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NFL Preseason: High Hopes and Changing Winds

   by Al McMordie - 08/21/2011

Week 3 of the preseason is on deck and that’s the time many coaches use their starters the most, playing three quarters as if it’s a real game. However, not all coaches do this. It’s essential to keep tabs on all the shifts and changes, as preseason football is loaded with injuries, QB rotations, depth charts and coaching decisions that will influence play.

It’s a time for coaching staffs to put in changes, some obvious, some subtle, but it’s also a time for handicappers to pay close attention. A few years ago the Jacksonville Jaguars brought in a new offensive coordinator in Dirk Koetter and that preseason they went from a run-oriented team to a passing one. That carried over into September where the totals on Jaguar games were undervalued.

In Washington, the Redskins have a new look behind center after shipping out Donovan McNabb. Coach Mike Shanahan and son Kyle (the offensive coordinator) want John Beck to take command and be the starter, with Rex Grossman as the backup, so the injury in Week 1 to Beck put them a little behind. At Mike’s insistence, Washington traded for Beck before last season and rewarded him with a contract extension.

In an efficient preseason debut Friday night, Beck didn’t do anything to embarrass himself or his supportive mentors during a 16-3 victory over the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. He connected on 14 of 17 pass attempts. Beck had 140 yards, no turnovers and finished with a solid 101.0 passer rating.

Shanahan is a terrific offensive mind, something Bill Belichick has said for years. But he has flamed out with his quarterbacking choices over the last decade, drafting Brian Griese and trading for Jake Plummer while in Denver. Both didn’t work out that well and ended badly. Before leaving Denver he drafted Jay Cutler who has had his ups and downs. Now he’s banking heavily on Beck, who played at BYU.

Speaking of quarterbacks, the Browns have a talented second-year QB in Colt McCoy who continues to impress. He was 9 of 10 against the Packers in the preseason opener, then threw 3 TDs in Week 2, a 30-28 home loss to Detroit. Cleveland has a new coach in Pat Shurmer, who is opening things up on offense and getting good results with the kid QB. Shurmur displayed aggressive play-calling in the red zone, something Cleveland fans haven't seen in decades.

On the flip side, the defense lost standout coordinator Rex Ryan and has been less than stellar. The defense gave up an 80-yard drive in eight plays on the Lions' second possession, who were without star WR Calvin Johnson. Cleveland is already 2-0 over the total this preseason, a trend (like Jacksonville when Koetter arrived) that may continue in September. One other point: The Lions had 14 penalties for 123 yards, the Browns 12 for 88. Uggh!

Kansas City had better hope nothing happens to QB Matt Cassell this season, with Tyler Palko and rookie Ricky Stanzi short on experience and looking awful so far. That inexperienced showed in last week’s 25-0 home loss to Tampa Bay and a 31-13 loss at the Ravens. The Chiefs had just 137 yards in the opener and had trouble blocking for their quarterbacks.

Coach Todd Haley is developing a reputation like Tony Dungy and Jim Caldwell, caring little about the preseason. The Chiefs have some problems off the field, too: The story of the preseason has consequences both on and off the field, with WR Jonathan Baldwin, the first-year receiver who already carried a reputation as a diva, and RB Thomas Jones getting involved in an altercation, the second time that he has known to have fought a younger teammate. Reports are that Baldwin was the instigator, a bad sign for a player that was a first round pick.

The Patriots have new looks on the defensive line, including very good depth, but the real story of their defense is the secondary. They’ve shuffled around a lot of personnel at safety and it’s obvious that Belichick has dissatisfaction with the group, the same one that was last in the NFL in 2010 on third down.

The Rams have a new look on offense for quarterback Sam Bradford, bring in offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. The Rams have been a conservative, run-oriented team that last two years, but McDaniels has completely changed that, bringing in a thick playbook that spreads the field and attacks with an aggressive passing game.

Preseason can tell us quite a bit. A year ago in August I made this note: “And how bad it the Carolina offense going to be when the games mean something? The Panthers have scored 12 and 3 points in the first two preseason games.” Yes, they were abysmal in the games that didn’t count and worse in the ones that did count! Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.

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