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What we learned from Saturday's preseason games

*Saturday brought us a quintet of Week 2 preseason games that began in the Indianapolis afternoon and carried into the Honolulu night. Here's what we learned: *

  1. The Indianapolis Colts can sleep well knowing Jacoby Brissett can perform if Andrew Luck isn't ready for Week 1. Brissett looked stellar leading Indy's first-team offense Saturday versus most of the Browns' starting defense. The signal-caller did a marvelous job navigating a muddy pocket to find his targets. Brissett showed great accuracy, especially over the middle, going 8-of-10 for 100 yards and a touchdown for a 141.7 rating on three drives. He also added an 11-yard scramble for a first down. The QB's best two passes went to Pro Bowl tight end Eric Ebron. The first came on a fourth down when Brissett evaded a free rusher and slung a dart to Ebron for a first down for 16 yards. Brissett then threaded the needle with perfect ball-placement to Ebron in the corner of the end zone. Luck looked good warming up before the preseason tilt, providing some optimism he could be ready for the regular season. If he's not good to go, Brissett, a starting-caliber QB, showed once again he can hold down the fort.
  1. The Browns offense once again flashed its depth in the preseason. Backup quarterback Garrett Gilbert looked good dicing up the Colts secondary in the first half, completing 13 of 19 passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns for a 127.3 rating. The 28-year-old displayed plus accuracy and spread the ball around well to his targets. If Gilbert continues to perform as he did Saturday, he could force his way onto the roster as the No. 3 QB. Elsewhere, Cleveland's depth at the skill positions was on display. Rashard Higgins continued to lock down the No. 3 WR role. Undrafted rookie D.J. Montgomery flashed good hands, and great sideline-catch acumen, going for three receptions for 77 yards, with a long of 32 yards that set up a short TD. Reserve running back D'Ernest Johnson also displayed dual-threat ability, rushing 10 times for 53 yards (long of 15) and catching three passes for 26 yards and a TD. Johnson flashed wiggle out of the backfield and the ability to find open grass in the passing game. The preseason is about young players stating their case for roster spots. The Browns' brigade of green guys spoke loudly on Saturday.

-- Kevin Patra

  1. Welcome back Delanie Walker. In his first game action since suffering a gruesome season-ending ankle injury in Week 1 of the 2018 campaign, the veteran tight end displayed his importance to Marcus Mariota. After a shaky first two drives for the Titans, Walker got open over the middle for Tennessee's first first down of the game for a 15-yard snag. Later in the drive, Walker beat coverage down the seam and grabbed a pin-point pass from Mariota for an 11-yard TD. It's easy to forget how much Mariota missed his security blanket last season. The duo looked like it hadn't missed a beat, which portends positively for the Titans in 2019.
  1. It wasn't a crisp performance from the Patriots who played Saturday, but several youngsters stood out. On defense, rookie Byron Cowart got off to a raging start, bulldozing veteran guard Roger Saffold for a monstrous sack of Mariota on the game's first series. Later, third-rounder Chase Winovich played with his hair on fire, destroying Tennessee's backup tackle with a bevy of rush moves. A man with an endless motor, Winovich picked up five tackles, a sack, two QB hits, two tackle for loss, forced a hold, and added a bevy of other pressures. In the secondary, second-rounder JoeJuan Williams was stellar in coverage early.

On offense, left tackle Isaiah Wynn, who missed all of last season, played three series and looked solid. The LT anchored well in pass pro. He can improve in run blocking, but for his first appearance, it was positive. Receiver Jacobi Meyers continued to eat up corners off the line of scrimmage (6/82). Rookie running back Damien Harris got the bulk of the workload in the backfield and responded well in both the run and pass game, earning 14 rushes for 80 yards and four catches for 28 yards. Harris displayed great vision on a 20-yard scamper, toughness to power through arm tackles, and good route running to find free space. Backup QB Jason Stidham also continued his stalwart preseason, completing 74 percent of his passes for 193 yards and a beautiful arching back-shoulder TD.

-- Kevin Patra

  1. The Deshaun Watson-DeAndre Hopkins connection looked in midseason form. In one series, the duo connected twice, first for a 13-yard gain, then for a 4-yard TD to open the scoring. With Detroit uninterested in bringing pressure, Watson had all day to throw and picked apart the Lions. The QB struck for chunk gains, his five completions going for 13, 13, 12, 18 and 4 yards (touchdown). Watson finished 5-of-7 for 60 yards, a TD pass, and also scrambled for a 7-yard gain. It was just one series, but Watson showed how good he can be when protected. Whether the Texans can continue to do so when defenses bring the heat will be the big question in Houston this season. In that vein, first-round offensive lineman Tytus Howard left the game late in the first half to get checked by trainers and didn't return, per the Houston Chronicle.
  1. In searching for positives early in the Lions' second preseason game, look at the middle of the defense. With starting linebacker Jarrad Davis sitting out, two other young LBs made plays. Second-round pick Jahlani Tavai started and looked solid in the middle, showing good instincts diagnosing plays while compiling four tackles. Fellow linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin also played with fire, bringing punch to the hole on several of his five tackles (one for loss) in just over a quarter of play. JRM also displayed his ability in space when he came off covering the slot to break up a pass. Might Detroit finally have some linebacker depth?

-- Kevin Patra

  1. Prior to Saturday, running back James Conner had yet to experience any contact, even in practice. Upon his first look, he appears to be every bit the terrific runner he was a year ago, as his legs carried him to a stellar year on the field and his character carried him above a handful of headline-grabbing distractions via teammates that were emblematic of the Steelers' stumbles. Conner's seven touches 34 yards (six carries for 28) on Saturday certainly isn't anything that jumps out, but seeing Conner back on the field and looking ready for the season bodes very well for Pittsburgh. "It felt good to be back out here," Conner said during the broadcast late in the game.
  1. Bewildering as it may be, Patrick Mahomes started for the second consecutive preseason game as coach Andy Reid said he would earlier in the week. The all-galaxy quarterback began with a pair of completions to favorite targets Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill to start the preseason with six straight completions dating back to the opener. Mahomes ended his evening after two series with a rather un-Mahomes line of 2 of 5 for 11 yards and one run for eight yards. Perhaps more important than anything is Mahomes emerged injury free. It's often difficult to doubt Reid when it comes to running an offense, but having the reigning NFL MVP start each of the team's preseason tilts so far is a little bit puzzling.

-- Grant Gordon

  1. Ezekiel Elliott still hasn't returned to the Cowboys. So as long as Zeke watch continues, Tony Pollard watch will carry on, as well. Though Cowboys owner Jerry Jones spoke swimmingly of the rookie runner after a modest four carries for 16 yards in preseason Week 1, Pollard actually was impressive on Saturday at the onset. Taking handoffs from Dak Prescott on the opening drive, Pollard had five carries for 42 yards, including a 14-yard run through the right side to pay dirt. Pollard looked promising under the Hawaiian sun and that's good for the Cowboys -- perhaps in more ways than just on the field.

Meanwhile, Prescott was perfect, going 5 of 5 for 64 yards in his second preseason start in as many games. While there's been plenty of noise regarding Prescott's lofty desires for a new deal, he's very quietly going about his job, showing up for practice, starting preseason games (not sure why on that one) and playing splendidly.

  1. In a showdown of squads boasting marquee names, the stars certainly didn't come out for either team during a prime time outing in Hawaii. Aside from Dak Prescott, the big names on both teams were absent from the playing field for various reasons. With L.A. QB Jared Goff not in action, it was another chance for Blake Bortles to settle in after a ho-hum debut (3 for 8 for 50 yards and a 59.4 rating) with the Rams the week prior. Bortles was solid to the tune of a 7-for-11 night for 62 yards with a 7-yard TD toss and a 108.9 QB rating in the neighborhood of double his previous outing. At one point in the game, Rams coach Sean McVay even checked in to do a little live play-by-play, so just what one can gauge from the reigning NFC champs is arduous. But having a seasoned backup is often an important piece, particularly for a high-octane offense and Bortles showed progress. After Bortles' exit, Brandon Allen took the reins and went 14-of-21 for 115 yards with a pick. It wasn't stellar, but it was solid. With Todd Gurley and Malcolm Brown absent from play, as well, Darrell Henderson got some more experience, with the rookie running back showing his skills out of the backfield with six catches.

-- Grant Gordon

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