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NFL AM: Preseason Day 1 Observations

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The unexpected and somewhat unprecedented cancellation of last Sunday’s scheduled Hall of Fame game between the Green Bay Packers and Indianapolis Colts meant that Thursday night was the new start to the NFL preseason with 12 teams in action across six games and plenty to unravel from each contest. Here’s a look at some of what went down on Thursday night.

WENTZ A WORK IN PROGRESS

We won’t see 2016 No. 1 overall draft pick Jared Goff take the field until Saturday night when the Rams host the Dallas Cowboys in Los Angeles, so all eyes were on Philadelphia as No. 2 overall pick Carson Wentz took the field for the first time with his Eagles teammates, against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Over the course of an uneven debut performance, Wentz showed signs of what Philadelphia saw when they traded a boatload of draft picks to move up and select him. He also showed how far he has to go and why the Eagles have put plans in place to make 2016 a redshirt season for the young quarterback.

The 23-year old North Dakota State product completed exactly 50 percent of his passes (12-of-24), he was intercepted once, totaled just 89 yards through the air and couldn’t get the Eagles into the end zone despite playing two-plus quarters against mostly second and third team Bucs defenders. Wentz was also fairly inactive with his feet, taking off with the ball just three times for a total of 15 yards, though he did show a keen ability to avoid the rush and extend plays with his legs, one of the strengths of his game.

With nerves likely playing a role, Wentz missed badly with his first throw, intended for second year wideout Nelson Agholor, but he shook it off and connected with tight end Zach Ertz up the seam for his longest completion of the night, a 19-yard gain. The Philadelphia game plan from there called for mostly underneath throws from Wentz and he executed on several occasions while missing behind and over the heads of receivers on others. It all added up to a debut with plenty to be pleased about, but even more to work on and improve upon going forward, and his teammates had nothing but positive things to say.

“The kid’s got a ton of talent. It’s good to see him in a live game. The game didn’t really affect him. I think that was a very positive sign,” Ertz said. “He’s a very athletic quarterback, and I think he’s going to use that athleticism to his advantage. Everyone’s excited about him, and I think we’re excited to see the next three games especially.”

FLETCHER COX IS A BEAST

Though all eyes were on Wentz late in the game, it was hard not to notice, the great things coming out of Philadelphia’s defense early in the contest, particularly the play of defensive tackle Fletcher Cox.

As is the case with most first teamers in the preseason opener, Cox didn’t play much, but he used what little time he had to wreak havoc on the Tampa Bay offensive line. Philly’s Pro Bowl DT was all over the ball early and after Tampa Bay’s first drive resulted in a quick three-and-out, he and he alone made sure the second drive was even shorter.

On the first play of the Bucs’ second drive, Cox burst through the line and hunted down quarterback Jameis Winston, causing the second year Bucs quarterback to fumble the ball. Cox recovered the loose ball himself and nearly took it to the house, before being tripped up at the nine. Three plays later, the Eagles scored their second touchdown of the night.

Philadelphia’s first round pick in the 2012 Draft has already established himself as one of the league’s best defensive tackles, but if this is what we have to look forward to under new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, look out NFC East.

STEADY AS IT GOES FOR GAROPPOLO

At this time last year, the New England Patriots were preparing reserve quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to be the starter for the first four games of the upcoming season due to a suspension to Tom Brady, so in a way, this preseason feels a little like déjà vu in New England. But this time it’s really going to happen and this time, with another year under his belt learning from Brady, Garoppolo looks even better.

The 2014 second round pick got the start for the Patriots in Thursday’s exhibition opener and played the entire first half, completing 11-of-18 passes for 168 yards, though he too was held without a touchdown toss. However, after a few quick three-and-outs to begin his evening, Garoppolo settled in and led New England on three long drives in the second quarter.

The highlight was a screen pass to running back James White that the scat back took all the way down to the one-yard-line, setting up a touchdown for fellow running back Legarrette Blount. Garoppolo also had a few long completions later in the quarter to rookie wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell, who later suffered a gruesome elbow injury that could cost him the start of the season.

But other than that injury, Thursday night was a good one for the Patriots, especially Garoppolo. The third-year quarterback was critical of his own performance, but continues to improve and show that, while New England won’t get the star power and performance out of their reserve that they would out of their starter, they should still be in steady hands as they start the 2016 season sans Brady.

“It wasn’t our best start, no question,” Garoppolo said. “But that’s going to happen sometimes. You’re not going to always start the right way. It’s just how you react to that. It was a good experience tonight being put in a difficult situation, and just seeing how the guys responded and how everyone responded. I think we reacted in the right way.”

DENVER’S QB CAROUSEL CONTINUES TO TURN

The Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos also opened their exhibition slate on Thursday night and the question on everyone’s mind remained: who will be the quarterback? After one preseason game, there is still no clear answer.

Each of the three Denver signal callers put forth a strong performance in the team’s 22-0 drubbing of the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Mark Sanchez was 10-of-13 for 99 yards with a touchdown and an interception, Trevor Siemian completed 7-of-12 passes for 88 yards with no scores or turnovers and rookie Paxton Lynch went 6-of-7 for 74 yards.

Sanchez got things started with an excellent 10-play, 74-yard drive that was capped by a beautiful deep ball to Demaryius Thomas, who roasted his defender for a 32-yard touchdown that put the Broncos in front. Sanchez was 7-of-8 for 83 yards one that impressive drive. His second drive got off to a similar start, but on the fifth play of that trip, Sanchez made a typical Sanchez mistake. The quarterback rolled right and tried to fit the ball in a non-existent window to reserve wideout Bennie Fowler. Instead, the ball was tipped in the air and then corralled by Chicago’s Jerrell Freeman. Sanchez got one more drive, a three-and-out, before giving way to Siemian to start the second quarter.

The first drive for Denver’s only incumbent quarterback began at midfield and Siemian completed his first three passes, all to Cody Latimer for chunk gains to get the Broncos into the red zone. However, Siemian couldn’t finish the drive, ending it with back to back incompletions and Denver settled for a field goal. The second year signal caller led another field goal drive midway through the quarter, which he got started with a 15-yard scramble that was wiped away by a holding penalty. Undeterred, Siemian dropped back on the next play and hit Latimer with a big play for a first down.

Late in the half, Siemian made his best play of the night, evading a rush with a roll to his right and then completing a perfect pass on the run to Jordan Taylor along the sideline for a gain of 22. Unfortunately that play ended with just five seconds left in the half and a long field goal attempt was blocked.

The second half belonged to the rookie Lynch, who was sacked on two of his first three plays. However the Memphis product settled in and led a sustained second drive that ended with a missed field goal. Lynch’s passing performance was strong, but he got caught holding the ball too long several times and took unnecessary sacks as a result.

Like the Eagles did with Wentz, much of the gameplan for the Broncos with Lynch was to keep his passes short and intermediate. But he did open it up a little late in the game and completed a strong pass deep over the middle to Taylor for 22 yards. It was the sixth completion in as many attempts for the rookie, but his next throw fell incomplete, ending his streak. After that, the Broncos ran the ball to wind down the clock.

For the Broncos, it was a strong night, but not one that offered a lot of clarity. His experience alone probably puts Sanchez in the lead for the starting job, but how long that lasts is anybody’s guess.


About Devon Jeffreys

Devon Jeffreys