Preseason football gets a bad rap sometimes. It's not "sexy" football, however you define the term, but it is a good look at the guts of an NFL organization. Fourth- and fifth-stringers get trotted out in the second half, and in an order that means something to them and coaches. It's a chance to see the evaluation process in motion, and in all of its inexactitude.
More pivotal position battles will take place, too, though you won't see enough of the players you want to see to be truly satisfied. For those brief glimpses, however, Saturday's preseason schedule offers some meaty bits.
There are three quarterback battles pitting middling veterans against wobbly young passers. The Buccaneers trotted out Josh McCown with Lovie Smith's full confidence, and he proceeded to throw a pick-six among four attempts and lose a fumble. The Texans may be resigned to starting Ryan Fitzpatrick, but they're desperately wishing for something better. In Minnesota, the prospect of starting Matt Cassel if Teddy Bridgewater doesn't catch on is similarly harrowing.
Little will be solved this week, but at least fans can partially scratch their yearning for certainty. Or if not that, at least satisfy their curiosity as to what goes on in the basement of the roster. And if not that, then perhaps it's best they sit out until the regular season starts. For the rest, here's what to watch for:
4 p.m. ET (NFL Network)
Julius Peppers signed with Green Bay to much fanfare, then had an underwhelming debut. The Packers are still trying to find a pass rush outside of hoping that Clay Matthews stay healthy, and Peppers' fast adjustment to outside linebacker could be pivotal. Ten snaps in a sloppy Week 1 won't determine his fate, but fans will be looking for much more against the Rams, who likewise have a lot to prove along a beat-up offensive line. In fact, St. Louis turned in a disjointed performance along both fronts. A vaunted defensive line struggled mightily to defend the run, and faces a stiff test against Eddie Lacy and Co.
7 p.m. ET (New York: NBC 4NY, Indianapolis: WISH 8)
The Giants' secondary is thin at the safety positions, which is bad news going up against a deep Colts receiving corps. Coaches will want to get an up-close view of a pair of fifth-round picks, Cooper Taylor (2013) and Nat Berhe (2014), to find out whether they are viable options for the rotation. The Colts have their own issues at safety, but as usual there may be more attention focused on Trent Richardson, who was mediocre once again in his preseason opener.
New York Jets vs. Cincinnati Bengals
7 p.m. ET (New York: CBS 2, Cincinnati: Local 12)
It was a baaaaad week for the Jets' secondary. Rookie Dexter McDougle was lost for the season with a torn ACL, and shortly thereafter Dee Milliner was diagnosed with a high ankle sprain that could put him on the sideline for several weeks. Antonio Allen will start against the Bengals and attempt to cover A.J. Green, but he's a converted safety.
So you should tune in to the first quarter to see Green put up some ridiculous numbers (or not!).
Baltimore Ravens vs. Dallas Cowboys
7 p.m. ET (NFL Network)
The Ravens may have found an offense. The first-teamers opened up last week's preseason games against the San Francisco 49ers in impressive fashion, going 80 yards in 10 plays and scoring a touchdown on a 2-yard dive by Bernard Pierce. The running game clicked against a stout Niners front, and will look to have even more success against the beat-up Cowboys. The Dallas front seven is hurting, bad. DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher are gone, and Anthony Spencer's return is unknown. The linebacker corps still has a gaping hole in the shape of Sean Lee. The Cowboys need to find depth, and quickly.
Miami Dolphins vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
7:30 p.m. ET (Miami: CBS 4, Tampa Bay: WFLA)
Even a year removed from a big defensive overhaul, Miami's defense still feels rather piecemeal. The mistakes made in the preseason opener against the Atlanta Falcons -- plenty of missed tackles and assignments -- may have uncovered a team still mentally unprepared to live up to its talent. Fittingly, the same could be said of the Buccaneers' offense. Josh McCown looked nothing like the quarterback he was with Chicago at the end of last season (insert sample size caveat here), and those early struggles may have muted the rest of the Bucs' supposedly elite skill talent.
Buffalo Bills vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
7:30 p.m. ET (Buffalo: WKBW, Pittsburgh: CBS 2)
After a rough start in the Hall of Fame game, the Bills saw what they wanted to see out of E.J. Manuel last week. The second-year passer went 9-for-13 for 96 yards, and the Bills scored a tight win over the Panthers. The Steelers hope to take a similar step forward in their second preseason game. They just looked ... fuzzy. Few players were crisp in the preseason opener, but that should improve with more reps.
Atlanta Falcons vs. Houston Texans
8 p.m. ET (Atlanta: CW 69, Houston: KTRK)
Few teams will have bigger chips on the Falcons and the Texans. Both entered 2013 with high expectations, and both fell miserably short -- the Falcons due to a glut of injuries, ditto the Texans with a dab of quarterback trouble. The good news is that high draft picks gave both teams fancy new toys to play with. Jadeveon Clowney, the No. 1 overall pick, will go head-to-head with Jake Matthews, arguably the best pass blocker in his class, in what could be a classic battle.
Arizona Cardinals vs. Minnesota Vikings
8:30 p.m. ET (Phoenix: ABC-15, Minneapolis: KARE 11)
The Cardinals are the cream of the NFL after on meaningless week of football. It's hard to pick out too many negatives from the team's 32-0 win over the Texans. The concerns about the offensive line won't be alleviated until the regular season begins, and the secondary is still trying to fill holes at safety, but overall there should be few complaints. The Vikings scored a win too, though theirs was much more sloppy -- a 10-6 squeaker past the Raiders. Let's call Saturday's game Teddy Bridgewater's Take 2. His Vikings debut was shaky, but at least he showed good awareness in the pocket and didn't make any horribly ill-advised decisions.
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