After a packed slate of preseason action on Thursday, the NFL delivered for fans once again on Friday with two exciting games that featured plenty of surprises.
The first week of the preseason is always about making strong impressions. Whether it’s a new offense trying to show a glimpse of what it’s capable of or a young player trying to impress coaches, it all makes for compelling action.
While many players stepped up and provided coaches with plenty of good tape to analyze, several others came off the field with plenty of regrets. Here are the winners and losers from Friday’s preseason action in the NFL.
Winner: Bruce Arians’ offense makes a strong first impression
Arians is certainly saving most of his playbook for the regular season, but he should come away from Friday’s game feeling even more confident in his starting offense.
Tampa Bay walked through Pittsburgh’s defense with ease and didn’t even need any of the vertical shots down the field we typically see from Arians’ offense. Jameis Winston completed five-of-six attempts for 40 yards with a touchdown, while Peyton Barber and Ronald Jones combined for 36 rushing yards on seven carries.
If any coach can help fix Winston’s issues and unlock more of this team’s potential, it will be Arians. Fans saw a glimpse of a high-powered, efficient offense on Friday and Arians will have even more tricks up his sleeve when the games really matter.
Loser: New Orleans Saints offensive line depth
If the team’s preseason opener is any indication of what’s to come, New Orleans should fear for the safety of Drew Brees and Alvin Kamara if injuries hit the offensive line.
Minnesota threw the standard mix of blitzes and stunts at the Saints and regularly created havoc in the backfield. Marshall Newhouse, Will Clap and Michael Ola allowed plenty of pressure and got caught for penalties.
No one is expecting them to completely shut down any pressure and rack up pancakes, but this was ugly. Losing even one starter along the offensive line this season could be a massive blow for New Orleans if no one behind the starters steps up.
Winner: James Washington makes his case for a larger role
While Donte Moncrief might be the favorite to serve as Pittsburgh’s No. 2 receiver right now, Washington made a strong case with a dominant performance against the Buccaneers.
It started with a leaping catch for a 44-yard play in the first quarter that established early momentum. He followed it up with a clutch 22-yard grab when Pittsburgh’s drive was prepared to stall on a long third down.
He just missed out on a touchdown when he couldn’t get a second foot down, but made up for it later in the game with a score. The 23-year-old’s 84-yard performance and playmaking ability should earn him a shot for more reps with the starters.
Loser: Benny Snell Jr. can’t take advantage of opportunities
The Steelers gave Snell an opportunity to shine in his first preseason game and make an argument to be part of their running back rotation this season. Instead, the rookie couldn’t find any room to make a run.
While Jaylen Samuels needed just a single run to rack up 22 yards, Snell required 13 carries to surpass him. The rookie’s longest run came on a five-yard burst, he averaged just two yards per carry and his two big receptions came against third-string players.
It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given he tested poorly at the combine and was expected to be more of a short-yardage back at the next level. Pittsburgh’s fourth-round pick investment seems headed for a small role in 2019.
Winner: Devin Bush shows why Pittsburgh traded up for him
While one of Pittsburgh’s draft picks might have disappointed, Bush will be the talk of the city after his outstanding NFL debut on Friday.
Even fans who missed the game will be impressed looking at the box score to see Bush’s team-high seven solo tackles and 10 total tackles. The film also showed plenty of great plays, including a huge tackle for a stop on fourth down and some great coverage that nearly resulted in an interception.
There’s a reason the Steelers gave up the No. 52 overall pick and a 2020 third-round pick to move up in the first round and take Bush. He’s going to make an instant impact for this defense and fans will quickly fall in love with him just like they did with Ryan Shazier.
Loser: Andre Ellington makes worst impression in a loaded backfield
In a game where many of his peers delivered notable performances, Ellington failed to provide any meaningful value to Tampa Bay’s offense.
The 30-year-old turned four carries into just nine rushing yards and got stuffed when Tampa Bay trusted him in a fourth-and-one situation. He only received a lone reception in the passing game and his pass protection led to a sack and fumble for the Buccaneers.
Fortunately for Ellington, his reputation as a reliable receiver out of the backfield and a trusted weapon in Arians’ offense will give him some breathing room. Of course, that can only last for so long if his peers keep outperforming him.
Winner: Teddy Bridgewater shows he is the future in New Orleans
Whenever Drew Brees decides to hang up the cleats and head into the Hall of Fame, New Orleans should be in good hands with Bridgewater.
The 26-year-old performed nicely in the first half despite only having the team’s top playmakers for a short amount of time. Bridgewater showed off great placement on a deep ball down the sideline then wrapped up his clutch drive before halftime with a touchdown against his former team.
He finished the night with 134 passing yards and a 110.4 quarterback rating with 14-of-19 passes completed. While there are still a few things he’ll need to clean up, Bridgewater continues to prove he is capable of being a starting quarterback.
Loser: Fans of disciplined football
While people expect the first week of the preseason to feature more penalties than usual, the amount of yellow flags on the field seemed preposterous during Friday’s two-game slate.
Tampa Bay led the way with its undisciplined play by racking up a jaw-dropping 14 penalties for 112 yards. The Steelers did their part as well with nine penalties accepted for 69 yards lost.
The penalty frequency also became a common theme for the Vikings and Saints. Both teams combined for 21 penalties and 209 yards lost as a result. Let’s all hope that everyone, including the officials, clean things up before the regular season hits.