What we learned from Thursday's preseason games

*The first week of preseason got underway on Thursday night. We enjoyed our first glimpse at a number of fresh-faced rookies and old faces in new places, like Daniel Jones, David Montgomery and Josh Rosen. *

  1. No Bell? No problem. New York didn't see its high-priced running back get any run, but the Jets' first-team offense played inspired regardless. In his lone march, Sam Darnold drove Gang Green 75 yards in seven plays to pay dirt, completing four of five passes for 68 yards, to Ty Montgomery, Chris Herndon and Jamison Crowder. Darnold was protected well and his receivers found wide-open spaces in our first glimpse at Adam Gase's offense. It's a small sample size, but New York looked rejuvenated on the field and in its shiny new emerald threads. (Kicker might be a problem though: Chandler Catanzaro missed two extra points in his return.)
  1. Yes, Daniel Jones had a nice night. (You can read more about that here.) But attention should be given to his receiving corps, a position group that has been riddled by trades, injuries and suspensions this offseason. With OBJ gone, Golden Tate suspended for four games and Sterling Shepard nursing an injured finger, New York needed breakout evenings from Russell Shepard, Bennie Fowler and Cody Latimer, and they got them. Fowler and Shepard's scores were bright spots that should help turn around a dispiriting narrative.

*-- Jeremy Bergman *

  1. There's another high-profile battle in the backfield for the Dolphins between returning starter Kenyan Drake, who got the start, and Kalen Ballage. Neither shined Thursday, but Ballage certainly came away the more productive, going high and over the top of the goal line to come down with six points in the second quarter. Drake was held to three yards per carry (four carries, 12 yards), while Ballage finished with six carries for 23 yards (3.8 yards per carry). Advantage Ballage after this one.
  1. Big numbers aplenty are prognosticated for the Falcons' offense, but nary a big-name starter was found on the field in Miami. Matt Schaub, who some have questioned as the backup QB for an offense with such promise, was efficient at the onset, going 7-for-8 for 77 yards as he drove the Falcons down for an Ito Smith rushing score. With Hall of Fame Game standout Kurt Benkert on IR, Schaub bounced back from his 4-of-14 showing against the Broncos and did well before going 5-of-11 the rest of the way. Good, bad and ugly in this one, Schaub will still need to prove doubters wrong this preseason.

*-- Grant Gordon *

  1. New England's receiving corps has been questioned this offseason. In the first preseason game, the youngsters answered loudly. The Pats picked apart Detroit through the air in Thursday night's whitewash. Undrafted rookie Jakobi Meyers ate Lions DBs alive (8 targets/6 rec, 69 yards, 2 TDs). Maurice Harris continued his impressive offseason with a smooth 14-yard TD reception to open the game. Harris later dropped a would-be TD, but it was still a net-positive on the night. First-round rookie N'Keal Harry looked like a back-shoulder monster on two receptions, but the big receiver tweaked a hamstring and was taken out early. Slot-man Braxton Berrios also chipped in three catches for 45 yards, including a fourth-down conversion. Even though Tom Brady sat out, the Patriots spread the ball around, with 12 players catching at least one pass. With snaps to be had in New England's offense, the youngsters will have three more preseason games to make their case for playing time once the regular season begins.
  1. The one thing the entire football world is rooting for during the preseason is for no serious injuries. The Lions couldn't get through the first drive without a damaging one. Veteran receiver Jermaine Kearse went down early and was carted off with an air cast on his leg. NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported that Kearse suffered a broken leg and associated injuries to his ankle, per a source. Kearse had been the best of Detroit's reserve receivers, according to reporters at training camp. It's an awful end to the season for a player looking to bounce-back. The bad injury news continued for the Lions as backup quarterback Tom Savage was slammed to the turf on back-to-back plays, getting his helmet slammed to the turf on the second, and went to the locker room to get checked for a head injury. Savage has been the clear signal-caller in line to backup Matthew Stafford and made some nice anticipation throws before exiting. The Lions' reserve offensive line struggled mightily, giving up a plethora of pressures and six sacks in the first half.

*-- Kevin Patra *

  1. While many a starting quarterback was on the sidelines Thursday, Josh Allen took to the field for the Bills' first two series. While Allen is seeking improvement from a rookie year in which he completed 52.8 percent of his passes, his preseason-opening showing was very much a microcosm of what he's previously showed. Allen horribly misfired on some passes, but looked great on others (finding new addition Cole Beasley twice on intermediate throws on the first drive). He also showed his running ability with a first-drive scramble that no doubt terrified the Buffalo faithful. Across two drives, Allen drove the Bills down for a missed field goal, completed six of 11 passes for 66 yards and showed he's still very much a work in progress and an adventure on every play.
  1. With Jacoby Brissett starting at quarterback and Nyheim Hines at running back, the Colts' "starting" offense struggled every bit as much as the Bills defensive dominated. Over the first three drives with Brissett quarterbacking the offense, the Colts managed just 22 yards of offense as he went 2 for 5 for 21 yards with Hines getting going nowhere to the tune of six carries for a yard. Depth could be an issue.

*-- Grant Gordon *

  1. Bears rookie running back David Montgomery stated his case for a sizable role in the Bears' offense. The back showed great vision bouncing an inside run to the outside, splitting past defenders and dashing into the end zone for a seven-yard touchdown run in the first half. On the TD drive, Montgomery also generated a 23-yard screen reception, snagged a 6-yard catch and added another 5-yard run. The Bears have spent the offseason pumping up Mike Davis as the key back alongside shifty Tarik Cohen, but Montgomery has been impressive throughout camp and should push for more playing time.

We can't talk Bears without noting the kicker battle. Elliott Fry hit the initial extra point. Eddy Pineiro then missed a 48-yarder wide left. To end the first half, Fry nailed a 43-yard attempt (!) down the middle. Pineiro later atoned for his miss with a 23-yard field goal. We'd assume that Fry has the lead in this heated battle, but things can change swiftly in the Windy City.

  1. The Panthers drafted Brian Burns with the No. 16 pick in hopes he'd boost a limping pass rush. Ron Rivera had to like what he saw in the rookie's first preseason game. The edge rusher generated two sacks in the first half Thursday night against the Bears. On the second sack, Burns recognized the play-action boot to his side, deked past the would-be blocking tight end with a nice hand move and slung QB Chase Daniel to the ground. Yes, it was in preseason versus some backups, but Burns' recognition of the play, combined with his burst, portends good things for the rookie edge rusher this season.

*-- Kevin Patra *

  1. Philadelphia's situation at running back remains in flux as two debuts took place Thursday with little to surmise following them. Jordan Howard, acquired via trade with the Bears, and rookie Miles Sanders got three carries apiece and combined for 11 yards. Who emerges as the frontrunner in the Eagles backfield is still very much to be determined.
  1. This is a big year for Marcus Mariota and he didn't exactly shine in the preseason opener, with a first-series line of 4-of-8 for 24 yards and a stalled fourth-down attempt. However, there might be an instant connection with Mariota and free-agent addition Adam Humphries as the wideout caught all four of Mariota's completions on six targets. Proving more problematic for Mariota is Ryan Tannehill looked terrific in his time.

*-- Grant Gordon *

  1. Baker Mayfield's fiery end to the 2018 campaign rolled right into his first, and only, drive of the preseason opener. With the Browns employing their two-minute drill to open the tilt, Mayfield missed wide on his first pass. He didn't miss again, completing five of six passes for 77 yards, leading a blitzing, 89-yard touchdown drive. Playing with a slew of reserve receivers, Mayfield found his running backs repeatedly for chunk gains (Dontrell Hilliard, two for 28 yards -- taking the Duke Johnson role to open the season; Nick Chubb, one for 14). The gunslinging quarterback then threw a seed to Rashard Higgins for a 24-yard TD. With up-tempo keeping the Redskins D on its heels, Cleveland showed it can spread the ball around and dice up defenses with a deep receiver corps. Imagine when Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry get involved. Higgins, who stayed in with the reserves, continued to solidify his hold on the No. 3 WR gig, catching five of six passes for 98 yards and a TD in the first half.
  1. We hit on Dwayne Haskins' up-and-down night in full already. What about the other potential Redskins starter who played Thursday night, Case Keenum? The veteran looked pretty much what you'd think Keenum would look like behind an offensive line that got bulldozed on nearly every drop back. Under heavy pressure, the QB had some wayward throws and mostly tossed short, going 4-of-9 (44.4 percent) for 60 yards and a TD. He did have a couple of typical Keenum bombs, including getting a big defensive pass interference. His 46-yard TD came on a busted coverage by the Browns. Keenum didn't wow in his three series. He didn't bomb. But unless he looks better the rest of the preseason, if he gets the starting job, it's likely because Haskins isn't ready, or Colt McCoy proves worse.

*-- Kevin Patra *

  1. No offensive revolution on Thursday night for Greg Roman's Ravens offense. In three drives, Lamar Jackson dispersed four completions to Willie Snead, Myles Boykin and Chris Moore, including a catch-and-run TD to Snead. The most dangerous scorer at M&T Bank Stadium on Thursday night, though, was a backup kicker. Norwegian booter Kaare Vedvik hit all four of his field-goal attempts from 26, 29, 45 and 55 yards. Justin Tucker's job security isn't at risk, but for teams desperate for a consistent kicker (cough, Chicago, cough), look in Baltimore's direction.
  1. Is there much to learn from a team that sat out 30-odd players due to injury/coach's decision? Gardner Minshew started for Nick Foles, Leonard Fournette was spelled by Alfred Blue and it showed. Jacksonville's offense was anemic in the first half, and Tanner Lee opened the second half with two sacks and a pick-six. The lone Jag of note to play was rookie DE Josh Allen, who finished with one tackle for loss.

*-- Jeremy Bergman *

  1. As Thursday's trade for Duke Johnson proved, Houston knows it is lacking for offensive depth. It might be even more so after its preseason opener. Slot receiver Keke Coutee, who broke out last season, left with an ankle injury after being rolled up on in the first quarter. The Texans' top-heavy attack has taken its lumps over the last couple years, and though his injury isn't considered serious, Coutee's exit should scare Bill O'Brien and Texans management.
  1. We've yet to get our first look at Aaron Rodgers working in new Packers coach Matt LaFleur's offense (which is really all that matters in Green Bay this summer). But the Lambeau faithful did see their Packers score a first-half touchdown on a drive that tested their depth at skill positions on Thursday evening. We'll see if youngsters like Dexter Williams, Darrius Shepherd and Robert Tonyan see action with Aaron Rodgers and/or the first team in future weeks.

*-- Jeremy Bergman *

  1. With Melvin Gordon holding out, all eyes were on the Chargers' backfield. Austin Ekeler started strong, dashing for a 13-yard blast on the opening drive. The running back, however, fumbled at the goal line, wasting a promising drive. Ekeler atoned for the mistake with a 19-yard burst on the next drive when he made defenders appear as though they were standing in mud. Ekeler finished his early night with five rushes for 40 yards (8.0 average) and the fumble. Justin Jackson, the other candidate to take over Gordon's carries, also impressed, showing strength to bully his way in for a 4-yard touchdown, plowing through would-be tacklers. Jackson finished with 4.4 YPC on five attempts. Aside from the fumble, Thursday night did nothing to help Gordon's leverage.
  1. While all the focus was on Kyler Murray, second-year receiver Trent Sherfield made his case for a role in Arizona. The wideout showed good rapport with Murray on the opening drive, catching two quick passes for 16 yards. Sherfield then showed great ball-tracking ability, catching a beautiful Brett Hundley arching pass for a toe-tapping 22-yard touchdown on which he expertly dragged his second foot in bounds. Sherfield also added a textbook tackle as a gunner on special teams. Behind Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk, there are snaps to be had in the Cards' Air Raid offense. If Sherfield stacks similar performances, he could force his way onto a roster spot and perhaps playing time.

-- Kevin Patra

  1. In his first action following a breakout rookie season that was ended prematurely with a wrist injury, Phillip Lindsay returned to action Thursday for the Broncos and on his second carry burst through the line for nine yards. Problem was, fellow second-year back Royce Freeman had an even bigger burst later on the Broncos' opening drive with a 50-yard rush. Freeman finished his night with three carries for 49 yards, while Lindsay's return saw him tally 10 yards on four totes. Who emerges as the starter might not matter, as the Broncos have two healthy young backs brimming with promise.
  1. After underwhelming in his rookie campaign, Seahawks running back Rashaad Penny is supposed to be poised to break out in his sophomore campaign as he provides the back end of a stellar 1-2 punch with Chris Carson. With Carson not playing, Penny hardly took advantage of his chances to open the preseason. He was confined to 15 yards on six carries. His potential was glimpsed at on a 27-yard first-drive catch from Geno Smith, but Penny still needs to show more consistency if he's to cash in on the promise that led Seattle to draft him in the first round.

-- Grant Gordon

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