Watching the 2014 NFL preseason isn't much different from navigating through highway construction. The ride is frustrating.
The league's emphasis on penalizing defenders for downfield contact has slowed the action of the game. Officials also seem to be emphasizing more hands-to-the-face penalties. Penalty flags are up to 23.4 per game during this preseason of penalties (10 more per game than the start of the past preseason).
One experiment is coming to an end this week. The two-week practice of having extra points from the 15-yard line will end following the Washington-Cleveland game Monday night. The league wanted more drama on extra points, which had become an almost automatic play. Eight extra points (more than in the entire 2013 regular season) were missed in the first 30 preseason games, and Friday's Oakland-Detroit matchup provided an example of the impact of a missed 33-yard extra point.
Lions kicker Nate Freese missed an extra point in the first quarter. That ultimately allowed the Raiders to win in the final six seconds by getting a touchdown and the elongated extra point, which prevented overtime in a 27-26 Raiders win in a game that lasted 3:26 and had 18 penalties marched off.
Here is what we learned in the second full week of preseason games:
The champs mean business: The Seattle Seahawks looked ready to defend their title with a 41-14 victory over San Diego. They rushed for 243 yards. Russell Wilson was efficient, completed 11 of 13 passes and ran for two touchdowns. The Seahawks' crowd was loud and in midseason form. The defense flew to the football.
Bradford, Romo are back: St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford looked sharp coming off ACL surgery. He was 9-for-12 against Green Bay, his passes were crisp, and he seemed to have firm control of the offense. Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, who is returning from back surgery, completed four of five passes for 80 yards against Baltimore, including three tosses to Dez Bryant for 59 yards. The fact that Romo could get the ball downfield to Bryant offers hope for the offense. As for the defense, well, that remains a negative story.
Big Ben seems to be on same page as his offensive coordinator: The no-huddle looks natural for Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. It gives him the ability to call some of his own plays. Watching him complete eight of 11 passes for 128 yards and two touchdowns against Buffalo was a treat. He looked like he was having fun in Todd Haley's offense.
Jets better worry about their pass defense: Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton was 8-for-8 for 144 yards against the cornerback-strapped New York Jets defense. The Jets' front office has taken plenty of criticism for not being more aggressive finding veteran corners. Now, because of injuries, safety Antonio Allen is playing corner. The front half of the season is loaded with games against some of the best quarterbacks in football, led by Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Philip Rivers. Rex Ryan knows how to put together great defensive plans, but his hands are tied if his corners aren't good enough.
Giant concerns on offense: During the Hall of Fame game, New York Giants starter Eli Manning looked OK throwing short passes. Over the past two weeks, he looks lost. He was 1-for-7 in Indianapolis on Saturday. Expect a tough week of practice to get things right as Eli heads into his final tune-up against the Jets on Friday.
Rookies are getting it done: Teddy Bridgewater did a nice job of sparking a come-from-behind victory for the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday night, but Matt Cassel looked too efficient at the beginning of the game to lose the starting job. Cassel was 12-for-16 with a TD pass. ... Houston Texans linebacker Jadeveon Clowney, the No. 1 overall pick, exploded into the backfield on two rushes. The Texans might have indeed drafted the best player in the 2014 draft. ... Jets safety Calvin Pryor was impressive with his hits and playmaking ability on several plays Saturday night. ... Blake Bortles continues to look like the best rookie quarterback in the 2014 draft, but the Jacksonville Jaguars are wise to not start him early.
Question marks in Atlanta, Chicago: While the Atlanta Falcons have improved their toughness and ability to win battles at the line of scrimmage, they aren't particularly deep in the trenches. They can survive losing Sam Baker to a knee injury by possibly moving Jake Matthews from right tackle to left, but one more major injury along the line could set everything backward. ... Even though the Chicago Bears didn't game plan, they have to be concerned about a defense that gave up 75- and 41-yard scoring drives to Jacksonville's Chad Henne. ... Rams halfback Isaiah Pead became the 11th player to blow out an ACL since the start of training camp.
Q: I watched the Eagles-Patriots and Titans-Saints games, and the penalties were getting old. I know Jimmy Graham will not dunk in the regular season, but what about the other flags? I'm a Saints fan, and I know Seattle got away with a lot, but come on, man. This is football. At some point don't the refs have to let the guys win it on the field? I think the Who Dats can win it all, like Seattle did last year, with hard hitters in the back such as Rafael Bush, Kenny Vaccaro and Jairus Byrd. Are the refs really going to call every touch foul in the real season?
Willy in Shreveport, Louisiana
A: I agree about the abundance of penalties, but we knew this was going to be painful when we heard a month ago about this emphasis on throwing flags. The Saints game was the worst, and Sean Payton expressed his frustration afterward. The refs will ease things up once the regular season begins, but they aren't going to let defenders constantly grab and hold pass-catchers. As for the Saints, they are in great spot to get the No. 1 seed, but they have to make sure they don't hurt their chances with penalties and mistakes.
Q: I'm curious to hear your opinion on the best fit for Ryan Mallett following this contract year. How about the Vikings? With Norv Turner at the helm, Christian Ponder's struggles at QB, a monster running game with Adrian Peterson and promising young receivers in Cordarrelle Patterson and Jarius Wright -- Mallet's go-to guy at Arkansas -- I feel he is a perfect fit for Minnesota.
Jake in Cabot, Arkansas
A: Mallett, who has a great arm, has been disappointing for New England in the preseason and in practices, and that surprises me. Minnesota isn't the fit for him; the Vikings already have Cassel and Bridgewater. I would say Houston would be a more logical team. Bill O'Brien worked with Mallett in 2011. With Tom Savage looking more like a developmental quarterback in his first year and Case Keenum not being an O'Brien selection, it might not be a bad idea for the Texans to offer a low draft choice for Mallett to be a backup.
Q: Is it pretty much a guarantee San Francisco is going to grab whichever QB the Seahawks don't keep? The Seahawks and 49ers have a tendency to pick up the players the other team releases. Since the Niners' backup, Blaine Gabbert, is so awful, I have to think they are looking to upgrade, and here the Seahawks are with three decent backups, including B.J. Daniels, who came over from San Francisco the past year. Or I can totally see the Niners grabbing Terrelle Pryor if he doesn't make the Seahawks. He would fit right in behind Colin Kaepernick. Is it a huge stretch to think the Hawks might keep him just so S.F. can't have him?
Tom in Seattle
A: You could be right, but the Seahawks need to worry about keeping their best 53 players, instead of worrying about keeping players away from the 49ers. I'm sure the 49ers would want to bring Daniels back as a No. 3 quarterback or a practice squad player. I'm not sold they would do something with Pryor; I think they would consider Tarvaris Jackson. The 49ers say they have confidence in Gabbert, but I still believe they have to look and find someone better.
Q: What do you think Alex Boone's trade value is? A second- or third-round pick? A potential better backup QB? I would love to trade Boone to Tampa Bay for Mike Glennon and a fourth-rounder, given that the Bucs are rumored to be interested in Boone.
From Matt in Richmond, Virginia
A: At the very least, Boone is worth a fourth-rounder, but it might take a fourth that could upgrade to a No. 3 to get the veteran guard. Throwing in Glennon might only complicate the trade. The bigger question is whether the 49ers would trade Boone. It would set a bad example for other teammates who might not be happy with their contracts, that they could dictate their exit from the team. Guard Mike Iupati is a free agent after the season, so the 49ers would ultimately be without their two best guards if they trade Boone and don't re-sign Iupati. The Bucs might be in a position to pay a premium to make a Boone trade.
Q: A lively debate has been waging since camps started regarding fights among teammates. Is there any benefit to it for the team, or is it just a disruption of the prep work needed for the season?
From Adam in Nashville, Tennessee
A: It's hard to say there is a benefit with a fight, because it puts players at risk of injury. Fights happen. You have players competing for jobs in hot weather. Tempers will explode. That has been the norm for decades. I have snickered at some of the comments about fights. The only difference now from years ago is social media. Within minutes of a fight, you can get details or video. Before, you'd have to wait for the nightly local news or the next day's newspaper.
Q: With all the controversy over Ray Rice's two-game suspension, why does Greg Hardy get a pass after being convicted of domestic violence? That is, why hasn't the league or the team acted yet? At this point, shouldn't he be considered guilty until proven otherwise? I've read they are letting the process play out, but this feels like it's more about keeping a star player on the field.
From Lawrence in New York
A: Hardy appealed his conviction, and the case might go into next year. That's why there hasn't been a ruling by the commissioner's office. I'm sure you saw the stories this week that the NFL hopes to have a stronger domestic violence policy as early as next month. If the NFL has its way, a first-time offender would get four to six weeks and a second-time offender would get a year. Hardy would qualify for a suspension of four to six weeks if that goes through and he loses his appeal.