Some storylines to watch out for during Thursday’s preseason games
The Broncos versus the Bears at Soldier Field
Peyton Manning hasn’t been sacked since the Colts were beaten by the Jets in the AFC Wild Card game back on January 9th 2011.
That play took place late in the first half when Calvin Pace took Manning down to the turf. Here we are, exactly 19 months later, and Manning is finally back to doing what he loves so much, playing football.
What nobody knows, not even Manning or the Broncos coaching staff, is how his surgically repaired neck will respond the first time he’s really hit. Because it is the first game of the pre-season, don’t expect Manning to spend too much time with the first team offence before being taken out of the game.
The Denver Post is reporting Manning will likely see a maximum of 12 plays before being pulled by John Fox, even though it will only be a dozen plays. Manning is still facing the Bears first team defence; and that is no treat.
For Bears fans this will be a chance to see the renewal of the marriage between quarterback Jay Cutler and receiver Brandon Marshall. The two made magic together in Denver and Bears fans are hoping for a repeat performance in 2012.
Redskins versus the Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium
There are two major storylines leading into this game, Redskins rookie Robert Griffin III and the Bills defensive line.
For Mike Shanahan and the Redskins this whole pre-season is about the continued development of their rookie franchise quarterback, Griffin III. Media, fans and other observers have raved about RG3′s arm during camp. Now Redskins fans get to see him in action, albeit behind a makeshift offensive line that is already dealing with injuries.
For Bills fans, this is a chance to see their new look defence in action. Much was written about the Bills revamped front four during training camp. Now everyone will get a chance to see how Mario Williams and company fare chasing down a stud like RG3. According to the Washington Post the Redskins plan to have RG3 and the first team offence take anywhere from 12 to 20 snaps before being lifted from the game.
Also, keep an eye on Bills rookie cornerback Stephon Gilmore. He’s been one of the bright stars of camp and the team is excited about his potential.
The Saints versus the Patriots at Gillette Stadium
After holding a joint practice earlier this week the Saints will face the Patriots in game action. Drew Brees and the Saints first team offence looked impressive Sunday against the Cardinals in the Hall of Fame Game.
Even with all of their issues, the Saints have a team that is more than capable of scoring a ton of points. How well they defend is still up for debate.
What isn’t up for question is talent and depth of the New England Patriots. After falling short in the Super Bowl, Bill Belichick made defence a priority at the draft and both of his first round picks, linebacker Dont’a Hightower and defensive end Chandler Jones, are expected to be in the starting lineup.
Belichick likely doesn’t have too many concerns with Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and the rest of his offence. It is the defence and how they fare against Brees and the Saints first offence that will draw the most attention from the Patriots coaching staff.
The Steelers versus the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field
I still can’t fathom how Andy Reid could be standing on the sidelines coaching the Eagles only days after burying his son Garrett. But that’s his personal business and we have to respect it.
It isn’t a done deal but Eagles owner Jeffery Lurie has indicated Reid could very well be on the sideline Thursday night. Football is always secondary to something as serious as a man losing his son, but the sad fact is the Eagles need to move past this tragic event and get ready for the season.
This is an Eagles defence that now features free agent linebacker DeMeco Ryans and first round draft pick defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. If the Eagles can ever get their defence figured out they could be a force in 2012.
The Steelers are the Steelers. Tough, talented and well coached.
The only question mark hanging over Mike Tomlin and the Steelers is how well the offence can perform without holdout receiver Mike Wallace. The Steelers defence is not as young at is once was, but it still can boast the likes of Troy Polamalu and LaMarr Woodley.
Other pre-season games to keep an eye on:
The Ravens versus the Falcons at the Georgia Dome
Both teams are led by quarterbacks who were taken in the first round of the 2008 draft; Joe Flacco of the Ravens and Matt Ryan of the Falcons. Both quarterbacks are being expected to take their game to the next level and led their respective teams to the Super Bowl.
Where Ryan has yet to win a playoff game (0-3), Flacco has already led the Ravens to five wins in the post-season. The big question for both quarterbacks is whether or not they have what it takes to take their team all the way to the Super Bowl.
The Packers versus the Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium
Things have been awfully quiet in Packers camp. A litte too quiet.
Part of that silence is a determination to avenge last year’s quick playoff exit. Another part of that is that the Packers are so good and so deep that they don’t create headlines; they just go about their work.
It will be strange to see former long-time Colts centre Jeff Saturday snapping the ball to Aaron Rodgers.