SportsPulse: Trysta Krick breaks down NFL can take to shorten the preseason and (maybe) keep everyone happy.
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Week 3 of the preseason is known around the NFL as the best chance before the regular season to get an extended look at many starters.
With more at stake for the first-team units this week, we took a look at one key question or area of concern for every team, which are listed in order of their finish within respective divisions in 2016:
New England Patriots: A lackluster pass rush could be their Achilles’ heel after the retirement of Rob Ninkovich and loss of rookie Derek Rivers to a season-ending knee injury. Coach Bill Belichick said he was open to using LB Dont’a Hightower on the outside, but keep an eye on how the team tries to find a spark off the edge after managing one sack so far in preseason.
Miami Dolphins: QB Jay Cutler is still getting settled after joining the team earlier in August as injured Ryan Tannehill’s replacement. Now Cutler needs to develop a rapport with all of his weapons after targeting WR DeVante Parker on four of six throws in his preseason debut.
Buffalo Bills: Who can be counted on at wide receiver after Sammy Watkins was traded and Anquan Boldin abruptly retired? Jordan Matthews’ eventual return from a chip fracture in his sternum will help, but second-round rookie Zay Jones won’t be enough to lift last year’s 30th-ranked passing attack.
New York Jets: Josh McCown looks to be the front-runner for the starting quarterback job, but the offensive shortcomings in New York extend well beyond one position. The receiving corps has a grim outlook, with Robby Anderson the lone healthy player in the group who had more than 40 catches last year.
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Kansas City Chiefs: After the rushing attack followed up an uninspired preseason opener by totaling 228 yards last week against the Bengals, a date with the Seahawks’ stout defense should offer a good barometer. Is it time to consider rookie RB Kareem Hunt, who had 63 yards on 11 carries against Cincinnati, for the starting role over Spencer Ware?
Oakland Raiders: The Rams’ six plays of 10 yards or more against Oakland’s No. 1 defense last week should raise serious concerns about an already shaky unit. Rookie DBs Gareon Conley and Obi Melifonwu and second-year S Karl Joseph need to make a difference for a sieve of a secondary.
Denver Broncos: With QB Trevor Siemian entrenched as the “permanent” starter, the focus now shifts to the offensive line. The group has been called for holding 10 times in two games, with first-year coach Vance Joseph deriding the play so far as “sloppy.”
Los Angeles Chargers: Reinforcements were supposed to solidify a long vulnerable offensive line, but the Bolts surrendered eight sacks to a suspect Saints pass rush Sunday. Perhaps more imposing is the overall lack of depth: Rookie guard Forrest Lamp is out for the year, tackles Joseph Barksdale and Russell Okung have both been banged up, and center Max Tuerk is suspended four games for a drug violation.
Houston Texans: Tom Savage was reaffirmed as the starting quarterback, but he still has to find a comfort zone with his top targets. WRs DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller and Braxton Miller have all been sidelined for the preseason so far.
Tennessee Titans: Coaches and players alike have talked a big game about generating more turnovers this season after nabbing just 18 takeaways last year. The early returns have been promising, but an overhauled secondary has to show it can consistently make plays on the ball.
Indianapolis Colts: The imposing possibility of starting the season without QB Andrew Luck grows more realistic every day. An offense that has looked anything but ready under backup Scott Tolzien has to find some semblance of a game plan should Luck’s shoulder need more time to heal in September.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Opening the quarterback competition in late August is a foreboding sign. The Blake Bortles reclamation project might be nearing its end, but Chad Henne hasn’t proven himself to a be reassuring fallback despite 53 career starts.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Letting the Falcons march 176 yards in two drives on Sunday should sound an alarm for Pittsburgh’s defense. An improved pass rush, particularly on third down, is crucial for improvement.
Baltimore Ravens: Joe Flacco remains sidelined with a back ailment, creating uncertainty about the status of the reworked aerial attack. Getting new WR Jeremy Maclin involved after he caught just one pass for 5 yards last week would alleviate some concerns.
Cincinnati Bengals: The first-team defense has allowed long scoring drives on all three of its series so far this preseason. Despite the additions of rookies Jordan Willis and Carl Lawson, the pass rush has been deficient.
Cleveland Browns: Even with DeShone Kizer on track to take the starting job, quarterback questions could continue to hound the Dawg Pound. Quarterbacks coach David Lee said just a week and a half ago that the rookie second-round pick wasn’t ready to start, but he will this weekend.
Dallas Cowboys: With the suspension appeal for RB Ezekiel Elliott out of the team’s control, Dallas must now follow Jason Garrett’s plan and focus on other issues. Perhaps the biggest concern now is cobbling together a pass rush to aid an inexperienced secondary.
New York Giants: Nothing puts the preseason into perspective like an injury to a star player. The question hanging over Big Blue now is when Odell Beckham Jr. will return from a sprained ankle, as well as what an offense struggling to block effectively will do if he is forced to miss time in the regular season.
Philadelphia Eagles: Much was made of the addition of Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith to the receiving corps, but QB Carson Wentz has yet to establish a consistent connection with his new targets after unexpectedly losing buddy Jordan Matthews to a trade. A solid showing this week would likely help Philadelphia fans rest easier about Wentz’s progress and chemistry with new teammates.
Washington Redskins: After trailing only the Falcons for the lowest percentage of three-and-out drives last year (14.3%), the Redskins failed to get a first down in five straight series before mounting a scoring drive last week. Getting TE Jordan Reed back from the physically unable to perform list should help QB Kirk Cousins, but WRs Terrelle Pryor and Josh Doctson still have yet to find their footing.
Seattle Seahawks: An already overstretched offensive line met a new challenge with the loss of LT George Fant to a torn anterior cruciate ligament. With no clear backup, Seattle might have to do some reshuffling to keep Russell Wilson’s blind side protected.
Arizona Cardinals: Coach Bruce Arians called out his wide receivers after a disappointing preseason opener, and so far no one has stepped up to assist Larry Fitzgerald and Jaron Brown. With John Brown (leg) not rushing his return to action, another reliable option must be found.
Los Angeles Rams: QB Jared Goff’s reboot under rookie coach Sean McVay is off to a good start. But last year’s No. 1 overall pick has precious little time to establish a connection with newly acquired WR Sammy Watkins, who could give Los Angeles the outside threat it has so sorely lacked.
San Francisco 49ers: The immensity of the rebuilding project facing coach Kyle Shanahan was on display last week as San Francisco tallied five turnovers. Veteran QB Brian Hoyer has to clean up the mistakes for this group to show signs of progress in Year 1.
Atlanta Falcons: With its offense still flying and defense showing promise, Atlanta might be putting the pressure on its special teams to show improvement this week. Matt Bosher had one punt blocked and another returned for a 64-yard touchdown in his last game.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: They might have bigger issues than their kicking woes, but none are as frustrating. After waiving former second-round pick Roberto Aguayo, Dirk Koetter’s crew can’t afford to have veteran Nick Folk slip up as he did last week with a missed field goal and blocked extra point.
New Orleans Saints: Having Ryan Ramczyk fill in for the injured Terron Armstead at left tackle might put New Orleans fans on edge once he’s protecting QB Drew Brees in a game. Ramczyk, a first-round rookie, has had mixed performances so far, while backups Bryce Harris and Khalif Barnes have also struggled.
Carolina Panthers: QB Cam Newton appears to be on track to make his preseason debut Thursday after being held out with soreness in his surgically repaired shoulder. Now the burden is on the former MVP to show he has bought into the revamped offense by making quicker throws and fewer runs.
Green Bay Packers: Hopes remain high for the running game to break out after it finished 20th in the NFL last year, but there has been little progress in the preseason. RB Ty Montgomery is back after missing a week with a leg injury, while rookie Jamaal Williams is still looking to make an impression.
Detroit Lions: Last year’s leading sack artist, Kerry Hyder, is out for the season (Achilles), and standout DE Ziggy Ansah is nursing a leg injury. For a team with an already suspect pass rush, another threat must be found.
Minnesota Vikings: One year after an injury-depleted offensive line helped unravel a promising start to the season, Minnesota still finds itself with questions up front. With new pieces Riley Reiff, Mike Remmers and rookie Pat Elflein, coach Mike Zimmer is working to find the optimal combination.
Chicago Bears: A shaky start to the preseason has already raised questions about Chicago’s plan to go with Mike Glennon as the unquestioned starting quarterback. Coach John Fox has already thrown water on the notion of starting No. 2 overall pick Mitchell Trubisky, but a better outing by Glennon this week would help quell concerns.
Follow Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz on Twitter @MikeMSchwartz
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