NFL Preseason Roundup: Kirk Cousins Deals in Vikings Debut
You know it's the first week of the preseason when one of the night's bigger stars is literally the last player picked in a draft.
In 2017, that "Mr. Irrelevant" was Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly. That Kelly's two-touchdown night was far and away the best showing by a Denver quarterback in the first preseason game Saturday tells you everything you need to know about how things went for the Broncos against the Minnesota Vikings.
The game was not as close as the score. At all.
It was a much more enjoyable evening for the visiting Vikes' starters. As a matter of fact, the first game action for Kirk Cousins in a purple helmet was about as close to perfect as a signal-caller can get without hitting the magic number of 158.3.
Saturday's second contest featured a trendy pick to win the AFC West in the Los Angeles Chargers traveling to Arizona to meet the Cardinals—a game that marked the Arizona debut of Sam Bradford and the NFL debut of Josh Rosen.
We'll get to Rosen and the Redbirds in a bit, but first it's back to Denver for more on the $84 million man.
Kirk Cousins Looked Like He's Been Running the Vikings Offense for Years
The Minnesota Vikings handed Kirk Cousins $84 million over three years this offseason to be the missing link, the piece that gets the team over the top and into the Super Bowl. Every nickel of that contract is guaranteed.
So far, it looks like a solid investment.
Yes, Cousins played just a single series Saturday night against the Broncos. But that one series was an eight-play, 75-yard drive that took just over five minutes and culminated in a one-yard touchdown pass from Cousins to Stefon Diggs.
Cousins had very little trouble carving up Denver's first-team defense, even without three starters on the offensive line who are nursing injuries. He finished a perfect 4-of-4 for 42 yards and a touchdown, with a passer rating of 150.0.
Not too shabby.
Yes, it's one series in one exhibition game against a Broncos defense that was without Von Miller. But given the lofty expectations heaped upon Cousins as a result of his (then) record payday, coming out of the gate firing on all cylinders had to feel pretty good.
If you're the type who likes to overreact to limited data (and really, who isn't?) consider this: While Diggs piled up three catches for 35 yards and that score, Adam Thielen didn't catch a single pass.
Adjust fantasy draft boards accordingly.
Denver's First-Team Offense Was...Well, It's Just Preseason
The Denver Broncos are optimistic that with Case Keenum under center, the team can rebound from a miserable 2017 that saw the team rank 20th in passing.
Um. Yeah. About that.
The Minnesota Vikings were the stingiest defense in the NFL, so a measure of offensive struggle might have been understandable Saturday. But Denver's offense was immeasurably bad, in that its first-quarter production barely registered.
For the quarter, the Broncos produced a grand total of 20 yards and exactly zero first downs. Fifteen of the 20 yards came courtesy of tailbacks Devontae Booker and Royce Freeman. Keenum chipped in the other five.
That's right. In his Broncos debut, Keenum threw for five yards on four passing attempts.
It was not a performance that will quiet those who believe Keenum is a journeyman quarterback who put together a fluke season in Minnesota in 2017 because of the talent surrounding him.
It could have been worse for Denver. In fact, it did get worse.
Paxton Lynch entered the game after two futile series by the starters and promptly threw an interception on his first attempt.
But hey! Chad Kelly, am I right?
No Dalvin Cook, No Problem
The Vikings are understandably taking it easy on second-year tailback Dalvin Cook, who tore his ACL a month into what looked to be a promising first season. Per Chris Tomasson of the Twin Cities Pioneer-Press, Cook went through a scripted workout before Saturday's game but didn't take the field against the Broncos.
He wasn't missed even a little.
Veteran Latavius Murray, who led the Vikings with 842 rushing yards last year, didn't find any more resistance from the Denver defense than Cousins did. Murray averaged over 10 yards a carry in limited action and peeled off two runs of over 20 yards, finishing with 43 yards on four totes.
This isn't to say Minnesota's ground game wouldn't miss a beat if Cook were eased in or limited to open the season. Murray averaged just 3.9 yards a carry in 2017, and the Vikings no longer have Jerick McKinnon to fall back on after he signed with San Francisco.
However, Saturday's first drive by the Vikings was a reminder that Murray is a capable veteran who has had his moments in the NFL—including a 1,000-yard season for the Oakland Raiders in 2015.
You could do worse as an insurance policy.
Broncos Rookies Chubb, Freeman Offer Silver Lining on Rough Night
It's hard to find many positives about Denver's performance in the first half against the Vikings. The defense allowed 24 points, the offense managed just 61 yards, and the Broncos faithful gave the team the business as they left the field at halftime.
But there were a couple glimmers of daylight on an otherwise gloomy evening.
Edge-rusher Bradley Chubb, who was the fifth overall pick in April's draft, got off to an inauspicious debut—he was blown off the ball on one of Murray's long runs early. But Chubb came back to stuff Murray at the goal line later in the drive, and he was spotted on the sideline watching tape later in the half with Von Miller.
Listen to that guy. He knows stuff.
Third-round pick Royce Freeman was also a bright spot. The young running back was much more elusive and explosive than nominal starter Devontae Booker, piling up 38 yards on just four first-half carries.
Booker picked up seven yards on two totes.
Freeman's night included a 23-yard run off the right side for a touchdown that was easily Denver's biggest offensive highlight of the half, given that it accounted for almost 38 percent of their total production.
Remember David Johnson? Pepperidge Farm Does
Two years ago, Arizona Cardinals tailback David Johnson gained over 2,100 total yards for the Redbirds. The 26-year-old set an NFL record by amassing over 100 total yards in each of his first 15 games of the season.
Last year, Johnson gained 90 yards total before breaking his wrist in the season opener against the Detroit Lions. Hi, thanks for playing, have a seat.
It was fair to wonder if Johnson would play at all in Saturday's exhibition opener against the Los Angeles Chargers. And even if he did, what sort of rust might we see after almost a calendar year out of game action?
Johnson didn't play much—you could count how many snaps he took on one hand and still have a finger to say hello with.
Don't. It's rude.
So far as rust, frankly, it was hard to tell because he was running so fast.
Johnson didn't get to finish what he started on the game's first drive, but his two carries for 28 yards got the Cardinals deep into Chargers territory.
Is 14 yards a carry good? It sounds good.
In related news, the Chargers run defense (which ranked 31st in the NFL last year) is still apparently horrible.
Josh Rosen's Uneven Debut Wasn't as Bad as It Looks on Paper
After Sam Bradford led the Cardinals to a touchdown on the team's initial series (and by "led," I mean handed the ball off several times), the presumptive starter for Arizona gave way to the quarterback fans were there to see Saturday night.
It was Rosen Time!
If all you look at is the stat sheet, you might think after Rosen played the rest of the first half, Bradford's jersey sales spiked. Rosen hit on just six of 13 throws for 41 yards, posting a robust passer rating of 53.7.
But Rosen's stats don't tell the whole story of his performance. Playing without key offensive contributors like Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald and behind a second-team offensive line that played like a fifth-team offensive line, Rosen got very little time to throw. There were also some catchable passes that weren't, well, caught.
Rosen gets a share of the blame, too. He took a delay penalty due to a communication error and threw an errant pass that should have been taken back for a score. There is still a lot of work to be done, and, for now at least, there is no quarterback controversy in the desert.
But there were a couple flashes of the pocket awareness, arm talent and accuracy that made Rosen a top-10 pick to begin with.
Chiefs Safety Daniel Sorensen out Indefinitely After Knee Surgery
The Kansas City Chiefs played on Thursday, but after getting hurt in practice earlier in the week, starting safety Daniel Sorensen wasn't on the field.
He won't be for quite some time.
As BJ Kissel reported for the team's website, the Chiefs' vice president of sports medicine and performance Rick Burkholder revealed that Sorensen had surgery to repair a tibial plateau fracture and a torn meniscus.
"We now have to wait for the bone to heal," he said. "So, with all bones that are broken, we will reexamine him at six weeks. So, there's no time frame other than we're going to reexamine him then. He'll be up today to begin his formal rehab with us."
Last year, Chiefs linebacker Anthony Hitchens suffered a similar injury in August while playing for the Dallas Cowboys and was back on the field in Week 5. Of course, Houston's J.J. Watt suffered a more severe one in October and was sidelined the rest of the season.
The 28-year-old Sorensen isn't an elite talent, but he is a steady veteran who started 14 games for the Chiefs and made a career-high 88 total tackles in 2017.
The pass defense was already a big question mark for Kansas City. Only three teams allowed more yards through the air last year than the Chiefs, who also traded away top cornerback Marcus Peters in the offseason.
Now they are down a starting safety indefinitely as well.
Second-year pro Leon McQuay (who is himself nicked up) was listed as the second-stringer behind Sorensen in the Chiefs' first unofficial depth chart, but it's possible the team will look outside the organization for a replacement.
Grading the First-Round Rookie Quarterbacks
In today's social media age, snap judgments are all the rage.
The reality is that it's still far too early to offer any sort of reasoned or nuanced assessment of the NFL potential and readiness of the five quarterbacks who were selected in the first round of the 2018 draft—the most in two decades.
However, we're all about overcoming adversity and fighting through challenges here, so we won't let that stop us from grading the first (or in one case) second effort of this year's Round 1 quarterbacks.
Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns (11-of-20, 212 yards, 2 TD): Mayfield wasn't perfect, but he was pretty close—his passer rating for the game was north of 125. His 24-yard completion to Antonio Callaway on third down in the third quarter was a big-boy throw. Who cares if it came against second-stringers? Start chiseling that bust for Canton.
Sam Darnold, New York Jets (13-of-18, 96 yards, 1 TD): As Bleacher Report's own Brent Sobleski pointed out, Darnold's performance against Atlanta stated a pretty compelling case to give him a real shot at opening the season as the Jets' starter. New York and Cleveland both have hope under center—that might be a sign of the apocalypse.
Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills (9-of-19, 116 yards, 1 TD): Allen showed off his arm strength and completed a nice 14-yard score playing with the third team against the Carolina Panthers. But the accuracy issues that dogged Allen at Wyoming were evident in his NFL debut as well. It could have been worse, but it could have been a lot better, too.
Josh Rosen, Arizona Cardinals (6-of-13, 41 yards): As was mentioned previously, Rosen's outing wasn't as bad as the stat line. There were throws and plays for the team to build on. But the NFL is a results business, and in that regard, Rosen had the worst week of the bunch. If Arizona's offensive line plays like that in the regular season, both Sam Bradford and Rosen are going to be in traction by Thanksgiving.
Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens (7-of-18, 119 yards, 1 rushing TD): The ability to make people miss (badly) that Jackson showed off on his nine-yard scoring scamper no doubt has fans in Baltimore pumped. But if the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner can't get his completion percentage above 40 and keeps taking sacks (five in two games now), excitement's going to turn to unease and then dread.