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What Did We Learn – Preseason

Can Peyton Manning return to form?

Manning took the reigns in Indianapolis on Sept. 6, 1998. He started every game thru January 2, 2011, amassing statistics and a career already worthy of the Hall of Fame. But following several neck surgeries and a season off, how does he look now? A final stat line of 30-for-42, 343 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. Stellar, no. But consider this, his last action was against a San Francisco 49ers defense that was clearly the best in the league a year ago, and he completed 10-of-12 passes for 122 yards and two scores. Is he all the way back? Maybe not. But is he a Top 10 quarterback this year? I’m not betting against it. And he will make Willis McGahee more valuable, as well as make Eric Decker a household name.

Will Matt Ryan really be unleashed?

We’ve heard for a few years that the Atlanta Falcons would throw more. We’ve heard that Michael Turner’s workload would be scaled back before. And we’ve seen him go off in the preseason in years past. So what makes this year different? After all, his new offensive coordinator just arrived from that offensive powerhouse in Jacksonville. Roddy White is still a stud, and Julio Jones is poised for a Top 10 season following his first full preseason. Tony Gonzalez is good for his usual 800 yards and six touchdowns, and Harry Douglas is one of my sleepers for this season. Turner can still run, although he’s not a great fit for a pass-heavy attack. And the Falcons play several teams that seemed to give up big passing numbers last season. In short, all the indications are there. The question once again rests with whether or not the Atlanta coaching staff will take the leash off. I think he’s an easy Top 10 guy, and may push Cam Newton out of the Top 5 under the right circumstances.

Is the New York Jets offense really this bad?

Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow have gotten more headlines than completed passes, let alone the fact that neither had a touchdown this preseason. Shonn Greene continues to be exactly who we thought he was, as he plods along for three yards at a time, unable to make defenders miss. And with the aforementioned quarterback troubles and Santonio Holmes’ “general soreness,” the receiving corps has been just as incapable. So, yup. It certainly seems that they’ll struggle this season.

Is Cedric Benson for real?

When I first heard that he’d signed in Green Bay, I made a funny face and tried to reason it out. It hadn’t occurred to me that he might have some skill left. Then I watched him run the ball a bit against Cincinnati in Week 3 of the preseason, and I thought he might have fallen into a perfect situation. Everyone is terrified of Aaron Rodgers. The Packers have four legitimate receiving threats in Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Jermichael Finley and James Jones. The field will be spread out and wide open, and Benson may be able to get to the second level before seeing a defender. I am higher on him than most this year.

Can Maurice Jones-Drew be trusted?

The whole situation has gone just about as badly as it possibly could have for Maurice Jones-Drew. First, a coaching change, meaning a new offense and new playbook. Second, the new owner has chosen to use this as an opportunity to set expectations for the future, stating publicly that the Jaguars would not negotiate a new contract. Then, his backup, Rashad Jennings, runs like a stud himself this preseason. He has now reported to the Jaguars, but he needs to learn the new playbook and get into football shape. It’s possible that not going through the grind of the preseason will mean he’s fresh, but we said the same thing about Chris Johnson a year ago. I think he’ll miss one game and be limited in at least one more. I would be looking to draft him in the late second or early third round, but even then, I might be hesitant.

Can Ryan Mathews stay healthy?

Apparently not. This guy is a real problem for me, because you watch him play and he’s really good. But he’s really fragile. When offseason rankings discussions began, folks were telling me he’s a Top 5 running back based on skill and workload, but if you can’t play, you can only get a load of sideline. I feel like he’s an easy bet to miss at least two or three games, meaning he’s similar to Jones-Drew, right? I just don’t trust Mathews at all.

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