On Thursday night, we found ourselves deep in the football weeds.
Week Four preseason ball isn’t for just anyone. Sure, the NFL does a wonderful job at driving home the point that some of these guys are playing for their jobs and it should be dramatic. But then you end up pushing midnight on the East Coast watching poor AJ McCarron run for his life against fourth-string mercenary Chicago Bears. Someone get that guy a Cabernet Franc and a tuna roll from his horribly named sushi place. He earned it.
It wasn’t all bad, though (McCarron led a last-second game-winning drive!). Here’s what else we learned from the final exhibition matches of 2018.
A Hard Knocks fever dream in Detroit, as Cleveland’s prospective No. 2 quarterback Baker Mayfield got the start (still unsure why) and fired a pair of drive-sustaining passes to Devon Cajuste on the opening touchdown drive. Cajuste is this season’s on-the-edge-of-the-roster player; a heartwarming tight end who communicates with his father via bird calls, collects crystals and draws energy from the moon. Essentially, the kind of guy we need more of in the NFL.
Hue Jackson’s heavy deployment of both Mayfield and 2018 second-round pick Nick Chubb shows that it might be a while until we see the top 66% of John Dorsey’s first draft class in Cleveland. The Browns are stacked at running back, with both Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson fixing to take the largest percentage of carries. Still, Chubb flashed some impressive vision near the goal line with a short touchdown after looking a little stiff to start the drive. Warming Chubb into the mix as a goal-line back could be an interesting idea.
As for Mayfield, he finished the night 9-of-16 for 138 yards. He didn’t make any glaring mistakes. The calls were largely safer passing plays—quick screens, option routes to the running back and some play action. He held onto the ball a bit longer than normal, but this was a carousel of bottom-roster players who may not make the team. If anything, it speaks volumes about Mayfield and how he handled the chaotic two quarters.
Christian Hackenberg’s falling star continues to approach the ground at rapid speed. The former Jets second-round pick had a chance to put some good tape out there against his former team in the preseason finale. The result? Two picks, including one deep in Eagles territory. The first wasn’t 100% the quarterback’s fault—Hackenberg’s receiver was muscled out of a slant—but the second was a straight sail into the hands of a defender. It’s hard to see him landing on a roster for the regular season.
Back in the arms of former offensive coordinator (now Dolphins head coach) Adam Gase, Brock Alan Osweiler was dealing on Thursday. America’s favorite 6'7" quarterback completed 11-of-14 passes for 105 yards and a touchdown. In all likelihood, he’ll enter the season one injury away from taking over as QB1 in Miami.
Extended time for Lamar Jackson, which was great. The velocity he puts on balls has been keeping him out of trouble against second- and third-string defensive backs, but his timing in the NFL is still a work in progress. The positive? Jackson seems to get better as the game wears on in each preseason affair. Watch the throws on the first and second drive that require him to lead the wideout, and watch the throws to Breshad Perriman and Mark Andrews on the scoring drive early in the second quarter. By next year, he’s going to force a serious conversation about being an NFL starter.
Are the Bills trying to deal AJ McCarron? Josh Allen wasn’t playing Thursday after last week’s start earned him a short trip through concussion protocol, so AJ McCarron played the ENTIRE GAME. The offensive line needs all the help they can get, but forced one of McCarron’s two interceptions on the night by failing to pick up a cross blitz. McCarron panicked and triggered a throw to the short route, which was jumped by the cornerback. It wasn’t like McCarron was playing behind all starters, either. This may be the biggest indication yet that Allen will go Week One. Otherwise, why risk injury to your projected starter for this long?
ALSO: Chad Kelly has beaten out Paxton Lynch as the Broncos’ No. 2 quarterback.
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2. Rob Gronkowski got his contract situation settled (for now).
3. Why didn't Aaron Rodgers hold out for a Kirk Cousins-like deal with full guarantees?
5. Speaking of Mack and Rodgers, did the new deal put Green Bay in striking distance financially to sign the linebacker?
6. Speaking of Mack and other teams he might get traded to, where do the Jets fall into the mix?
7. Speaking of Mack and high-profile defensive holdouts, the Rams seem to be clearing some space for Aaron Donald.
We've made it. Starting next Thursday, these things count. Let's Go.
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