NFL Preseason Week 3: Takeaways from Friday's Action
The third and most important week of the NFL preseason began on Friday night with three games on the docket. Week 3 is known as the dress rehearsal for teams because coaches tend to play their starters at least one half. This is the best opportunity to see what your team will look like this fall, prior to the regular season actually starting.
We have at least one takeaway from each team’s performance on Friday night. Since the first team is really what matters, that’s what each takeaway will be about. Teams that see a lot of run from their backups in the regular season are highly unlikely to be successful, so there’s not much we can learn from their play right now.
How did you feel about your favorite team's performance on Friday night? Let your voice be heard in the comments section below.
Blake Bortles Continues to Impress
Year 2 in Blake Bortles’ career is starting off with some quality performances. Yes, it is just the preseason, but Bortles has been making difficult throws seem routine thus far. Week 3 was not an exception, as he shredded a talented Lions defense.
Bortles finished with 20 completions on 29 attempts and a touchdown. He helped convert on seven consecutive third-downs, making multiple throws into tight windows. His accuracy and poise in the pocket were especially notable.
The Jaguars overhauled their offense this offseason to help Bortles succeed. Not only was the play-calling impressive, but also the actual play designs from offensive coordinator Greg Olson worked wonderfully. If this momentum rides into the regular season, Bortles will be en route to a huge sophomore season.
The Jaguars Defense Has Major Issues
Despite the Jaguars offense showing out for the hometown crowd, the defense was torn apart on the ground and in the air. The Detroit Lions have an impressive amount of talent on their offense, but it is concerning how soft the Jaguars played. Far too often Lions running back Zach Zenner was powering through defenders.
The most worrisome part of the Jaguars is how little the defense has improved in terms of personnel the last two seasons. Head coach Gus Bradley always impressed me with his energy at the Senior Bowl practices, but the Jaguars staff hasn’t developed many impact players on defense. That showed on Friday night.
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford and receiver Golden Tate had their way with the Jaguars secondary. It’s as if the Lions were playing pitch-and-catch for fun, as Stafford completed 11 of 15 pass attempts and two touchdowns. Someone must step up for the Jaguars on defense.
Detroit’s Rookies Are Difference Makers
It’s always encouraging to see rookies making an impact as early as the preseason. The Detroit Lions figure to have one of the strongest rookie classes in 2015 if the preseason is an indicator. Running backs Zach Zenner and Ameer Abdullah and guard Laken Tomlinson have played very well so far.
Zenner and Tomlinson were the stars this week. Zenner powered and dashed his way to 85 yards and a touchdown on eight carries. He should definitely make the Lions’ final roster with his rushing talent.
Tomlinson was great in pass protection and creating run lanes. The first-round pick quickly earned first-team reps in training camp, and he continues to show out. Detroit needed playmakers to step up, and they are getting just that from young performers.
The Titans Defense Must Gel Quickly
The preseason isn’t always the best indicator of what will happen in the regular season. The quality of play and schemes used are much more intense once the games really matter. But that doesn’t mean bad play isn’t a cause for concern.
For the Tennessee Titans to be competitive this season, their defense must quickly gel and come together. New defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is well-renowned for his intelligence and coaching prowess. His unit was completely ineffective against the Chiefs, though.
It’s not as if the Titans lack talent on paper. They don’t have an elite player, but each level of the defense has at least starter-level talent. That’s enough to be a decent unit that can keep the team into games.
Marcus Mariota Has Flashes of Promise
After a good, but not great, showing in Week 2, rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota again had moments of brilliance. His 30-yard completion to Kendall Wright in the second quarter was a beautiful display of touch and accuracy from Mariota. He also showed good toughness inside of the pocket.
Overall, Mariota’s play was a net positive, despite not logging a touchdown. He did break the pocket too early twice, leading to incomplete passes. Those are the issues that he must find balance and poise when he feels pressure up the middle of the offensive line.
But the good outweighing the bad means a lot for a rookie facing an excellent defense. Mariota held his own and made several standout plays. He continues to build upon his play each week.
Alex Smith Maximized His Offensive Weapons
The performance we saw out of the Kansas City Chiefs offense was borderline unbelievable. Led by quarterback Alex Smith, the Chiefs executed nearly to perfection in the first half. They had 17 points at halftime, with Smith tossing two touchdowns.
Smith’s efficiency was still in effect, as he went 16-of-18 for 171 yards. More importantly, he looked more aggressive than we’ve seen in years. He was hitting his playmakers in stride, despite decent coverage from the Titans. He’s often been too hesitant to make tight throws in years past, but not Friday night.
We’ll see if the Chiefs continue to be an offensive powerhouse. Smith’s unlikely to change who he is at this point in his career. But the Chiefs playmakers played extremely well, as did Smith.
Carolina’s Lack of Playmakers Cost Them Points
We knew entering the season that the Carolina Panthers would be scrounging for points this year. They simply lack the necessary parts to be a consistently good unit. And then the injury bug hit and further depleted their playmaking talent.
Week 3 was not encouraging that things will change. Quarterback Cam Newton was consistently pressured, which led to several rushed passes. He finished 17-of-28 for 160 yards and a touchdown on the night.
The issue is that the Panthers dropped a few passes and stalled in the red zone. They scored just six points in the first half. After a week where the starters failed to score against the Miami Dolphins, the Panthers again couldn’t finish drives on offense this week.
New England’s Defense Bended but Didn’t Break
The bad news for the New England Patriots is that they allowed a talent-depleted offense to have three scoring drives. Although it was just 13 points in two-plus quarters, Carolina controlled the game clock, and the game stayed close. The defense couldn’t force the Panthers off the field quickly.
The positive is that the weak secondary broke up several passes from Newton. Cornerback Malcolm Butler has all but solidified himself as the team's top player at the position, knocking away two passes himself. New England’s defense must build off this performance as the regular season nears.
Since the team will not benefit from Tom Brady for the first four weeks of the regular season, the pressure is on the defense. The front seven is a talented group, but the secondary has many question marks. This will be a good challenge for head coach Bill Belichick.
The Patriots First-Team Offense Was Sluggish
The New England Patriots must be thankful the regular season didn’t begin on Friday night. Despite being led by Tom Brady, the Patriots were a mess. Brady threw two ugly interceptions where he forced the ball into good coverage. He had a touchdown pass to tight end Scott Chandler near halftime, but he was still just 7-of-13 passing for 84 yards.
Considering the Patriots will be without Brady for a few weeks, they must become a proficient offense with Jimmy Garoppolo starting. Garoppolo got time with the second team on Friday. When he starts in the regular season, he’ll have his work cut out for him if this unit doesn’t execute better.
New England wasn’t overly effective running the ball due to poor offensive line play. They averaged just 3.7 yards per rush for the game. That won’t be good enough in the regular season.