Preseason Week 1 Takeaways: Patrick Mahomes Looks Back in MVP Form
Sometimes, the same old things everyone expects can be comforting.
The first full weekend of preseason play came to a close Saturday with six teams in action. The Cincinnati Bengals, Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Rams, Oakland Raiders, Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers took the field for the first time.
The Chiefs offense once again looked unstoppable with quarterback Patrick Mahomes leading the way. Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott is holding out without an end in sight. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton is still Andy Dalton.
At this point, those things are expected. The Raiders registering a sack, Mecole Hardman's emergence and more injuries to the 49ers lineup weren't.
Patrick Mahomes Not Slowing Down Anytime Soon
Any thought of a natural Patrick Mahomes regression after last year's MVP campaign seems silly. Dez Bryant—yes, Dez Bryant—best summed up Kansas City's performance in Saturday's meeting with the Cincinnati Bengals.
"I feel sorry for anybody that’s facing the Chiefs this year...seriously," the unemployed wide receiver tweeted.
He's not wrong.
Chiefs head coach Andy Reid announced his superstar quarterback would play the entire first quarter against the Bengals. In the end, Reid only needed to see one drive.
Mahomes nonchalantly orchestrated a flawless first drive with four completions and a 10-yard run during which he smartly slid at the 1-yard line. But one throw really told the story.
Usually, players must work off a little offseason rust before looking like the performers they were during the previous season. Not Mahomes.
The 23-year-old gunslinger connected with tight end Travis Kelce on an out-and-up route for a 36-yard gain on the Chiefs' first offensive snap. Mahomes displayed magnificent touch on the throw, which left Bengals safety Shawn Williams befuddled.
Kansas City features a fully loaded roster with a maestro orchestrating the game's most beautiful offensive scheme.
Every passer who has posted numbers similar to Mahomes' from last season regressed the following year. The safe bet is he will as well. But the Chiefs provided a glimpse that they can continue to be an offensive juggernaut.
Mecole Hardman Increases Explosiveness of Chiefs Offense
The Chiefs traded up in the second round to select wide receiver Mecole Hardman in what looked like a move to replace Tyreek Hill. The NFL decided not to suspend Hill after investigating allegations of child abuse, which included audio of him threatening then-fiancee Crystal Espinal.
Hill is firmly entrenched as the Chiefs' No. 1 wide receiver and arguably the league's best offensive weapon. But head coach and play-caller Andy Reid can use Hardman in a similar manner thanks to his 4.33-second 40-yard-dash speed.
Hardman's transition from the collegiate to professional ranks hasn't been easy.
"He's a smart kid," Reid said Monday, per the Kansas City Star's Brooke Pryor. "I think it was just him getting used to the speed of the game. And then every route here, there's no route that's off. Not with a quarterback like we have. You have to run hard on everything. It might look like a clearing route, but you can't take it that way. That's not how it works."
In the rookie's first preseason action, the Cincinnati Bengals didn't have an answer for the speedster. Bengals defensive backs interfered with Hardman twice upon his initial two targets. The Chiefs brought Hardman around on a fly sweep later in the drive, and he raced to the end zone for a 17-yard score.
Chris Conley couldn't do similar things last season. Conley served as the Chiefs' third receiver before signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars this offseason. The 2015 third-round pick is a true downfield vertical threat but doesn't present the same type of versatility as Hardman.
The first glimpse of Hardman shows he is yet another dangerous threat in an already explosive Chiefs offense.
Tony Pollard Flashes While Ezekiel Elliott's Holdout Remains Ongoing
What's the latest in the ongoing Ezekiel Elliott holdout drama?
"If (fans) read the newspaper, they’ll see he's in Cabo and we're in San Francisco," owner Jerry Jones said before Saturday's contest, per The Athletic's Jon Machota.
"You know that it's a marathon," Jones added. "It's a long season. It's a long career. And so that you don't let a week or a month, you don't let any of that bother you. It goes on all the time."
The opportunity to see the team's rookie running backs could factor into ongoing backfield dilemma. The Cowboys want Ezekiel Elliott to re-sign. Elliott wants to re-sign. The valuation remains a problem. Until the two sides can bridge the gap, the Cowboys must see what they have in first-year runners Tony Pollard and Mike Weber.
Pollard, who came into the league as a versatile weapon, concentrated on running the ball between the tackles in his first NFL action. The 215-pound back showed patience and gained tough yards with four carries for 16 yards.
The Cowboys know Pollard is a capable receiver and movable chess piece, but the ability to convert tough runs might be necessary if the Elliott holdout extends into the regular season.
Weber, meanwhile, carried the ball six times for 18 yards.
Bengals Rookie QB Ryan Finley Impresses, Could Work Way Up Depth Chart
The Bengals have a quarterback problem—whether the organization is willing to admit it or not.
Andy Dalton is a potential anchor to the team's long-term growth. Though it's just one missed throw, the eight-year veteran badly underthrew a wide-open Josh Malone during Cincinnati's opening drive Saturday against the Chiefs.
Typically, an experienced quarterback would lead a receiver in Malone's position into the end zone for a touchdown. Dalton simply missed, and the poor throw highlights Dalton's limitations. He can't drive the ball like other signal-callers around the league. He never could.
Dalton is a rhythm passer, much like fourth-round rookie Ryan Finley.
The starter completed seven of nine passes during his lone series (which resulted in a touchdown), so he didn't play poorly. But the Bengals need to look at the bigger picture.
Dalton's contract isn't guaranteed over the next two seasons. Furthermore, he's not tied to the new coaching staff.
The rookie completed his first 11 passes before misfiring. He then threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to running back Jordan Ellis on the next play.
Overall, Finley completed 13 of his 18 passes for 109 yards, a score and a forced interception late in the game. He looked like the same efficient and anticipatory thrower he was at North Carolina State.
Right now, Jeff Driskel is Cincinnati's backup quarterback, and Finley must compete for that spot. Even so, the Bengals could easily be in a position later this year in which they must see the rookie in the lineup to assess their future at quarterback.
Arden Key's Improvement Supplements Raiders' Pass Rush
Rejoice for the Raiders registered a sack.
For most defenses, a preseason sack means next to nothing. The Raiders aren't most defenses. Oakland managed a league-low 13 sacks last season. The organization made defensive pressure an emphasis this offseason.
General manager Mike Mayock drafted defensive end Clelin Ferrell fourth overall to become a tone-setter. Three rounds later, Mayock doubled-down on edge defenders by drafting Maxx Crosby. He wasn't done yet. The Raiders selected a third defensive end, Quinton Bell, in the seventh frame.
A year earlier, the organization drafted defensive linemen P.J. Hall, Arden Key and Maurice Hurst in the first five rounds.
The talent infusion wasn't enough. Every day, the defensive linemen shout "13" to remind themselves how poorly the unit performed last season, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal's Michael Gehlken.
So, Key securing a sack in the first preseason contest against the Rams is no small feat. Key's second-year improvement opposite Ferrell is, well, key to the Raiders' defensive growth. Josh Mauro projects as the starting base end, but he's a much better run defender than pass-rusher. Key will be used in sub-packages as a primary edge-rusher.
The Raiders are talented, albeit young, up front. Key, Ferrell, Crosby, Hurst and Hall should be able to generate significantly more pressure than the group did a year ago.
One sack might not seem like a lot, but the moment means everything to the Raiders.
49ers Can't Avoid Injuries, Lose Key Contributors
When it rains, it pours for the 49ers on the injury front.
KPIX broadcast analyst Tim Ryan revealed slot receiver Trent Taylor required surgery Friday to repair a broken foot (h/t Pro Football Focus' Jeff Deeney). The surgeon inserted a screw in Taylor's foot, and the 49ers hope Taylor returns early in the season.
"It was a surprise to us all," general manager John Lynch told KPIX (via the San Jose Mercury News' Cam Inman). "I think he finished Thursday's practice with a touchdown from [Jimmy] Garoppolo and then went in and got his foot checked. Apparently, it's been bothering him throughout camp, but he—coming off the back injury—never said anything about it, wasn't limping."
With Taylor out of the lineup for the foreseeable future, third-round rookie Jalen Hurd will vie to become the 49ers' primary slot receiver. The running back-turned-wide receiver scored two touchdowns in his first NFL action, including this 20-yard catch-and-run.
Earlier this week, No. 2 overall pick Nick Bosa and cornerback Jason Verrett suffered ankle injuries.
During the game, Shon Coleman (ankle), running back Raheem Mostert (concussion) and nose tackle D.J. Jones (knee) suffered first-quarter injuries. Coleman is the team's third offensive tackle. Mostert is a standout special teams performer. Jones provides depth along the defensive interior.
Cardinals Release Darius Philon; Zach Allen Moves into Spotlight
The Arizona Cardinals exhibited a zero-tolerance policy this offseason.
Last month, the organization released backup left tackle Desmond Harrison after he was charged with assault on a person by strangulation and assault on a female by a male.
Saturday, the Cardinals cut Darius Philon, who signed a two-year free-agent deal this offseason, after an arrest on an aggravated assault charge just hours after his preseason debut.
The Cardinals reacted quickly in both instances and didn't let the situations linger. Instead, they set the tone for the entire team.
Losing quality depth hurts, though. Without Philon, the Cardinals will turn to rookie third-round pick Zach Allen.
"We've had a pretty good room as far as depth is concerned," defensive tackle Corey Peters said before Philon was released, per Darren Urban of the team's official site. "We definitely have enough guys that can play, guys we feel comfortable putting in. We'll be praying and hopeful the best works out for Darius. Whether he is with us or not, we'll be ready to go."
Allen is a physical base end. He amassed 40.5 tackles for loss and 18.5 sacks during his final three years at Boston College.
"I like what Zach Allen has brought, and I'm really excited that we have him here," head coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "We think he has a heck of a future."
Fellow rookie Michael Dogbe, whom the front office selected in the seventh round, should receive more exposure as well.