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The witching hour is finally here.  Preseason game three, the dress rehearsal for every NFL franchise and the most important game for fantasy football.  The players get placed in real game scenarios and get game planned against.  The only driconstant about the NFL is that it is always evolving and this week’s games are no different.  I watched at least three-quarters to get the best idea about how these players would be used.  Here are my observations:

Steelers vs. Eagles

Biases aside, this was an ugly game for Pittsburgh.  You could almost feel the shadow of the drug arrests from the day before on runners Le’Veon Bell and LaGarrette Blount.  Bell got touches early, bounced off some of the defenders, but left a lot of blocked openings unanswered.  The second year back took a head shot, but came back a series later.  Blount, however, appears strong/powerful at the point of attack with quick feet and good balance.  Rookie Dri Archer got sent in motion the majority of the time he lined up in the backfield.  The Eagles front seven seemed more ready for his quicks and wiggle than the other teams the Steelers faced as they did not allow many openings in the first three-quarters of play.  Chemistry issues plagued second year receiver Markus Wheaton and Ben Roethlisberger.  Big Ben tried to get him involved early, but either their timing was off or Wheaton would bobble the pigskin.  Last week’s highlight reel, rookie backer Ryan Shazier, was less active.  He did not do as good of a job using his speed to prevent plays; instead the youngster spent most the game chasing down ball carriers several yards down the field.  Ertz caught him out of position twice. 

The Philadelphia offense rolled over the Steelers. The speed of their game was too much for the Steelers defense to manage. They were relentless.  When LeSean McCoy went out with a hand injury, former Charger and Saint Darren Sproles came in only as a change of pace back.  Matthew Tucker saw the majority of the touches and looked more than comfortable making cuts and picking up assignments in the passing game.  With Chris Polk’s hamstring injury and McCoy getting dinged more than ever, Tucker might be a smart preemptive pickup in deeper leagues.  Zach Ertz made Shazier eat his lunch on two catches where the second year tight end caught the linebacker out of position.  Ertz does let the ball get into his body on some catches, so he needs to work on that.  Rookie Jordan Matthews looked great on bubble screens and in the slot, but I’m not sure if he can handle an inline role.  He isn’t that good at getting off blocks at the line of scrimmage.  The entire Eagles offense played well executing whether Foles or Sánchez was behind center.

Patriots vs. Panthers

This will be a unique experience for me as I attended the game and reviewed it again six hours later from my television screen.  As a Cam Newton owner, I am quite nervous.  He seemed hesitant to put much weight on his recovering foot.  The quarterback had issues moving up in the pocket and avoiding pressure.  The way I would describe it is when you have skated for a few hours and then try to walk again. It looks and feels unnatural, which is what Newton looks like out there.  Rookie receiver Kelvin Benjamin created space with his big body, and cut well.  The receiver adjusted to the ball well and dealt with Revis which is no small feat. It doesn’ t seem that Newton established much chemistry with Jericho Cotchery which makes it look like a Benjamin and Olsen show as the real receiving options.

I’m not buying receiver Brandon LaFell earning much playing time with his body catching and he doesn’t pickup his feet well when running with the ball.  Rookie running back James White might have gotten a lot of preseason hype, but it seems he is clearly behind both Vereen and Ridley.  He is a great stash for 2015 and beyond, but unless one of the backs gets hurt, White won’t see significant playing time.  Or unless Ridley continues to give it up the pigskin to the other team.  I wouldn’t read anything into Ryan Mallett getting a series early in the game other than he is the clear Brady backup in 2014.  The Patriots defense looks ready to improve.  New inside backer, Jamie Collins, flew around the ball and does fine in pass coverage.  Defensive end Chandler Jones looks ready to take the next step.  He does a great job clubbing and swimming his way around offensive tackles on the way to the quarterback.  The defensive end has a quick first step and can crash down the line to seal the running lane.  Jones might be held under the same breath as Watt and Quinn by the end of the season.

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