It’s a wrap. Another preseason in the books. Bad teams went 4-0, great teams went 0-4, and the football world looks longingly towards Thursday night’s opener in New England. I’ve poured over film, highly caffeinated, and dug up the following three hot takes which may or may not be worth consideration when the real action begins.
1) The NFC East is as hilariously hard to call as ever
Write about what you know, or at least about what you think you know. As a Redskins fan, the NFC East is my Moby Dick. Violently thrashing about and tantalisingly out of reach so much of the time, erratic and magnificent in equal measure.
This preseason, rather than shedding light on who might emerge victorious, has only further complicated matters. The Cowboys still don’t know how many games Ezekiel Elliot will be able to play, or even when. Despite some savvy plug and play additions in free agency and the draft, it feels like Rod Marinelli has been frantically stitching up the ailing patient rather than building anything credible.
The Redskins are considerably better on paper on defense, which isn’t difficult after last years’ historically bad 3rd down efforts. But Kirk Cousins has been inept all pre-season, struggling to build rapport with Terrell Pryor and taking an age to go through his reads. The powerhouse passing attack which relied so much on the hands of Pierre Garcon and the speed of Desean Jackson is nowhere to be seen, vanilla preseason scheme or not, and the rushing attack has stuttered.
Philly are the proverbial dark horse in a division of dark horses. Wentz has looked poised, especially when hooking up with Torrey Smith and Alshon Jeffrey against Miami. The Eagles were the most active front-office organisation in the division in August, acquiring much needed help in the secondary in the form of Ronald Darby, who recorded a nice pick six against Buffalo but then struggled against Miami. Swings and roundabouts.
Despite all this uncertainty, one constant remains: the best unit in the division is New York’s defense, which remains demonstrably Superbowl calibre. They’ve not lost a starting player through injury, which is really all that matters in preseason for a group this talented, and because of the strength of this unit they remain the safe pick for the division. Hey, they could go even further. It’s not so long ago that a superstar defense carried an ageing Manning brother to a Superbowl victory (n.b. not a prediction).
2) Reserve judgement?
Question: how do you judge a rookie quarterback in a handful of series against second, third and fourth string defenses in ultimately meaningless preseason games?
Answer: you really shouldn’t, but where’s the fun in that?
In April I mocked with incredulity the decision taken by the Chicago Bears to trade up so spectacularly and draft Mitchell Trubisky 2nd overall, a quarterback who had only started 13 games in his strangely put together college career. I also openly criticised Cleveland for drafting Deshone Kizer 52nd overall. With such a talented QB class waiting in the wings in 2018, why would either of these teams bite the bullet now?
Well what do I know? Trubisky and Kizer have both performed admirably in preseason, even with all of the aforementioned caveats taken into account. On a relative sliding scale from Prescott (flawless) to Hackenburg (disastrous), these guys rank considerably closer to Prescott, and can be proud of their achievements. Kizer in particular has looked good, building a fledgling and exciting connection with second year receiver Corey Coleman, and throwing accurately and decisively on the run. Trubisky is ranked no.1 among quarterbacks by Pro Football Focus in adjusted completion rate.
There’s a long way to go for either team to achieve true vindication for their decisions back in April, granted, but this is a start that not many of us saw coming.
3) The kids are alright in La La Land
Sean McVay became the youngest head coach in the history of the NFL when the LA Rams took the plunge and offered him the reigns in January. In his brief appearance in NFL Films ‘All or Nothing’, the offensive mastermind was so much more affable, erudite and studious than Jeff Fisher it was almost embarrassing. Cooper Kupp is an intelligent wide receiver whose lack of top end speed was probably the only reason he wasn’t taken much higher. He is proving scouts wrong with his ability to get open so effortlessly, with 105 yards on 8 preseason receptions including a 23 yard touchdown against Oakland.
For a guy drafted first overall and handed a cool $27million in guaranteed money, Jared Goff was actually dealt a terrible hand last year. Limited targets, a dodgy offensive line, and a system without much redeeming or complex qualities. This preseason, despite conservative gameplans, he has been progressively better and is a fascinating prospect – throw last year out and start evaluating from now.
This preseason has been a bigger success than the Rams have been given credit for, and the Rams are going to be better than almost anyone is predicting. Hang your hat on it, and go to town on me on Twitter if they don’t win 8 games (@joshwa_1990).