The biggest problem with the New York Jets the past few seasons has been a lack of offensive playmakers.
They added a few this offseason, and on Friday night at least, the offense looked a lot better. The new supporting cast has helped quarterback Geno Smith, who officially won the Jets' starting job on Friday.
Chris Johnson has added a positive dimension to the running game. The former Titan has looked sharp this preseason. He had a nice 17-yard run in the first half against the Giants, and a 12-yarder in the second half. Eric Decker was signed from Denver to be the Jets' No. 1 receiver, and he had a nice 27-yard catch in the first half and a short touchdown from Michael Vick in the second half. Rookie tight end Jace Amaro also showed up, with three first-half catches for 28 yards and a touchdown.
The Jets had 222 yards and 14 first downs in the first half, even though the numbers were propped up a bit by a meaningless 25-yard reception on the last play of the half. Smith was 9-of-14 for 137 yards and a touchdown in the first half, which is a nice outing for him. After the game, head coach Rex Ryan announced that Smith would be his starting quarterback Week 1. A quarterback competition with Smith and Vick never really materialized, in part because Smith never played poorly enough this preseason to open the door for Vick.
The Jets' offense didn't look very good in the preseason opener, but has made strides and Friday night was a good showing. If the Jets and their new skill-position talent can play like that once the regular season starts, they'll probably consider their offseason a success.
This offseason, the Carolina Panthers took a couple of hits to an offensive line that had plenty of question marks last season. And on Friday night, the line looked like it might be a real issue this season.
Cam Newton was sacked three times, including twice on third downs by New England's Chandler Jones, and the starting offense was shut out in the third preseason game. The running game struggled behind the work-in-progress line, too. Top backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart combined for 20 yards on nine carries.
When the line gave Newton time to throw his receivers didn't always get open, which is the team's other offensive concern. Rookie first-round pick Kelvin Benjamin played well, but there were times Newton wanted to throw but had nobody open. In two quarters and one second-half drive with the starting offense, the Panthers had just seven first downs.
The defense wasn't great either. The front seven played the run well, but Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was fantastic against Carolina's secondary. He completed 17-of-21 passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns. The Patriots led 20-0 by the time the starters came out of the game.
The Panthers are coming off a breakthrough 2013 season, when they won the NFC South. The preseason doesn't always give a good indication of what a team will be come September, but on Friday night the Panthers looked like a team that will have to try to battle some clear flaws to repeat as division champs.
Can new Lions coach Jim Caldwell get Matthew Stafford to calm down and become an effective quarterback? Well, on the first drive of Detroit's third preseason game, Stafford threw two wild passes that bounced off the hands of Jaguars defenders. Then, on the first play of Detroit's third drive, Stafford threw an interception to defensive end Andre Branch, who had dropped in coverage.
So, maybe there’s still work to be done.
On the first drive, Stafford rollinged left and threw a cringe-worthy pass back to the middle of the field. Safety Jonathan Cyprien had a shot at the pick but couldn’t catch it. Later, Stafford threw too wide on an out route and it bounced off the hands of cornerback Winston Guy. At the end of the drive, Stafford was flushed out of the pocket, got tripped up, and as he was falling he made an underhanded flip pass to Joique Bell short of the first down.
Calm? Not exactly.
Stafford will always play with an edge, and that’s part of his appeal. He’s not scared to make any throw, and he can make them all with his phenomenal arm. It's all about harnessing that a bit and having him become more consistent and not make the crippling mistakes that have killed the Lions the last two years. Stafford avoided errors the rest of his outing, playing it a lot safer. On one play he started to roll left and was looking deep, but slid where he was to avoid a mistake.
Stafford was 10-of-16 for 98 yards in a little more than a half of work. Detroit scored one touchdown when Stafford was in, on an 86-yard touchdown run by Reggie Bush. The Lions are going to need more from their quarterback if they're going to make the playoffs this season.
Patriots 30, Panthers 7: Not sure why people think Julian Edelman can't repeat his breakout season for the Patriots. On Friday he caught eight passes for 99 yards. Last season he had 105 catches for 1,056 yards, he earned the trust of Brady and can get open on a regular basis. There's no reason Brady won't keep going to him all this season.
Giants 35, Jets 24: Rashad Jennings continues to look like a great pickup for the Giants. He had 67 yards on 13 carries. Rookie Andre Williams played well too, with 49 yards on 11 carries including a 33-yard run. The Giants haven't had a good running game in a couple years (injuries didn't help last season), but it looks like they have some backs who can take some heat off Eli Manning.
Packers 31, Raiders 21: The Raiders didn't have a whole lot to cheer about in Green Bay, but Maurice Jones-Drew provided a nice highlight, with a nifty 40-yard touchdown run. He did lead the NFL in rushing just three seasons ago. I'm not sure I'd bet on him having a huge season at age 29 in his first year with the Raiders, but the touchdown showed what he's still capable of.
Lions 13, Jaguars 12: While the big story was how third overall pick Blake Bortles played at quarterback for Jacksonville, it was also interesting to see Reggie Bush break an 86-yard touchdown run, and Joique Bell run hard too, with 24 yards. The Lions have a lot of intriguing targets in the passing game, but it's a team that could rely heavily on the run if it wanted to and still be pretty successful on offense. They'll be tough to defend (if Stafford cuts out the mistakes, of course).
Seahawks 34, Bears 6: It's just the preseason, and a tough road matchup against the defending Super Bowl champions, but the Bears should be nervous about their defense. They were bad last year, but added a some new players in the offseason and got some other veterans back from injury. And the defense still looks bad. The Seahawks had no problem moving the ball against the Bears' starting defense. Seattle scored a touchdown on each of their first four possessions. Russell Wilson was 13-of-17 for 174 yards and two touchdowns in the first half. The Bears offense struggled too. When Chicago got to the Seahawks 1-yard line near the end of the half, a penalty pushed them back and then Jay Cutler threw an interception. Steven Hauschka hit a 59-yard field goal to end the half, and the score was 31-0. It was just a terrible night for the Bears (and, a really good one for last season's champs).
• Benjamin, a first-round pick out of Florida State, was a highlight for the Panthers' offense. He was considered to be a bit raw coming out of college, but the Panthers took him over some other receivers who were considered more pro-ready. But Benjamin looks ready to contribute a lot as a rookie. He had five catches for 47 yards against the Patriots. He looks like he could be the No. 1 target Cam Newton needs.
• There was a great moment in Green Bay, when the team played a video tribute to Raiders safety Charles Woodson, who spent seven seasons with the Packers and helped them win a Super Bowl. The crowd stood and cheered and quarterback Aaron Rodgers was among the Packers players clapping on the sideline. When the cameras showed Woodson, he was smiling. It was a great way to acknowledge the 37-year-old future Hall of Famer, who probably won't play another game at Lambeau Field before he retires.
• Seattle All-Pro safety Earl Thomas almost broke a touchdown on a punt return, returning it 60 yards before he was tripped up by the punter. Thomas is a great athlete, and might make some big plays returning punts, but I still don't love the idea of the NFL's best safety being in that vulnerable position.
• With a little less than six minutes left in the first quarter, all of a sudden Ryan Mallett was in at quarterback for the Patriots, relieving Brady. He got one series, then Brady went back in. Why? Patriots coach Bill Belichick said that situation can happen in the regular season, when a backup needs to go in right away because of injury or an equipment issue or any other emergency situation, so he wanted to simulate it. It may sound like overkill, but the Patriots are never unprepared.
• Still think Bortles needs time to learn the NFL game? No way, he tried the Dan Marino fake spike play! It didn't work, but it was a nice callback to the Dolphins legend pulling it off against the Jets.
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