Week 3 of the preseason might be the most interesting preseason game to watch as a fan. The majority of the preseason games are meant to give the starters a bit of playing experience before sending the backup and reserve players out to battle for various roster spots. But, in Week 3, the starters will get their chance to go out and play for the entire first half.
The unique format of the third preseason game gives us a reason to pay close attention to the performance of certain starters, something that otherwise doesn’t have much consequence until the regular season starts. That’s not to say the performances of the backup and reserve players don’t matter, but this week some of the most interesting matchups to watch will be between starters.
WR Allen Robinson vs CB Adam Jones
The Jacksonville Jaguars might not be a team that comes to mind when thinking of teams that boast the top receiver tandems in the NFL. But, in 2015, Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns broke out for an astounding 2,431 combined yards and 24 combined touchdowns.
Trying to keep the more potent Allen in check will be a fantastic litmus test for Adam Jones’ abilities. Last year, he was rewarded with his first Pro Bowl appearance for an excellent season at cornerback in which he recorded 53 tackles, 12 passes deflected, and three interceptions. The hope is that he can repeat that level of success in 2016, and though he’s going to be 33-years-old in September, he hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down. If he can hold Robinson in check and take out one of the Jagaurs’ best offensive weapons, it should signal that he’s ready for another great year.
LT Kelvin Beachum vs RDE Michael Johnson
Kelvin Beachum is a familiar foe whom Michael Johnson is all-too familiar with. After four years with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Beachum joined the Jaguars this offseason. Beachum will start for the Jaguars at left tackle for the first time on Sunday, due to a few injury setbacks.
Johnson will be looking to get some good work in, hoping to improve over a 2015 season in which he recorded only 29 tackles and five sacks. Those numbers aren’t necessarily bad, but they certainly aren’t the same kind of numbers that he was putting up prior to leaving Cincinnati for a better offer from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2014 offseason. He will be hoping to improve as a pass rusher in 2016. The chance to hone his skills against an established and successful veteran like Beachum will be invaluable.
QB Andy Dalton vs Jaguars’ secondary
It has been a good preseason so far for the Bengals’ star quarterback, recording 11 completions for 110 yards. But, he hasn’t had a chance to show much before being pulled early against the Lions and Vikings. Coming off of a brilliant start last year before losing his season to a thumb injury, expectations are high for the sixth year quarterback, so fans will want to see how he does in extended action.
Granted, he has historically struggled with consistency. That problem appeared to be a thing of the past in 2015, but going up against a star-studded Jaguars’ secondary over the course of at least two quarters will give him a chance to show whether last year was a fluke, or he has really taken the next step.
It certainly won’t be easy. The Jaguars’ secondary features coveted 2016 draft pick and all-around defensive backfield threat, Jalen Ramsey next to established starter Devon House at cornerback. In addition, established starter Jonathan Cyprien and prized free agent Tashaun Gipson hold down the safety position. Granted, two of those four starting defensive backs are new additions for the Jaguars. But, they’re also two of the most talented defensive back additions of the entire 2016 offseason by any team. Dalton will have to prove his accuracy and reliability to look good against this secondary.
WR Brandon LaFell vs CB Davon House
Brandon LaFell will finally make his Bengals debut on Sunday, playing throw a hand injury. This is big, because he is expected to be the Bengals’ starting complement to star wide receiver A.J. Green this year. LaFell has seemed excited to show the team and fans what he can bring to a group that he believes is a championship contender.
Davon House performed pretty well as a starting cornerback with the Jaguars last year, after spending his first four years as an on-and-off starter with the Green Bay Packers. He recorded 60 tackles, four interceptions, and 23 pass deflections as a 15-game starter for the Jaguars last year. Watching how LaFell performs against him on Sunday will be a great gauge for how deserving he is of the No. 2 receiver spot.