NFL to-do list: Every team's main objective this preseason
The NFL preseason gives teams four weeks to iron out their issues, tinker with their playbook, and evaluate their talent before the start of the regular season.
Heading into the first slate of Week 1 preseason games Thursday night, here’s a quick glance at each NFL team and their main objective heading into these tune-up tilts:
Objective: The Cardinals need to turn their focus to quarterback John Skelton after starter Kevin Kolb suffered a chest injury in the Hall of Fame Game. That’s not a bad thing. Skelton was 4 for 6 for 32 yards in the HoF Game and is rumored to be the favorite passer among players.
Objective: The Falcons are showing multiple looks on defense – 4-3 or 3-4 – but the focus is the same: Defend the pass. Atlanta ranked 20th against the pass last season and added ball-hawking corner Asante Samuel this offseason.
Objective: It seems funny to point out kicking as a main focus this offseason, but tell that to the Ravens who missed out on a possible spot in the Super Bowl thanks to a missed 32-yard FG from Billy Cundiff in the AFC Championship. Why else would reporters be writing anything about Cundiff in the preseason?
Objective: The Bills need to solidify their offensive line this preseason, looking to second-year and rookie players to step up. Right tackle Erik Pears isn’t 100 percent and center Eric Wood is recovering from knee surgery. That uncertainty could mean some long nights for the Bills QBs.
Objective: Carolina’s defense was horrendous last season. The team is hoping young players can step up and provide some depth to veteran starters, namely in the secondary and at linebacker. Linebacker Luke Kuechly and corners Brandon Hogan or rookie Josh Norman should all get reps this summer, meaning preseason growing pains.
Objective: Chicago was burned for 254.1 yards per game through the air last season – 28th in the NFL. The Bears are tightening the bolts at safety after starting eight different combos at FS and SS. Craig Steltz and Brandon Hardin will get lots of time in the preseason in order to provide depth behind Chris Conte and Major Wright.
Objective: The Bengals turned their focus to goal-line offense during their scrimmage this past week. Cincinnati scored a touchdown on just 41.94 percent of its red-zone trips last season – 25th in the league – and is the third-worst TD team inside the 20-yard line over the past three seasons (27.27 percent). Starting RB Bernard Scott is out with a hand injury for most of the preseason.
Objective: The Browns have tagged rookie QB Brandon Weeden their No. 1. Now, can they get him ready in time? Cleveland is determined to find a franchise arm after swapping out starters so much and having just two winning seasons in the past 13 years. Don’t be surprised if the Browns don’t go baptism by fire for Weeden in the preseason.
Objective: Besides the usual offseason goal of keeping Dez Bryant out of jail, the Cowboys are focusing on improving their sift-like secondary which allowed big play after big play last season. Rookie corner Morris Claiborne was supposed to be a big part of that but is among the 17 Dallas players injured this offseason.
Objective: At first thought, you’d think Denver was all about Peyton Manning this preseason. But this ain’t his first rodeo. Instead, the Broncos are turning their focus to stopping the ball and new defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. He’s experimenting with his defense this preseason, which means plenty of trial and error.
Objective: Other than making sure half the team isn’t behind bars coming Week 1, the Lions staff has been busy juggling the running game for the upcoming season. Jahvid Best is still in concussion limbo, leaving duties to veteran Kevin Smith and fragile Mikel Leshoure, who was lost to a preseason Achilles injury in 2011 and is already nursing hamstring issues this summer.
Green Bay Packers
Objective: The offensive line has come under fire this summer but the defense has been under constant scrutiny after allowing the most yards in the NFL last season. Defensive coordinator Don Capers is taking his secondary back to basics this offseason, with an emphasis on tackling. Teams averaged 7.8 yards per pass against the Packers last year.
Objective: The Texans defense thrived in its first season under DC Wade Phillips. Houston is cranking that stop unit up to 11, with focus on the pass rush. The team takes on a slew of top-notch QBs in 2012, including Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Matt Stafford and Peyton Manning. Phillips is looking to unleash hell and improve on a franchise-high 44 sacks last season.
Objective: The Colts are going to be patient with Andrew Luck. Unfortunately, for the defense, they aren’t awarded such leeway. New head coach Chuck Pagano is introducing a hybrid 3-4 scheme and injecting a serious case of “Beast Mode” into his players, keen on stuffing the run after opponents rushed up and down Indianapolis in 2011.
Objective: Maurice Jones-Drew is a no-show at Jags camps due to his scrum over a new deal. Jacksonville is on the fence about upping MJD’s contract, even after he led the NFL in rushing last season. Football fans have been waiting for the other shoe to drop on the diminutive RB, and the Jags might be too. They’re giving backup RB Rashad Jennings a chance to shine in the preseason.
Kansas City Chiefs
Objective: Stay healthy. The Chiefs were plagued by injuries last season and now bring back Jamaal Charles, Tony Moeaki and Eric Berry (all suffered ACL injuries) and QB Matt Cassel, who missed the final seven games of schedule with a hand injury in 2011. All four are slated to be in limited action versus Arizona Friday.
Objective: The great thing about the Dolphins’ preseason agenda is that you can watch it all unfold on HBO’s Hard Knocks. Miami is leaning toward veteran QB David Garrard and may even deal Matt Moore and stand with rookie Ryan Tannehill as the No. 2, which means plenty of preseason action for the young gunslinger.
Objective: The Vikings have had their share of Adrian Peterson scares this offseason – allergic reactions and run-ins with the law. However, the bulk of their focus is getting the defense accustomed to new DC Alan Williams. He’s putting most of his time into improving Minnesota’s pass defense after it allowed 251.2 yards per game last season.
New England Patriots
Objective: Reading Bill Belichick is like trying to use a Sanskrit phonebook. However, one issue is written in plain English and that’s the Pats’ problems on the offensive line. New England was running low on healthy and available options this week and turns to Dan Connolly, Dan Koppen and Ryan Wendell to fill some big veteran shoes. Bettors should expect some quick looks from the QBs as the o-line finds its footing.
New Orleans Saints
Objective: Interim head coach Joe Vitt has a very short time to get his feet wet after “Bounty Gate” suspended head coach Sean Peyton for the season. Pieces are missing on defense and with New England’s quick-hitting offense up next, Vitt is turning his focus toward filling those holes. The secondary is short without Jabari Greer and Patrick Robinson healthy.
New York Giants
Objective: Offseason issues and injuries have punched a hole in the Giants secondary heading into Week 1 of the preseason. Corner Terrell Thomas injured his knee and safety Tyler Sash was suspended for a banned substance. That leaves the defending Super Bowl champs shopping for replacements before the tune-up slate begins.
New York Jets
Objective: The Jets have one hell of a QB controversy on their hands, but the bigger issue should be who the hell is Mark Sanchez or Tim Tebow going to throw to? Santonio Holmes was injured in practice this week and Jeremy Kerley is up in the air with a hamstring issue. New York has flirted with the thought of using corner Antonio Cromartie at WR.
Objective: The Raiders are hoping new head coach Dennis Allen can breathe new life into a defense that gave up more than 27 points per game last season. So far, not much has changed. The offense has made the defense look stupid on plenty of occasions during camp, which doesn’t bode well with Dallas’ deep attack waiting in Week 1 of the preseason.
Objective: Right now, preseason plans are secondary next to the well being of head coach Andy Reid and his family following the death of Garrett Reid, Reid’s oldest child. It’s unknown whether or not Reid will be on the sidelines for the Eagles’ preseason opener against the Steelers Thursday.
Objective: New offensive coordinator Todd Haley has his work cut out for him this preseason, namely finding a replacement for Mike Wallace if the wideout doesn’t end his offseason holdout. Pittsburgh had a nice one-two punch in Wallace and Antonio Brown and may seek the services of former Steeler Plaxico Burress if nothing is resolved.
San Diego Chargers
Objective: Around this time for the past four seasons, the Chargers’ Super Bowl buzz begins. But not in 2012. Things are oddly quiet in San Diego. The Bolts are giving their defense some shock therapy this offseason, trying to inject some pop into their stop unit. Setting the tone with an aggressive defense is key in the preseason.
San Francisco 49ers
Objective: The Niners are the sleeper pick to win the Super Bowl among football bettors, and meeting those lofty standards starts with scoring touchdowns. San Francisco is working out the kinks with its goal-line offense after scoring TDs on just 22 of its 54 trips to the red zone last season.
Objective: Whoever wins the starting gig in Seattle will need to deal with Terrell Owens’ ego after the Seahawks signed the veteran WR to a one-year deal. Which one of those QBs will get thrown under the bus by T.O.? Matt Flynn, Tarvaris Jackson and Russell Wilson are still duking it out for those honors.
St. Louis Rams
Objective: The Rams have a lot on their plate heading into the preseason opener. Sam Bradford is nursing a bum ankle and might be limited in action this preseason. Jeff Fisher’s biggest goal is breaking down this squad so he can build them back up again, which means an up-and-down preseason is in the cards.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Objective: The Bucs lived and died with Josh Freeman last season. The offense, which mustered only 17.9 points per game in 2011, is hoping new WR Vincent Jackson can help Freeman find his form. The two look good in early camp sessions and get to stretch their legs against the Dolphins Friday.
Objective: The Titans are introducing a new offensive system in 2011, adding a few more pages to the passing playbook. That could give the inside edge to veteran Matt Hasselbeck in the QB battle with Jake Locker. Kenny Britt’s fate, which is in the hands of the NFL’s disciplinary committee, is a big part of that success.
Objective: The Redskins gave the world to get their hands on Robert Griffin III but did little to insure their investment. Washington’s offensive line is missing Jammal Brown and Kory Lichtensteiger heading into the preseason opener and is leaning on inexperience to mature quickly. RGIII should invest in some running shoes and mouth guards this offseason.