Football is back! It is now time for rookies to show why teams took a chance on them, for back ups to prove why they should be starters and for the starters to prove that they deserve big money contracts or to hold onto their starting gigs. While week 1 of the preseason is way too early for any type of bold prediction heading into 2016, it is a time when trends can be identified and NFL fans can get a first glimpse at how their teams rosters will be filling out and looking, heading into 2016. Coming up we will look at 5 takeaways from Thursday and Friday’s preseason games.
The Cleveland Browns can begin to hope that in Robert Griffin III they might finally have the answer at Quarterback
Robert Griffin III had a statistically poor first preseason game for the Cleveland Browns. Yet the numbers do not tell the whole story. Despite going 4 of 8 for 67 yards with 0TDs and 1 interception, Griffin managed to put together a performance that Head Coach Hue Jackson will certainly find a lot of positives in. Jackson made a statement with his first Offensive play call as he dialled up a vertical shot from RGIII to former QB turned WR Terrelle Pryor. This 49-yard connection displayed Griffin’s arm strength and that he can connect on the deep ball.
RGIII took 7 snaps from the shotgun and only 1 under center (which was a play action). Despite taking nearly all of his snaps in the shotgun, Griffin’s footwork looked polished and was more mechanical than erratic which will be a big positive for Jackson. However, question marks will still remain over Griffin’s 3-step and 5-step drop, as we did not see how his footwork was under center (something that was a big question mark following his rookie season). Griffin again connected with Pryor on his third pass for 8 yards as he placed the ball in a position where only his Receiver would have been able to make the catch. Griffin’s ball placement all in all was positive and his release was clean where the ball did not appear to wobble as it fizzed into the hands of his receivers or even at times over their heads. RGIII displayed good accuracy on underneath routes and the biggest positive was that despite him taking a few hits he was not afraid to sit in the pocket and wait for a receiver to get open as he knew Linemen were baring down on him.
Griffin only had 8 snaps in his first preseason game for Cleveland and we should not get too carried away thinking that the Browns have finally found their franchise Quarterback. However, from the small evaluation we can make, it certainly looks good for not only the player but for Cleveland too. With only 8 snaps for a player who had a lot of question marks heading into this season, this felt more like a Pro-Day workout than a game situation and there are still some big question marks that need answering.. Griffin’s footwork under center will be under scrutiny in weeks to come and there were a few overthrows that will need to be addressed and see whether Griffin simply lacked a feel for the football or was afraid of throwing an interception. Another big area for improvement for Griffin is head location and using his eyes in order to deceive the opposing teams secondary. In his 8 snaps Griffin’s eyes were usually glued on his hot route and while this did not matter when he threw short passes or threw a bomb on the opening play, this was disastrous when trying to find his Tight End Gary Barnidge deep down the middle for a Touchdown. Griffin made it clear to everyone that he was looking for Barnidge which allowed the Packers Micah Hyde to jump the route and make a play for the Packers leaving Griffin red faced. Griffin needs to learn to ‘look off’ the safety or corner by deceiving members of the secondary with his eyes and head thus allowing him to throw open his receiving targets.
Despite a few overthrows, on the whole Griffin’s return to football although incredibly brief had a lot of positives and Cleveland fans will hope that he can lock up the starting gig and continue to take strides as a Quarterback.
The Denver Broncos Quarterback battle is incredibly close and it’s unclear just yet who will win the starting job
We have previously previewed the Broncos Quarterback battle on the Inside Zone. Thursday’s match up which saw the Broncos take on the Chicago Bears confirmed all that we had previously thought as Sanchez was up-and-down, Siemian looked impressive and turned heads while Paxton Lynch flashed potential but proved that he is not ready to start in the NFL just yet.
Sanchez’s three series in the game seemed to be a microcosm of his rollercoaster career as he went touchdown, interception then three-and-out. He threw 10 of 13 for 99 yards with a touchdown and an interception. A previous knock on Sanchez had been his inability to connect on the deep ball, however, he had a 32 yard touchdown link up with star wide out Demaryius Thomas which will certainly further complicate things for Head Coach Gary Kubiak and General Manager John Elway as they try to decide who should start week 1 of the regular season.
Trevor Siemian was impressive and although failing to punch it in, led the Broncos to three Field Goals in four drives. Siemian looked calm and composed and despite only completing 7 of 12 attempts for 88 yards, seemed like a natural lining up under center for Denver. Siemian rifled the ball to Cody Latimer on a slant for 17 yards and showed off his touch and accuracy throughout the second quarter. Another impressive play was right before half time when Siemian sensed the pressure and rolled out of the pocket to his right side and keeping his head up while scanning the field connected with Wide Receiver Jordan Taylor on a ball that was placed right on the side line for a 22 yard pick up putting Denver in field goal position. The former 7th round pick will hope to continue his fairy tale story and hardly put a foot wrong Thursday night as he hopes to uncrown Sanchez as the no.1 Quarterback and ward off the ambitions of rookie Paxton Lynch.
Paxton Lynch played the whole second half and while showcasing his arm and legs on a few plays, he also proved that he is not ready to start right now. Lynch was impressive with his footwork and timing and showed off his arm as he connected on 6 of his 7 attempts. Lynch also showed off his wheels as he scrambled for 7 yards and picked up a first down as he felt the Bears blitz coming. Yet Lynch at times held the ball too long and in the process swallowed three sacks, which put them in poor field position. This was rookie Lynch’s first taste of the NFL and it is clear that the future is certainly with him, however, in the mean time it will be a battle between Sanchez and Siemian over who will watch over Denver’s Offence while Lynch makes the adjustment to life in the Pros.
Side note: Denver’s Defense went after former Head Coach John Fox’s Chicago Bears. Despite missing Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and Chris Harris, the Broncos posted a shut out to go along with seven sacks. Undrafted rookie Vontarrius Dora played with a chip on his shoulder and ended the game with 2.0 sacks, 1 tackle for a loss and a forced fumble. New signings Jared Crick and Dekoda Watson also had good games and got in on the sack fest as Denver’s Defence went into a feeding frenzy. It is clear that the Broncos laid down a marker on the rest of the League as they will look to reclaim their crown as the NFL’s best Defense despite the departure of key starters Linebacker Danny Trevathan and Defensive End Malik Jackson.
The Patriots took a glimpse into the future with Jimmy Garoppolo lining up under center
The Jimmy Garoppolo show is now fully under way in New England and will last for the next two months as he will play in these four preseason games before starting the first four regular season games as Tom Brady serves his ‘deflate gate’ suspension.
Garoppolo played in the entire first half and managed to put some good stuff on film. He went 11 of 18 for 168 yards with no touchdowns or turnovers. His biggest play on the day was from a 56-yard screen pass to James White; yet do not let this overshadow Garoppolo’s play as he appeared to become more comfortable as the game progressed. Garoppolo started slow and owned up to this in the postgame press conference but towards the end of the second half as he went 8 for 10 he started to flash glimpses that he has the potential and the calibre to soon be a starting Quarterback in the NFL. Garopollo made some impressive throws with Tight End Martellus Bennet the starting-calibre receiver at his disposal. Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Dion Lewis, Danny Amendola and Keshawn Martin were all inactive. Garopollo showed off his arm and threw a beauty of a pass to Malcolm Mitchell down the left side line before showing off his back shoulder fade to James White in the end zone (which should have resulted in 6 points). However, Garoppolo made a few errors such as throwing across his body to Mitchell in the end zone (something no Quarterback should do) and early on appeared to not have a feel for pressure and took a sack from Roman Harper.
Garoppolo had a steady first half as a starter and was got better throughout the first half as he became more comfortable in the Offence. Yet many questions still remain unanswered in New England. For now though many questions still remain. Will Garoppolo sit the rest of the 2016 season when Brady returns? Most likely. But is he the franchises long-term option at Quarterback once King Tom hangs up his cleats in New England? Just maybe. Check this space New England fans.
Carson Wentz had Eagles fans purring (and screaming)
Statistically Carson Wentz had a poor game, yet similar to Garopollo’s performance, the numbers do not tell the whole truth. Wentz showcased his athleticism as a Quarterback and connected on a few nice underneath routes as he scrambled out of the pocket. He showed off his speed as he regularly had to avoid unblocked blitzing Linebackers and swing out of the pocket while trying to connect with his receivers. His best pass was his second throw as he threw a dart to Tight End Zach Ertz for 19 yards. While the throw itself was impressive, Wentz’s feel for pressure was exceptional. Wentz sensed his Right Tackle collapsing the pocket on him and slid up in the pocket and running to the right threw a pass on the money on the run. Another impressive play was two minutes into the third quarter when Wentz had two unblocked Linebackers screaming towards him and he managed to roll out right and connect downfield with a Receiver for 11 yards.
While it is still early in the preseason, it is clear that there were many positives for the Eagles with Wentz’s performance. The fans in Philadelphia could not get enough of the Quarterback their team took 2nd overall in this years draft and he did not disappoint with an impressive performance showcasing his athleticism.
Allen Robinson looks like the real deal
There was a lot of buzz around Jacksonville this offseason as they acquired the two uber-talented defensive prospects Jalen Ramsey and Myles Jack through this years draft. They also had an impressive offseason as they signed FS Tashaun Gipson, DT Malik Jackson, CB Prince Amukamara, OT Kelvin Beachum, G Mackenzy Bernadeau and RB Chris Ivory. Another story was about how the two Wide Receivers Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns would fare in 2016 after both went over 1,000 yards in 2015. Robinson ranked 6th in the League with 1,400 yards and showed that he is the real deal Thursday night as he pulled in 3 balls for 80 yards during his limited participation.
Robinson’s first catch was a back shoulder throw where he put his body between the ball and the Cornerback and pulled in a catch along the side line. Robinson’s second catch was a jump ball where he outmuscled the Jets Corner Miliner and managed to keep both feet in bounds. Robinson’s third and final catch was a 45-yard bomb down the field off of a free play where Robinson jostled with the Corner for position and hauled in a ball that was overthrown. While it may be too early to start getting on the Robinson hype train, he is a rising star in the NFL and reports coming out of Jacksonville this offseason is that Robinson has elevated his play way beyond that of last seasons. Robinson will be one to watch in 2016 and if can make catches like those he did against the Jets Thursday night, it will be fun watching him in 2016
These have been my five takeaways from the Preseason games played Thursday and Friday. It is way too early to start making assumptions about how things will play out in the regular season, but we can start to see how rosters might take shape and how positional battles are playing out.
Check back next week as we will finish our Super Bowl 51 contender series and preview those in the AFC who could hoist the Vince Lombardy Trophy in 2016.
– Tom Like