It appears the veteran quarterbacks in Denver and Houston will hold off the younger, more highly touted competition to start the regular-season opener.
The Denver Broncos gave Paxton Lynch the chance to start the second preseason game, and he did nothing to win the job on Saturday night against the San Francisco 49ers. Trevor Siemian seems like the clear favorite to start for the Broncos in Week 1 of the regular season.
The Houston Texans seemed to have a quarterback competition after rookie Deshaun Watson’s solid debut last week, but Tom Savage outplayed Watson on Saturday night and now likely has a big lead over the first-round pick.
The Broncos’ competition seemed open all offseason, but Lynch never really made a move. Observers thought Lynch looked better in joint practices this week against the San Francisco 49ers, but that didn’t carry over to the game, which Denver won 33-14. On an early third down, he missed Demaryius Thomas wide open over the middle and instead forced an incompletion deep to tight end Virgil Green. Lynch misfired on other throws. In the second quarter, he failed to diagnose a third-down blitz quickly enough and was sacked.
Lynch completed 10-of-15 passes but for just 49 yards. He did run for 27 yards on three rushing attempts, but no team wants their offensive foundation to be a quarterback scrambling around outside the structure of the play. Lynch probably needed a big game to challenge Siemian for the starting spot, and Saturday night’s performance was far from that.
Siemian is a safe option who isn’t perceived to have the same upside as Lynch, last year’s first-round pick, but by almost all accounts he has performed better than Lynch on the whole since training camp started. Siemian relieved Lynch on Saturday night and threw a short touchdown to running back De’Angelo Henderson that was wiped out due to a holding penalty, then on the next play Siemian made a nice throw to Jordan Taylor for a 19-yard touchdown. And sliver of hope Lynch had to win the starting job probably vanished then.
Watson could have made things very interesting in Houston had he played well again Saturday night against the New England Patriots. Watson looked good in the preseason opener (and Savage didn’t), but Savage answered back in the second game. He was pretty sharp in completing 8 of 9 passes for 98 yards and a touchdown in Houston’s 27-23 win over the Patriots. The touchdown was a good read, finding Jaelen Strong dragging the back of the end zone. The throw was a bit high but Strong hauled it in for a score. The Texans have maintained they want Savage to start this season, and Saturday’s performance showed why the coaches have that faith in him.
Watson was a bit off on Saturday. He misfired on some passes he made last week. He overthrew a receiver in the end zone with the Texans deep in Patriots territory. Watson did make a nice move on a short touchdown run in the second half. Watson completed just 3-of-10 passes with 102 passing yards, and a lot of Watson’s production came on a short pass and impressive long run by rookie D’Onta Foreman for 63 yards. He looked more like a rookie this week.
If last week’s preseason opener gave the Texans any thoughts about starting Watson in Week 1, the second preseason game probably pushed Savage back to a commanding lead in the race. There isn’t much time left for Watson to catch him, either.
There are still two preseason games left (though starters rarely play in the fourth preseason game) and presumably Denver and Houston came into training camp quietly hoping their first-round pick quarterbacks would blow everyone away and win the job. But based on what happened Saturday night, it appears the Broncos and Texans should know their Week 1 starting quarterbacks barring a big change in the next two weeks.
The Tennessee Titans got a chance to show off a bit for a national television audience. With bored sports fans turning on the only NFL preseason game Saturday afternoon (what else were you going to watch, Mexico vs. Italy in the Little League World Series?) the Titans looked really sharp in a 34-27 win over the Carolina Panthers.
Marcus Mariota looked healthy on a quarterback option run, and sharp on many of his throws. He hit tight end Delanie Walker for a touchdown in the red zone to give the Titans a 10-0 lead. Mariota was 6 of 8 for 61 yards and a touchdown in less than a quarter of work. Derrick Henry chipped in an impressive 17-yard touchdown run. On defense, new cornerback Logan Ryan displayed his playmaking skills, forcing a fumble on the Panthers’ first possession. Cornerback Adoree Jackson, one of the team’s two first-round picks, had an explosive punt return for a touchdown that was nullified due to a block in the back penalty. Even though the touchdown didn’t count – though, since it was in the preseason it wouldn’t have counted no matter what – it showed the impact Jackson can make on special teams.
It’s just the preseason, and this was a Panthers team without quarterback Cam Newton, but it was easy to see the Titans are talented and deep, especially on offense.
The AFC South isn’t strong. The Jacksonville Jaguars don’t know who their quarterback is. The Indianapolis Colts don’t have quarterback Andrew Luck back at practice and center Ryan Kelly will start the season on injured reserve. The Houston Texans will either start Tom Savage or rookie Deshaun Watson at quarterback and are primed for regression anyway. The Titans seem like the class of the division.
With Ezekiel Elliott suspended six games pending appeal and whatever other legal options he’ll pursue, a lot of pressure falls on Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott. He looks ready.
Prescott played two series against the Indianapolis Colts and was nearly perfect. He was 7 of 8 for 106 yards and a touchdown. The Colts defense didn’t put up much of a fight, but it was impressive. Prescott’s touchdown pass to Dez Bryant was a thing of beauty. Colts cornerback Vontae Davis had great coverage on Bryant, but Prescott has such great chemistry with Bryant that he trusted his receiver in single coverage. Prescott gave Bryant a great pass, Bryant got away with a bit of a push-off on Davis and he grabbed the touchdown.
The Cowboys running game without Elliott looked good too, in a 24-19 Dallas win. Darren McFadden repeatedly gashed the Colts behind some great offensive line play. McFadden had 59 yards on nine carries, often rushing through huge holes. Again, the Colts looked awful. But still.
Dallas will be challenged without Elliott. But the offense, and especially Prescott, looked sharp without him on Saturday night.
Kansas City Chiefs 30, Cincinnati Bengals 12: The Chiefs gave rookie running back Kareem Hunt a long look, bringing him in on the second play of the game, and Hunt played well. Hunt had 40 yards on eight carries, and showed good power breaking through tackles on a 25-yard run, and 23 yards on three catches. Spencer Ware is still listed as the starter but Hunt will play a lot this season.
Detroit Lions 16, New York Jets 6: The Lions defense looked wonderful. Though, that probably has to do with the absolutely horrendous Jets offense (read about quarterback Christian Hackenberg leading the Jets to minus-3 yards in the first half here).
Green Bay Packers 21, Washington Redskins 17: Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who typically doesn’t play much in the preseason, started at the Washington Redskins and had a telling touchdown pass. New Packers tight end Martellus Bennett lined up split wide to the right and got matched up against a linebacker. Rodgers immediately threw one up to Bennett after the snap, and Bennett came down with a nice touchdown catch. Rodgers hasn’t had a tight end like Bennett since Jermichael Finley retired, and expect Green Bay to use him in many ways. It’s not like Rodgers needed another weapon, but he has one with Bennett.
Los Angeles Rams 24, Oakland Raiders 21: Jared Goff had a nice 23-yard touchdown pass on the Los Angeles Rams’ first series to Cooper Kupp. The Raiders’ coverage broke down and left Kupp open, but give credit to Goff for seeing it right away, not panicking with the rush coming at him and delivering a high throw that Kupp could settle under and catch. Goff looked very comfortable on Saturday night. He completed 14-of-17 passes for 145 yards in the first half. He seems to be taking well to new coach Sean McVay’s offense.
Chicago Bears 24, Arizona Cardinals 23: It was good to see Tyrann Mathieu back and making a big play. Mathieu jumped a route by Kendall Wright and picked off Mike Glennon for an interception deep in Cardinals territory (read more about the performances of Glennon and rookie Mitch Trubisky here). Mathieu had an injury-filled 2016 that ended with him going on injured reserve with a shoulder injury. Mathieu’s return to health is huge for a Cardinals defense that is replacing a lot of talent.
• Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith played well, completing 8-of-9 passes for 89 yards and a touchdown. He threw a beautiful 36-yard pass over the middle to tight end Travis Kelce. The Chiefs looked impressive as they outplayed the Bengals starters, and Smith’s steady play was a big part of that. Rookie first-round pick Patrick Mahomes had some great moments on Saturday night as well – on one play he eluded a free rusher and threw a bullet to Gavin Escobar for the most impressive 7-yard pass you’ll see this preseason.
Mahomes finished 10 of 14 for 88 yards and two touchdowns. He looked good. Mahomes has obvious skills but it’s still Smith’s team, at least to start this season.
• Christian McCaffrey is going to be fun to watch this season. The Carolina Panthers rookie running back looked great against the Titans on Saturday afternoon, with 72 yards on five touches. He had 39 yards on two receptions, including a 38-yard gain, and 33 yards on three carries. On a 17-yard touchdown run over the right side, McCaffrey’s burst was too much for the Titans’ defense, as he took off and got to the corner of the end zone.
• Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith, who sat out all last season with a knee injury suffered in his final game at Notre Dame, made his NFL debut and started. Early on his showed a good burst to hit tight end Jack Doyle for his first tackle, and he got up with his “swipe” celebration that was well deserved. Smith looked like a first-year player at times, over-running one run in the second quarter and taking a bad angle on another later in the drive, but physically he looked fine. Smith moved well and showed some of the explosiveness that excited NFL scouts before the injury. That’s the most important news out of his first game.
“So much excitement, just to have the opportunity to play the game I love,” Smith said on the Cowboys’ broadcast during the fourth quarter. “It was a blessing.”
• Defensively the Colts didn’t look good, and the offense without Andrew Luck didn’t do much either. Indianapolis didn’t get a first down in the first quarter. The Colts’ starting offense didn’t do much in the preseason opener either. Not that it wasn’t obvious before, but the start of the preseason reinforces how much the Colts need Luck back.
One bright spot for the Colts was rookie running back Marlon Mack’s debut. Mack, who missed last week’s preseason opener with a shoulder injury, looked good picking up 45 rushing yards on five carries. On a 23-yard gain he had a great juke move on the linebacker in the hole and got into the secondary.
• Redskins rookie running back Samaje Perine, who is expected to battle for playing time in the regular season, had a better second game. Perine had a rough debut (15 yards on six carries) but rebounded Saturday with 45 yards on eight carries.
• Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo didn’t do anything to hurt himself (or his 2018 free-agency value) on Saturday night. He was 15-of-23 for 145 yards and a touchdown, though he also had an interception. He always seems calm in the pocket and knows exactly where to go with the ball.
• The Bengals might have suffered a tough injury on defense. Starting safety Shawn Williams was carted off with what appeared to be a serious elbow injury. Williams started 15 games for the Bengals last season and is a solid strong safety.
• Texans defensive end J.J. Watt only played a few snaps, but had a nice play where he penetrated into the backfield immediately and dropped Patriots running back Rex Burkhead for a loss. That’s a great sign for Houston.
• Jeremy Hill started at tailback for the Bengals, and rookie Joe Mixon didn’t do anything to displace him from the starting job. Hill had 28 yards on six carries. Mixon had just 16 yards on six carries, with no run longer than five yards. At this point it would seem that Hill would begin the season as the starter, with Mixon getting plenty of opportunities behind him.
• Rookie linebacker Reuben Foster started for the San Francisco 49ers, despite reports of a sprained AC joint in the same shoulder he had offseason surgery on. It’s a curious decision by the 49ers to start him in a meaningless game when his shoulder was hurting this week, but at least it shows the team isn’t worried about the injury.
• Bears rookie running back Tarik Cohen is just 5-foot-6, 179 pounds, but he is shifty and exciting. Cohen, a fourth-round pick who has been impressing in camp, got some extra opportunities with starter Jordan Howard out with a minor eye injury. He looked explosive, especially on a 25-yard run in which he picked his way through the hole. He had 77 rushing yards on 11 carries in the first half.
• It’s not often you see a 109-yard touchdown, even in preseason. But we saw one Saturday night, when Deonte Thompson of the Chicago Bears caught a missed field goal, broke a tackle at about the Bears’ 10-yard line and then showed off some nice moves taking it all the way back to end the first half.
109 YARDS TO THE HOUSE!!!
— NFL (@NFL) August 20, 2017
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