Lessons from Friday: It’s about the quarterbacks
All eyes are on Ryan Tannehill in his third season under center for the Miami Dolphins, and those who were watching Friday’s preseason opener against Atlanta must have liked what they witnessed. Miami’s starting quarterback only led one drive, but he managed to complete all his passes, including a 6-yard touchdown to receiver Brandon Gibson. Tannehill was one of several offensive players to be put under the Friday night spotlight.
Here is what else we learned from Friday’s NFL preseason games:
Blake Bortles helps Jags offense sharpen its claws
Anemic would best describe last year’s Jacksonville Jaguars offensive attack. On Friday night, it looked like the Jags were picking up where they left off. The starting unit pieced together just 42 yards of offense on four possessions. A 68-yard interception return for a touchdown by Winston Guy Jr. was the only high point early in the game. Fortunately, Blake Bortles came in to help let the cats’ offense out of the bag and lead them to a 16-10 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Bortles looked every bit the part of a first-round franchise quarterback, completing 7 of 11 passes for 117 yards, including a 31-yard strike to receiver Mike Brown that set up a Jaguars field goal. Second-year offensive Swiss army knife Denard Robinson also contributed with a 23-yard touchdown run off of a misdirection pitch.
Brees-less Saints are still a force to be reckoned with
Drew Brees officially has the most analyzed oblique in all of football. With their franchise quarterback on the sidelines, the rest of the Saints offense had a chance to shine.
Mark Ingram broke off a 22-yard touchdown run that was almost as long and glorious as Rob Ryan’s hair. Khiry Robinson turned in a solid performance, contributing 23 yards and a touchdown to the ground attack. Impressive rookie receiver Brandin Cooks joined the party with a 25-yard touchdown reception.
Meanwhile, Ryan Griffin did his best Brees imitation, completing 16 of 23 passes for 179 yards and a score. The performance earned Griffin a decisive victory in round one of the backup quarterback competition with Luke McCown.
Healthy Cutler is a Bear necessity
The Chicago Bears are relying on quarterback Jay Cutler to play a full season for the first time since 2009 … Johnny Manziel was still in high school at that time. A healthy Cutler showed his value in the Bears’ 34-28 preseason win over the Philadelphia Eagles. Cutler looked sharp, completing 9 of 13 passes for 85 yards and a touchdown.
The touchdown pass went to tight end Zach Miller, who looked like the second coming of Mike Ditka on Friday night. His two scores led the team and may free up suspended tight end Martellus Bennett to pursue a career in wrestling. Bears fans can only hope that this is the start of a healthy and productive season for their franchise quarterback.
Falcons offense mending broken wings from 2013
After a disappointing and injury-plagued 2013 season, the Atlanta Falcons are counting on an offensive resurgence. Friday night’s 16-10 victory over the Miami Dolphins offered evidence that the birds should soar again in 2014. Atlanta’s first-team offense marched down the field to score on an opening drive in which Matt Ryan completed all his passes and Jacquizz Rodgers punched the ball in for a 2-yard touchdown.
Roddy White also looked healthy, hauling in four receptions for 27 yards. Fourth-round pick Devonta Freeman had a strong game both rushing and receiving, as he totaled 107 yards. Freeman’s biggest donation to the highlight reel came off a 57-yard catch and run on a wheel route pass from Sean Renfree. With Julio Jones nearing a return to action from foot surgery, the "O" in Atlanta should continue to fly in an upward trajectory.
Buffalo working to circle the red zone wagons
The Buffalo Bills struggled to find paydirt for much of last season. That’s a trend the team is hoping to erase by bringing in dynamic first-year receiver Sammy Watkins. After a disappointing debut, Watkins and quarterback EJ Manuel seemed to show improved chemistry against the Carolina Panthers. The tandem connected three times for 21 yards.
Unfortunately, the improved passing game didn’t lead to better scoring efficiency. The Bills were in Carolina territory on their first three possessions, but only came away with three points. Buffalo did eventually manage to find the end zone a couple times on a 1-yard Anthony Dixon run and short touchdown pass from Jeff Tuel to Chris Summers in route to a 20-18 win over the Panthers.
Everybody Ertz sometimes … just ask Nick Foles
Going into the 2014, Eagles fans are wondering if Nick Foles can build on his meteoric rise from last season. Well, Foles’ first preseason game wasn’t a promising start. The Eagles quarterback threw as many interceptions on Friday night as he did all of last season, giving away two picks in a 34-28 loss to the Chicago Bears.
One of Philly’s most productive offensive weapons in the game was Zach Ertz. The tight end snagged four receptions for 60 yards. Rookie receiver Jordan Matthews, who had been the subject of rave reviews in practice, struggled to hold onto the ball, dropping three passes. Both players will be key in helping Foles improve upon last year’s success.
Panthers showing resilience while waiting for Superman
The Carolina Panthers are anxiously awaiting Cam Newton’s return from offseason ankle surgery. Despite looking healthy in practice, the coaching staff decided to play it safe and keep him out of the team’s preseason opener. With Newton sidelined, the rest of the offense offered many positive takeaways in a 20-18 loss to the Buffalo Bills.
Rookie Kelvin Benjamin flashed his potential as a dangerous red zone threat. The receiver’s acrobatic, 29-yard touchdown catch could get him a second job moonlighting for Cirque du Soleil. Byron Bell had an excellent audition for replacing the recently retired Jordan Gross at left tackle. Bell didn’t allow any sacks in his first start. Now the team just needs its favorite superhero back under center.