The second week of preseason action got underway with it all—both behind center and behind the booth. Here are five observations from a three-game slate.
Overexcited, team-loyal regional announcers? Confusion and hyper-penalization of the league’s new helmet-to-helmet contact rule? Forced, optimistic chatter to round out the fourth quarter when no one the broadcasters know is playing?
Check, check and check. We’ve got preseason fever and a slate of games to digest from Thursday night.
Here are a few things we learned…
1. The first few weeks of the regular season in Philadelphia just got interesting. At the 12:50 mark of the second quarter, Nick Foles faked a handoff to Wendell Smallwood, took a three-step drop and cocked his arm back to throw. Before he could complete the motion, Adrian Clayborn whipped his way around left tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai and smashed his right arm into Foles’ compressed arm/shoulder area. As the Philadelphia Inquirer noted, having the injury labeled as a shoulder issue should ease some concerns seeing as Foles had an elbow issue last year. Still, the Super Bowl-winning quarterback recoiled in pain almost immediately. It did not look minor. He was the sure thing behind a recovering Carson Wentz and now Doug Pederson will spend the remainder of the preseason answering questions about his Week 1 starter. Nate Sudfeld, Joe Callahan and Christian Hackenberg populate the depth chart behind Foles and Wentz, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see one of them take some snaps against Atlanta in Week 1.
2. Chris Hogan and Rob Gronkowski are mainstays in this Patriots offense, but minus Julian Edelman for the first month of the season, the reliance on Phillip Dorsett and Cordarrelle Patterson as secondary options might make this the most unique-looking version of New England’s offense we’ve seen in almost a decade. Tom Brady was surgical on his first drive Thursday, eventually hitting Hogan in the end zone on a double move. But before that, we saw a deep underneath screen to Dorsett near the goal line that ended up yielding a few yards. Getting the former Colts first-rounder in open space with so many skilled downfield blockers could be a game-changer. Danny Amendola and Edelman were more accustomed to using their blockers in the open field, but give Dorsett and Patterson time and it could pay off in a significant way. Also, check out Patterson’s score on a quick screen in the third quarter. This type of one-on-one athleticism is impossible to stop for a short gain.
3. Sam Darnold got first-team reps, just as the Jets hoped he would at this point in the preseason. We chronicled his strong debut against second and third-string defensive players last week, and the result against starting-caliber defenders was a little less rousing, but still good enough to keep him on pace for a Week 1 start. What did Darnold do well? Evade a free rusher on his first series (second down), stepping up to avoid the sack and toss the ball away. Led his receivers appropriately. Got rid of the ball quickly (for the most part). What didn’t he do well? Unlike last week, he did not attack the middle-deep to deep part of the field over his 11 attempts. He threw one glaringly bad pass on fourth down, which resulted in the lone interception.
4. What a vintage snapshot of Aaron Rodgers in the first quarter: He slips out of the backfield, ducks under the swinging right fist of Daniel McCullers, jukes Vince Williams and slides for a 5-yard gain. Then, while the Pittsburgh defense is still gathering their thoughts, he rushes the Green Bay offense to the line for a dart into the end zone, drawing a 12-man-on-the-field penalty. Five yards closer, he buzzes the next pass in stride to new addition Jimmy Graham.
Nice to have you back, Aaron. Looks like all is right with the NFL world.
5. I’ll leave this to the experts, but my early review of ESPN’s new Monday Night Football broadcast crew is … meh. Jon Gruden was hard to replace in that his willingness to ham it up for the camera was unmatched among current plugged-in football types. Jason Witten doesn’t immediately scream Tony Romo Lite, although that may not have been what ESPN was going for. Just a heads up for the powers in charge: You already pay Louis Riddick, and Mike Mayock has the personality to carry a broadcast if you're searching elsewhere. If you’re going for shock value, I might get Jeff Fisher to makeup ASAP.