Tuesday 24 October 2017 / 05:54 AM

Ruminations on preseason Week 1

Many years ago, when I still lived in Seattle, I absolutely hated the preseason. As a season ticket-holder I was required to purchase tickets to both exhibition match-ups and fumed at the idea of paying full price to attend a glorified scrimmage.

After all, NFL tickets certainly aren’t cheap!

And so I used to be a fairly staunch proponent of halving the preseason and extending the regular season to 18 games.

Now that I’m older, and theoretically wiser, I’m more than content to keep the set-up exactly as it is.

It’s not that I am averse to change. Nor am I concerned about the inevitable increase in player injuries that a protracted season would bring.

It’s that I can better see now how vital a four-game preseason is towards maintaining the quality of the on-field product that we’ve grown accustomed to.

Coaches really do need live game footage to evaluate new talent, and even top superstars need full-speed practice to kick the rust off their boots and pick up any changes in coordinators’ game plans.

It’s better to get dropped passes and sloppy penalties out of the way in the games that don’t count. And it’s better to make sure every team’s got their ducks in a row prior to kicking off the regular season.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at ten things we learned after watching week one of the 2014 NFL Preseason.

 

1. Clowney shows why he was taken #1

 

On a night when Ryan Fitzpatrick looked downright terrible (6-14 passing for 55 yards and 2 INTs) and the Houston offense put up a goose egg against the Arizona Cardinals, Texans fans were able to experience a glimpse of joy watching Jadeveon Clowney line up with JJ Watt to showcase a little bit of what he’s capable of.

Clowney looked as much the physical marvel at the pro level as he did in college. With power and explosion, he rushed the passer and stuffed the run, only showing his rookie status when forced to drop back into pass coverage.

It’s just one game, but the preliminary signs point to Clowney making an impact in 2014. Of course, if the offense can’t score it could be another long season in Texas.

2. Finally, some NFL tape on Johnny Football

 

Johnny Manziel looked neither overly impressive nor desperately disappointing. He was able to make a few plays with his feet and his passes were accurate but his decision making was decidedly slow.

All in all, Manziel showed enough flashes of brilliance for Browns fans to undoubtedly want to see Mike Pettine name him the starter, but he certainly didn’t play well enough to separate himself much from the incumbent, Brian Hoyer.

Hoyer put up a similarly “OK, but not great” performance.

3. The concept of Ryan Mallet as trade bait may be losing steam

The Patriots have got a knack for drafting quality quarterbacks, even when they’ve already got an entrenched superstar signal caller on the roster, so it’s no wonder that rumors have been floating that Bill Belichick will be giving extra snaps to Ryan Mallet this preseason to showcase his talents.

If Thursday’s effort is indicative of what’s to come, New England won’t be fetching a high draft pick any time soon for the fourth-year pro out of Arkansas. Mallet looked uncomfortable in the pocket, threw inaccurate passes (5 of 12) and was unable to put any points on the board while under center.

In fact, rookie QB Jimmy Garappolo totally outplayed Mallet, completing nine out of 13 attempts for 157 yards and a score.

4. Ryan Tannehill off to a hot start

 

The Dolphins’ QB only played one series, but he didn’t miss a single pass, completing six of six and tossing a touchdown pass to Brandon Gibson to cap a 10-play, 73-yard drive that will give Miami fans hope that the Fins might just compete for the AFC East crown.

Tannehill is the unsung hero of the NFL’s current crop of young superstar quarterbacks. He doesn’t get the same media play as Luck, Wilson, Kaepernick or RGIII, but he’s improved every single year and he’s poised to make some serious waves and put up break-out numbers in 2014.

5. Jacksonville crossing their fingers that Blake Bortles is for real

 

Jaguar fans have been long suffering in the “promising young QB” department. Ever since David Garrard fell from his pedestal and never got back up, it’s been a merry-go-round of mediocrity in north Florida.

Rookie Blake Bortles is hoping to change all that. On Friday night he put up great numbers in his limited role, tossing 117 yards on 7-of-11 passing. Plus, he didn’t throw an interception.

Is he ready for full-time duty in the regular season? We’ll have to wait and see, but I’d be surprised if Gus Bradley’s Jags didn’t make huge improvements as a franchise in 2014.

6. DeMarcus Ware gets to Russell Wilson

 

The Broncos’ top free agent acquisition on defense quickly showed why he’s worthy of the big bucks. He stuffed the Seahawks’ opening run for no gain and then sacked Russell Wilson just two plays later.

Clearly Ware will provide coach John Fox the much-needed pass rush that he was brought in to generate.

The Denver defense looked much better than the one that lost in last year’s championship game. Assuming Peyton Manning stays healthy, the Broncos could actually wind up being better overall in 2014 than they were in 2013 – a scary proposition for the AFC West.

The Super Bowl rematch was a sloppy affair, with both teams combining for a ridiculous 25 penalties. Of course, the only rematch that matters (for the time being) will be played in week three in Seattle.

7. The Chargers are out to prove they’re contenders

 

Last year, San Diego snuck into the post-season at the last minute, giving the AFC West three playoff participants. Philip Rivers is hoping to return the Bolts to “contender” status this season and he was off to a hot start against the horribly disappointing Dallas defense.

Rivers had his way with the Dallas secondary as he picked them apart and marched his team down the field.

8. More fuel for the Cardinals’ fire

 

The Arizona defense worked the week’s only shutout as the Cardinals’ QBs (Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton) went a combined 9-for-9 passing for a pair of TDs on the opening two drives.

In short, the Cardinals looked good. Really good.

Arizona missed the playoffs last year with a 10-6 record and they look to be even better in 2014. Many pundits are unconvinced the Cardinals will be able to topple both Seattle and San Francisco in the NFC West, but with one of the toughest defensive units in the league, a revitalized Carson Palmer and a talented receiving corps, they just may shock a lot of people this fall.

9. Bridgewater fails to impress against the Raiders

 

There’s a reason why most old school NFL coaches prefer to sit upstart rookie QBs for a season or two to learn behind a wily veteran. Making the jump from college to pro under center really is a very big leap to pull off.

Teddy Bridgewater has looked great thus far in camp, earning heaps of praise from Norv Turner. But when it came to live combat, he was unable to move the ball against Oakland.

Matt Cassel, on the other hand, led a 10-play, 70-yard touchdown drive to stay comfortably ahead of Bridgewater in the somewhat open competition at quarterback.

Cassel’s a real wild card. Some days he looks like the superstar in waiting that put up monster numbers during Tom Brady’s absence and other days he looks like the overwhelmed and overpaid disappointment he was in Kansas City. Either way, he’ll most likely be starting over Bridgewater against the Rams in week one.

10. Cutler to Marshall gets off on the right foot

 

Jay Cutler has always been an above-average starter, but he’s never truly lived up to the extraordinarily high expectations the Broncos once had for him way back when.

According to Brandon Marshall, that’s all about to change. The Bears’ outspoken wide receiver let the world know that his QB will put up MVP numbers in 2014.

While I don’t see him taking home the award, I’ll be honest in saying that Cutler is high on my fantasy football radar for sure.

The Cutler/Marshall combo looked in sync against the Eagles as Jay found Brandon five times for 31 yards.

All eyes on the QBs

 

It’s no surprise that eight out of the 10 points here were in some way related to quarterback play. After all, an entire season’s results can hinge on a coach’s decision to roll with one signal caller over another.

It’s too early, of course, to know whether Manziel deserves a shot to be the hero in Cleveland or if Blake Bortles can reverse the course of the Jaguars franchise, but now more than ever you just can’t win in the NFL without a quality field general to lead the squadron.

With three more exhibition games left to play, we’ll see which coaches win (and which lose) the quarterback selection wheel-of-fortune.

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Michael Airhart

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