First Down, Fourth Down: EJ Manuel outplays a rusty Kevin Kolb
Maybe Buffalo coach Doug Marrone really is committed to taking his quarterback battle the distance this preseason. It would surprise no one at this point, though, if he preemptively called the bout in favor of E.J. Manuel.
The rookie out of Florida State followed up a solid performance at Indianapolis with an impressive showing at home Friday night in Buffalo’s 20-16 win over Minnesota. While playing the entire third quarter, Manuel connected on 10-of-12 passes for 92 yards and a touchdown. On that TD pass Manuel looked left, saw a covered receiver, moved in the pocket, then fired right to a wide-open Brad Smith.
Contrast that with Kevin Kolb, who, back in the lineup after injuring his knee in a freak accident, needed a hot streak late in the first half to finish 13-of-21 through the air. He also fired an interception, on a strong play from Minnesota rookie cornerback Xavier Rhodes, which helped dip his QB rating on the night to a paltry 55.9.
The fact that Kolb had missed a few practices and a game after slipping on a rubber mat no doubt contributed to some of his slow start. (Manuel, for what it’s worth, also opened a bit sluggish last week before cranking it up a few notches.) And a caveat: Kolb played against the Vikings’ first-team defense; Manuel saw a unit comprised of backups. Still, Manuel has to be closing in on the starting gig after completing 78.8 percent (26-for-33) of his passes in Weeks 1 and 2 of the preseason.
Another interesting factor at play, as mentioned by the Bills’ TV broadcast sometime in the third quarter: Kolb got just 12 percent of his snaps off with 23 or more seconds left on the play clock. Manuel, meanwhile, was working north of a 70-percent success rate. For a Buffalo team that wants to crank up its offensive tempo this season, that’s a meaningful stat — and one Marrone is sure to notice.
A few more observations from the second day of games in the preseason’s second week:
First Down: Ramon Humber, LB, Saints.
The Saints seemingly grow thinner at linebacker by the day, with Jonathan Vilma’s knee scope the latest blow. The diminishing depth will be less of a concern for New Orleans if it continues to get efforts like the one Humber gave against Oakland.
Relegated to special teams for most of his first four seasons in the league, Humber was omnipresent Friday. He finished with eight tackles and a sack of Matt Flynn. Humber also helped stuff Darren McFadden on a 4th-and-1 on Oakland’s opening possession, setting the tone for a New Orleans-dominated first half.
David Hawthorne stepped into Vilma’s starting spot, with Humber taking the place of a banged-up Curtis Lofton. The Saints hope they’ll have both Lofton and Vilma back before Week 1, leaving Humber with little chance at regular playing time. But he may have eased some of the Saints’ fears at linebacker.
Fourth Down: Colin Kaepernick’s snap count (for a reason).
The 49ers’ QB was on the field for all of four plays in a 15-13 win over the Chiefs. He handed off to Frank Gore twice for 54 yards, completed a pass for a 3-yard loss, fired an incompletion … and that was it. Kaepernick also played just one series last week, though he attempted (and completed) four passes in that one and rushed once.
Are the 49ers getting their second-year QB enough reps this preseason? Maybe not, but the reasoning is pretty obvious: With Alex Smith now in Kansas City (he was 7-for-16 with three sacks against his former team Friday), Kaepernick may have moved into that category of player whose team would be doomed without him. Projected backup Colt McCoy showed some flashes in relief, particularly with his feet en route to 37 yards rushing. Unfortunately, he hit on only three of his six pass attempts and mixed in an interception.
San Francisco can ill-afford to lose its superstar quarterback, let alone do so in a meaningless preseason game.
First Down: The Tom Brady-Danny Amendola connection.
“Oh no! Tom Brady doesn’t have anyone to throw to this year!”
So much for that. Amendola served notice to defenses around the league with a six-catch, 71-yard effort against the Bucs. His night was highlighted by a 26-yard TD grab up the seam — a Wes Welker special — though the Patriots moved Amendola all over their offense, from the slot to out wide. It was apparent from the get-go that Brady wanted to get New Welker involved, and he did just that.
Another Patriots pass-catcher whose stock is picking up steam, tight end Zach Sudfeld, hauled in a two-point conversion from Brady, then later made an impressive 22-yard touchdown catch on a pass from backup Ryan Mallett.
Oh, and as for Brady, whose injury scare Wednesday had Patriots fans hearts in their throats? He hit on the first 11 of 12 passes he threw, good for 107 yards and a 131.6 QB rating.
Fourth Down: Alex Barron as Jared Veldheer’s replacement.
This didn’t seem like it was going to work. So far, it hasn’t.
The Raiders lost Veldheer, their standout left tackle, to a torn triceps injury that may sideline him for the season. Their fallback plan was to drop Barron, who has not played a regular-season game since 2010, into the starting lineup on Matt Flynn’s blindside.
Predictably, Barron was overmatched in his first start, with the Saints’ Cameron Jordan flying past him on numerous occasions early. Jordan buried Flynn for a sack on 3rd-and-7 late in the first quarter, then blew up an attempted pass a few minutes later by smoking a flat-footed Barron to the outside.
Oakland’s offensive line as a whole faltered — Flynn won’t make it through 16 games (if the Raiders even want him to) with the type of blocking he received in New Orleans. Barron was the leading culprit of that meltdown, and he may force the Raiders to find another option at left tackle.
First Down: Quintin Demps.
One way to make a team if you’re on the roster bubble, as Demps is in Kansas City? Perform on special teams. The backup safety gave himself a boost with a dazzling 104-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the first quarter. Even if the Chiefs have Dexter McCluster and ex-Fresno State Bulldog Devon Wylie to return kicks, Demps might be able to find his way onto the 53-man roster as a multi-dimensional player. He had 1,300 kick-return yards and a touchdown for the Eagles back in 2008.
Fourth Down: Tim Tebow.
Bill Belichick is not going to keep Tebow around just for the heck of it, and Tebow has shown very little to prove he belongs on this team — and that’s putting it kindly. In relief of Mallett in the second half Friday, Tebow completed 1-of-7 passes … for negative-one yard. He also was responsible for an interception, on a pass that he threw well behind, and over the head of his intended receiver.
Tebow did rush six times for 30 yards, so maybe he can convince Belichick to hold onto him as a runner. This already is a pretty strong ground team, however, making it hard to see why the Patriots would trot Tebow out in a regular-season game when they could hand off to Stevan Ridley, LeGarrette Blount or Shane Vereen.