By the second play of the preseason, the Houston Texans saw what they dreamed of from the Jadeveon Clowney-J.J. Watt combination.
Watt and Clowney lined up next to each other on a second-down play, with Clowney working against Cardinals tackle Jared Veldheer and Watt against guard Jonathan Cooper. Watt beat Cooper and his single-team block clean for a sack on Carson Palmer.
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The Texans hope that pass-rushing duo provides plenty of plays like that for the next decade or so. But they might want to rethink how often they want Clowney dropping back into coverage, because he was also beaten badly for a touchdown, although it was called back because of a penalty.
Clowney, the first pick of this year’s draft, started against Arizona. He mostly worked from a two-point stance. He rushed some and also dropped into coverage on occasion. On the first play of the game, he closed hard off the edge on a run play and Andre Ellington ran straight into the middle for a gain of just 1 yard. Clowney didn’t make the tackle but affected the play. After last season at South Carolina, it must have felt strange to him to not be double or triple teamed on that first play.
Clowney showed his trademark burst on a run play in his second series. He destroyed tight end Darren Fells to the outside and got around him to meet running back Stepfan Taylor right after he got the handoff, and dropped him for a 5-yard loss. It was an impressive play.
That was the good. Late in Arizona’s first drive, Clowney was also beat bad on a pretty simple out-and-up route by tight end John Carlson for a touchdown, but the play was nullified by an illegal hands to the face penalty on the line. Clowney wasn’t asked to cover very often in college, and looked terribly uncomfortable on that play. On the next play, Clowney charged hard inside, was shoved to the inside and off his path by Veldheer, and Ellington ran to the vacated spot.
Most rookies have a lot to work on after their first preseason game, even the first overall pick, as Clowney showed. But he also showed why he was the first overall pick of the draft.
The Browns’ big story, obviously, is Johnny Manziel (and Brian Hoyer, too). But it’s a pretty interesting team aside from the quarterback battle, with a new coach and some new wrinkles.
Saturday night was coach Mike Pettine’s first preseason game as a head coach. On offense, the run game was the focus. When Hoyer was in the game, running back Ben Tate got a lot of work. The free-agent addition had six carries for 25 yards. Rookie back Terrance West, who made his debut a few plays into Cleveland’s first series, got a lot of work as well. When Manziel was in, there was a lot of read-option looks. This looks like a team that will rely plenty on the run, and they even had receiver Josh Gordon, the All-Pro who started as he waits to hear the final decision on his suspension appeal. The Browns might be very conservative without him.
The defense did fairly well. A long kickoff return by the Lions to start the game gave them good field position, but the Browns held them to a field goal. Some of Cleveland’s defensive stars really showed up. On third down, cornerback Joe Haden had perfect coverage on a third-down route by Kris Durham, and Matthew Stafford threw it incomplete. Donte Whitner also had a big hit on a Lions reception – and he went out of his way to hit with the shoulder to avoid it being illegal. Second-year outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo had a sack on the Lions’ second drive. On the next play linebacker Karlos Dansby, one of the team’s key free-agent additions, sniffed out a screen pass and thwarted it, forcing a punt.
The attention will go to the quarterbacks, but the Browns had a lot of interesting storylines on Saturday night outside of that position.
Rashad Jennings wasn’t a big-name free agent, and even after the Hall of Fame Game all of the attention in the Giants’ backfield was on rookie Andre Williams, who played well against the Bills. But Jennings can play, too.
Jennings scored on a 73-yard touchdown in the first quarter against the Steelers. It was blocked very well up the middle, but give credit Jennings for showing a great burst through the hole. He then showed good instincts by eluding the safeties to get into the open field, and he took it the rest of the way.
Jennings was like many of the Giants’ free-agent additions this offseason: Not a huge name that demanded a big contract, but a solid veteran who should provide an upgrade. Jennings looked pretty good last season with the Raiders, starting eight games, gaining 733 rushing yards with six touchdowns, and averaging 4.5 yards per carry.
The Giants have struggled to run the ball the last couple years, and were just 29th in the NFL in rushing yards per game last year, but Jennings might be able to help fix that problem.
TItans 20, Packers 16: Aaron Rodgers sat, and Matt Flynn started, but it was Scott Tolzien who impressed the most of the Packers' backup quarterbacks. Tolzien, who played from the second quarter through the early fourth, completed 8-of-12 passes for 124 yards, and that also accounts for two or three dropped passes. Reserve running back James Starks also looked very good with six rushes for 49 yards, much of which came against the Titans' first-team defense. Titans rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger had to wait to get into the game, then had to deal with the rain. He turned the ball over twice but rallied the team late in the poor conditions. An up-and-down start for Mett, but a promising finish.
• If you know Dri Archer, you know at least one thing about him: He’s fast. He ran a 4.26-second 40-yard dash at the scouting combine, the fastest time this year. The Steelers took the hybrid running back/receiver/returner from Kent State in the third round, and you could see why in their first preseason drive. Archer took an inside receiver screen, put a quick and devastating move on Giants safety Antrel Rolle and he was off to the races. Archer gained 46 yards, setting up a Steelers field goal. The Steelers are going to find ways to get Archer the ball in space, because even though he’s a rookie, it’ll be a good bet that he’ll always be the fastest player on whatever field he’s on.
• Titans running back Shonn Greene had a nice cutback and broke into the open field for a 13-yard touchdown. He’ll be fighting rookie Bishop Sankey for carries, and this was a good statement for him.
• Add Tennessee’s Maikon Bonani to the list of players who missed the longer extra point that the NFL is experimenting with this preseason. Bonani had an excuse, however, because his miss came in the driving rain. But let’s do away with this idea, NFL. Nobody was clamoring for more games to be decided by kickers.
• Cardinals wide receiver John Brown was not a popular draft pick in Arizona. The third-round choice was questioned for his size (179 pounds) and school (Pittsburg State in Kansas) by fans, but Brown showed up quite well in his NFL debut with XX catches for XX yards. He could have had more, too, but Drew Stanton throw a ball behind Brown in which he had gotten over the middle. Quite the impressive first impression for Brown, who could be a sneaky element in the Cardinals' passing game in the slot between Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd. The entire passing game looked fluid for the Cardinals Saturday night.
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