Week 3 of the NFL preseason normally tends to offer teams the best opportunity to understand where they are heading into the regular year. While this summer might have been a tad different with multiple squads completely resting their starters, there was still a lot to look at.
Speaking of resting their starters, that’s exactly what the Chicago Bears did Saturday against the Kansas City Chiefs. The end result? Chicago’s backups absolutely dominated Kansas City’s starters. This could be telling for both squads.
In Indianapolis, Colts quarterback Andrew Luck put up his best performance of the preseason. He’s now seemingly ready for Week 1. That very same game saw both Alfred Morris and Richard Sherman show out for the 49ers.
These are among the top takeaways from Week 3 of the 2018 NFL preseason.
Bears’ backups dominated Chiefs starters
For fans in Kansas City, Saturday’s performance against Chicago hopefully wasn’t a harbinger of things to come. With the Bears’ starters sitting this one out completely, they took a 24-10 halftime lead, racking up 310 yards before intermission. That included backup Chase Daniel leading Chicago to a touchdown in each of its first three drives.
Common logic suggests the Chiefs were right to move on from washed-up veterans such as Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson. Even then, the idea of moving on from them without having in-house candidates set to step up made no sense. Dee Ford has been a no-show from a pass-rush perspective. Meanwhile, high-priced free agent acquisition Anthony Hitchens struggled big time on Saturday. Let’s not forget the trade of Marcus Peters. He was sorely missed as Daniel threw the ball all around Soldier Field. It might not be panic time, but it’s getting close.
Eagles’ offense was a disaster
Being forced to work with Philadelphia’s backup offense on Thursday night, reigning Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles struggled something fierce. The box score will say he completed 13-of-17 passes for 127 yards. Not too shabby. But the tape tells us an entirely different story. Foles was picked off twice, lost a fumble and awarded Cleveland with a safety on a sack. He was erratic throughout most of the night, especially given that the Eagles’ pass protection broke down on a consistent basis.
The Eagles’ first half drives resulted in a turnover on downs, safety, fumble, interception, fumble and another interception. Failing to do anything of substance once Foles was replaced with a previously-effective Nate Sudfeld, Philadelphia saw itself shutout, 5-0, in a game that belongs in the dumpster. Hopefully, it’s not a sign of things to come.
Deshaun Watson struggles in final regular season tune-up
After showing well against San Francisco last week, Watson’s performance on Saturday against the Los Angeles Rams left a lot to be desired. The second-year quarterback played three drives, leading Houston to a grand total of 18 yards while being intercepted in limited action.
It was a somewhat sobering outing for fans that have prematurely placed Watson into the MVP conversation. While fully recovered from the torn ACL he suffered last season, expecting the record-setting trend we saw in limited action as a rookie is a bit too much. Given that the Rams are expected to boast a top-end defense, struggling on the road against this squad is not a great way to head into the regular year.
Nashville, we have a problem
There were plenty of overreactions during Week 3 of the preseason. That tends to happen when teams play their starters more than any other week of the exhibition slate. And while it’s ridiculous to read too much into the preseason, concern in Tennessee can’t be considered an overreaction. The Titans’ first-team offense was completely out of its element against Pittsburgh on Saturday.
Tennessee racked up 57 yards on four drives with Marcus Mariota under center. In the final three drives with Mariota at the helm, they gained 17 yards on nine plays. Mariota’s day (and likely his preseason) came to a conclusion with this interception. He ultimately finished with 28 net passing yards on eight attempts. More disturbing than that, Mariota was sacked twice on 10 drop backs while seeing himself hit four times. For a quarterback that struggled big time last year, this isn’t the way Mariota wanted to conclude his preseason. That’s for sure.
Andrew Luck is ready for the regular season
After having compiled a quarterback rating of 50 in his first two preseason games, Luck was sharp as ever Saturday against what was a game San Francisco 49ers defense. He might have only led Indianapolis to seven points in the first half, but the Luck we became infatuated with prior to his January 2017 shoulder surgery showed up at the RCA Dome.
Luck completed 8-of-10 passes for 90 yards with a touchdown pass to Eric Ebron. He also put up 27 yards on four rush attempts, picking up two first downs in the process. It was Luck’s ability to avoid pressure, go through multiple reads and see the field at an elite level that stood out. For that, he’s almost certainly ready for Week 1 against Cincinnati.
Robert Griffin III on the trade block?
The Baltimore Ravens noted last week that RGIII was not guaranteed a spot on the team’s 53-man roster. This came after the former No. 2 overall pick impressed big time in his first three preseason outings. Like clockwork, Griffin continued his dazzling summer performance against the Miami Dolphins on Saturday. Starting the gane with Joe Flacco sitting, RGIII completed 9-of-15 passes for 66 yards with a touchdown. He also added 41 yards on five rush attempts.
Given that Lamar Jackson is likely entrenched in as the backup behind Flacco following a stirring performance this week, RGIII’s spot on the roster is tenuous. Short of Baltimore making the rare decision to carry three quarterbacks, the veteran will be out of a job. With how poorly some backups have played this summer, it would not be a shock to see him traded.
Blake Bortles is a complete mess
Jacksonville can’t be feeling good about heading into Week 1 with the way Bortles is playing under center. An otherwise legit championship contender, the Jaguars might be bogged down by the long-embattled quarterback. That once again came out in droves against the Atlanta Falcons on Saturday.
Bortles’ stat line was pretty much what we’ve become accustomed to. He completed 17-of-23 passes for 204 yards in a half and one possession of football. Bortles also threw two interceptions, both of which were just horrible. The second one stands out the most. Taking on Atlanta’s backups to start the third quarter, Bortles badly overshot Dede Westbrook, a pass that was ultimately intercepted by Blidi Wreh-Wilson. These are the mistakes he continues to make, and it could lead to the Jaguars falling short in what should be a championship-contending season.
That’s RB1 Adrian Peterson to you
Less than a week after signing with Washington, this future Hall of Famer was on the field and making a huge impact. Friday’s game against Denver didn’t necessarily go swimmingly for the Redskins as a whole. They found themselves down 17-3 at the half with Alex Smith struggling to do anything against an elite-level Broncos defense.
But that’s not really the story here. Instead, it’s all about how AD performed in his debut. The 32-year-old back looked spry and youthful, putting up a team best 56 yards on 11 attempts, including a 15-yard scamper. There’s no way to tell whether this is going to translate into the regular season. What we do know is that Washington’s backfield situation might have cleared up some more following the season-ending injury to Derrius Guice. Peterson himself is at the center of that.
Case Keenum gets Broncos’ first-team offense rolling
Keenum finished up last week’s game against Chicago leading his team on an 82-yard scoring drive after struggling through the early stages of the preseason. The veteran free agent signing picked up where he left off Friday night against Washington, helping the Broncos to 17 points and nearly 200 yards in the first half.
It’s certainly a good sign for the Broncos. They signed Keenum to a lucrative deal to fix a quarterback issue that has plagued the team since Peyton Manning’s regression and subsequent retirement. And if it continues into Week 1, the Broncos will be in a good position in the AFC West.
Alfred Morris and Richard Sherman show well in 49ers debuts
Two of the 49ers’ biggest free agent signings, both former Pro Bowl performers, made their preseason debut with the team Saturday in Indianapolis. While San Francisco struggled to an extent on offense, Morris himself showed out in a big way. Getting the start with both Jerick McKinnon and Matt Brieda injured, the veteran gained 84 yards on 17 attempts. Boasting fresh legs and the running power that made him dominant in D.C., a lot of these yards were gained after contact. He also showed the field vision we’ve become accustomed to. This all leads us to believe Morris is a lock to make the 53-man roster.
Having dealt with a minor injury during camp and the early stages of training camp, there were nagging questions about whether the 30-year-old Sherman would return to earlier-career form. Remember, he was jettisoned from Seattle after suffering a torn Achilles last season. In his first action with San Francisco, Sherman was as dominant as ever. Andrew Luck threw in his direction just one, a pass that was broken up by Sherman. Outside of that, he showed elite-level coverage ability. It’s certainly good news for San Francisco.
Sam Darnold continues stellar preseason
There’s now no real question about who will be the Jets’ starting quarterback Week 1. Making his second consecutive start, this rookie led New York to two touchdown-scoring drives in the first half. It started with an 11-play, 75-yard drive to open the game that saw Darnold complete 3-of-5 passes for 36 yards. He would then lead the Jets to a 35-yard touchdown drive before struggling to close out the first half.
Darnold is going to have issues with consistency as a rookie. That’s already well known. What he brings to the table is another dimension on offense. In addition to boasting plus-level accuracy and understanding of the Jets’ system, he’s done a tremendous job taking what the defense gives him. Sometimes, that’s the best thing we can see in a young signal caller. He doesn’t force things. He doesn’t make mistakes. This week’s game against the Giants was a prime example of that.
Hue Jackson still hasn’t a clue
I couldn’t care less if Jackson was 1-31 in his first two NFL seasons in Cleveland. It matters little how many preseason games his Browns win. It’s a new season with heightened expectations and a sense of optimism. Jackson almost threw that away with yet another boneheaded decision Thursday night against the Eagles.
Starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor exited the game in the first quarter after suffering a hand injury. It looked bad. Really, really bad. But after X-rays came back negative, Jackson decided to return Taylor to the field in a meaningless game. Immediately, he was sacked by the massive Haloti Ngata. Following the game, Jackson noted that Taylor would undergo further tests (an MRI). Wait, what? This means that the head coach put his starting quarterback back in an August football game with MRI tests still pending. Give me a freaking break. And while Taylor is seemingly fine, it’s this one decision that defines what has been a disastrous tenure for Jackson.
Pats’ first-team offense a work in progress
After torching Philadelphia in expanded playing time last week, Brady and the Pats’ first-team offense struggled big time in a double-digit loss to Carolina on Friday. All said, New England put up a measly three points in three drives with Brady under center. The Patriots tallied just 120 yards during that span. Surely we’re not too concerned about Brady himself. Instead, it’s all about the makeshift skill-position players he has to work with.
Following a massive roster overhaul at receiver in recent weeks, the likes of Riley McCarron, Cordarrelle Patterson and Phillip Dorsett were targeted a combined 18 times by Patriots quarterbacks. Meanwhile, New England’s rushing attack went for 60 yards on 19 attempts. It’s yet the latest example of the Pats likely having to rely more than ever on Brady defying Father Time and continuing to be a dominating force.
More struggles for Lions’ offensive line
It’s been a preseason-long problem for the Lions and could potentially doom any realistic playoff expectations for the long-irrelevant squad. After being sacked twice in just seven drop backs against the Giants in Week 2 of the preseason, Matthew Stafford was once again under duress in Friday’s 33-30 win over the Buccaneers.
The veteran was sacked another three times with Detroit trailing, 20-6, once the starters were removed from the game. This came against a Bucs squad that had to completely overhaul its pass rush in the offseason. That’s certainly not a good sign, especially given that Detroit has exhausted a ton of draft capital and free agent cash on this unit. It’s time for the big boys to step up. If not, Matt Patricia’s first season as head coach will go down as a failure.
Bengals’ starting offense dominates
Andy Dalton and Cincinnati’s first-team offense completely dominated Sunday against what appeared to be an overmatched Buffalo Bills defense. It started on the first offensive play of the game with Dalton hitting John Ross on a 57-yard touchdown. Ross, a second-year player who has shown absolutely nothing, made Buffalo’s defense look silly on the play.
Cincinnati would then wrap up the first half by scoring on three of its next five drives, including one of a 58-yard variety to take a 17-0 lead. All said, Dalton would end the first half completing 11-of-16 passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns. Not a bad tune-up for the regular season.