In the latest version of the AFC East Roundtable, Steve Saslow of Bills Daily, Ian Logue of PatsFans.com, Luis Sung of PhinManiacs and Matt Barbato of Jet Fuel discuss the players they want to see play well in the important third preseason game.
Steve Saslow: The Offensive starter for the Bills to watch during Saturday’s preseason game against the Steelers is Matt Cassel. The QB competition is still a three horse race with Rex Ryan indicating that all three of them will get time with the first unit. Cassel is still the leader with Tyrod Taylor on his heels and EJ Manuel in third place. Cassel didn’t play last week as the coaching staff wanted an extended look at Taylor and Manuel. All that did was bunch things up even more.
They know what they have in Cassel and if he gives them a solid performance without making mistakes that will go a long way in him winning the job.
On defense the one starter to watch is rookie CB Ronald Darby. He has had an up and down summer which is to be expected from a rookie but he was forced into the starting job when Leodis McKelvin went down with a setback from offseason ankle surgery. McKelvin is due back at some point but until then Darby is the starter. He had two interceptions last week and will look to build on the confidence gained from that performance.
Ian Logue: Heading into this week's game all eyes will likely be on newly added receiver Reggie Wayne, who the Patriots signed on Monday following the loss of receivers Brandon Gibson and Brian Tyms, who are both likely headed to IR. The 36-year old will be competing for one of the final remaining spots behind Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell and Danny Amendola, and it's going to be interesting to get a first-hand look at his speed and quickness, especially considering that up until now he had still been without a team.
Defensively one player to watch is going to be defensive back Logan Ryan, who has struggled in recent weeks and really needs to finally put together a good outing. He gave up several big plays in Saturday night's win over the Saints and has been off to a frustrating start so far this preseason.
Ryan has shown so much potential and has looked good at times during practice, but through two games it hasn't quite worked out the way he probably hoped. The third preseason game is generally one of the more important ones on both sides of the football, and it's going to be critical for Ryan to show he can start turning things around as the Patriots continue trying to solidify their situation at corner opposite Malcolm Butler.
Luis Sung: If there's one starting offensive player I can safely say absolutely needs to have a good game in the third preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons, it's current left guard Dallas Thomas. After spending the first two years of his career being absolutely hated by the Dolphins fanbase, Thomas has finally been allowed to stand pat at left guard instead of being moved all over the line and stunting his growth.
As a result, Thomas has suddenly come on strong and significantly improved to the point where I have been forced to admit that I was wrong about Thomas' ineptitude. He can be a good player when given the chance to just play in a specific position instead of trying to make him a utility guy, but in order to gain everyone's trust, he needs to maintain his current level of play.
As for defense, the only choice I can really definitively say needs to have a good game is incumbent starting safety Walt Aikens. Due to the injury that ended the season of Louis Delmas, Aikens is being given the chance to prove he can fill Delmas' shoes. I don't know if he can dance like Delmas, but he definitely has all the physical tools he needs to play safety.
Aikens had a few struggles against the Panthers, but for the most part he showed the potential he had been showing all camp long. Unfortunately, he now needs to step up and play earlier than the Dolphins were hoping. He needs to have a good game against the Falcons to give fans confidence that Aikens can fill in.
Matt Barbato: The offensive starter who needs to play well in Saturday night's game against the Giants is Eric Decker. The sixth year wideout has been quiet thus far in the preseason and has caught only two passes for 16 yards in two exhibition games.
Decker is now the second receiver in the offense with Brandon Marshall in town. However, Decker thrived as the second receiver in Denver where he played alongside Demaryius Thomas. Decker as somewhat disappointing as the featured receiver in the offense and needs to have a productive game against the Giants. The Giants secondary isn't anything special and Decker should have a good performance.
Defensively, many Jets fans need to see Antonio Cromartie play well Saturday night. He's been picked on in his limited time on the field during the preseason and has had trouble tackling after the catch. Cromartie has also struggled in practice.
It's hard to say Cromartie is regressing after a small sample size during camp and preseason action, but Cromartie should be on the field for at least a couple quarters Saturday night. His performance against the Giants could be indicative of what we can expect from Cromartie going forward.
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