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What we learned from Saturday's preseason games

*Seven preseason games were on the docket for Saturday. Here's what we learned from an eventful weekend, on and off the field, in Week 3 of the preseason: *

  1. Dalvin Cook had more yards on a single run than some teams have had in a game this preseason, and it was spectacular to witness. After sitting out the first two games as a precaution, the oft-injured Cook made his preseason debut at home against the Cards and absolutely torched the defense on his second (and last) carry of the game. Following a 3-yard run on the game's first play, Cook came back out on the Vikings' second drive but had his second run -- a standard 4-yard rush -- negated by an offensive holding penalty. He would make the most of the re-do, securing a handoff from Cousins and following his blockers left before quickly cutting right and making three defenders miss en route to an explosive 85-yard touchdown run. After having his first two seasons compromised by injuries, Cook is clearly on a mission and opposing defenses better either respect the heat he's bringing or just get out of the kitchen.
  1. The quarterback duel featured a pair of guys looking to prove themselves but for entirely different reasons. Kirk Cousins, also known as "The $84-Million Man", had a relatively pedestrian day in the office, completing just three of his 13 pass attempts for 35 yards and no TDs in a half of play. He was also the unlucky recipient of the first and second sacks of the preseason and finished with a 39.6 passer rating.

Kyler Murray, also known as the 2019 No. 1 overall pick, put together a solid albeit unremarkable outing against the Vikes' first-team defense. Murray played all but the final two-and-a-half minutes of the first half and accumulated 137 yards on 14-of-21 completions and an 84.8 rating. He demonstrated good awareness in the pocket and avoided constant pressure with his speed but was yet again unable to score a TD and had a number of his passes batted down by the Vikes' defensive line. He did position the team for three field goals, courtesy of kicker Zane Gonzalez.

  1. Aside from the marquee names at QB, Cardinals backup Brett Hundley garnered some attention for a pair of calls he earned after coming on for Murray. Hundley was flagged for a false start twice in three plays while preparing to take the snap in the shotgun formation. NFL Network's Tom Pelissero shed some light on the call and ongoing talks between coach Kliff Kingsbury and lead official Al Riveron. Keep an eye on this rule as the season progresses.

*-- Jelani Scott *

  1. After Andrew Luck's bombshell retirement news dropped during the game, little else seemed to matter in Indy. The tilt pressed on nonetheless. Luck's news gave backup quarterback Chad Kelly's stellar performance more gravitas. In two quarters, Kelly displayed fearlessness both throwing and scampering from pressure. The signal-caller made a plethora of strikes, completing 16 of 21 passes for 209 yards a TD and an INT (which was ripped out of the tight end's hands) for a 103.1 rating and added 34 yards on the ground. Kelly is suspended the first two games of the season, making his situation tricky, but he looked good versus Bears backups. He could be Jacoby Brissett's backup after the suspension is over.

A player who could find a role in the Colts offense this season is receiver Deon Cain. The second-year player, who missed all of last season with an injury, got open with ease Saturday night, including an impressive 46-yard catch-and-run TD. Cain could be a factor this season if his impressive play translates from the preseason into meaningful action. On defense, edge rusher Kemoko Turay flashed once again generating a sack, a QB hit, a tackle for loss and several other pressures. Turay, who worked with legendary Robert Mathis this offseason, has flashed various pass-rush moves this preseason. He could work his way into a rotation in Indy's D.

  1. The Bears wanted Eddy Pineiro to lock down the kicking job. He made an emphatic statement to coach Matt Nagy on Saturday night. The kicker blasted a perfect 58-yard field goal in the third quarter. The boot was smashed down the middle and had plenty of leg. Pineiro added a 21-yard chip shot field goal and three extra points. Pineiro will have to double-down on his performance in the team's final preseason to game before Chicago can head into meaningful games with confidence he can finally put to rest the Bears kicking odyssey.

*-- Kevin Patra *

  1. Big D's starting O looked just fine without Ezekiel Elliott. In the Cowboys' return to Jerryworld, Tony Pollard looked at home in the backfield oft occupied by Zeke. Pollard showed burst yet again on his six runs for 26 yards and two catches for 10. Disclaimer: This is not to say Pollard is superior to Zeke. That argument is a fool's to make. Just that Dallas, in the preseason, moves the ball pretty seamlessly with a back with Pollard's skill set in the lineup. How Saturday's action affects Dallas' contract conundrum, who knows? Also due for a top-five extension, Dak Prescott bolstered his case by connecting with Michael Gallup on a touchdown (Gallup caught another from Cooper Rush that was called back due to penalty). While Elliott holds out in Cabo, his quarterback, also in the midst of contract negotiations, and the running back spelling him are balling out to the cheers of Cowboys fans. The optics couldn't be clearer.
  1. You don't want to read too much into preseason results, but Houston looked completely outmatched from the get-go in Dallas. The unfortunate outing started with Lamar Miller's early exit on a cart after suffering what is believed to be a torn left ACL, and the Texans never really recovered. Houston's offense was not a deep outfit to begin with, but sans Miller, Deshaun Watson, DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller, there was nothing positive to write home about Bill O'Brien's side. Assuming Miller's injury is as serious as believed, Houston will be behind the eight ball unless it pulls some moves on cutdown day; Duke Johnson was not acquired to carry the whole load. With rumors raging that Jadeveon Clowney could be on the outs before the season starts and Miller's injury hanging over the Texans' offense, Houston has to be the most in-flux team in the competitive AFC South. Oh, wait...

-- Jeremy Bergman

  1. One preseason series was all Drew Brees needed. New Orleans' saint made the most of his first and only live action in August, marching the fleurs-de-lis 72 yards in eight plays and zoning in on his favorite targets along the way. Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas were the ball-carriers or targets on seven of the eight plays, with the tailback earning the first three touches. Thomas' drive-sealing touchdown grab over an anonymous Jets defender was unguardable. Watching Brees, Kamara and Thomas go off isn't a new phenomenon, so whether this is something we "learned" is debatable. Let's call it something we were "reminded," a ominous sign for the NFC of things to come out of the Bayou.
  1. Adam Gase made the curious decision to keep Sam Darnold on the field midway through the second quarter behind an offensive line populated by just two starters; New York's QB1 took his fair share of hits including a blindside shot. But it paid off in the end, as Darnold executed a touchdown drive on his fifth and final sojourn of the night. Jets fans got a look at Darnold's deep ball for the first time this preseason on the drive, when the QB unleashed a 41-yard bomb to Robby Anderson down the left sideline, taking a late hit in the process. That set New York up for a red-zone sequence that featured one short target to Jamison Crowder and three to Ty Montgomery. Perhaps Gang Green's preseason MVP, the pass-catching Montgomery has played the role of Le'Veon Bell throughout the summer, as Bell has been held out. That was nowhere clearer than on New York's scoring play, when Montogmery, situated to Darnold's right, caught a two-yard swing pass left out of the backfield for the QB's lone touchdown of the night.

-- Jeremy Bergman

  1. The reigning NFL MVP is ready for the regular season. Patrick Mahomes looked primed for another explosive season, making the 49ers' heads spin in two scoring drives Saturday night. Mahomes got the ball out quick, repeatedly hitting receivers in stride, making pinpoint strikes and perfectly placed lobs. On just the third play for the Chiefs, he hit Damien Williams on a wheel route with a beautiful toss that allowed the running back to split the defense for a 62-yard touchdown. Hitting his first eight passes, Mahomes finished 8 of 10 for 126 yards and a TD for a 152.1 QB rating and added an 8-yard head-first diving scramble (that likely caused K.C. fans a brief heart attack) on his final play of the night. Mahomes looked more decisive than last season, knowing where he wanted to go with the ball before the snap. One thing to note with the Chiefs offense: While Damien Williams, Darrel Williams and Darwin Thompson all saw time with Mahomes under center, Carlos Hyde did not. It's another sign that Hyde might not make it through final cuts. The veteran had just one carry for one yard on the night.
  1. Jimmy Garoppolo quieted some of the consternation surrounding his preseason play with a stellar performance Saturday night. Jimmy G started slightly shaky, tossing a couple wayward balls behind his targets on the opening drive and getting a fourth-down toss batted at the line. The 49ers signal-caller, however, bounced back with aplomb on the following drive, converting four-of-four passes, including a 33-yard dime on the outside, then hit running back Matt Breida for a diving TD on a lofted pass that dove before the safety could get over. In five first-half drives, Garoppolo led to three scores (TD, two FGs). Looking closer to how he performed at the end of 2017, Jimmy G tossed a plethora of chunk plays, did a better job of getting to his check down and looked good on play-action rollouts. Garoppolo finished 14-of-20 (70 percent) for 188 yards a TD, no INTs and a 116.2 passer rating. It wasn't a perfect night for Jimmy G, but it was a good reminder of the type of playmaker the quarterback can be in Kyle Shanahan's offense.

-- Kevin Patra

  1. Once again it was tough sledding for Rams rookie running back Darrell Henderson. Projected to be Todd Gurley's backup, Henderson was repeatedly stuffed in the backfield. The rookie toted the rock 11 times for just 28 yards (2.5 average) and caught one of two targets for four yards. On the plus side, Henderson looked good ripping off a nine-yard run when the blocking lined up. Far too often, however, he was slammed in the backfield. His night was epitomized on the first drive of the game. Sitting at second-and-3 in the red zone, the Rams ran Henderson three straight times for two yards, no gain, and negative-2 yards. It's difficult to separate Henderson's performances this preseason from the struggles of the backup offensive line, but you'd like to see more from the young running back who was highly praised coming out of college, especially against Broncos backups.
  1. With both teams playing backups, let's highlight a player returning to the field after battling repeated injuries. Broncos tight end Jake Butt, coming off his third ACL surgery, made his preseason debut, catching two passes for 17 yards. A fifth-round pick in 2017, Butt's career has been waylaid by knee injuries since suffering an ACL tear in a bowl game at Michigan. Butt looked solid making cuts on his surgically repaired knee Saturday in limited snaps. It's impossible to know what strides the tight end makes from here -- the Broncos have been banged up at the position -- but it was good to see him back on the field Saturday night. If his health can hold up -- a colossal IF at this point -- he could help provide some intriguing pass-catching ability to the Broncos TE corps.

-- Kevin Patra

  1. Whereas some teams around the league are in dire need of QB depth (cough, Philadelphia; larger, more sustained cough, Indianapolis), the Chargers are flush with arm talent. Behind Philip Rivers are backups of varying competency and skill sets. Tyrod Taylor, a journeyman starter, seems to have a lock on the No. 2 job, but behind him are two young guns, Cardale Jones and Easton Stick, who made their case Saturday evening for L.A.'s final backup role. Jones was a solid 4-for-5 for 50 yards on two drives on either side of halftime. But Stick delivered a more electric performance for the Bolts, completing 12 of 16 passes for 82 yards and a score and scampering for 14 yards and a rushing TD. The rookie has put together a compelling summer, one that could force himself onto L.A.'s opening day roster and Jones out of a job in the South Bay.
  1. Chris Carson is almost assuredly Seattle's go-to back come Week 1, but Rashaad Penny and the forgotten C.J. Prosise are still staking claims for action. Penny received eight carries for 22 yards and a goal-line touchdown Saturday night, while Prosise took five attempts for 32 yards and a score of his own. Penny's positive if not earth-shattering evening was an improvement on his negative-yardage outing in Week 2 of the preseason and a reminder that he can be a useful piece for an offense that led the league in rushing last year. The same goes for the contract-year Prosise.

-- Jeremy Bergman

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