We all know the correct way to view NFL preseason games—that nothing ever, under any circumstance matters one iota—but Week 3 of the exhibition season is typically considered the closest possible representation of the real thing.
Leaguewide, starters were in games through at least the first half, with some teams even keeping them in well into the third quarter. With the utterly meaningless fourth preseason contest upcoming—it's doubtful starters play more than one or two series, if at all—the past few days constitute an important step in developing chemistry.
More accurately, they exposed the teams that are nowhere close to figuring it all out. Penalties across the league continue to be at all-time-high rates, with defensive backs struggling to acclimate to new contact rules and still-jelling offenses making their own series of mental errors.
But, hey, at least we're only two weeks away from real football.
With a wait still ahead and the fourth preseason week being largely meaningless, let's quickly look back at the last few days of action and see what we can take away.
Washington Is Not Very Good; Neither Are the People's Opinions of Robert Griffin III
The hot-take industry is predicated upon the building up and tearing down of individual players. In 2012, quarterback Robert Griffin III was the Subway-promoting, smiling, all-around good guy with the most exciting style in football and a suddenly good team. In 2013, he was the diva-ish, owner-friendly snake who couldn't get along with his head coach because the success went to his head.
In 2014, apparently he's suddenly bad at football.
Griffin has struggled to get into a rhythm under new coach Jay Gruden, and Saturday night's debacle against Baltimore was a tipping point on the crazy scale. The third-year quarterback completed five of his eight passes for only 20 yards, adding in three carries for a measly three yards. Washington went into the halftime break down 10-3, the first team failing to score a touchdown for the third straight game.
When backup Kirk Cousins came in and promptly threw two touchdowns, the manufactured opinion factory was ready with its fresh-from-the-oven goodness. And no take came in more hot than that of former Washington quarterback Joe Theismann, who was the color man on the team's broadcast.
“Now, if there was a quarterback competition, it wouldn’t be a competition," Theismann said, per Dan Steinberg of The Washington Post. "Kirk Cousins would be the man I believe he would have to go to, because of the efficiency with which he has run [the offense]. Now Kirk, like I said, is basically a drop-back quarterback. I see Andy Dalton in Cincinnati, I see Kirk Cousins that way.”
Where to begin, where to begin...
OK, let's start with the obvious: Cousins has spent his entire preseason working against second-team defenses. I'm just going to point out that Ryan Griffin of the New Orleans Saints has had himself one hell of a preseason, and no one is advocating for him to overtake Drew Brees.
Cousins is a great guy by all accounts, but Griffin has thrown the ball a grand total of 20 times this preseason; perhaps it's a little early to toss him under the bus.
Secondly: Last season, Mike Shanahan did exactly what Theismann is advocating for. He replaced Griffin with Cousins for the final three games of the 2013 season—and against miserable competition, no less.
It did not go well. There were 45 quarterbacks who made 100 or more pass attempts last season. Using Football Outsiders' DVOA metric, Cousins ranked dead last. Among players who dropped back 100 or more times last season, Pro Football Focus (subscription required) ranked only Blaine Gabbert worse. There's a good case to be made that Cousins was the worst quarterback in football last season.
Griffin, even at his worst in 2013, was merely garden-variety bad. I don't have any idea whether Griffin will ever ascend to his rookie season heights again or if Gruden's system is even the right fit. But those advocating for Cousins either a) did not watch football last season or b) are being willfully ignorant out of disdain for Griffin.
Wes Welker's Concussion Issues Are Starting to Get Scary
I'm not in the business of telling people what to do with their lives. That's not what this space has ever been used for, and I hope to never become one of those old cranks in the media who only receive attention with their overly strong and undereducated opinions.
But Wes Welker needs to use the next couple weeks to think long and hard about his post-football future.
The Denver Broncos wide receiver left Saturday night's exhibition game after taking a hard lick to the head from Texans safety D.J. Swearinger. Coach John Fox later confirmed Welker was concussed on the play.
"It was determined it was a concussion," Fox told reporters. "He'll go through the protocol. The biggest thing on him is, of course, player safety. He'll go through the protocol."
This is Welker's third concussion in the last 10 months. The former Pro Bowler missed the final three games of the 2013 regular season after suffering his second concussion in two weeks, eventually coming back for the playoffs with a much larger, more protective helmet.
While unconfirmed, ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss also speculated that Welker suffered a concussion during his final season with the New England Patriots.
All told, that could be four concussions in the span of 24 months. His injury history before the past few seasons was mostly solid—torn ACL in 2009 aside—but concussions with this high of a recurrence rate are scary. Welker makes his money working in parts of the field where hard hits are most common.
He hangs in the seams near linebackers and safeties, trusting his quarterback to not leave him in a precarious position.
At a certain point, one has to wonder whether the health risks are worth the trouble. Jeff Pearlman (some language NSFW) implored Welker to retire after his second concussion last season, and there are going to be even more who offer a similar refrain after Saturday. Welker, as of publication, is yet to give a public statement on his status or whether he has given any consideration to walking away.
With $8 million due to him in 2014 and the possibility of a Super Bowl run looming, odds are he'll return to the field once he passes proper protocol. I just hope he stays healthy when that happens.
(Of note: Welker's was the 59th concussion of this preseason, according to Dan Diamond of Forbes. Yikes.)
The Jets' Secondary Is a Tire Fire: This is pretty self-explanatory. Playing without top corners Dee Milliner and Dimitri Patterson, the Jets' struggling unit continued its preseason of horrors on Friday. A Giants offense that had been its own mess all summer got back into something of a groove, with Eli Manning tossing his first touchdown. Backup quarterback Ryan Nassib had an evening to remember with 103 yards passing and three touchdowns, hitting on eight of 12 attempts.
The first half was far superior to the second, so there's some hope for when Patterson and Milliner come back. But Jets coach Rex Ryan is going to have to turn in the coaching job of his life to make a top-10 unit out of this bunch.
The Blake Bortles Hype Train Continues: Those who clowned Jacksonville for selecting Bortles with the third overall pick—hey, everyone!—will look foolish if the former UCF star translates preseason performance to the regular season. Bortles was again solid against the Lions' second-team defense, completing 10 of 17 passes for 158 yards and a touchdown. The score was the first of his career and came on a 13-yard strike to Allen Hurns, with whom Bortles seems to be developing a strong chemistry. Starter Chad Henne went 9-of-14 for 70 yards.
Tom Brady and Peyton Manning Are Still Good at Football: In case you were starting to doubt them or something.
Michael Sam Sacks Johnny Manziel, Kills Internet: If you are reading this, you are thankfully in one of the few remote areas in which the Internet was not wiped out forever after the search-engine-optimization dream that was Michael Sam sacking Johnny Manziel. Sam even threw in the Manziel money sign, as if the clicks weren't already coming in at a record rate. If you need me, I'll be attempting to revive print media after the sad death of the World Wide Web.
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