Preseason football is back and better than … last week.
Slightly more realistic game play. Longer stretches for the starters. Let’s run down what you need to know from Thursday night’s action:
Jets at Falcons
• Sam Darnold on the night: 5 of 7, 46 yards, 0 TD. Matt Ryan 10 of 14, 118 yards, 0 TD. Darnold was decisive and got the ball out pretty quickly, a welcome change from last year, when he was playing backyard football waiting for receivers to get open on predictable passing downs.
• If Adam Gase finds a way to use Robby Anderson underneath in addition to his vertical game, it could be a game-changer for this offense. The Jets were disappointingly one-dimensional last year, but Gase has the tools to create some low-risk, high-reward magic out of bunch formations.
• You’re going to have to buy higher on Calvin Ridley this year… but it’s going to be worth it.
• Jets rookie Quinnen Williams is fluid. Really liked seeing how deceptively fast he was on some of the basic stunt action Gregg Williams was calling last night.
• There was a play on Atlanta’s first drive last night where Matt Ryan was being hit and completed what essentially amounted to an in-the-paint entry pass to Austin Hooper over a smothering Jamal Adams. That’s about as good as it gets in terms of a realistic, full-speed preview of the regular season in a window. And man, Ryan can still put the ball where he wants it.
• Gregg Williams brings the heat in preseason like it’s the final two minutes of the divisional championship round, so it’s difficult to make last night a complete referendum on the Falcons’ offensive line. That said, Ryan was running quite a bit.
Raiders at Cardinals
For those of you who missed it, the Monday Night Football crew compared Raiders rookie safety Johnathan Abram to “a combination of John Lynch and Ronde Barber” and running back Josh Jacobs to Cadillac Williams. Also, apparently, the Raiders coaching staff inherited a talentless roster in 2018 and are “finally getting things the way they want it.” Man. Imagine just being able to say stuff …
Anyway, to the football
• Three nice first-drive runs from Jacobs, including a quick plant on a designed cutback where he created a few extra yards for himself and a physical, straightforward carry from the I formation.
• Kyler Murray went 3 of 8 for 12 yards. One question that arises from this week: He might have top-five arm strength when on the run in this league, but can he harness it? Obviously it’s Aaron Rodgers/Patrick Mahomes at the top. Probably healthy-shoulder Cam Newton, Ben Roethlisberger thrown in there. Murray’s arm strength did not manifest itself in a less-than-stellar outing though. He missed some open throws where his receivers had space to run.
• Interesting note: Before the game, Kliff Kingsbury and the officiating staff were having a discussion about the pre-snap hand clap Murray uses. Kingsbury was explaining that it helps Murray usher in the snap, but it could also be interpreted as illegal pre-snap movement. The Cardinals were banged with a false start penalty on their first drive, called on Murray.
• Two series for the Cardinals starting defense and it didn’t look great. Arizona was gouged for a few big plays and was one horrible Mike Glennon throw away from giving up two straight touchdowns to Oakland’s first and- second-string offense.
• The Raiders called an audible that was “JLo, Phil Mickelson.”
• One more interesting thought: Safety pressure, or some other type of non-traditional blitz opposite the side where there is an advantage for a pass rusher is going to be deadly against the Cardinals.
Eagles at Jaguars
• Welcome to 2019, Halapoulivaati Vaitai. What a gorgeous block on the opening series to free up rookie Miles Sanders. How far he’s come with this Eagles coaching staff after being viewed as a liability during the Super Bowl run two years ago. He looks good at guard.
• Carry breakdown for a busy Eagles backfield:
Miles Sanders: 5 carries, 31 yards
Donnel Pumphrey: 5 carries, 29 yards
Josh Adams: 5 carries, 7 yards, 1 touchdown
Jordan Howard: 4 carries, 14 yards
Wedell Smallwood: 3 carries, 3 yards
• Had fun watching a raw Josh Allen. The Jacksonville rookie’s tweener size gives him a distinct advantage on those get-low inside moves that have a potential to blow up shotgun handoffs. If you have Game Pass, go back and watch the ease with which he flicks 332-pound Eagles guard Matt Pryor to the ground.
• Backup QB is a serious point of concern for the Eagles, and that was before Cody Kessler was pummeled by Datone Jones and placed into concussion protocol. Clayton Thorson on the night: 16 of 26, 175 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 INT.
Packers at Ravens
• Liked nearly everything I saw from Lamar Jackson on Thursday (final stat line: 6 of 10, 58 yards, 0 touchdowns, 0 INT), and that offset I pistol formation the Ravens were working out of heavily on the first drive. With a third option on nearly every play, Greg Roman is doing a nice job of building in more time for Jackson to throw with two different rushing threats to keep an eye on. There’s a chance I was not bullish enough on Baltimore in my preseason predictions, as I feared Roman might steer away from this type of attack.
• Man, was Jackson’s (almost) touchdown run pretty. A lot of talk last night about him running and gutting out extra yards with his legs, but this is how he’s going to play. Embrace it.
Bengals at Washington
• Dwayne Haskins on the night: 7 of 14, 114 yards, 1 touchdown, 0 INT. Much better this week, and the 55-yard TD pass was beautiful, with a defender wrapped around his waist. After a quick first look, the placement on his ball seemed better. A few of those incompletions were not his fault, and actually showcased the touch he can put on a football.
• Here’s the call we’re going to be breaking down all week: Early in the fourth quarter, Washington wide receiver Kelvin Harmon is bulldozed by Bengals corner Davontae Harris. It’s called offensive pass interference and challenged by Jay Gruden and upheld.
• Former NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino on the call: Ok, just saw OPI call on Harmon in Washington. I don’t think the official called it for him jumping to catch the ball and making contact with the DB (which isn’t a foul). There may have been a push off earlier in the route. Tough to tell though. All-22 would be a better look.
NOW ON THE MMQB: Who will to win those QB battles in Washington and Miami? … What we’ve learned from AFC North training camps thus far … Andy Benoit’s Eagles season preview: An aging DeSean Jackson could still be the secret to opening up Philly’s offense.
1. Antonio Brown might practice as soon as this weekend.
2. Ultimate tough guy Mike Vrabel tells reporters that training camp fight is not a fight.
3. Bad news in Baltimore: Tavon Young could miss the entire season.
4. Is Odell Beckham getting the work he needs with Baker Mayfield?
5. “It’s not every day you make a new form of carbon”
We can beat them, forever and ever.
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