10 NFL observations from Week 1 of the preseason

Dallas Cowboys tight end Rico Gathers celebrates his touchdown during the second half of a preseason NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

The NFL season has finally arrived, which means that we can finally talk about what is happening on the field. Teams are laying the foundation of what they hope to be a successful season. Some teams will reach their goals, but many will not.

On that note, let’s take a look at 10 observations from Week 1 of the preseason.

WR Jordan Matthews to Buffalo doesn’t make a lot of sense 

The Bills’ current starting receivers are Anquan Boldin and Zay Jones, and both have extensive experience playing out of the slot … where Matthews mostly plays. That means three inside guys (quarterback Tyrod Taylor is not good attacking the middle of the defense) and minimal threats outside. If teams stop LeSean McCoy in the run game and the underneath passing game, this Buffalo offense is in real trouble.

Will the Patriots be a cover defense first and pressure defense second?

On film, the Patriots seem to adjust their defensive scheme like they always do to accommodate their players’ strengths. Their defensive line is solid, but whether they play a 4-3 or 3-4 front their edge pass rushers are just average. That will likely lead them to play a lot of “bend, but don’t break” coverage schemes to take advantage of their back-end versatility. Some 4-2-5 and even 5-1-5 alignments could be in store and they will rely on good coverage to give the pass rush more time to get to the quarterback.

Sammy Watkins makes the L.A. Rams better 

This offense has lacked a No. 1 big play receiver, as all of their other receivers are complimentary guys who really don’t stretch the defense. The big question is, will Jared Goff take some deep shots in an offense that throws mostly short passes and is easy to defend? New head coach Sean McVay knows how to develop the quarterback position. The happiest guy in Los Angeles might be running back Todd Gurley because now he has a guy who can force a defense to play more honest and not sit in stacked boxes to stop the run.

It’s only August but three rookie QBs look like they are for real 

Mitchell Trubisky (Chicago), DeShone Kizer (Cleveland), and Deshaun Watson (Houston) showed enough positives in their first game to excite their fans but their success was probably magnified by lousy play by the veteran starters in front of them (Mike Glennon, Brock Osweiler, Tom Savage).

CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 10: Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky (10) looks down the field to pass during the preseason game between the Denver Broncos and the Chicago Bears on August 10, 2017 at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Quinn Harris/Icon Sportswire)

Trubisky looks like he has a nice command of the offense and can make every throw, Kizer has an excellent arm and shows it when he needs to put the ball into a tight window, and Watson uses his feet on bootlegs and rollouts to make a lot of fairly safe, confidence-building throws. None of these three guys are trying to beat out future Hall of Fame quarterbacks!

Leonard Fournette will lead the Jacksonville offense 

The Jaguars coaches have said they want to be a physical, run-first offense and in their opening preseason win over New England they were true to their word, with 37 runs and only 18 passes. Rookie back Fournette ran with power and vision and he said the game is “slowing down” for him, which is not good news for defensive coordinators. The young back is also catching the ball much better and if he can be a three-down running back it gives this offense more versatility.

Buffalo is not necessarily ‘tanking’ in 2017 

This looks more like a new coaching staff getting rid of guys who don’t fit, etc. As good as Sammy Watkins is, his health is always a question mark. Plus he becomes a free agent at the end of the 2017 season and he would have been tough to re-sign. Ronald Darby became expendable because he is a turn-and-run, man cornerback and Buffalo’s coaches want corners with zone skills. The trades might make more sense than you think.

Keep an eye on Rams TE Tyler Higbee

There are a lot of reasons to like this guy. He teased a year ago as a rookie but now he looks ready to breakout. Not only is he 6 feet 6 with a huge wingspan, but he is also on an offense that has a lot of wide receiver drops (maybe Sammy Watkins will help). That could mean a lot of inside and red zone production by quarterback Goff, who really trusts him … and is also his roommate. Good training camp chemistry.

The Giants need a big year by rookie TE Evan Engram 

Their passing game is much improved with the wide receiver trio of Odell Beckham Jr, Brandon Marshall and Sterling Shepard, but this offense has long needed a pass-catching tight end. Engram won’t give them a lot of blocking (their run game will likely stink anyway), but his athletic ability lets him flex and move around to find a linebacker matchup and work the middle of the defense. He has looked great in training camp.

TE should be a real strength for Dallas 

Rico Gathers has really looked good in the preseason as a one-dimensional passing weapon, but as a blocker he has a lot of work to do and that is where this position gets tricky. Dallas likely will run more two tight-end sets with Jason Witten and a blocking specialist, but it will be a run-first offense, so what do the Cowboys do with Gathers? He is a huge target and obviously a size mismatch for smaller defenders; if he faces man coverage it is over. The coaches must be creative (third-down nickel packages?) in how they get him involved in passing situations.

Watch out for an improved Atlanta defense 

A year ago this defense had a lot of youth and inexperience and the coaches played a lot of safe, Cover 3 zones early to avoid giving up big plays. Now deep in training camp they have stepped right into where they left off later in 2016 when they were a lot more aggressive and played more man coverages. It is early but what catches the eye is how fast they are playing right now. The Falcons fly to the ball, they identify the offense early, they have a lot of secondary versatility in the schemes that they play, and they just react really quickly and naturally now, which should be scary for NFC South offenses.


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