Insiders

NFL AM: Observations From Friday’s Five-Game Exhibition Slate

on

The National Football League continued to roll through Week 1 of the 2016 preseason on Friday night with 10 more teams in action across five games.

Among the teams taking part in the Friday night action were NFC Championship contenders Green Bay, Arizona and Minnesota, as well as AFC contenders Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Oakland. Just five more games now remain until the end of the opening week of exhibition season, with four scheduled for Saturday night. For now, here are some impressions from Friday night’s action on the gridiron.

RGIII REMAINS INCONSISTENT

New Cleveland Browns coach Hue Jackson drew up a dynamic start to his tenure, as well as that of quarterback Robert Griffin III and new wide receiver toy Terrelle Pryor.

On Cleveland’s first offensive play Friday night, Griffin unleashed a bomb of a pass down the right sideline and Pryor beat his man to make a fantastic diving catch to haul it in for a gain of 49 yards. It was the type of start teams and players dream of. But as tends to happen with the Browns, and to a lesser extent with RG III, things unraveled from there.

Griffin nearly turned the ball over on the very next play, botching the snap, and after a couple more completions he was finally able to give the ball away on an ill-advised throw over the middle for tight end Gary Barnidge that was picked off by Green Bay’s Micah Hyde. Griffin got one more drive, which he ended with three straight incomplete passes, before giving way to Josh McCown in the second quarter.

“He did (get into a rhythm), but at the same time, we can’t turn it over. We have to always be a team that takes care of the ball. It’s unfortunate, but we have to learn from it. Our team is fighting,” Jackson said. “We have some work to do. We had some chances, but we have to not turn the ball over. One of our goals is to not turn the ball over. If you don’t turn it over, mostly good things are going to happen.”

The good news for Griffin is that there wasn’t much of a threat from his competition at quarterback. McCown was just 1-of-4 passing for five yards. The only Cleveland quarterback that did anything of note was rookie Cody Kessler, who threw an excellent pass to Rashard Higgins on his first play for a 10-yard touchdown. But Kessler followed that up by rolling out of the back of the end zone, Dan Orlovsky style, for a safety on his next series. He was later sacked in the end zone for another safety. An inauspicious start for the third round pick out of USC.

“We had a few mistakes, but overall, I thought it was good for us to get out and go against another team,” Griffin said of the performance. “We look forward to getting back on the field during the next preseason game.”

LIGHTER LACY LOOKS GREAT

Before Griffin and the Browns offense took the field on Friday night, the story in Green Bay was the performance of running back Eddie Lacy, who looked, and ran, like a new man.

The Packers fed Lacy the ball on the first series of their opening drive and though that drive eventually stalled, that was no fault of Lacy. The running back was the recipient of carries on Green Bay’s first four offensive plays and gashed the Cleveland defense for gains of six yards, three yards, 11 yards and finally four yards, before giving way to backup James Starks.

The 11-yard run, a third down carry, was of particular note, because it showcased all the things we’d come to expect out of Lacy before things unraveled for him last season. The fourth-year pro barreled through the line, stepped through a few tackle attempts and kept moving forward before being brought down after a big gain. It was, as they say, vintage Eddie Lacy, and something the Pack hopes to see plenty more of in 2016.

“It’s important to run the football, as we know, but this is the time of year where you have to get the reps,” McCarthy said in halftime quotes distributed by the team. “We want to come out and run the football and really have it be a focus throughout the preseason.”

After a subpar 2015 season that was clouded by questions about his weight and commitment to the team, the 26-year-old went to work this offseason on getting back into prime playing shape. He worked with P-90X founder Tony Horton and lost around 20 pounds, and came into camp ready to resume his role as workhorse back for the Pack. So far, it seems he’s well on his way to doing just that.

INJURIES PLAGUING G-MEN ALREADY

It’s tough to make excuses for just how bad the New York Giants have been in recent seasons, but if you had to come up with one, it would be that the team has been devastated and dismantled by injuries. In that regard, Friday’s preseason opener didn’t lend much relief.

Things got off to a solid enough start for the G-Men, a strong opening drive led by backup quarterback Ryan Nassib was capped by a touchdown run from running back Rashad Jennings, an important piece to the puzzle in New York this year. That drive also featured a big play from potential breakout rookie Sterling Shepard, who made a great sliding grab on a throw from Nassib to put the Giants in the red zone and set up Jennings’ TD run.

Shepard has been the talk of Giants camp so far and he showed why on that play. But it wasn’t too long before things started to go awry for New York and Shepard was a part of that too. The rookie wideout was the intended target on a pass from Nassib that was intercepted on a tremendous by Brice McCain midway through the second quarter and that was the last Shepard would see of the field on Friday night. It was later reported that Shepard left the game with a groin injury. The rookie downplayed the injury after the game.

“I feel good,” he said. “It’s just sore from practice, but it’s all good now. It’s nothing too serious, so don’t freak out.”

But a groin strain also happens to be the type of nagging injury that Giants veteran wideout Victor Cruz is dealing with, leaving New York suddenly shallow at the position beyond star Odell Beckham Jr. The team believes both players will be fine, but groin injuries can linger and are not something the Giants want to be dealing with at any time during camp.

It got worse for the Giants moments later when, after trying to make a play on special teams, cornerback Eli Apple, the team’s first round pick, left the game with what appeared to be a knee injury and is being termed as a “leg strain.” Apple, like Shepard downplayed the injury after the game.

“I kind of just tweaked it a little bit on special teams, punt return. Just got a little bit off balance and I was trying to like hold up the guy that was blocking and kind of just tweaked it, but I’m feeling fine. It’s just a lower leg strain, it’s gonna be fine,” the cornerback said. “It was just throbbing, kinda like just the outside of my knee. but it’s fine now, just gotta put some ice on it and have some good maintenance on it.”

Giants head coach Ben McAdoo said the same as his players, that neither injury appears to be serious, but maintenance on nagging injuries like groin and leg strains is exactly the type of thing that can turn into a headache for McAdoo and his staff down the road. New York can only hope both injuries end up being as minor as they’re saying.

KARL JOSEPH IS BACK

An ACL injury in early October of last year derailed a potentially phenomenal senior season for West Virginia University safety Karl Joseph. The playmaker had already hauled in five interceptions in just four games when it happened. He was on his way to being a high first round draft pick.

Then he got hurt and many forgot about him. The Raiders managed to scoop him up at No. 14 overall and the safety is already proving that to be a sound investment. Joseph returned to game action on Friday night, just 10 months after suffering the injury, as Oakland’s starter at strong safety. He made a quick impact with some aggressive plays and one big tackle, and though he got just nine snaps in before giving way to the team’s second team defense. All part of the plan, according to coach Jack Del Rio.

“That was the intention, to get him a little bit of action,” Del Rio said. “He wasn’t going to play very long, but it was important for the young man to work his way in and understand the difference in game speed at this level. We didn’t want to expose him too much. We’re going to be smart about things. It was good to get him a little action and then get him out.

That brief exposure was enough to whet Joseph’s appetite and give him plenty of things to work on as well. Despite playing just those nine snaps, the tireless 22-year-old found plenty of things to be critical of in his own play and work on as the Raiders get back to it this week.

“I haven’t played in a long time, so being back out there felt really good,” he said. “This was our first time with me and Reggie playing together. I’m a rookie, so I have to do a better job communicating with him. It was nice to get a series in and, as the preseason goes on, we’re going to play more and more. I’m looking forward to that.”

Raiders fans can also look forward to seeing a lot more out of Joseph. Oakland was already a team to watch this season after the way they finished in 2015, and Joseph is just one more player to keep an eye on with the upstart squad that’s looking to upset the apple cart in the AFC West.

 


About Devon Jeffreys

Devon Jeffreys