Football is finally back, as all 32 franchises underwent their first preseason games of the 2017-18 season this past weekend. While headlines have surfaced involving the suspension of Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliot, buzz has also been surrounding the quarterback play of upcoming rookies. Here are the takeaways from each preseason matchup over the past weekend:
Carolina Panthers def. Houston Texans 27-17
Panthers Takeaways: Remember that hype surrounding rookie running back Christian McCaffrey? Well, it’s real. With 7 carries for 33 yards, McCaffrey was also able to post a smooth-looking 12-yard carry as well in the Panthers victory. According to his teammate Jonathan Stewart, McCaffrey seems “unstoppable” from the backfield.
Since Cam Newton entered the league in 2011, no running back has eclipsed 1000+ yards on the ground. While I don’t believe McCaffrey will be any different, he definitely has the potential to be a great weapon within the Carolina backfield.
Texans Takeaways: Although Tom Savage is the projected starter for Houston, rookie quarterback DeShaun Watson is making this a battle for the ages. Completing 15-25 passes for 179 yards, Watson showed great presence within the pocket on Wednesday night.
Will he take the starting position away from Savage? I would consider it, but Watson would need to remain consistent, and move the ball down the field in the next handful of preseason games.
Miami Dolphins def. Atlanta Falcons 23-20
Dolphins Takeaways: While most of the starters, including free agent signing Jay Cutler, were benched for this game, one aspect I found interesting was the lack of depth at the run game for the Dolphins. The 23-year old Kenyan Drake carried the ball 4 times for 21 yards, but that was the only “spunk” within the Miami rushing attack.
Jay Ajayi proved to be elite in 2016, but while we are still unsure that he do that on a consistent basis, it’s not a good sign that Miami doesn’t have enough depth within the backfield. Cutler is likely set to retire after this season, but Miami is looking to take as much pressure off of him as possible.
Falcons Takeaways: We know just how explosive this Atlanta offense can be, but the real question was whether the defense could hold their own. Throughout the game, the Falcons defensive line seemed incapable at times when it came to getting to the opposing quarterback. With no sacks by any members of the defense, Atlanta will look to emphasize on this key in weeks to come.
After ranking 16th in the NFL in terms of team sacks last season, the Falcons will need to improve on their defensive front if they have any desire to get back into the Super Bowl. Sure, the offense can keep the defense off of the field, but everyone knows by now that defense wins championships in today’s game.
Minnesota Vikings def. Buffalo Bills 17-10
Vikings Takeaways: The headline surrounding the Vikings happened to be rookie running back Dalvin Cook. Coming in as a second-round selection, many are holding him to high expectations. In his debut against the Bills, Cook disappointed on the ground, carrying the ball 5 times for 13 yards. On the other hand, Cook proved to be reliable as a pass-catcher, recording 4 receptions for 30 yards.
I don’t hold the same high hopes for Cook as others do, just because I know the Vikings will also heavily rely on veteran Latavius Murray as well. Although Murray did not play, expect the two to split the carries throughout the 2017-18 season.
Bills Takeaways: Even after wide receiver Sammy Watkins reeled in 4-5 targets for 39 yards, the Bills still elected to trade him away to the Los Angeles Rams. This will likely increase the value of rookie Zay Jones, but I expect for Jordan Matthews to steal a lot of reps as well.
Matthews, much like Watkins, has the tendency to miss a few games due to injury. While Watkins missed 8 games in 2016, he was on track to record 60+ receptions at the end of the year. I would pay attention to Matthews in weeks to come, and what kind of immediate connection he has with Tyrod Taylor.
Baltimore Ravens def. Washington Redskins 23-3
Ravens Takeaways: Once viewed as the best defense in all of football, I was impressed with how the Ravens limited the Redskins this past weekend. Only allowing 113 yards in the air, and 39 yards on the ground, this Ravens defense held their own.
After only allowing 20.1 points per game to opponents in 2016, this Ravens defense is off to a solid start. I would like to see how they utilize more of their offensive weapons, as most of their projected starters got some time to rest.
Redskins Takeaways: The Redskins are off to a cold start when it comes to the running game, as their core averaged 2.2 yards per carry against the Ravens. Granted that Rob Kelley, Chris Thompson, and Matt Jones only received a combination of eight attempts, the Redskins couldn’t find an answer on how to move the ball down the field.
The running back situation is likely to be a committee with the Redskins, but none of the viable options proved that they wanted it in this game. Thompson went on to receive 2 carries for 10 yards, but aside from that, this was a disappointing debut for the franchise.
Jacksonville Jaguars def. New England Patriots 31-24
Jaguars Takeaways: Rookie running back Leonard Fournette happened to be the center of attention after this game, claiming that the NFL was “easier than he expected”. Finishing with 9 carries for 31 yards and a touchdown, Fournette will need to continue to put the numbers where his mouth is.
The Jaguars haven’t had a 1000-yard rusher since Maurice Jones-Drew in 2011, and that was when he lead the league in rushing yards with 1,606 yards. If Fournette is going to prove to be an offensive force for this franchise, consistency will be key.
Patriots Takeaways: Some expected the Patriots to trade away backup quarterback Jimmy Garropolo, but with his stellar performance this past weekend, his value has certainly increased. Finishing the game 22-28 with 235 yards and a pair of touchdowns, Garropolo has continued to prove that he can thrive within a competitive environment.
After the upcoming season, the Patriots will have a lot to think about in terms of Garoppolo’s future. Will they overpay him to be a backup during his potential prime? Will they trade him to a desperate franchise before the season ends? Is Garoppolo even interested in playing as a backup to Brady anymore?
Cleveland Browns def. New Orleans Saints 20-14
Browns Takeaways: While Brock Osweiler and Cody Kessler are battling for the starting quarterback position, the only name that really stood out from under center was Notre Dame rookie DeShone Kizer. He did have the most playing time of the three aforementioned names, but Kizer still finished 11-18 with 184 yards and a touchdown.
On top of that, Kizer was able to show he wasn’t afraid to sling the ball, as his average completion happened to be 10.2 yards. I like Kizer a lot, but I believe the Browns have invested too much in Osweiler and Kessler to even consider him as an option as the week one starter.
Saints Takeaways: Anyone mind telling me who Tommylee Lewis is? The second-year receiver racked up 76 receiving yards in all of 2016, yet caught 10-11 targets for 124 yards and a touchdown this past weekend.
Sure, the Saints have enough depth with Willie Snead and Michael Thomas, but with Brandin Cooks traded to the New England Patriots, could a spot be open for Lewis? If he can continue to remain impressive throughout the preseason, he could slowly climb up a few slots on the depth chart.
Green Bay Packers def. Philadelphia Eagles 24-9
Packers Takeaways: The Packers offense was essentially only able to thrive because of their outstanding defense. With five interceptions and two fumble recoveries, the Packers were able to take advantage of an unproductive Eagles offense this past weekend.
While the Packers defense won’t normally force seven turnovers a game, it’s good to know that they can still elevate their level of play. Green Bay finished 2016 with a give-take of +8, which was enough for the sixth-best in the NFL.
Eagles Takeaways: When you put up 9 points on the scoreboard, there isn’t much to take away. I will give Carson Wentz credit though, as he was able to go 4-4 with 56 yards and a touchdown.
Some don’t view the Eagles as a threat within the NFC East, but Wentz has the potential to make this franchise a contender for the division crown. As the weeks go on, I hope Wentz proves that this performance against the Packers wasn’t a fluke.
Denver Broncos def. Chicago Bears 24-17
Broncos Takeaways: The Broncos have reportedly seen a lack of development from quarterback Paxton Lynch, which only has lead us to believe that Trevor Siemian will start the 2017 season for the franchise. Last weekend, Siemian was 6-7 with 51 yards, while Lynch was 6-9 with 42 yards.
Neither quarterback threw for a touchdown, but the QBR of Siemian happened to be 19.9 points higher than Lynch. I expect for Siemian to be named the starter within the next handful of weeks, but both quarterbacks have a long way to go before being considered an above-average QB.
Bears Takeaways: The biggest headline for the Bears surrounded rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky. While he dazzled us with 166 yards and a touchdown, projected starter Mike Glennon threw for only 20 yards and an interception.
The Bears were planning to bench Trubisky, in hopes that Glennon was capable of leading the offense for a few years as a game manager. Signing a 3-year, $45 million deal, the Bears may have a lot of dead money on their hands with a currently cold Glennon on their hands.
Pittsburgh Steelers def. New York Giants 20-12
Steelers Takeaways: While the Steelers didn’t play a majority of their starters, one individual that did make his way onto the field was rookie receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. While he didn’t get a whole lot of playing time, he did catch his only target for 4 yards, and even had a sneaky 9-yard run.
I don’t know if he will be utilized as much as Steelers fans think he will, but Schuster is athletically-gifted in every sense. In some ways, he reminds me of a Ty Montgomery-type of weapon, as he can make plays happen with his hands and legs.
Giants Takeaways: Preseason scores don’t matter whatsoever, but the fact that the Giants were capable of forcing four turnovers in the game is special. With two interceptions and two fumble recoveries, the Giants were even on the verge of a third fumble recover this past weekend.
The franchise has spent a lot of time and money into their defensive weapons, and I’m sure the front office is relieved to know that there is a sense of potential in their investments so far.
San Francisco 49ers def. Kansas City Chiefs 27-17
49ers Takeaways: Although the 49ers went on to win the game, the quarterback play that was displayed seemed mediocre at best. While projected starter Brian Hoyer threw 1-4 for three yards, the spotlight within the 49ers victory happened to be third-string QB C.J. Beathard.
Completing 7-11 of his passes for 101 yards and a pair of touchdowns, Beathard happened to finish the game with a posted QBR of 133.0. This may have been one mere preseason game, but if Beathard remains consistent, expect for him to take over as the backup within time.
Chiefs Takeaways: All eyes seemed on rookie QB Patrick Mahomes II for the Chiefs, and he was just fine in his preseason debut. Finishing the game 7-9 with 49 yards and one touchdown, Mahomes finished the game with the highest QBR on the Chiefs roster.
Granted that veteran Alex Smith will be the starter in week one of the regular season, Mahomes showed glimpses of greatness in his first competitive environment. I would have liked to see him take a few more risks, as his average completed pass only went for 5.4 yards.
Cincinnati Bengals def. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 23-12
Bengals Takeaways: The Bengals seemed willing to gamble on rookie running back Joe Mixon, and so far, it has paid off. Finishing the game with 6 carries for 31 yards, Mixon even had a flashy 13-yard carry in the Bengals victory.
Jeremy Hill also played a small role in the Bengals victory, carrying the ball 7 times for 26 yards. I expect for Mixon to ease into the starting slot as the season progresses, but this Bengals backfield will remain as a committee.
Buccaneers Takeaways: We figured that Jameis Winston and Mike Evans would thrive in the preseason, which they did. One thing I was looking for was the consistency of Charles Sims, who is the projected lead back while Doug Martin serves his three-game suspension.
Finishing the loss with 3 carries for 23 yards, Sims is likely being limited due to a large workload to come in the first few weeks of the regular season. If Sims can continue to impress the Bucs staff with every rep he receives, expect for him to take the starting job away from Martin.
Tennessee Titans def. New York Jets 7-3
Titans Takeaways: In perhaps the most bland game of the weekend, the only headline coming from the Titans corner happened to be the return of Marcus Mariota. The quarterback played in his first competitive game since breaking his right leg in 2016, and he looked solid in the early stages.
Tossing 2-3 for 15 yards, the Titans are taking it as slow as possible with their centerpiece for the franchise. I would expect for Mariota to perhaps rest in the final week of preseason, but receive the same amount of reps in weeks two and three.
Jets Takeaways: While the Jets seem to be a total mess for the upcoming campaign, one player that didn’t disappoint was quarterback Josh McCown. Completing 3-4 passes for 72 yards and a touchdown, he will likely be the temporary answer at the Jets quarterback position.
The franchise is obviously tanking the upcoming season in order to draft USC star Sam Darnold, but expect for the Jets to experiment with anyone they can under center this season if they drop a lot of games early on.
Los Angeles Rams def. Dallas Cowboys 13-10
Rams Takeaways: You mean to tell me that Jared Goff actually looked like a starting quarterback? After an underwhelming rookie campaign, Goff went 3-4 for 34 yards in Sunday’s win. While it may not seem impressive, Goff did a nice job taking the Rams down the field on multiple occasions, but was often let down by Los Angeles’ tendency of turning the ball over.
The Rams went out and traded for wide receiver Sammy Watkins recently, so it will be interesting to see if the two can connect often in the remaining preseason games. While I may not be Goff’s biggest fan, I have confidence that he can mold into a game manager.
Cowboys Takeaways: With Ezekiel Elliot currently set to miss the first six games of the regular season, the Cowboys are in desperate need of an answer at the running back position. While Alfred Morris seemed more impressive in the Hall of Fame game, it was veteran Darren McFadden that shined in this particular matchup.
With 6 carries for 28 yards, McFadden was able to perhaps take a lead for the starting role in this supposed committee. While all eyes will be on Elliot’s appeal for now, the other headline will be which veteran running back will receive more reps in weeks to come.
Arizona Cardinals def. Oakland Raiders 20-10
Cardinals Takeaways: The largest headline out of the Cardinals corner happened to be their consistent quarterback play. With Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton combining for 15-23 with 151 yards and a pair of touchdowns, it proved that while Palmer is aging and becoming more vulnerable to injuries, the Cardinals can still rely on Stanton as a top-tier backup.
While Stanton is already 33-years old, the Cardinals will likely be more inclined to invest in a more “youthful” answer in the near future. Arizona is continuing to prove themselves as just fine under center, but it’s important to note that veteran injuries can occur at any point in time.
Raiders Takeaways: Perhaps the most significant headline from the Raiders came from a guy who didn’t even step onto the field. Veteran free agent Marshawn Lynch was on the sidelines during the preseason event, but elected to sit during the national anthem. This same topic has been buzzing around for months in regards to unsigned quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and it’s apparent that Lynch agrees with the stance.
Lynch has never been afraid of what others think of him, nor should he. While critics of the NFL claim that Kaepernick is being “blackballed” by the league, it’ll be interesting to see their stance of Lynch sitting.
Detroit Lions def. Indianapolis Colts 24-10
Lions Takeaways: Part of preseason is making sure certain veterans receive enough rest. By the Lions resting running back Theo Riddick, they were able to see what backups such as Dwayne Washington and Zach Zenner could do. The two combined for 12 carries for 60 yards, which isn’t too shabby.
While Riddick is listed as the projected starter, Washington and Zenner will likely see a few reps throughout the course of the regular season. I don’t see this as a major headline, but Detroit has found issues committing to one running back in the past handful of seasons.
Colts Takeaways: While the status of Andrew Luck is still unclear to the public, one thing we do know is that none of the quarterbacks from Sunday proved themselves as temporary answers. The projected backup to Luck, Scott Tolzien, went 2-5 for 24 yards in the Colts loss.
Sure, Tolzien’s sample size is way too small to judge, but nothing beneficial came out of the backup’s performance. Getting sacked once as well, the Colts are losing precious time before they are forced to name a week one starter.
Seattle Seahawks def. Los Angeles Chargers 48-17
Seahawks Takeaways: While the Seahawks put together 48 points, it was mostly thanks to the superb quarterback play throughout the game. With Russell Wilson, Austin Davis, and Trevone Boykin each posting a QBR of 100.0+, the Seattle offense was essentially able to run over the Chargers.
The Seahawks at one point in time were looking into signing Colin Kaepernick as a backup option. While the backup play of Davis was impressive at times, it looks as though Seattle made the right call.
Chargers Takeaways: Although the Chargers may have lost, 17 points is nothing to be ashamed of. The starting core of Philip Rivers, Travis Benjamin, and Antonio Gates all seemed consistent, which can only leave fans with hope.
While preseason is often a period to let your backup players prove themselves, it’s good to know that the first-team players are starting smoothly in August. The 2016 campaign was underwhelming for Los Angeles, as the franchise has made very little changes to the roster throughout the summer.
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