The 2012 NFL preseason officially kicked off last Sunday when the Cardinals faced the Saints in the Hall of Fame Game. One team scored more points than the other, but none of that matters. Preseason won-loss records are thoroughly worthless, Beyond, perhaps, the third exhibition week, as Dennis Green may opine.
So instead of trying to forecast the final scores for tonight’s games, we’ve pinpointed five situations to bear in mind for a better read on what’s happening around the league.
1. Robert Griffin III makes his professional debut.
The Redskins only plan to give Griffin 12-20 snaps on Thursday night, but it will be interesting to see whether he shows signs of pro readiness. The camp buzz in D.C. suggests Griffin has a ways to go, even if he’s picked up his practice play a bit lately. His accuracy has reportedly been erratic, and he’s holding onto the ball too long. Tonight’s Redskins-Bills game kicks off at 7 p.m. eastern. Buffalo made major improvements to its pass rush during the offseason, so RG3 is going to have to get the football out quick if he wants to avoid big hits from Mario Williams and Marcell Dareus.
2. Will Peyton Manning throw deep?
Albert Breer of NFL Network has reported that Manning will play just one or two possessions in Thursday’s 8:30 p.m. preseason opener at Soldier Field. So if you turn on or show up to the game a few minutes late, you might miss him. Reports out of Denver claim Manning has shown precise accuracy on short to intermediate throws, but he hasn’t tested the defense long much in Broncos practice. Can Manning still air it out vertically after four neck surgeries at age 36?
3. The Todd Haley offense — whatever that is — shows up in Pittsburgh.
Some folks in Pittsburgh believe the Steelers are installing a run-first, smash-mouth offense, like the system Haley ran in Kansas City. Others think Haley’s offense may be more like his in Arizona, where Kurt Warner was constantly in the shotgun and the Cardinals ranked among the league leaders in pass attempts. The Steelers will be without holdout receiver Mike Wallace tonight, but they’re also not quite flush with elite tailbacks. The first-team offense probably won’t play much, but we’ll still be looking for hints at Haley’s plan of attack. The Steelers face the Eagles at 7:30 p.m.
4. The Bears’ offensive line might be an insurmountable obstacle.
Again, starters figure to see minimal action in the preseason opener. But it’s believed annual pass-protection goat J’Marcus Webb has already won Chicago’s starting left tackle job, and the Bears are essentially bringing back all five starters from a group that allowed 49 sacks last season. Perhaps Jay Cutler, Webb, and the rest of the first grouping will only play a series or two, but they’ll still face a significant test. Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil are in town for an 8:30 p.m. game.
5. Camp battles will begin to take shape.
The Redskins’ tailback job looks wide open, with Evan Royster attemping to hold off Roy Helu. Patriots back Stevan Ridley appears to have pulled ahead of Danny Woodhead and Shane Vereen with a big camp, but will it translate to games? Emmanuel Sanders will line up in holdout Mike Wallace’s usual “X” receiver position when Pittsburgh faces Philly. Packers slot receiver Randall Cobb has made some training camp noise and may push for Donald Driver’s spot on the depth chart. Saints undrafted rookie Travaris Cadet will look to build on his big Hall of Fame Game.
Not much of anything will be settled tonight. But, as we witnessed in the preseason opener, camp battles can begin to take form. John Skelton grabbed the early lead in his quarterback competition with Kevin Kolb, while Cadet began to state a strong case for a roster spot in a crowded New Orleans backfield. There are six games tonight. They’re all meaningless in the end, and the starters barely play. But football is back.
And we think that’s pretty awesome.