The preseason is largely a time when we get to make sweeping judgements on rookies and backups as they torch opposing second-team units.
Hey, remember when Cam Newton really sucked last August and completed only 42.1 percent of his passes? Yeah, me neither. Teams are often trying new offensive or defensive schemes, and experimenting while taking advantage of the irrelevant scoreboard. That kink-massaging process can lead to some of the interceptions, drops, fumbles, and blown coverages as players are thrust into positions and scenarios that are unfamiliar.
But the games aren’t entirely meaningless, just mostly. For rookie quarterbacks, we get to see if they can simply lead an NFL offense with some degree of competency, even if the defense they’re opposing may not be of the first team variety. And of course there are positional battles, where every throw, catch, or batted ball is really, really meaningful. Then there are the veterans who struggled last year, and fans of their respective teams are desperately watching for change.
Let’s start there as we look back on the first full night of preseason play with a few observations beyond the injuries to Michael Vick and Ryan Mathews, because the yearning for change has taken up a permanent residency in Buffalo, and specifically in Ryan Fitzpatrick’s arm. If he keeps throwing ducks, the obesity rate in upstate New York could soar due to the abundance of free chewy treats.
Ryan Fitzpatrick struggled to complete forward passes. Although his overall numbers may not have reflected inaccuracy last year with his 62.0 completion percentage, the tale of two Fitzpatricks was the root of Buffalo’s long slide after a promising start. As our onw Alen Dumonjic explained, Fitzpatrick struggled with basic mechanics, and that led to wayward throws and crushing interceptions. Only seven of his 23 interceptions came over the first eight games last year, and Fitzpatrick had three games with three or more picks. He played nearly the entire first quarter last night, and nothing changed, as Fitz completed only six of his 14 attempts.
The Bills enjoy making replacement officials work. They took 14 penalties for 134 yards, one of which took a touchdown off the board.
Robert Griffin III was mostly efficient, and a little nervous. And really, isn’t that what we expected? Remember, even the sexiest rookie quarterback is allowed to struggle. That’s normal, and what Newton did last year still isn’t. RG3 misfired on just two of his six pass attempts, and he showed immediate chemistry with Pierre Garcon, the newly-acquired wideout who needed only three catches to finish with 58 yards, including a 20-yard TD catch from Griffin. Overall, Bob Griffin looked poised and comfortable in the pocket, with the exception being his botched handoff to Evan Royster and the resulting fumble.
Another quarterback in Denver also made his debut with a new team. Peyton Manning is the name, I believe, or Pey Pey, as his friends say. As expected, Manning’s time on the field was brief, and it lasted for only one series. All eyes were on his arm (as opposed to his sternum, or thigh) and how far it could throw a football. He didn’t air it out deep, with his longest completion a 19-yard pass to Eric Decker. But he still showed reasonable strength and the patented Manning zip when he completed a pass to the sideline while standing on the opposite hash mark.
Julio Jones is still pretty fast. One day years from now we’ll debate who was the better receiver in the 2011 draft class between Jones and A.J. Green, and it’ll be one of those discussion best conducted at a tavern of some kind with loud music and beer priced so low that you have to question whether or not the substance in your glass is actually beer. Jones averaged 18 yards per catch on his 109 yards overall with a touchdown against the Ravens, a fine start to a season in which he may replace Roddy White as Matt Ryan’s primary target.
Mike Adams could be a bit of a project. The Steelers’ rookie left tackle gave up 2.5 sacks over just a nine-play stretch before leaving Pittsburgh’s loss to Philadelphia with a knee injury. There will be better days ahead. Maybe.