Top takeaways from Thursday’s preseason NFL action

Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

It finally happened Thursday evening. The first real slate of NFL preseason action took place with 11 games around the league.

Top rookie quarterbacks made their debuts. Two of them put up stellar performances while another struggled big time. Other youngsters were out there to make a point to their respective coaching staffs.

While the first real day of preseason action left a lot to be desired from a star-power standpoint, we still learned a lot. Here are the biggest takeaways from Thursday’s Week 1 preseason action.

Sam Darnold, Jets start out strong

It was somewhat surprising to see Darnold start Thursday night against the New York Giants. Already established as the Jets’ starting quarterback, most figure he’d get the night off. Instead, Darnold led the Jets on a rather easy seven-play, 75-yard touchdown scoring drive to open the game. It lasted just over three minutes and included three third-down conversions.

Darnold completed his final four passes of the drive after almost throwing an interception to open. That included strikes to Chris Herndon and Jamison Crowder of 32 and 28 yards, respectively. If this is an indication of how Darnold might look like as a sophomore, the Jets are on good hands.

Quarterback competition in New Jersey?

Daniel Jones was darn good in his Giants debut against the Jets. He completed 5-of-5 passes for 67 yards, including a 12-yard touchdown strike. This is just a continuation of the rookie No. 6 overall pick vastly outplaying veteran Eli Manning during camp.

For his part, Manning completed his only pass for three yards while leading the Giants on a three-and-out. It led to boos from fans inside the Meadowlands. The Giants’ brass might be playing this close to the vest publicly. That’s fine. There’s no reason to embarrass Manning. However, if training camp and Week 1 of the preseason is any indication, there’s no reason to believe a late-summer battle won’t be brewing for the starting quarterback job heading into September.

Marcus Mariota remains a problem in Nashville

Ouch. Taking on a majority of the Philadelphia Eagles’ backup defense Thursday evening, Mariota and the Titans couldn’t get much of anything going. The struggling quarterback completed just 4-of-8 passes for 24 yards.

We fully understand that the Titans were without a vast majority of the top skill-position players, including Derrick Henry, Delanie Walker and Corey Davis in this one. Even then, Mariota displayed nothing that tells us a story of an improved signal caller heading into a make-or-break 2019 campaign. He should have still been able to move the ball against Philadelphia’s backup defense. He didn’t. And that’s a problem.

Ravens offense bland in presason opener

One thing became clear in Baltimore’s preseason opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars. They were not going to show their hands as it relates to offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s new offense. Lamar Jackson led the team to 10 points on three drives, completing 4-of-6 passes for 59 yards and a touchdown in the process.

For his part, Jackson continued to struggle with ball placement. He threw the ball late on a consistent basis and was about as inaccurate as we saw during Baltimore’s off-season program. It might now be time for the Ravens to temper expectations. We’ll see over the final three preseason games heading into Week 1.

Rookie receivers impress in Patriots debut

N’Keal Harry was iffy to make his NFL preseason debut Thursday after suffering a hamstring injury earlier in the week. It was a surprise to see the Patriots actually play him in an otherwise meaningless game. Instead, he played extremely well early on. That included catching both of his targets for 36 yards.

Undrafted rookie free agent Jakobi Meyers had been getting first-team reps during camp with the plethora of injuries at this position. He continued to impress. The North Carolina State product added two touchdown catches, including this beauty.

At 6-foot-2, Meyers is an impressive specimen out there. He’s also going to be utilized well in the Pats’ offense. If his six-catch preseason debut is any indication, Meyers just won’t make the roster, he’ll have an impact.

Lions offensive line struggles big time

Whether it was the starters or the backups Thursday evening against New England, the Lions struggled big time in pass protection. They allowed Tom Savage and David Fales to get sacked six times on their first 18 drop backs . In fact, Detroit had negative-11 passing yards well into the fourth quarter.

This led to fans in Detroit booing the backups. That might have been an overreaction, but this was one heck of an ugly product on display in the Motor City Thursday evening. It’s certainly not going to lead to much hope moving forward.

Brian Burns show in Carolina

The Panthers had to be doing backflips when the likes of Clelin Ferrell and Rashan Gary went ahead of Burns in April’s draft. Selected No. 16 overall, the Florida State product’s combination of pass-rush moves and elite athleticism made him a potentially generational talent. The Chicago Bears found that out first hand early in Thursday’s preseason opener.

As you can see, Burns recorded two early early sacks. He displayed the talent that most saw in the pass rusher during the pre-draft process. Carolina boasts a talented defensive tackle tandem in Kawann Short and Gerald McCoy. That’s only going to help Mr. Burns out on the edge as a rookie.

Baker Mayfield and the Browns roll early

The hype train in Ohio is now at capacity. Some believed that expectations were too high for the Browns after a hugely successful offseason. That’s fine. But we all knew the talent was there to succeed in 2019. If Cleveland’s first drive of the preseason is any indication, the team is going to be a blast to watch.

Mayfield engineered a seven-play, 89-yard scoring drive to open up action against Washington, culminating in this beautiful touchdown pass. The drive lasted just over two minutes, displaying the quick-hit ability this offense possesses. All of this happened with Odell Beckham Jr. resting. Watch out, NFL.

Pro game too big for Dwayne Haskins right now

Redskins fans had to be pumped about Haskins’ debut. Despite being listed as the No. 3 quarterback on the initial preseason depth chart, the Ohio State product had looked good during training camp. That did not transition to his preseason debut.

Haskins threw two early interceptions, including this pick-six into the hands of fellow rookie Mack Wilson. The game appeared to be too fast for this young quarterback. He struggled with timing and threw the ball in places that did not give his receivers a chance to make plays. This isn’t terribly surprising. Haskins started one season at Ohio State. He’s going to be a project. It’s now time for fans in the nation’s capital to mute expectations for the quarterback as a rookie.

Kyler Murray was perfect in NFL debut

It wasn’t awe-inspiring or highlight worthy, but Murray looked exceptional in his NFL debut against the Los Angeles Chargers Thursday evening. The rookie No. 1 pick connected on all seven of his passes for 49 yards for the Arizona Cardinals.

While Arizona did not score on that one drive, Murray showed the poise and accuracy that made him the top pick. He also displayed tremendous field vision, arm strength and an ability to escape the pocket. If first impressions mean anything, Murray is going to have himself a nice little rookie season.