The first full week of the NFL preseason is now behind us. A lot happened that should extend into the regular season. That includes multiple young quarterbacks performing well.
From a team-wide prespective, the Dallas Cowboys were among the most disappointing stories of the past few days. Their mistake-filled ways in a loss to the Denver Broncos have been placed under a microscope.
While otherwise meaningless exhibition games don’t tell us the entire story, there’s a lot to look at when it comes to the past four days of NFL preseason action. Here’s a look at the biggest takeaways during that span.
Related: NFL preseason power rankings
Malik Willis flashes in NFL preseason debut
Ryan Tannehill will be the Tennessee Titans’ starting quarterback in 2022. After that, it’s anyone’s best guess what might happen. The veteran is set to count $36.6 million against the cap in 2023. Tennessee can save about half of that by moving off him. Hence, why the team selected former Liberty standout Malik Willis in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft. Willis was expected to be the first quarterback off the board, but fell due to concerns about his raw talent and level of competition in college.
It was just one game. With that said, Willis displayed the talent that had some experts drooling during the pre-draft process.
Thursday against the Baltimore Ravens, he completed 6-of-11 passes for 107 yards while adding 38 rushing yards and a score on the ground. That included a seven-yard touchdown scamper to conclude a seven-play, 72-yard drive. For at least one night, Titans fans got a glimpse of their future at quarterback.
Philadelphia Eagles offense looks legit
Jalen Hurts completed all six of his passes for 80 yards and a touchdown in his only possession this week against the New York Jets. Free-agent signing Zach Pascal added two receptions for 41 yards with starters Devonta Smith and A.J. Brown sitting out. Meanwhile, stud running back Miles Sanders caught two passes for 20 yards in Philadelphia’s 24-21 loss to New York.
This is the latest example of head coach Nick Sirianni’s offensive system clicking on all cylinders as Philadelphia prepares for a 2022 season in which it has legit aspirations to win the NFC East. The talent on this unit is there. The sheme is there. Philly has the quarterback to lead the charge. It should be a fun season in the City of Brotherly Love.
Dallas Cowboys’ mistake-filled ways
Dallas entered Saturday night’s opener against Denver without many of its first-team players. In no way does that mean reserves shouldn’t have come to play for embattled head coach Mike McCarthy. It was an absolute disaster in the first half with the Cowboys’ allowing Josh Johnson to complete 16-of-23 passes for 172 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions. It led to a 17-0 Cowboys deficit at the half.
From a broader perspective, Dallas led the NFL in penalties and penalty yards last season. That ineptitude came out in droves in the team’s NFL preseason debut this weekend. The Cowboys committed an absurd 17 penalties for 129 yards. Being this undisciplined has to be cause for alarm as Dallas looks to repeat as NFC East champs.
Indianapolis Colts must fix left tackle issues
Colts general manager Chris Ballard invested a whole lot to help this team return to playoff contention during the offseason. Primarily, the acquisition of future Hall of Fame quarterback Matt Ryan is a clear indication that Indianapolis is in win-now mode.
That’s why it’s so suprising Indy is prepared to go with Pryor as Ryan’s blindside protector at left tackle. The 27-year-old former sixth-round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles has started 15 games in three seasons without standing out too much. While he posted a solid pass-blocking grade per Pro Football Focus metrics, there’s some concern here.
Those concerns came out in droves with Pryor going up against Bills backup defenders Saturday afternoon in Western New York. Pryor was defeated multiple times by Buffalo reserves out on the edge, leading to Colts quarterbacks finding themselves sacked a total of four times while being hit six times. One now has to wonder whether Indianapolis will look to either the trade or free-agent market to find an upgrade ahead of Week 1 against the Houston Texans.
Kenny Pickett does his thing for the Pittsburgh Steelers
Pickett was the third Steelers quarterback off the bench in his debut, behind the likes of starter Mitchell Trubisky and veteran Mason Rudolph. While both of the other two signal callers played well, it was this rookie first-round pick who put up an awe-inspiring performance in front of his home crowd.
Displaying accuracy on the shorter routes, Kenny Pickett completed 13-of-15 passes for 95 yards with two touchdowns. That included a game-winning 24-yard touchdown strike to Tyler Vaughns with just three seconds left. It was absolutely amazing.
Baltimore Ravens’ shocking preseason winning streak
It may just be the NFL preseason to some, but not for John Harbaugh and the Baltimore Ravens. With Thursday night’s 23-10 victory, the Ravens made it official, making history for winning an NFL record 21 consecutive preseason games.
The last time the Ravens lost a game in the preseason? It came in 2016, a full six years ago. What an incredible run.
Harbaugh always has his squad ready to go, whether the games count or not. He sees every chance to compete as a learning opportunity. That’s football at its finest.
Trey Lance is the man in San Francisco
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.
Deshaun Watson is rusty in NFL preseason debut
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.
Zach Wilson inury and impact on the New York Jets
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.
Unfortunately for Wilson and the Jets, 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. After initial fears of a torn ACL, it was noted that Wilson suffered a torn meniscus in his knee. He could be out up to four weeks with Joe Flacco likely taking over in the quarterback’s stead. That’s not great.
Seattle Seahawks QB competition taken to a whole new level
Competing to replace the traded Russell Wilson under center, both Drew Lock and Geno Smith shined in the Seattle Seahawks NFL preseason debut Saturday evening. The two combined to complete 21-of-30 passes for 203 yards with three total touchdowns and zero interceptions. At least for one night, it seems as if head coach Pete Carroll made the right decision to go with this competition rather than an outside option.
This won’t quiet concerns over Seattle’s quarterback situation. With that said, we saw more from Smith and Lock in the team’s NFL preseason opener than most expected.