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NFL preseason: 5 takeaways from Friday’s action

Vincent Frank

The first full day of NFL preseason action provided us with a lot to talk about. From injuries to big-name players to youngsters showing out, there’s a ton of takeaways to look at.

New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson went down in the first quarter of his team’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles with what appears to be a significant knee injury.

Out west, second-year San Francisco 49ers quarterback Trey Lance displayed the natural talent that made him the No. 3 overall pick back in 2021. Meanwhile, Deshaun Watson and his Cleveland Browns first-team offense was a complete disaster. These are among the top takeaways from Friday’s NFL preseason action.

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First-team offenses dominate in Detroit

nfl preseason: marcus mariota
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The Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons played their first-team offenses in their preseason opener Friday evening at Ford Field. Dan Campbell and his counterpart with the Falcons, Arthur Smith, wanted to see how these units would perform. Both came away happy.

Replacing the recently-traded Matt Ryan under center, Marcus Mariota led Atlanta on a game-opening touchdown-scoring drive that culminated in the veteran scoring on the ground. Mariota also completed both of his passes for 36 yards, including a 24-yard strike to rookie top-10 pick Drake London. While there’s some concern over London’s knee following the game, Atlanta’s offense looked much sharper than at pretty much any point a season ago.

As for Jared Goff and his Lions, the former Super Bowl quarterback completed 3-of-4 passes for 47 yards on his only drive. Impressive second-year running back D’Andre Swift concluded said drive with a nine-yard score.

It’s interesting that the Lions opted to play their clear-cut starter in the preseason opener. It’s also an indication that Campbell and Co. think Goff has more work to do in order to be ready for Week 1 against the Philadelphia Eagles.

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Philadelphia Eagles offense slicking on all cylinders

nfl preseason takeaways: jalen hurts
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It wasn’t the A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith show for Philadelphia Friday evening against. Instead, starting quarterback Jalen Hurts did his thing with the likes of fellow first-teamers Dallas Goedert and Miles Sanders.

Entering a make-or-break season with Philadelphia, Hurts led the Eagles to touchdowns on his two drives Friday evening to open the NFL preseason. That included a 22-yard touchdown strike to Goedert and a one-yard run of his own. All said, Hurts completed all six of his passes for 80 yards.

Gardner Minshew‘s performance is also worth paying attention to with teams potentially eyeing him in a trade heading into Week 1. The former Jacksonville Jaguars sixth-round pick was darn impressive, completing 8-of-12 passes for 81 yards before Reid Sinnett took over under center.

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Deshaun Watson, Cleveland Browns first-team offense was a mess

nfl preseason: deshaun watson
Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Union / USA TODAY NETWORK

With all eyes on Deshaun Watson Friday in Jacksonville, Cleveland’s offense was an absolute disaster to start. That included going three and out on the first possession with Watson missing on both of his passes.

On Cleveland’s second possession, running back D’Ernest Johnson lost a fumble. It led to a Jaguars field goal and a 6-0 Browns deficit. The Browns’ third possession with Watson making his first NFL appearance in 19 months included penalties impacting the offense. That included a holding call on wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones and false start. Watson finished his NFL preseason debut with the Browns having completed 1-of-5 passes while leading Cleveland to a total of seven yards on eight plays.

The stunning ineptitude of Cleveland’s first-team offense gave way to Josh Dobbs and Josh Rosen completing a combined 16-of-20 passes en route to leading the Browns to a 24-13 win over Jacksonville. This is a clear indication that the issue wasn’t Kevin Stefanski’s game plan.

Related: New York Jets teammate proclaims Zach Wilson will take a Joe Burrow-like leap in year 2

Zach Wilson injury hangs over New York Jets after win

nfl preseason: zach wilson injury
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Entering his second season in the NFL, expectations are high for Zach Wilson after the New York spent its offseason attempting to find the BYU product more weapons on offense. Despite this, he struggled with accuracy during off-season workouts.

“I came away with a shoulder shrug of sorts. Wilson got off to a rough start in team drills as his first four passes were as follows: a throw behind Corey Davis, a throw that hovered over everyone, a clear throwaway after being flushed out of the pocket, and another bad misfire.”

NFL insider Mike Kaye on New York Jets QB Zach Wilson early at OTAs

Unfortunately for Wilson and the Jets, there’s now a darn good chance that he will be out a substantial amount of time. The former No. 2 pick suffered a right knee injury in the first quarter of New York’s preseason opener against Philadelphia and headed to the locker room with a limp.

Jets head coach Robert Saleh noted after the game that Wilson’s ACL appears to be “in tact,” but the quarterback will have an MRI on Saturday to confirm the severity of the injury. Until then, New York is hoping for the best.

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Trey Lance shines in NFL preseason debut as a starter

nfl preseason: trey lance
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

A lot was made of Trey Lance taking over for Jimmy Garoppolo as the 49ers’ starter this offseason. The No. 3 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft is as green as they come and is perceived to be pretty darn raw for a team with realistic Super Bowl expectations. Reports during the summer in Santa Clara have been a mixed bagwith Lance shining at times and showing some issues with decision making.

Friday’s game against the Packers gave the 49ers and their fans an opportunity to see what Lance has to offer. In doing so, he shined big time. That included connecting with rookie wide receiver Danny Gray on an eye-opening 76-yard touchdown pass.

Lance finished the game completing 4-of-5 passes for 92 yards and that score while adding seven yards on one rush attempt. He displayed an element that San Francisco’s offense was missing under Garoppolo. We’re highly intrigued to see how Lance does in the 49ers’ preseason finale against the Houston Texans in less than two weeks.

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Other NFL preseason takeaways from Friday’s action

NFL: Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers
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  • Green Bay Packers QB Jordan Love threw three interceptions in getting the start for a resting Aaron Rodgers against the San Francisco 49ers Friday evening. A first-round pick back in 2020, Love has not shown himself to be a starter-caliber signal caller in limited action throughout his career. While all of the interceptions were not on Love, it has to be seen as troubling.
  • Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Andy Isabella is firmly on the roster bubble with preseason action getting going. The former second-round pick from Massachusetts just has not lived up to expectations since Arizona selected him back in 2019. Getting a chance to see extended playing time against the Bengals on Friday, Isabella stepped up. He caught four passes for 57 yards, including a 36-yard strike in Arizona’s blowout 36-23 win. This will give head coach Kliff Kingsbury a lot to think about moving forward.
  • Travis Etienne got extended play for Jacksonville after the former first-roud pick from Clemson missed his entire rookie season. It culminated in an up-and-down performance from the rookie running back. Etienne gained just 23 yards on nine rush attempts while adding one catch for 10 yards on three targets. New head coach Doug Pederson is expecting big things from the dynamic back. Allowing him to touch the ball 10 times in the opener suggests that Etienne still needs to prove himself. That’s what the NFL preseason is for.