The final week of the 2010 preseason is upon us, though this will be to football what John Beck(notes) is to Rex Grossman(notes) (or something like that). We've seen most of what we're going to see from the starters, and now it's time for the low-round rookies and other fringe players to try desperately to work their way onto the final 53. Here are five questions this preseason has brought up in this particular mind:
1. Will the Carolina Panthers ever score an offensive touchdown?
Through three preseason games, the Panthers have run 199 plays from scrimmage and scored a grand total of zero offensive touchdowns. The only Panthers offensive player to get in the end zone under any circumstances is running back Mike Goodson(notes), and he did that on a kick return. The problems are all over the place - receiver Steve Smith is still out after breaking his arm playing flag football in the offseason, quarterbacks Matt Moore(notes) and Jimmy Clausen(notes) have looked sub-decent at best, and that renowned Panthers power running game has gone "Pffft" as opposing defenses are able to put their focus there. The good news for the Panthers is that their defense is playing at a ridiculous pace right now - first in the NFL in total defense, second in points allowed, and first with 18 sacks. That's pretty impressive for a team with several new defensive starters. The Panthers might be able to eke out a few ugly wins early on, and Smith is expected back for the first regular-season game, but concerns have to be mounting.
Last season, Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler suffered a career-high 35 sacks (555 passing attempts). He was also hurried a league-leading 141 times by enemy defenders, according to Football Outsiders. That was the result of a subpar and injury-plagued offensive line. With most of that same line in place for 2010, and the addition of offensive coordinator Mike Martz (who provides higher offensive totals and larger sack percentages to every team he coaches), Cutler's already been taken down 10 times alongside just 37 passing attempts this preseason. Perhaps most disturbing was that after Cutler was sacked five times against the Oakland Raiders (including four from Kamerion Wimbley(notes), who beat left tackle Chris Williams like one of Keith Moon's old drum kits), Chicago didn't really alter their protection concepts for the next game versus the Arizona Cardinals. And that's why Cutler was sacked four more times against the Cards. It doesn't matter how talented Cutler is at this point, because if the Bears don't do something about this (Hint: LET YOUR TIGHT ENDS BLOCK), he's going to be on IR by Week 5.
3. Which rookie outlier stat represents a real breakthrough?
Every preseason, a few rookies find favorable circumstances and blow up in exhibition games. Sometimes, that's a precursor to an All-Pro career (as it was when Chris Johnson averaged 5.5 yards per carry in 2008), and sometimes, it's a very short flash in a very big pan (as it was in 2006, when Sam Hurd, Taye Biddle, and Willie Reid were the NFL's most prolific preseason rookie receivers). Through Week 3 In 2010, we already have Cincinnati defensive tackle Geno Atkins(notes) with 4.5 sacks, Buffalo running back Joique Bell's(notes) 142 yards on 22 carries, New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz's(notes) 12 catches for 251 yards, Jacksonville's ridiculous kick return team of Deji Karim(notes) and Scotty McGee(notes) (18 returns, 566 yards, 31.4 per return, six returns longer than 40 yards), Indianapolis Colts linebacker Pat Angerer's(notes) 24 tackles, and Green Bay Packers defensive back Sam Shields'(notes) two interceptions and seven passes defensed. How many of these unexpected preseason stars will take their performances into the regular season?
4. Are the Jets a paper tiger?
We've already asked if it's time to worry about Mark Sanchez, and the answer is very clearly, "Yes" -- at least in the short term. And everybody's favorite non-Colts/Ravens/Pats AFC Super Bowl pick is showing some other blemishes these days. Not only is Sanchez's efficiency and productivity a real concern (just two touchdowns and three plays of 20 yards or more in the team's passing game), but the smashmouth rushing attack Rex Ryan prefers is averaging just 3.6 yards per carry through the first three games, and left guard Vlad Ducasse's pass protection issues were well-documented on the most recent episode of "Hard Knocks." The defense has been okay with Darrelle Revis(notes) holding out and Calvin Pace(notes) hurt, but as Rex said, "Okay isn't a position." Some preseason hangovers dissipate as the games start to matter (advocates for ignoring this time of year altogether will remind us that the 0-16 Detroit Lions of 2008 went undefeated in the preseason), but there seems to be a bit more worry around this one.
Well, that's not really an unanswerable question; of course he is. But what Warner left in his wake after his retirement ... hoo boy. In a weak year for quarterbacks both in the draft and in free agency, Ken Whisenhunt thought that the duo of Matt Leinart(notes) and Derek Anderson(notes) could keep Arizona's frenetic offensive pace, which reminds me of the time Seattle Mariners team president Chuck Armstrong tried to convince an enraged fanbase that if you combined Dan Wilson and Ben Davis, you'd wind up with Pudge Rodriguez. So far, Leinart has played his way on to the trading block, and Anderson is nobody's idea of a top 10 starter. It just goes to show ... no matter how the game may change, quarterback is almost always the most important position.