What We Learned During Saturday’s NFL Preseason Games


There were seven preseason games on Saturday, each with it’s own sets of intricacies.  Our Devon Jeffreys listed some of the most intriguing aspects of each game and now we’re going to sum up how each of those aspects actually played out on the field.

The Titans Running Backs – Panthers 26, Titans 16

The Tennessee ground machine was pretty effective, rushing for 96 yards on 24 carries (4.0 ypc).  More importantly, the first team combo of running backs, DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry combined for 51 yards on 10 carries, and running quarterback Marcus Mariota added 13 yards on a pair of scrambles.  The running game paved the way for Mariota to have success through the air as he completed 9 of 10 throws, for 104 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

This was done against the defending NFC champs who played a good amount of starters on defense.

Wide Receiver Sterling Shepard – Bills 21, Giants 0

It was a tough day for the Giants offense as the Bills pretty much dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.  Shepard is vying to be the No. 2 receiver opposite Odell Beckham and he had a tough day as he was only targeted once and finished without a catch.  OBJ led the Giants in receiving with just 22 yards on a pair of receptions.

New York finished with just 166 yards of total offense, 67 of which came from a Bobby Rainey run in the fourth quarter.

“You can’t freak out, but there’s got to be some urgency, and we have to do things better than we did today,” quarterback Eli Manning who finished 4 of 9, for 44 yards said.

Quarterback Andrew Luck – Ravens 19, Colts 18

It was Andrew Luck’s first game action in nearly 10 months and he looked as fresh as ever.  The former No. 1 overall pick, coming off signing the most valuable contract in NFL history completed all eight of his passes, for 71 yards as he played a little more than a quarter of football.  Luck led the team to a pair of field goal drives.

“It was good to be out there, it was fun. It was a lot of fun,” Luck said. “It’s like breathing. You just need more of it.”

Colts head coach Chuck Pagano was impressed with his young quarterback.

“He ran the offense, he made great decisions, we moved the ball up and down the field, but then we shot ourselves in the foot with penalties. We should’ve had two touchdowns,” Pagano said.

The Improved Jacksonville Jaguars – Buccaneers 27, Jaguars 21

The Jacksonville offense has been lauded all offseason after they were one of the most surprising units in the league for much of 2015.  They pretty much picked up where they left off from last week’s impressive showing as quarterback Blake Bortles was again impressive, completing 8 of 11 throws, for 85 yards and a pair of touchdown passes.  Through two preseason games, Bortles has completed 14 of 18 passes, for 190 yards, with three touchdowns and no turnovers.

The Jaguars starting offense has been on the field for five drives this preseason and they’ve scored three touchdowns and a field goal.  The first-team offense has produced 289 yards and scored 24 points on just 38 plays.

“Last week we were pretty sharp,” Bortles said of his team’s offensive performance.  “I think we were a little sloppier this week.  We had a couple of mental errors, but I think we rebounded quickly.  Gus (Bradley) talked about being able to face adversity and I thought we handled it well.”

The Jacksonville first-team defense was particularly impressive as well as they held Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston to just 3 of 10 passing, for 28 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

“It felt better,” Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley said of the team’s defense compared to last week.  “You know, when you see them out there and you see the speed and you see the guys- I mean the communication was very good, it was very clean.  We played their style.  We’re going to play an aggressive style. We know at times there’s going to be some calls that go against us, there were too many tonight, but we’re going to clean those up.  I’m not talking to our team about effort, I’m not talking to them about being physical, I’m not talking to them about those things; I’m talking about cleaning up these penalties and continue to grow.”

Wide Receiver Mike Thomas – Texans 16, Saints 9

After blowing up in the team’s preseason opener, Thomas was keyed in on by the Texans defense and the result was the rookie from Ohio State being targeted just twice, catching one pass for five yards.  Thomas played limited snaps.

The Saints offensive line had troubles blocking the J.J. Watt-less Texans as former No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney made his presence felt with a pair of tackles, a sack, another quarterback hit and a tackle for loss.  It was a great sign for Houston as Clowney has battled knee injuries his entire three-year career.

“[Jadeveon] Clowney’s been out here every day practicing hard,” coach Bill O’Brien told reporters a few weeks ago. “He’s a guy that’s gotten better. He understands our system, he understands the scheme, and he understands his role in it. I think he’s added a couple of pass rush moves. He’s getting better every day.”

It may have only been a preseason game, but a dominating performance from Clowney is certainly a welcomed sight.

Who Is The Quarterback? – 49ers 31, Broncos 24

A pair of teams with completely different ambitions and a similar problem.  They don’t know who their quarterback is going to be.

The 49ers, who look like the front-runners for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft actually received efficient quarterback play from 2011 first-round draft busts Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder, as well as rookie Jeff Driskel.  The three signal callers combined to complete 19 of 24 throws, for 216 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions.

Ponder, who was signed earlier in the week for depth after Thad Lewis’ season ending ACL injury, scored the winning touchdown on a 22-yard scramble.

“It was fun. I haven’t had that much fun on a football field in a long time,” Ponder said postgame. “It was great just to win the game.”

Once Colin Kaepernick returns next week, the 49ers quarterback competition will heat up further, but it appears that Gabbert has the inside lane to the starting gig.

Meanwhile on the sideline of the defending Super Bowl champs, head coach Gary Kubiak is no closer to picking a starter after turnovers plagued each of the Broncos signal callers on Saturday night.

Mark Sanchez was the only Broncos quarterback not to throw an interception, but he did lose a pair of fumbles, killing Denver drives.  Trevor Siemian and rookie Paxton Lynch both threw bad interceptions as well.

“I foresee myself trying to find a way to fix some mistakes,” Kubiak said. “I’m going to take it one day at a time. That’s where I’m going right now.”

Playing with one of the most dominant defenses in football, the quarterback position needs to simply not make mistakes and Denver will win it’s fair share of games.

“At the end of the day, it’s your job to protect the ball. That’s the most important thing,” Kubiak said. “That’s something that coming out of tonight wasn’t good enough.”

If none of the three quarterbacks can be trusted to protect the football, the job will likely go to rookie first-round pick Paxton Lynch, who completed 15 of 26 throws, for 113 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception.  Since he’s the future of the franchise, any sort of “tie” would certainly go in his favor.

Jared Goff – Rams 21, Chiefs 20

It would be a perfect ending for Los Angeles Rams head coach Jeff Fisher if No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff would just run away with the starting quarterback job.  Through a few weeks of training camp and two preseason games, that hasn’t happened.

Goff’s numbers were impressive on Saturday night as he completed 8 of 12 throws for 82 yards, including the game-winning 10-yard touchdown pass to Malcolm Brown, but it was far from a flawless performance.  Goff never looked comfortable and was the beneficiary of some great catches by his receivers and running backs.

“When guys are ripping off runs like Malcolm was on that drive, and a lot of guys were throughout the whole game, it always helps,” Goff said. “It did take a drive or two to get in rhythm, but once I did I was happy I was left in there for as long as I was.”

When Goff was asked to assess his performance, he said:  “Every day gets a little bit better, every game gets a little bit better, every drive, every play, so I feel like I have made some good strides.”

Anyone with eyes can see that Case Keenum is a better choice for the team right now, despite his arm limitations.  Even Sean Mannion has looked like a better quarterback than Goff.

About Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein is the managing football editor for Football Insiders and has covered the NFL for over a decade.  Charlie has hosted drive time radio for NBC and ESPN affiliates in different markets around the country, along with being an NFL correspondent for ESPN Radio and WFAN.  He has been featured on the NFL Network as well as Sirius/XM NFL Radio and has been published on Fox Sports, Sports Illustrated, ESPN as well as numerous other publications.