2022 NFL preseason, Week 1: What We Learned from Saturday's games

NFL.com breaks down what you need to know from Week 1 of the 2022 NFL preseason. Catch up on each game's biggest takeaways using the links below:

  1. Chiefs rookie George Karlaftis brings the heat. With Patrick Mahomes and the first-team offense off to a smooth start, our attention is on the first-round edge rusher. Karlaftis displayed a V-8 engine motor and was a constant presence in the Bears backfield. The rookie seems to never give up on a play, shows excellent pursuit and provides good power and speed off the edge. The Purdue product netted a sack, two QB hits, and a tackle for loss in the first half. Yes, it came against a questionable Bears O-line, but Karlaftis dominating second-team blockers is what you want to see in the preseason. The Chiefs are counting on the rookie to help jump-start the pass-rushing group in 2022. His first preseason action showed significant promise.
  2. Justin Fields passes first test. The game appears to have slowed down after a head-spinning rookie season for the Bears quarterback. Fields did a good job of getting rid of the ball, and his process looked quicker in the new offense under coordinator Luke Getsy. Under siege behind an offensive line that continues to struggle, Fields did an admirable job despite the uphill battle given his surroundings. In three drives, Fields completed 4 of 7 passes for 48 yards while taking two sacks. He also scrambled once for 10 yards. Most impressive were two field-stretching throws from Fields, putting the ball in perfect spots where only his guys had the opportunity to snag the pass. The first shot to Darnell Mooney portends a big season for the QB-WR combo. Fields could be a tick quicker in his processing, but it's much better than last season.
  1. Antonio Gibson's fumble issues once again a problem. Gibson fumbled on the Commanders' second drive, leading to an easy Panthers touchdown. Following the botch, rookie Brian Robinson Jr. got most of the run with the first-team offense. The third-round pick out of Alabama looked good bowling over defenders and falling forward to gain additional yards when the blocking didn't open holes. Robinson rushed six times for 26 yards with a TD and added two catches for 15 yards. Making the rotation more interesting was Gibson returning to the game when Taylor Heinicke and the backups entered the contest. Gibson's fumbling concerns and Robinson's solid showing add more questions to how the Commanders backfield will shake out moving toward the regular season.
  2. Panthers D continues to look feisty. While all eyes were on the QB battle, Carolina's defense reminded us that it has the talent to carry the club. Cory Littleton forced a fumble early, and Duke Dawson netted an interception late in the first half. Carolina's front looked solid, getting pressure even if the sacks weren't racked up. Give an assist on the INT to Amaré Barno, who got pressure on Heinicke to force the wayward pass. The pass D looked solid, generating seven passes defensed in the first half. Despite key defenders like Shaq Thompson and Jaycee Horn sitting, the Panthers showed they have the depth to remain one of the best defenses in the NFL.

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Kevin Patra's takeaways:

  1. Sloppy start for the Matt Ryan era in Indy. It wasn't a pretty first outing for Ryan and the Colts offense. The quarterback played four drives, into the second quarter, and completed 6 of 10 passes for 58 yards, and was sacked once. The Colts' first-team offense was characterized by penalties, pressure, and receivers not generating separation. Of course, it's preseason, and the Colts weren't scheming things up, so the messy play isn't a cause to panic. But we didn't see any receivers other than Michael Pittman step up with the starters. Perhaps most concerning was left tackle Matt Pryor getting beaten up by Bills backup rushers. O-line depth is an issue in Indy, as we saw throughout Saturday's game. Luckily, the Colts have nearly a month to smooth things out before the games count.
  2. Bills' young DBs impress. Buffalo entered training camp with questions at cornerback. First-round pick Kaiir Elam and sixth-rounder Christian Benford opened preseason action with solid performances that eased some of those concerns. Elam opened the game with a pass breakup on third down, showing sticky coverage. While he allowed a couple of catches and was called for a penalty, the rookie impressed. He displayed deep speed tracking Ashton Dulin deep and pasted to receivers throughout his 36 snaps. The rookie exited the game late in the first half with a head injury but was cleared. Benford, a Villanova product, also played well, breaking up a fourth-down pass. It's early in the process, but the young corners passed the first test. Now the Bills need the rookies to keep stacking good days.
  1. Drew Lock fares better in Round 1. According to NFL Network Insider Tom Pelissero, Drew Lock has "pretty clearly" been the better of the Seahawks' two quarterbacks in the opening portion of training camp. That held true Saturday night against the Steelers, albeit with the caveat that Lock faced defenders further down the depth chart than Geno Smith. Head coach Pete Carroll gave Smith the entire first half to work, but Smith did not put anything positive together until a 69-yard two-minute drill at the end of the second quarter. During that drive, Smith completed 3 of 5 passes for 37 yards and scored on a hard-fought 2-yard run to cut the score to 17-10 at half. Meanwhile, Lock did more damage and did the scoring with his arm. The former Bronco led two touchdown drives, finishing his half of football going 11 of 15 for 102 yards and two touchdowns -- including a bullet to wide receiver Dareke Young. Although Lock did lose a crucial fumble in crunch time to a blindside sack, the former Bronco still put Seattle in the best position to win during a comeback bid that ultimately fell short.
  2. RB depth behind Najee is in a good spot. The plan for Pittsburgh's usage of Najee Harris was a topic of discussion during the offseason thanks to the RB amassing 381 touches in his rookie season. Anthony McFarland, who has recorded 36 carries since joining Pittsburgh as a 2020 fourth-rounder, made a strong argument to be first in line to receive any of Harris' leftover opportunities. McFarland provided the Steelers with their first chain-moving play on a third-and-1 run that he cut outside to the left for 24 yards. He showed burst throughout the first half and hit holes hard on the interior. He ended his day with seven carries for 56 yards. Undrafted rookie Jaylen Warren took more of a bowling ball approach to the position. He also looked solid in his preseason debut with 34 yards on six carries and four receptions for 30 yards and a touchdown. If McFarland and Warren carry this momentum into the weeks ahead, Benny Snell could be a cutdown day candidate.

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Grant Gordon's takeaways:

  1. Don't forget about Ced. There were a lot of notable offseason additions for the Dolphins and most of them didn't play on Saturday. Former Cowboys wide receiver Ced Wilson did, though, and looked impressively comfortable in rookie head coach Mike McDaniel's offense. Wilson caught three balls on three targets for 29 yards -- all from rookie quarterback Skylar Thompson. Likely to be the team's No. 3 receiver behind the much-ballyhooed tandem of Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, Wilson appears to be a splendid fit in McDaniel's scheme, sure to be a weapon on short passes and intermediate routes. Even with Waddle and Hill, defenses aren't going to be able to forget about the ex-Cowboy.
  2. Life without Tom: With Tom Brady on hiatus until after the Buccaneers' second preseason tilt, Saturday was a showcase for his backups. Veteran Blaine Gabbert turned in the type of performance you'd hope for from a 10-year pro. He took what the defense gave him and turned in an excellent line of 5 for 5, 56 yards, a touchdown toss over the middle to Jaelon Darden and a 152.9 rating. In an emergency, the Bucs can break the glass and find a serviceable backup. As for Brady's heir apparent, Kyle Trask continues to struggle in building hope that he could be the man for the job. Trask showed some positives, but the negatives were far more glaring, specifically a first-half interception and fumble -- the latter resulting in a Sam Eguavoen fumble recovery for a score. To Trask's credit, he did engineer a potential game-winning drive, but the last-second field goal was no good. The second-year signal-caller played the majority of Saturday's game and surely will need plenty more reps to find the progress he needs.
  1. Rookie rumbler reason for excitement. A throwback to decades of yore when running backs plundered unfortunate defenders, Texans rookie rusher Dameon Pierce is ridiculously enjoyable to watch play football. Having garnered buzz during camp, Pierce's preseason debut delivered. On his first carry, the fourth-rounder out of Florida showed burst and bad intentions in a 20-yard introduction off left guard. He averaged 9.8 yards over his five first-half carries, whetting the appetite for what lies ahead. Whether Houston has found itself a steal in the draft is still too early to tell, but the Texans definitely have an exciting addition to their backfield who will be very fun to watch.
  2. Red Rifle on target. Four quarterbacks started for the 2021 version of the Saints, so having a dependable backup is paramount for New Orleans. Enter three-time former Pro Bowler Andy Dalton. With Jameis Winston not seeing any action Saturday, Dalton got the preseason start and turned in a perfect cameo. Playing just one series, Dalton piloted the Saints to pay dirt, completing all five of his passes for 51 yards, a 148.8 rating and a 9-yard touchdown pass in which Dwayne Washington took a screen and weaved his way into the end zone. Winston's had an unfortunate run with injuries and played a full season just once over the past five years, so having a reliable hand such as Dalton behind him is imperative. In his brief showing Saturday, the former Bengal, Cowboy and Bear showed he's got something left.

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Grant Gordon's takeaways:

  1. Journeyman Josh has found right fit. Quarterback Josh Johnson has played for approximately 28 NFL teams and about every league under the sun. The former is of course an exaggeration, but Johnson has bounced around the league like a lottery ball that's never hit. Maybe he's found the right spot finally with head coach Nathaniel Hackett and backing up Russell Wilson. Johnson, who had a 300-yard, three-touchdown outing for the Jets last season before moving on to the Ravens, looked splendid in his first Broncos showing on Saturday night. Johnson led three consecutive scoring drives to conclude the first half with a 17-0 Broncos lead. The first ended with a nice jump ball, 1-yard score to Seth Williams, and the follow-up was a beauty of a deep ball to Kendall Hinton for a 24-yard TD. Johnson's 16-for-23, 172-yard showing in the first half is a great indicator that he's the right man for the Broncos' No. 2 job. As noted by NFL Network's Patrick Claybon, Johnson is easy to root for as he looks to finally get comfortable on a roster. Broncos Country, let's root for Journeyman Josh!
  2. Dallas down and out in Denver. There's no reason to throw a party for a preseason win or have a funeral for a defeat. Nonetheless, this was an unsettling outing for the Cowboys on most fronts. With quarterbacks Cooper Rush and Ben DiNucci at the helm, the Cowboys mustered just 316 yards of offense and didn't score until DiNucci hit Simi Fehoko with 4:56 left in the game. Dan Quinn's defense looked good at the onset, but Broncos QB Josh Johnson led a 17-point surge over the last three drives of the opening half. Most problematic, though, were the penalties. The Cowboys led the league with 127 penalties in 2021 and had 17 for 129 yards on Saturday. Not great, Bob. Granted, most of the Cowboys' starters were sitting, but this is a club that has depth concerns and they were hardly alleviated on Saturday.

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Bobby Kownack's takeaways:

  1. The Rams' WR cup runneth over. Los Angeles has rarely been lacking at the wide receiver position during the Sean McVay era, and that continued even in a preseason game with few starters playing. Lance McCutcheon, an undrafted, 6-foot-3 rookie out of Montana State, put on a show all night as he made a valiant push for a spot at the bottom of the roster. With just over five minutes remaining in the first half, McCutcheon woke up an L.A. crowd with a 60-yard catch and run on which he plucked the ball from above defensive back Deane Leonard and shed two tackles to reach the end zone. McCutcheon found the end zone again in the third quarter -- a two-point conversion that he ripped down while elevating over a defender covering in tight. McCutcheon added yet another highlight to the reel like clockwork in the fourth quarter. That one was an 11-yard TD that he caught in similar fashion to his two previous big-time catches. McCutcheon ultimately accounted for half of the Rams' completions, and his elite ball skills could slot in nicely behind Cooper Kupp, Allen Robinson, Van Jefferson and Tutu Atwell.
  2. A tri(r)umph for Chris. Chargers pass rusher Chris Rumph II only played 15 snaps in Saturday's preseason contest, but he announced himself with vigor. The 2020 fourth-rounder looked stronger and possessed a quicker step than he did his rookie season. He amassed four tackles, including two tackles for loss and a sack in the first half, and displayed an ability to attack in multiple ways. While his sack came by virtue of bull-rushing offensive lineman AJ Jackson straight back into a collapsing pocket, he was also consistently able to knife through the line to disrupt run plays. After logging only one sack and 19 tackles in 16 games last year, Rumph is showing the potential to be a nice depth piece behind new Chargers LBs Khalil Mack and Kyle Van Noy.

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