Within the next couple weeks we are all going to be complaining about preseason football, but it sure was nice to see the NFL back doing its thing this past weekend. However meaningless August football might be in the grand scheme of things, there are a few different things we can take away from what happened during the first full weekend of gridiron action.
From a backup quarterback in New England that failed to impress to a safety in Kansas City that showed us real life is about much more than what happens between the hashes, here are 10 takeaways from Week 1 of the NFL preseason.
1. Not time to overreact
If the first week of the preseason amounted to anything of substance, the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks would be in tremendous trouble. Meanwhile, the Oakland Raiders and Chicago Bears would be Super Bowl favorites. Fortunately for those who doled out thousands to watch that title bout in Santa Clara this upcoming February, we can’t take much out of preseason performances. That’s magnified early in the exhibition slate.
Some of the top teams in the NFL are working on specific things while those less-than-stellar squads—some with first-year head coaches—are actually game-planning like the preseason scoreboard matters.
There are specific things we can take out of preseason action. Heck, that’s what the rest of this article is about. But let’s make sure not to overreact. This should be the first takeaway from each week of the preseason.
2. Jimmy Garoppolo has a lot of work to do
Ball placement. A lack of accuracy. No real willingness to stretch the field. Here are three things we can take from Garoppolo’s first appearance of the preseason. None of this is really a surprise considering the former second-round pick has attempted a total of 27 career regular season passes. It is, however, a concern with him potentially slated to start the first four games of the season.
Garoppolo did complete 20-of-30 passes, but he struggled getting the ball down the field. The second-year quarterback averaged just 5.3 yards per attempt and was sacked a ridiculous seven times. Some of those sacks were complete breakdowns from the offensive line, but the young quarterback struggled actually getting rid of the ball in a timely manner.
If Garoppolo struggles in those two areas of the game, the Patriots are going to have to further dummy down their playbook for the first four weeks of the season should Tom Brady’s suspension be upheld. That will cause some major issues on both side of the ball, leaving New England’s defense in a situation to have to step up big time after it lost a ton of core players in the secondary.
From here on out in the preseason, Garoppolo is going to have to show a ton of improvement. If Not, the Patriots may very well start out behind the proverbial eight-ball when the regular season comes calling.
3. Ameer Abdullah continues to shine
With Joique Bell still out, this rookie second-round pick has a chance to shine as Detroit’s top dog in the backfield. That’s exactly what he did Thursday night against the New York Jets, going for 67 yards on seven rushes. Displaying the breakaway ability we all saw during his days in Lincoln, the Nebraska product pulled off one of the best runs of the entire week.
While Abdullah gained only 22 yards outside of that impressive 45-yard scamper, he showed everyone that he has the ability to break it big on every play. That’s a dimension the Lions were missing last year with Reggie Bush hobbled and Theo Riddick failing to perform at a high level. It’s also something we can judge even in the preseason. Look at how Abdullah turned inside against two Jets defenders before hitting the hole hard. It’s something that simply can’t be taught.
4. Seattle Seahawks offensive line is a problem
Russell Wilson dropped back to pass four times and was sacked twice. Overall, Seahawks quarterbacks found themselves sacked seven times on 35 dropbacks. That’s simply not going to get it done in the regular season. And in reality, Seattle better hope Wilson receives better protection or he faces the real possibility of missing some action to injury.
The loss of Pro Bowl center Max Unger in the Jimmy Graham trade could be huge here. Playing an extremely underrated position, Unger had anchored an otherwise talent-stricken offensive line for the past six seasons. Heck, fellow off-season departure James Carpenter looks better than any guard Seattle currently has on its roster.
Despite playing just two possessions, Seattle’s starting offensive line allowed two sacks against the Denver Broncos. Once the backups came in, it became an absolute dumpster fire. Outside of Russell Okung’s health, the largest concerns here have to be at right tackle and one of the guard positions. Justin Britt was dismal as a rookie last season, and didn’t seem to do much better in limited playing time last week. Meanwhile, Alvin Bailey is going to have to step up next to J.R. Sweezy at guard. Heck, the performance of Lemuel Jeanpierre left a lot to be desired at center.
Okay, it might be easier to name off what’s not wrong with this line. Sweezy looks like he might stick as a solid guard in the NFL. Outside of that, Seattle’s offensive line has a ton of work to do between now and the start of the regular season. If it doesn’t improve, Russell Wilson and company are going to be in trouble. That’s the harsh reality of the situation in the Pacific Northwest.
5. The Kirk Cousins “effect”
We have seen this dog and pony show before. There was a time not too long ago that Cousins was among the most interesting trade possibilities for teams in need of a starting quarterback. We then saw full well what he was made of during his limited playing time last season—playing time that enabled us to understand that Cousins likely wasn’t a starter-caliber quarterback in the NFL.
Cousins may have outperformed Robert Griffin III in Washington’s preseason opener, but he’s not going to be under center for the team this season unless the latter struggles big time. Instead, he’s auditioning for a potential starting role on another team. In this, Cousins’ performance was rather eye-opening Thursday night against the Cleveland Browns. The former Michigan State standout completed 12-of-14 passes for 154 yards while displaying pinpoint accuracy throughout the game.
With teams such as the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills potentially looking into the trade market for a veteran quarterback, Cousins name has to be at the top of the list. It will be interesting to see if he’s moved between now and the start of the season. After all, the backup has previously indicated he doesn’t want to remain in that role with the Redskins.
6. Uneven performances from rookie quarterbacks
Tennessee Titans starting quarterback Marcus Mariota threw an interception and fumbled the ball in his first two possessions as a professional quarterback. Though, the reigning Heisman winner did rebound to lead the Titans to an impressive 10-play, 80-yard touchdown scoring drive to cap his night. Overall, Mariota completed 7-of-8 passes for 94 yards with two turnovers.
Where Mariota’s numbers might have been impressive, covering up what was an average performance, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston had an up-and-down debut against the Minnesota Vikings. He completed less than half his pass attempts (9-of-19) with 131 yards and one interception. The No. 1 overall pick did add an impressive eight-yard touchdown on the ground.
— NFL (@NFL) August 16, 2015
The ups and downs of a rookie quarterback is something both of these players are going to have to deal with. It’s something that came to head in their preseason debuts, and there’s much more of where this came from moving forward this year. It’s now all about Mariota and Winston showing signs of improvement as the preseason progresses. It they are performing at anywhere near the same clip when Week 1 comes calling, those expecting breakout campaigns should probably hit the mute button.
7. Injuries should lead to talk about shortening preseason
From Washington Redskins tight end Niles Paul to Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle Phil Loadholt, there were some disturbing injuries occur during the first full weekend of NFL preseason action. Paul and Loadholt join St. Louis Rams corner E.J. Gaines as valuable players that were lost for the season.
In addition to this, both the Jacksonville Jaguars and New Orleans Saints suffered some injuries. Jaguars guard Julius Thomas will miss the remainder of the preseason with a fracture in his hand, while safety Johnathan Cyprien will also miss the rest of the exhibition slate with a broken hand. In New Orleans, new starting corner Brandon Browner went down with what looked like a serious knee injury. Though, it does look like the Saints dodged a major bullet there. Browner is expected to be okay.
The list goes on and on … and on.
We simply can’t continue to see potential season-altering injuries occur at this rate during the preseason. Loadholt’s situation is a prime example of this. As the best Vikings offensive linemen, losing the right tackle for the season is potentially a major blow for the continued progression of second-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. With Matt Kalil struggling at left tackle, the brass in Minnesota is now left wondering just how much its franchise quarterback will be impacted by said injury.
8. Change in Denver Broncos offensive scheme is real
Outside of the tremendous success a Peyton Manning-less Broncos offense had against the Seattle Seahawks on Friday night, there is one major takeaway from what we saw in an impressive overall performance. Led by new head coach Gary Kubiak, the Broncos seem more intent on grounding and pounding this season. Regardless of the running back in the game, Denver’s ground attack was consistently good throughout the night. Overall, the team ran the ball 32 times compared to 31 pass attempts. The Broncos also had some success doing so, going for 113 yards on the ground.
Whether this is something that will continue with Manning under center remains to be seen, but Friday’s game gave us a glimpse of what Kubiak wants to do on offense. Hillman led the pack with 66 yards on eight attempts while Montee Ball went for 26 yards in a game that didn’t even feature starting running back C.J. Anderson (three attempts).
It might be the preseason, but Denver’s willingness to stick to the run against the best defense in the NFL has to be a sign that Kubiak isn’t going to stray away from what he does best. After all, he’s led 10 top-five rushing attacks since his first stint as the Broncos’ offensive coordinator back in 1995.
9. It’s possible Jarryd Hayne could stick in the NFL
— NFL (@NFL) August 16, 2015
There has been a ton of buzz surrounding this former rugby player in Santa Clara during camp. However, said buzz was mainly met with skepticism. A year removed from dominating Australia in a completely different sport, Hayne acted as a dynamic force for the San Francisco 49ers in an otherwise poor performance for the team. Not only did the running back break off a tremendous 53-yard run, he put up an average of 12 yards on two punt returns and took a kick off deep in San Francisco’s end zone all the way to the 33-yard line.
Dynamic is the best term we could use to describe how the running back looked on Saturday night. He just seems built to play running back in the NFL. First-year head coach Jim Tomsula didn’t necessarily attempt to ground the excitement after Hayne’s football debut:
“Jarryd did a nice job,” Tomsula said, via the team’s official site. “I’m not as shocked that Jarryd was able to field punts and run, or field kicks and run, or Jarryd was able to see creases and get into the open field and avoid. I’ve seen him do all those things. I’ve watched a lot of film of him playing rugby.”
With Carlos Hyde, Reggie Bush and Kendall Hunter clearly ahead of him on the depth chart, Hayne will have to continue performing at a high level to make the team. Though, it’s highly unlikely San Francisco would let someone of his all-world (literally) talent catch on with another team. That has to lead us to believe there will be a spot for Hayne on the 53-man roster.
10. Eric Berry
In an era where most of the news we cover is negative, this is one tremendous story. This former Pro Bowler was diagnosed with lymphoma after doctors found a mass in his chest shortly after the Kansas City Chiefs played the Oakland Raiders last November. Now, less than 10 months after that life-altering diagnosis and after going through the rigors of chemotherapy, Berry returned to the field Saturday night against the Arizona Cardinals in what was an emotional moment for the star defensive back:
“Just being able to do it and be out with my teammates and have my mom on the sideline, that was just great. She was there from day one,” Berry said of his mom, via ESPN. “We went through a lot. She saw me at my worst. We talked about this moment. I think that’s why she came to tears like that because we talked about it a long time ago. I told her I’d be back.”
It’s times like this that we all need to take a step back from football and understand everything Berry went through just to live. Unless you have battled the unimaginable known as cancer, it’s hard to fully grasp the type of strength Berry displayed by simply returning to the field for an otherwise meaningless preseason football game. He’s our real winner from Week 1 of the preseason.