Preseason NFL Week 1 Takeaways: Trey Lance Flashes New Look for 49ers' Offense & More
In the first full week of the preseason, offenses want to establish a rhythm and put together touchdown drives while defenders condition themselves for the physical demands of an NFL season.
As Week 1 of the preseason continued Friday, one team certainly gained confidence in its second-year quarterback, but another squad may have multiple questions about its young signal-caller.
With many starters on the field for at least a series, we saw some crisp offensive possessions that will catch the eyes of fantasy football managers who want an early tip on potential middle-to-late round sleepers.
Other than that, a training camp star added some shine to his offseason performance with a highlight touchdown.
Let’s get into all the action around the league from Friday’s games.
Marcus Mariota Looks Healthy Again, Desmond Ridder Flashes a Bit
Rookie third-rounder Desmond Ridder led two touchdown drives, but he may have to wait a while to take over the Atlanta Falcons offense because Marcus Mariota has his legs back under him and looked healthy against the Detroit Lions.
On the Falcons’ first offensive drive, Mariota gashed the Lions defense on the ground, taking off on three rush attempts for 23 yards and a touchdown. He also completed a couple of passes to wideouts KhaDarel Hodge and rookie first-rounder Drake London, who exited the game with a knee injury after his reception. Per NFL Network's Bridget Condon, the latter "is ok" with "a minor injury."
Ridder had successful touchdown drives in the first and second half. With that said, in the second quarter, linebacker Jarrad Davis' roughing the passer penalty wiped out an interception. After that miscue, the rookie quarterback completed three passes, including a touchdown throw to tight end Parker Hesse. He also rushed for 59 yards.
As for Mariota, he’s battled several injuries throughout his career. Most recently, in a backup role with the Las Vegas Raiders, he had a quad issue and missed several weeks on injured reserve last season. The dual-threat signal-caller returned late in the campaign and made some plays on the ground in run-pass option packages.
Ahead of Ridder on the depth chart, Mariota will get a shot to showcase himself in a starting role again. Of course, his injury history remains a talking point. He hasn’t played a full season since the Tennessee Titans drafted him with the No. 2 overall pick in 2015. For now, though, the 28-year-old seems ready to give defenders nightmares with his ability to move the ball on foot.
Jaguars Starting Offense Has Mixed-bag Performance
Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence didn’t play in the Hall of Fame Game against the Las Vegas Raiders. He made his preseason debut Friday in a matchup with the Cleveland Browns. With him on the field for three series, the Jaguars offense settled for two field goals and scored a touchdown on the third drive.
Lawrence had a couple of big plays, connecting with wideouts Zay Jones and Laquon Treadwell for 32 and 19 yards, respectively. He completed six of 12 passes for 95 yards and a touchdown Friday. Though Lawrence didn't take any sacks, he felt pressure on multiple dropbacks. Jacksonville's offensive line has to tighten up its pass protection.
Coming off a lost rookie campaign on injured reserve because of Lisfranc surgery, Travis Etienne will likely see a lot of action early in the upcoming season as fellow running back James Robinson works his way back from a torn Achilles. He saw a lot work against the Browns, logging nine carries for 23 yards along with a reception for 10 yards.
Etienne didn't have an efficient outing, but he needed the touches to acclimate himself to the pro game. On a positive note, the Clemson product showed his ability to break off a big gain with a 12-yard run. We could see more of that from him as he gets more time on the field.
Jets QB Zach Wilson's Incomplete Outing Raises More Red Flags
Leading up to the preseason, Zach Wilson went through his ups and downs, but Dennis Waszak Jr. of the Associated Press told Will Parkinson of the Turn On the Jets podcast that the second-year quarterback started to show some consistency in recent practices.
Well, Wilson had a rough showing against the Philadelphia Eagles that ended abruptly because of injury.
On the Jets’ first offensive drive, Wilson didn’t see Kyzir White underneath in coverage, and the Eagles linebacker picked off the pass to set up Philadelphia’s offense at New York’s 20-yard line.
Wilson went down with a knee injury early in the Jets' second possession. He scrambled and tried to pick up extra yardage on a sharp cut but may have tweaked something without contact from an opposing player. Quarterback Mike White finished the drive, moving New York into Eagles’ territory for a field goal.
While the Jets probably liked to see Wilson's competitive side, keep in mind that he missed four games with a strained PCL last season.
Perhaps Wilson bounces back, but he had a disappointing performance Friday. His turnover put the Jets defense in a bad position on the field, and he didn’t establish much rhythm, completing three out of five passes for 23 yards and an interception.
Browns CB Martin Emerson Jr. Makes Defensive Play of the Day
The Cleveland Browns’ best cornerback, Denzel Ward, didn’t suit up Friday—he’s on the physically unable to perform list with a foot injury. Nevertheless, the Browns secondary still came up with a highlight play for a touchdown.
Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback C.J. Beathard tossed a pass intended for wide receiver Jeff Cotton Jr., but he bobbled the ball, which allowed Martin Emerson Jr. time to rip it away from him. The rookie third-round cornerback picked off the pass and returned it 74 yards for a pick-six.
Behind Ward, Greedy Williams and Greg Newsome II on the depth chart, Emerson may not have a big role this year, but as an early-round draft pick, he can play his way into frequent backup duty and dime packages.
Typically, offenses take the spotlight in the preseason, but Emerson’s playmaking ability highlights the depth of Cleveland’s cornerback room. In division matchups against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Browns may have a group that can slow down quarterback Joe Burrow and his wide receivers.
Romeo Doubs Continues to Build His Offseason Buzz
Romeo Doubs has turned heads this offseason and made our list of rookies to watch in the preseason. He gave everyone some eye candy when he beat San Francisco 49ers safety Tarvarius Moore in Cover 0 for a 33-yard reception Friday.
In the first half, Doubs caught three passes for 45 yards and a touchdown, providing a reason for fantasy football managers to pay closer attention to the buzz around him this summer.
With oft-injured Sammy Watkins atop the Packers' depth chart and rookie second-round wideout Christian Watson still on the physically unable to perform list following knee surgery, quarterback Aaron Rodgers may need to trust someone other than Randall Cobb in the wide receiver room. As a fourth-rounder out of Nevada, Doubs could exceed initial expectations.
Against the 49ers, Doubs led the Packers in targets through the first half with seven. If Rodgers targets him nearly as much as Love did Friday, the first-year wideout can rack up decent numbers following Davante Adams’ departure to the Las Vegas Raiders.
Trey Lance Brings Immediate Sparks to the 49ers' Passing Attack
Right away, Trey Lance brought the fireworks to Levi Stadium in Friday’s preseason matchup with the Green Bay Packers. Not only did he have an efficient showing, the second-year quarterback connected with rookie third-round wideout Danny Gray for a 76-yard touchdown.
Compared to Jimmy Garoppolo, Lance has a stronger arm, which should allow head coach and offensive play-caller Kyle Shanahan to feature the deep ball a lot more going forward.
Lance’s long completion to Gray could be the beginning of a new electric connection for the 49ers offense. Garoppolo built a reputation for his ability to attack the middle of the field (h/t Pro Football Focus via Niners Nation's Akash Anavarathan). With Lance under center, San Francisco’s aerial attack could pose a bigger threat outside the numbers.
The 49ers’ passing game showed early signs of explosiveness, and Lance finished with a perfect 158.3 quarterback rating. San Francisco has to feel good about its young signal-caller as the team transitions from Garoppolo, who’s likely on the way out.
Maurice Moton covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @MoeMoton.