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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 ebronconstant 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:

Raiders vs Packers

The Al Davis era might be over in reality, but the legacy still lives on with recycled older players that might be over their heads along with a few young upstarts.  Newly signed receiver James Jones runs crisp routes, creates separation, but is not in sync with Matt Schaub.  I’m not sure any of the Raiders receivers are on the same page with their quarterback which might be a bigger problem sooner than later.  MJD looked great on one of his carries where he broke a few arm tackles and showed some burst on a 40 yard touchdown run.  Jones-Drew might have five more of those runs left in his body, but playing with this offense they might get used up quickly.  The reason for optimism in Oakland is the play of their two young linebackers, Sio Moore and Khalil Mack.  Moore applied inside pressure in both the run and pass games.  His motor is unrelenting and he delivers punishment on every blow.  He left the game with a strained neck which the backer can hopefully recover from quickly.  Mack reads and recognizes immediately what the offense is trying to do.  He picked off a screen pass and is constantly generating pressure in the running and passing games.

The Packers seem ready for the start of the season.  Eddie Lacy is running with power, breaking tackles while dancing using his quick feet.  He can carry defenders on his back for five to ten yards.  His backup, James Starks, has good leg drive, gets low in the hole, and is a great one-two punch with Lacy.  An explosive running game will open plays for the Green Bay passing game.  The tight end musical chairs continues now with rookie Richard Rodgers.  He looks good getting behind the safety splitting the seam a couple of times.  The Packers rookie receiver everyone got excited about, Devonte Adams, saw limited time with the starters. He got targeted for the second two point conversion, but failed to adjust to the ball.  The rookie wide out was not on the same page with either quarterback and he coughed up a pass that he should have caught when he took a hit in the back.  It might take some time for Adams to break into the top three Packers receiving crew.

 Lions vs Jaguars

The Lions attacked early, but faded as the game went on.  Joique Bell looks like their best running back with his power, good jump cuts, and anticipation of where the hole will be.  Second year back, Theo Riddick, saw more time with the starters, but got used more similarly to how Reggie Bush with short dump off passes and screens.  He got one red zone carry, but got stuffed.  Riddick needs to be used in space to be effective.  Rookie tight end Eric Ebron played with more confidence with a few nice catch and runs.  He caught the ball in stride, spun around defenders, used good leg drive, and got a better release off the line.  Former Seahawk receiver Golden Tate continued with his downfield threat routine, using his quickness and route running to create space.

Jacksonville’s offense looks sluggish with Chad Henne at the helm playing within ten yards of the line of scrimmage.  Toby Gerhart ran hard straight ahead, but does not look like a threat to run anywhere outside.  He can square his shoulders and deliver blows, but he has zero wiggle to make anyone miss.  Rookie receiver Marquise Lee has almost zero chemistry with Henne, but seems to come alive once Blake Bortles comes on the field.  Bortles has a strong arm and usually places the ball where only his receivers can get to it.  Andre Branch, who mostly plays defensive end, dropped back into coverage as an outside backer and made the Lions pay with a nice interception and run after the fact.  The defender is quick off the snap and gets great pressure in the backfield on passes and runs.  With the new influx of defensive linemen, Branch is more rested to make plays.

Giants vs Jets

This was an ugly game to watch for anyone who lives outside of New York.  Eli Manning is not the quarterback he once was.  The former Raider and Jaguar rusher, Rashad Jennings, is the best piece of the Giants offense.  He runs well with good vision as he glides between blockers.  The back catches the ball well and always falls forward.  Receiver Rueben Randle flashed a little by high pointing the ball and showing good sideline awareness.  He also ran a nice button hook pattern for a touchdown when he shielded the defender away from the ball and snared it for himself.  Rookie sensation, Andre Williams, looked a bit better on pass protection, but failed to generate any positives running the ball with the first three-quarters.

On the Jets side, they ran the ball well.  Geno Smith looked and played his way into the starter’s role after only playing the first half.  He is stepping up in the pocket, looking to throw down the field.  His chemistry with rookie tight end  Jace Amaro is improving from week to week with a touchdown this week.  It will take time to get that with Eric Decker, too.  Smith and Decker did connect for one touchdown as well this week.  It’s Smith mobility that makes him a little scary for defenses.

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