. The Shanahans would like to see a nice jump in skill for Kirk Cousins this offseason. Cousins was good enough to displace Grossman as a rookie, let’s see what his ceiling could be this preseason.
3. New Weapons and Wrinkles on Offense
There is no way the Redskins will show their full hand in the preseason, but they have added a number of weapons through the draft. An emphasis was placed on running backs who are shifty to complement Alfred Morris and a dynamic pass catcher in Jordan Reed at tight end. These signs point to further developing the Redskins spread-read option offense. Also, pay attention to the wide receiving core and see who will step up opposite of Garcon (excluding Moss). While the Shanahan’s full plan will not be revealed, look for complementary players to flash some ability this preseason.
Enjoy the games. Let me know what you think in the comments.