NFL Preseason Report-Card Grades
September is looming. Back to football, regular season-style. Back to school, too. We're combining features from both worlds by issuing 32 report cards before the NFL season officially kicks off.
Yes, there are still 16 preseason games to be played, but the bread and butter is there now that the critical third week of preseason football has been completed. We've combed through the tape, the box scores and the numbers in order to get a feel for which key or emerging players, units and/or teams have exceeded or fallen short of expectations this month.
Taking overachievers, underachievers, injuries, the reaction to said injuries and broader results and trends into consideration, here are 32 preseason report cards to close out a wild month of exhibition football.
Grizzled quarterback Carson Palmer had a healthy, turnover-free preseason. That's the first thing you need to know about the Arizona Cardinals this month. Without a healthy and effective Palmer, Arizona isn't going anywhere.
The 37-year-old posted a triple-digit passer rating in limited action, top weapons David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald were smartly preserved and the new-look defense was for the most part magnificent.
Superstar safety Tyrann Mathieu is also healthy again after a torn ACL derailed his 2016 campaign. As a result of all of this, the Cards appear to have their swagger back.
The Atlanta Falcons may or may not still be recovering from their Super Bowl implosion, but they are transitioning offensively after the loss of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. In their final unofficial tuneup for the regular season, that offense was a mess.
Quarterback Matt Ryan completed just four of 11 passes along with an ugly interception (and nearly another one if not for a Patrick Peterson drop) in last week's third preseason game against the Cardinals. The first-team offense failed to score on all three of its possessions.
It's not time to panic, but avoiding a Super Bowl hangover might have been easier had the Falcons done a better job on that side of the ball.
That young and talented defense has looked phenomenal, though, so this isn't a complete fail.
The Baltimore Ravens surrendered 19 points in their first three preseason games combined, with none of those points coming against first-teamers. Nine drives, nine punts. And I know, "it's just the preseason," but that's what we're here to assess.
It's a little concerning that quarterback Joe Flacco has been out all month with a bad back, but head coach John Harbaugh continues to insist—per ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley—the veteran will be back in time for the start of the regular season. Still, the offense struggled without him, and the running game, receiving corps and offensive line all face questions entering September.
The good outweighs the bad, but it's been a good-news/bad-news preseason in Baltimore.
It's not often a good sign when your team is wheeling and dealing in August, and that applies to a Buffalo Bills organization that has spent much of the preseason tweaking the roster.
It might stem from the fact they changed general managers after free agency and the draft, but the Bills have made three major trades this month. Those dynamics make it hard to establish stability and consistency in exhibition games, which might explain why Buffalo has lost all three of its preseason affairs (scoring just 35 points in the process).
"Franchise quarterback" Tyrod Taylor completed just 14 of 29 passes for 100 yards to go along with zero touchdowns and two interceptions in three preseason games, and now the 28-year-old is in concussion protocol. Veteran back LeSean McCoy has struggled and has been the subject of trade rumors.
They're looking for somebody to step into the top receiver spot with Sammy Watkins gone via trade, Anquan Boldin gone via sudden retirement, new arrival Jordan Matthews hurt and rookie Zay Jones unproven.
The defense hasn't performed badly, but that's not enough to save the Bills from a poor preseason assessment.
What matters most to the Carolina Panthers and their fans is this: Franchise quarterback Cam Newton is back after spending most of training camp and the preseason on the sideline while recovering from shoulder surgery. It looks as though he'll have more support on offense in order to avoid injuries like that going forward.
That support starts with rookie first-round running back Christian McCaffrey, who averaged 5.1 yards per carry and added three catches for 51 yards in Carolina's first three preseason outings. But don't overlook top receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who was practically fat-shamed for appearing out of shape earlier in the offseason but caught just about everything thrown his way while scoring two touchdowns in the first three weeks.
Big-money left tackle Matt Kalil hasn't impressed, and the first-team defense struggled at times (especially against Tennessee), but the offense looks primed to dominate anyway. That's enough to earn the Panthers a positive grade.
Deep down, the rebuilding Chicago Bears are probably aware they aren't going anywhere this year. Top receiver Alshon Jeffery is gone, and the loss of emerging receiver Cameron Meredith was a kick in the stomach. They won just three games last season, and they're worse on paper now than they were then.
But when you're trying to replenish and regroup, an indication that you might have found your next franchise quarterback will trump any other development. That's why you may see Bears fans smiling through their tears this season.
No. 2 overall pick Mitchell Trubisky looks like the real deal. He started just a dozen games in college and was considered by many to be too raw to make an impact early, which might explain why the Bears drafted him just weeks after handing a huge contract to free-agent quarterback Mike Glennon. But Trubisky has outplayed Glennon in the preseason, making big-boy throw after big-boy throw while posting a 112.7 passer rating in three turnover-free outings.
While nobody's talking about it, the defense put together a spectacular performance in the third preseason game against Marcus Mariota and the Tennessee Titans. Put it all together, and you have preseason success for a team that will do a lot of failing when the regular season arrives.
The Cincinnati Bengals offense wasn't quite right during the first two weeks of the preseason; then they took the field Sunday against the Washington Redskins and totally redeemed themselves.
Quarterback Andy Dalton threw an ugly goal-line interception on the team's first preseason drive and completed only seven of 13 passes for 98 yards the next week. The first-team offense failed to find the end zone on its first four series of the preseason. But Sunday, Dalton led a 15-play touchdown drive to start the game while rookie second-round pick Joe Mixon shined in the backfield.
The defense had already been making big plays throughout the preseason, and that didn't stop Sunday. Newbie defensive ends Jordan Willis and Chris Smith have been consistently stellar and could eventually push starters Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson for reps.
Vontaze Burfict put an exclamation mark on a strong preseason from the defense with an enthusiastic pick-six against Washington's first-team D.
There's an eerie sense of optimism with the rapidly rebuilding Cleveland Browns thanks to another active offseason in free agency and the draft. This preseason, they're starting to deliver in live games.
The Browns have won all three of their preseason games, surrendering just 29 points in the process. Rookie first-round picks Myles Garrett and Jabrill Peppers have stood out as part of that emerging defense. On the other side of the ball, the running game and the new-look offensive line have shown promise.
Most importantly, it looks as though the Browns have used this preseason to find their quarterback of the future. Rookie second-rounder DeShone Kizer will start Week 1 after flashing with both his arm and legs in three preseason outings.
Kizer might be in for a rocky inaugural campaign, but the fact he was able to earn the job in August indicates the Browns have accomplished a lot this month.
Ravaged by suspensions and injuries after an offseason in which they were handcuffed by the salary cap and a low draft position, the Dallas Cowboys will have a tough time becoming the first back-to-back NFC East champion in over a decade. But there have still been a lot of positives this preseason in Dallas.
It starts with quarterback Dak Prescott, who is trying to avoid a sophomore slump and is off to a hell of a start. The reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year has completed all but four of his 22 preseason passes for 219 yards, two touchdowns, no picks and a 138.4 passer rating.
Additionally, it looks as though they've used this preseason to find an insurance policy for Prescott, because undrafted free agent Cooper Rush has been incredible. The Central Michigan product has a completion percentage of 74.5 to go along with six touchdowns and no interceptions, which should be enough to clinch the backup job and give Cowboys fans some peace of mind.
With backup running backs Alfred Morris and Darren McFadden also performing well—making Ezekiel Elliott's potential suspension slightly easier to swallow—the offense has done a lot to make up for the problems Dallas had experienced on D. The secondary lost four key players in free agency and was picked apart by Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr in the all-important third week of the preseason.
It all sort of balances out, which means the jury remains out on the 2017 Cowboys.
You know the Denver Broncos wanted Paxton Lynch to win their starting quarterback battle this preseason. General manager John Elway used a first-round pick on the Memphis product last year, and it doesn't look good when a first-round signal-caller loses a quarterback competition to an obscure seventh-rounder in back-to-back offseasons.
Despite the fact a tie probably would have gone to Lynch, he was so underwhelming in training camp and the preseason that the Broncos were forced to once again hand the job to Trevor Siemian.
Just four of Lynch's 24 preseason passes gained gained more than six yards, none produced more than 14 and he was 0-of-4 on passes that traveled 15 or more yards.
While the Broncos are 3-0 this preseason, and while the first-team defense looks as dominant as ever, they're still stuck with Siemian under center, and they're still seeking answers at running back. That leaves them with a negative report card.
The Detroit Lions threw a five-year, $135 million extension at franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford this week, but they've learned in recent years they won't go far if Stafford doesn't have more support on offense. The running game averaged just 3.7 yards per carry last season, and that lack of balance put Stafford and the passing offense in a lot of tough spots.
Promising running back Ameer Abdullah is back after missing all but two games last season, and there are high expectations for the 2015 second-round pick after he put together a superb performance in the team's third—and most important—preseason outing. Abdullah put up 99 scrimmage yards on 16 touches against the mighty New England Patriots and most of their starters.
That followed two strong defensive efforts from the Lions first-teamers against the Indianapolis Colts and New York Jets.
Throw in that rookies Kenny Golladay and Jalen Reeves-Maybin are off to great starts, and it's been a nice preseason in Detroit.
Green Bay Packers
In order to avoid the early-season struggles that nearly cost them a playoff spot last year, the Green Bay Packers need to enter the regular season with more balance on offense and fewer question marks surrounding the secondary.
They made a lot of changes at those spots in the offseason, though, and there have been some promising occurrences involving backs (the running kind as well as the defensive kind) this month.
Converted wide receiver Ty Montgomery broke off an impressive 25-yard run early in the team's third preseason game against Denver. Rookie fifth-round pick Aaron Jones had a 28-yarder in the same game and has 57 yards on nine carries in his last two outings. And rookie fourth-rounder Jamaal Williams had a 20-yard reception as part of a 50-scrimmage-yard performance against the Broncos.
Meanwhile, undrafted rookie corner Lenzy Pipkins and overlooked safeties Marwin Evans and Kentrell Brice have all put together multiple strong outings in the defensive backfield, indicating the Packers could have more secondary depth than many expected.
The Packers are banged up right now, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers has barely played this preseason. When he has, he's been under more pressure than anybody in Green Bay would prefer. It hasn't been a perfect preseason, but that D hasn't given up many points, and the Packers appear to be improving in some key spots.
Let's make this easy. The Houston Texans had the league's top-rated defense last season, and now they're getting three-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt back on that side of the ball. They have a strong batch of weapons on offense and a decent O-line. They are a team that can contend for a championship with a decent starting quarterback.
That's presumably why they traded up in the first round to select Deshaun Watson in this year's draft. But the Clemson product failed to show us—or anybody—that he's worthy of a starting job. He completed just 51.8 percent of his passes and took five sacks while posting a 67.3 passer rating despite facing mainly backups. As a result, the Texans are stuck using 2014 fourth-round pick Tom Savage as their starter.
Savage has a much lower ceiling, but he has an NFL track record, and his numbers were substantially stronger in the preseason. Still, Watson's failure makes it hard to give Houston a passing grade for a preseason that featured a 13-0 loss in the third exhibition game.
It's hard to win these days without the consistent presence of a franchise quarterback, and few teams are as reliant on their starting signal-caller as the Indianapolis Colts.
Indy spent the preseason without that signal-caller, there's no guarantee Andrew Luck will be ready for the start of the regular season, and his likely replacement, Scott Tolzien, didn't do anything to inspire confidence.
That being the case, it's hard to give the Colts a positive preseason review, especially considering they've also lost key starters Ryan Kelly (foot), Vontae Davis (groin) and Jack Mewhort (knee).
The revamped defense has done a decent job, and rookie fourth-rounder Marlon Mack has been a pleasant surprise at running back, but this team is a mess right now.
At most offensive and defensive positions, the Jacksonville Jaguars possess the talent required to be competitive. But that was the case last year, too, and they won just three games. This preseason was always going to be determined as either a success or a failure based on what happened at the quarterback position.
It's not a good sign the Jags still aren't prepared to name a starting quarterback, despite the fact fourth-year No. 3 overall pick Blake Bortles was supposed to be the guy after the team exercised his fifth-year option in the offseason.
Bortles averaged just 6.1 yards per attempt in Jacksonville's first three preseason games, and he struggled so much in the first two that "backup" Chad Henne got the start last Thursday against the Panthers.
At that point, it was obvious we had a competition on our hands, but Henne was a mess with and against first-teamers. He completed just eight of 14 passes for 73 yards and, according to Pro Football Focus, he was just 1-of-5 while taking three sacks on plays in which he was under pressure.
Throw in that first-round rookie running back Leonard Fournette wasn't a big factor before suffering a foot injury, and this preseason has been ugly in Jacksonville, regardless of some strong defensive efforts.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Kansas City Chiefs weathered storms this month.
There might have been tumult there early this summer when they abruptly fired general manager John Dorsey and suddenly released top receiver Jeremy Maclin. It was fair for critics to wonder if it was smart to trade up in the first round for a quarterback who was/is expected to remain on the sideline all season.
There didn't appear to be any lingering turmoil from those last-minute front-office changes; they didn't look to miss Maclin with Tyreek Hill, Chris Conley and De'Anthony Thomas all performing well; and that new quarterback, Patrick Mahomes II, posted a 105.9 passer rating while committing zero turnovers in his first three preseason games.
Veteran Alex Smith remains the starter, and we even saw him come through on a few uncharacteristic deep shots. Is it possible the Chiefs are making an effort to swing for more fences on offense? If so, that alone indicates progress.
Finally, they suffered a blow in the third week of the preseason when projected starting running back Spencer Ware went down with a major knee injury. But they might not miss a beat with rookie Kareem Hunt (4.4 yards per carry in the first three weeks of the preseason) and Charcandrick West (7.9 yards per rush during the same span).
The resilient Chiefs appear ready for another big season.
Los Angeles Chargers
When assessing the Los Angeles Charges preseason, it's best to focus on that "dress rehearsal" game. That's because the team was reeling from a slew of injuries and operating without several key players during its first two live games in L.A.
When quarterback Philip Rivers, his top weapons and that emerging defense got on the field for extended action without still recovering from multiple injury blows last week against the Los Angeles Rams, the ship was righted in time to save their grade.
Well, Rivers still threw only six passes. But he completed all six of 'em for 85 yards and a touchdown. Top back Melvin Gordon averaged 4.5 yards per carry and scored, top receivers Keenan Allen and Travis Benjamin caught a combined six passes for 90 yards and even the oft-maligned offensive line held up.
Small sample, but that's what we're dealing with. And it helps that the defense had a second consecutive strong effort. That unit has been good ever since surrendering a 50-yard rushing touchdown from New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara on the first series of its second preseason game, and it has now recorded five takeaways in three preseason outings.
This team has battled back from a lot already this summer, and it deserves kudos for that.
Los Angeles Rams
The Los Angeles Rams are counting on a lot of players to emerge in order for the team to compete in 2017, but the key for them this preseason was to see more from second-year franchise quarterback Jared Goff.
Goff was of course a wreck in his rookie season, completing just 54.6 percent of his passes and posting a 63.6 passer rating in seven starts, all losses. But the California product completed all but eight of his 32 passes for 250 yards and a 94.5 rating in L.A.'s first three outings of the 2017 preseason.
He dominated the Oakland Raiders in his second outing before struggling in limited action without support from resting running back Todd Gurley in the third, so the jury remains out. But there has been some progress there, and it's become apparent he has some enticing weapons (don't forget about that bold trade for Sammy Watkins).
It's hard to draw conclusions about a team that has rested its starters more than anybody this preseason, especially with superstar defensive tackle Aaron Donald still holding out, but I've been pleasantly surprised at times by the young Rams.
Can you dock a team for losing a key player to injury? Might not be fair, but few things are. If anything, though, the Miami Dolphins get some extra points for having the guts to go out and swing the bat with Jay Cutler after franchise signal-caller Ryan Tannehill went down. They get credit for giving themselves another option, even if that option completed only eight of 14 passes in his first two preseason outings.
After struggling in his preseason debut, Cutler was slow to react to pressure before fumbling on a Vinny Curry sack on the team's first offensive possession in their third preseason game against Philadelphia. He did find a groove later in that affair, but 72 of his 105 yards that night came on a single deep ball that DeVante Parker made happen.
It is at least a reminder Cutler still has it, and that he has more support on offense now than he did for most of his time in Chicago. The Dolphins defense remains somewhat of a question mark, but that offense did put up 24 first-half points against a talented Eagles D on Thursday.
The Phins look as though they've survived what could have been a tumultuous preseason and training camp, and for that alone they get a strong grade.
The Minnesota Vikings defense has the talent to keep them in a lot of games this season, but those expecting big things in August from a revamped offense featuring new weapons at running back and new starting tackles were likely disappointed.
That's because Minnesota's first-team offense scored just three points on 12 possessions in the first three weeks of the preseason, with quarterback Sam Bradford failing to get the ball deep and rookie running back Dalvin Cook struggling in two of his three appearances.
Granted, they spent much of the preseason without left tackle Riley Reiff, receiver Laquon Treadwell and running back Latavius Murray, but that doesn't excuse those results.
Even that talented defense wasn't itself the last two weeks. It was carved up by Brian Hoyer and the San Francisco 49ers starters Sunday and failed to slow down Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks' first-teamers in Seattle.
It's been a month to forget in Minnesota.
New England Patriots
When you're as talented as the reigning Super Bowl champion and current Super Bowl favorite New England Patriots, the preseason is mainly about staying healthy.
Unfortunately for the Pats, that wasn't the case. New England, of course, lost top 2016 receiver Julian Edelman to a season-ending knee injury in the third week of the preseason. But they get credit for utilizing their crystal ball earlier in the offseason with the addition of Brandin Cooks.
With Cooks on board, the New England receiving corps isn't much worse off than it was with Edelman last season, plus they have superstar tight end Rob Gronkowski back.
Speaking of Gronk, he appeared to be fully healthy throughout the month of August and even got some preseason action in for the first time in five years. That's a great sign, as is the fact it's apparent the Patriots don't just have arguably the best quarterback of all time in Tom Brady, but also one of the best backup quarterbacks in football as well.
Jimmy Garoppolo was lights-out throughout the preseason.
New Orleans Saints
We know what future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees can do, which is why he threw just 15 passes for the New Orleans Saints this month. We all know that passing game will produce regardless of who Brees is throwing to.
That's why it's so important the Saints have excelled in plenty of non-Brees-related areas this preseason. Top running backs Adrian Peterson and Mark Ingram were preserved in bubble wrap for most of the month, but rookie back Alvin Kamara was on fire.
Receivers Tommylee Lewis and Brandon Coleman performed well in order to remind us there will be life after Brandin Cooks in that receiving corps and it won't only surround Michael Thomas. Most importantly, a defense that was a punch line in recent years made a statement.
Several statements, actually. First the Saints held the Browns' first-team offense scoreless on four series; then they shut down the Chargers starters (minus Rivers) on five series; then they shut out the Texans entirely.
They've been getting strong performances all over on that side of the ball: big names Cameron Jordan and Sheldon Rankins; newbies A.J. Klein and Marshon Lattimore; even Manti Te'o.
The injury-plagued offensive line hasn't looked pretty and could pose a problem in September, and there's still no telling what that D will do when the games matter. But the good has still outweighed the bad this preseason in New Orleans.
New York Giants
We know the New York Giants have all or most of the key ingredients on defense after dominating on that side of the ball down the stretch last season. The unit was true to form this preseason.
The starters shut down the Pittsburgh Steelers, Browns and New York Jets in the first three weeks of the preseason, even scoring 16 points (two pick-sixes and a safety) in the first half against Gang Green.
The offense hasn't been as successful.
Sure, injuries to top receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall don't help, but that doesn't explain why a running game that ranked near the bottom of the league last year has continued to sputter this month (starter Paul Perkins has averaged just 2.7 yards per carry).
It also can't be used as an excuse for shaky offensive line play, which has again plagued the G-Men throughout the preseason. Aging quarterback Eli Manning is coming off a down year, and he hasn't done much to redeem himself in August.
The D gets an A+ and the offense gets a D-, so let's split the difference and then round up.
New York Jets
Whether they admit it or not, different teams have different preseason goals. The New York Jets aren't going to contend this season after gutting their roster following a five-win 2016 campaign, and so a successful preseason for them would have been one that saw young players show promise.
While second-year second-round quarterback Christian Hackenberg sunk, third-year fourth-round signal-caller Bryce Petty swam. And since only one quarterback can throw a pass on the same play, that's enough to give the Jets some hope for the future at that position.
Don't be surprised if Petty gets a shot to replace stopgap starter Josh McCown at some point this season.
Gang Green also got strong performances from rookie wide receiver ArDarius Stewart, second-year linebacker Darron Lee and rookie safety Jamal Adams. They look as though they'll be strong up front with Leonard Williams, Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson.
It's been a tough offseason, but that doesn't mean the Jets deserve a bad grade after a somewhat encouraging preseason.
For a preseason to be deemed a success, teams typically have to show they've improved on weaknesses without slipping up where they were already strong. The Oakland Raiders didn't slip up where they were already strong (offense), but they also didn't improve on their weakness (defense).
Sometimes, it's that simple.
Quarterback Derek Carr delivered with near-perfect numbers and was at his best with his offensive line finally fully intact for the team's third preseason game. The running game was decent, too, and we know that line will be top-notch with stalwart left tackle Donald Penn back.
But the D was picked apart in three consecutive outings by dudes like Drew Stanton, Jared Goff, Sean Mannion and Cooper Rush.
Just like last year, they're giving too much up on defense and they're taking too many penalties. They haven't improved on their weaknesses, which is why they don't get a strong grade.
The Philadelphia Eagles undoubtedly entered the preseason hoping to see progress from second-year quarterback Carson Wentz, who struggled while exposing some of his own technical flaws down the stretch as a rookie. They also probably wanted to see somebody emerge at the running back position.
Good news, bad news.
While they didn't get clear answers regarding their backs in the first three weeks of the preseason—free-agent pickup LeGarrette Blount and rookie fourth-rounder Donnel Pumphrey both struggled, and we haven't seen enough of Wendell Smallwood—Wentz was usually fantastic.
The 2016 No. 2 overall pick completed 16 of 23 passes for 241 yards with three touchdowns and one interception in his first three preseason outings, leading the Eagles to points on four of nine drives. What's more, he was cool under pressure in all three of those affairs and, according to Pro Football Focus, he posted a 143.1 passer rating against the blitz in Philly's third preseason game against Miami.
Throw in that rookie first-round pass-rusher Derek Barnett and the rest of that defensive front often looked unstoppable, and it's fair to conclude the good outweighed the bad for the Eagles this preseason.
So long as Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown are healthy and happy, we know what we're getting from the Pittsburgh Steelers offense. It didn't have to prove anything to us this preseason. But the D still had a chance to send a message this month after ranking just above the middle of the pack in most categories last season.
For the most part, that unit came through.
It surrendered just two touchdowns in the team's first three preseason games, with rookie linebacker T.J. Watt, third-year pass-rusher Anthony Chickillo, safety Jordan Dangerfield, veteran linebacker Arthur Moats and defensive end Cameron Heyward all putting together strong performances.
If the Steelers can stay healthy on that side of the ball, they'll have a top-10 defense in 2017. Roethlisberger and Brown are healthy, and Bell is expected to return from a holdout this week.
Can't ask for a lot more than that.
San Francisco 49ers
Considering the state of their franchise at the conclusion of a two-win 2016 campaign, the 2017 offseason has been a dream come true for the San Francisco 49ers.
The new regime upgraded significantly on both sides of the ball in free agency; they essentially stole Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate Reuben Foster with some slick maneuvering in the draft; and they might have found a capable starting quarterback on the cheap.
That quarterback is free-agent addition Brian Hoyer, who is the definition of a journeyman but appears comfortable and confident in new head coach Kyle Shanahan's quarterback-friendly offensive system. Hoyer completed all three of his passes for 72 yards on an opening drive capped by a sweet 46-yard touchdown pass to Marquise Goodwin versus the Vikings. He wound up with a 143.3 passer rating that night.
Just one strong appearance, but it's a good sign considering how much Shanahan and general manager John Lynch have done right thus far in 2017.
On defense, Foster, Solomon Thomas, NaVorro Bowman, Aaron Lynch, Eric Reid and Arik Armstead have all looked superb, indicating the Niners could be better than many expect on both sides of the ball this year.
The 49ers turned the ball over five times in a blowout loss to the Broncos in the second week of the preseason, which costs them points. But it's still been a promising August in San Francisco.
Most of us try not to read too deeply into preseason wins and losses, but it's a good sign the Seattle Seahawks won each of their first three preseason affairs while outscoring high-quality opponents 94-43.
Quarterback Russell Wilson was practically perfect in limited action; his pass-catching corps looks stronger than ever thanks to the emergence of Kasen Williams; and there's no reason to be concerned about one of the most skilled defenses in football.
I would have liked to see more from the running game—veteran free-agent addition Eddie Lacy averaged just 3.6 yards per carry, and C.J. Prosise and Thomas Rawls have again been slowed by injuries—and the offensive line remains a potential Achilles' heel sans injured left tackle George Fant, but this has still been a net-positive month for the Seahawks.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Expectations are silly-high for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this season, with 2015 No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston surrounded by a reloaded arsenal. But I think the Bucs wanted to see more from Winston this offseason, which is why he threw 69 passes in the team's first three preseason games.
It's a tad disappointing that none of those 69 throws resulted in touchdowns. One did result in a red-zone interception, though, which isn't ideal considering the 23-year-old had trouble with his decision-making in his first two pro seasons (as well as the fact the Bucs have found the end zone on just two of seven red-zone possessions this month).
It wasn't all bad. Winston's completion percentage (68.1) is way up from his career rate of 59.6, and it's important to keep in mind he didn't have top receivers Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson as well as several other offensive starters when he struggled in last week's preseason loss to Cleveland.
The defense, which picked up a couple of takeaways in the first half against the Browns, has been stout in general. It looks as though the running game will be in good shape with Doug Martin back on track. But this preseason was supposed to make us feel as though the Bucs were ready to take the next step, and I'm not there yet.
The Tennessee Titans appear as though they're primed to have a big season as quarterback Marcus Mariota gains steam en route to his prime, but that alone doesn't qualify them for a strong preseason grade.
The Titans have disappointed thus far in the preseason, which is why—per Jim Wyatt of the team's official website—head coach Mike Mularkey is taking the unusual step of playing his starters in the team's fourth preseason game Thursday against Kansas City.
"It was all right. Not to the level I expect myself to play," Mariota said of his 12-of-21 performance last week against the Bears, according to ESPN.com's Cameron Wolfe. "I got caught up doing too much, I think. I was trying to move around the pocket. Moving too much leads to inaccuracy. Those are things I have to do better, and I will."
It goes beyond the quarterback.
Top backs DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry haven't done much on the ground; top receivers Eric Decker and Corey Davis have been dealing with injuries and have a combined zero catches this month; and first-round rookie cornerback Adoree' Jackson was lit up by the Bears in his first start.
Too many penalties, too many defensive lapses and not enough from anyone on offense. The future is bright, but August was dark in Nashville.
What's up with Kirk Cousins? The Washington Redskins' franchise quarterback wasn't right this preseason, completing only 56.8 percent of his passes for 5.9 yards per attempt and a 72.0 passer rating.
It didn't help that the running game was borderline nonexistent before Rob Kelley came through with 57 yards on 10 carries Sunday against the Bengals. But with his new-look receiving corps struggling to find a groove, Cousins was just 10-of-19 with a brutal interception in that affair.
The defense failed to get off the field on third downs (a recurring issue) or register consistent pressure despite the victory over Cincinnati, and that unit didn't stand out in the first two weeks, either.
It's just been "meh."