NFL Preseason Week 4 Roundup: Bills' QB Battle Likely Down to Allen and Peterman
Thursday night might not have affected your fantasy football draft and might not have made an impact on who wins Super Bowl LIII in February, but hundreds of non-star NFL players helped or hurt themselves on the final evening of preseason football.
Plus, you're bound to see some interesting things when all 32 teams are on the field essentially simultaneously.
It's about time to officially turn our attention to the regular season, but first here's a rundown of the most notable developments from the final batch of 2018 exhibition games.
Who Should/Could/Will Start for the Buffalo Bills?
We can probably deduce that AJ McCarron won't be the Buffalo Bills' starting quarterback when the team kicks off the regular season in a little over a week.
That's because McCarron was forced to play Buffalo's entire preseason finale Thursday night against the Chicago Bears. The Bills love to induce head-scratches, but not even they would expose a player they expect to start Week 1 to four quarters of late-August preseason football. Besides, the March free-agent addition struggled in Chicago, completing just 13 of 34 passes for 156 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.
You'd have to think that means the Bills have already privately decided who'll be under center when they face the Baltimore Ravens on September 9, and that it's either second-year fifth-round pick Nathan Peterman or rookie No. 7 overall selection Josh Allen. It's also possible they've only ruled out McCarron and have yet to decide between Peterman and Allen but didn't want to expose either to a possible injury. They're rolling the dice regardless.
Peterman and McCarron would be bridge quarterbacks anyway, but going with Allen right out of the gate would generate plenty of intrigue. That's because the Wyoming product was considered a raw project when he entered the league in April. He's got a howitzer, but he's yet to display consistent accuracy, and it's a tad concerning that he completed just 56.2 percent of his passes in the Mountain West Conference.
That completion rate was just 54.5 in his first three preseason outings, and he missed a chance to further hone himself Thursday night.
The Bills aren't Super Bowl contenders, but you don't want to expose a guy to regular-season action when he isn't remotely ready. Quarterbacks can be ruined that way (ask David Carr), so this isn't an easy decision.
We don't know what the Bills will do. The Bills might not even know what the Bills will do. All we know now that we didn't quite know prior to Thursday night is that it'll either be Peterman or Allen. If it's Allen, he'll start against a fierce Ravens defense, on the road, with just 24 preseason completions under his belt.
Baker Mayfield Provides Another Reminder That It's Only a Matter of Time
While Allen might start right away in Buffalo, Cleveland Browns head coach Hue Jackson has reiterated exactly 4.63 million times that his shiny new rookie quarterback will not be under center when the Browns kick off the regular season next weekend against Pittsburgh.
But that has little to do with how Mayfield has looked this summer and almost everything to do with the fact that the Browns are afraid to fall in love too quickly after having their hearts broken by so many young quarterbacks in the past.
The No. 1 overall pick out of Oklahoma made his first preseason start Thursday against the Detroit Lions. While he didn't face stiff competition, he delivered nonetheless with three scoring drives in the first 18 minutes. He finished a decent 9-of-16 for 138 yards in his third turnover-free performance this month, but beyond the numbers he once again looked poised and confident.
Did you see that throw he made while rolling left rather than the more natural right on a 41-yard hookup with Devon Cajuste to start the game? Later he threw an absolute dart to Damion Ratley, providing a reminder that he's got that in him as well.
Dudes who make throws like that don't remain backups for long. Tyrod Taylor is a good quarterback, but his days are numbered.
Lamar Jackson Shines Again
Another strong preseason performance from rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson should cause the Baltimore Ravens to consider installing him as their backup quarterback, especially if it means getting something in return for projected backup Robert Griffin III.
With Griffin and starter Joe Flacco on the sideline Thursday against the Washington Redskins, the dynamic first-round pick out of Louisville completed nine of 15 passes for 109 yards while rushing three times for 25 yards and a touchdown. He led an 81-yard touchdown drive to start the game and followed that with a pair of second-quarter field-goal drives.
Altogether, Jackson generated six passing/rushing touchdowns on 91 preseason passing/rushing attempts, and he appeared to get better each week in August. He turned the ball over just once, and that was way back in the Hall of Fame Game.
Jackson, who has been roasting reserve defenders, probably isn't ready to start. But if the Ravens lose Flacco at any point this season, Jackson might be just as capable as Griffin is of at least temporarily keeping the ship afloat. And since's he's viewed as the future and Griffin is not, that might make RG3 an intriguing trade option with roster cuts looming this weekend.
Joshua Dobbs on Display in Pittsburgh
Elsewhere in the AFC North, the Pittsburgh Steelers might have been showcasing second-year quarterback Joshua Dobbs in their preseason finale against the Carolina Panthers. And the fourth-round pick out of Tennessee came through with another strong performance to cap a stellar preseason.
Dobbs completed 67.7 percent of his passes while posting a 101.9 passer rating in his first two preseason outings, sat out Week 3 of the exhibition schedule and then completed eight of 12 passes for 151 yards and a touchdown against the Panthers. He also added a rushing score, with both of those touchdowns capping 75-plus-yard drives in the first quarter.
Ben Roethlisberger, Landry Jones and rookie third-round pick Mason Rudolph are likely already locked in with roster spots, and it might give Pittsburgh a little more comfort that Rudolph threw a pair of touchdown passes against Carolina.
With that in mind, I'd expect the Steelers to try to capitalize on a strong August from Dobbs by making some phone calls in the coming days.
Christian Hackenberg Bombs Against the Team That Drafted Him
One of those phone calls could be fairly cheap in terms of long-distance charges. Because if the Philadelphia Eagles determine that franchise quarterback Carson Wentz isn't healthy enough to start Week 1 but still want three signal-callers on the active roster, a player like Dobbs would probably be a lot more appealing than Christian Hackenberg.
On Thursday night, Hackenberg was given a chance to make a statement against the team that drafted him in the second round in 2016 and gave up on him in 2018. And it's safe to say he failed to inspire any regret in the New York Jets.
The former Penn State star threw two comically ugly interceptions as part of a 1-of-5 start and added a lost fumble in the third quarter in his only preseason outing before the Eagles cried uncle and went back to the night's starter, Joe Callahan.
Hackenberg is only 23 years old, but it's safe to guess he won't make Philadelphia's roster and fair to wonder how many opportunities he has left.
Brock Osweiler Might Have Won the Backup Job in Miami
The Miami Dolphins haven't been able to rely on starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill in nearly two calendar years. So while Tannehill is finally healthy again, it's imperative that they have confidence in their No. 2 under center.
Problem is top backup candidates Brock Osweiler and David Fales both fell on their faces often during Miami's first three preseason games, which drew criticism from head coach Adam Gase and left that competition wide-open entering the team's Thursday night preseason finale in Atlanta.
If Gase was treating this as a final audition for both, Osweiler probably won the job after leading two first-quarter touchdown drives on a night in which he finished 16-of-25 for 147 yards in a turnover-free performance.
Fales generated enough buzz earlier in the offseason to compete with the more established and popular Osweiler, but he led zero touchdown drives and threw an interception against the Falcons, and he finished the preseason with a a 48.0 passer rating.
Fales isn't eligible for the practice squad, which could leave him without a job before the weekend is through.
And EJ Manuel Might Have Done the Same in Oakland
Entering Thursday, Miami and the Oakland Raiders looked like teams that could be in the market for a backup quarterback such as McCarron, Griffin or Dobbs. But while Osweiler came through with a redeeming performance for the Dolphins, EJ Manuel did the same thing for the Raiders in their preseason finale against the Seattle Seahawks.
Manuel was fighting Connor Cook for the right to back up Derek Carr, but both struggled so much during the first three weeks of the preseason that head coach Jon Gruden wouldn't rule out finding another quarterback altogether for that role, per NFL.com's Nick Shook. Cook completed just 40 percent of his passes in those first three games, while Manuel fumbled four times.
But Manuel got his act together in Seattle, completing 18 of 22 passes for 255 yards and three touchdowns without committing a turnover. He escaped pressure like a boss. He had zip on his deep balls. He actually looked like a No. 16 overall pick in his prime.
Sure, it was just one game against a bunch of reserves, but it might have been enough to convince Gruden to stick with the status quo.
Lions Keep Ameer Abdullah in His Packaging; Dwayne Washington Excels
While Jackson, Dobbs and McCarron were potentially being showcased for possible trades on Thursday night, the Lions decided not to utilize a player who was the subject of plenty of trade speculation late in the preseason.
That could mean they still believe in Ameer Abdullah and didn't want to risk an injury in the final preseason game Thursday against Cleveland, or it could mean they were more concerned with seeing what third-year seventh-round pick Dwayne Washington could bring to the table.
Washington, who didn't play in any of Detroit's first three preseason outings, rushed for 67 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries while catching six passes for 43 yards.
At the very least, that might have made him a trade target for teams seeking running back depth. The Lions have now given potential suitors a recent look at both Abdullah and Washington, both of whom are on the roster bubble with veteran LeGarrette Blount, pass-catcher Theo Riddick and rookie second-round pick Kerryon Johnson locked in.
Now we wait.