Preseason Week 1 Takeaways: Jared Goff Looking Like Game-Manager in Lions Debut
The first full week of the 2021 NFL preseason is underway, and the action resumed Friday night with the Buffalo Bills facing the Detroit Lions and the Tennessee Titans taking on the Atlanta Falcons in the early evening slot.
The Arizona Cardinals and Dallas Cowboys faced off in the late window.
Friday's games provided an early look at some high-profile rookies, a couple of key offseason additions and new Detroit Lions signal-caller Jared Goff. While preseason games don't mean anything in the final standings, there was plenty to take away from the exhibition action.
Let's begin our observations by looking at Goff and what Lions fans might expect from their new-look offense with him at the helm in 2021.
The Days of the Quarterback Carrying Detroit's Offense May Be over
The Lions traded away longtime starter Matthew Stafford this offseason, netting former Los Angeles Rams quarterback Goff as part of the return. While the Cal product may be a serviceable starter in Detroit, he isn't likely to be the offensive centerpiece that Stafford was.
"This is my ninth training camp in Allen Park, and I'm just so used to seeing consistent quarterback play all over the field in the summer," Kyle Meinke of MLive wrote earlier in the week. "That hasn't been the case with Goff."
Goff came out stumbling rather than slinging Friday, nearly throwing an interception on his first pass attempt and taking a sack—surrendered by rookie first-round pick Penei Sewell—to end the opening drive. He was much more efficient on the second drive, going 7-of-8 and leading Detroit to a field goal.
It must be noted that Goff, while effective, was not explosive on the scoring drive. His seven completions netted only 56 yards, and it took Detroit 18 plays to produce three points.
While Goff was working without top options like T.J. Hockenson, D'Andre Swift and Breshad Perriman, his debut was likely an accurate depiction of what Detroit is going to get out of its new quarterback—some bad, some good and a lot of dink-and-dunk.
Lions Likely to Get a Mixed Bag from Sewell as a Rookie
Former Oregon offensive tackle Sewell fell to the Lions at seventh overall in April. The Lions were quick to grab a player largely considered the best tackle prospect in the draft.
Though a left tackle at Oregon, Sewell made his debut for Detroit on the right side Friday. As is often the case with rookies seeing their first game action, there was some good and some not-so-good in his performance.
Sewell played the part of a mauling run-blocker well, but he did have some early issues in pass protection.
"Have liked the early stuff from Sewell on the ground—he's firing off the ball, creating some shock at the point of attack. Still sliding off guys a bit earlier than he might want—but a solid recovery after a tricky first series," The Athletic's Nick Baumgardner tweeted.
Sewell—the fourth overall prospect on Bleacher Report's final big board—isn't playing like an All-Pro just yet. However, if he can clean up his technique quickly, Detroit is going to have a strong set of tackles, with Taylor Decker manning the left side.
"He played great, he's ready to go. He's as much of a pro as anyone out there, Goff said of Sewell after the game, per Chris Burke of The Athletic.
If Sewell cannot clean up those protections issues, though, Goff could be in for a long season.
Gregory Rousseau Could Be a Defensive Force
It's impossible to talk about Sewell without mentioning Bills rookie pass-rusher Gregory Rousseau. The Miami product introduced himself to the NFL world—and to Sewell—with a powerful bull rush that led to the sack on Buffalo's first defensive series.
Rousseau's first NFL sack came on the heels of a strong training camp for the rookie.
"Without Jerry Hughes available during practice, the Bills haven't had their best pass rusher available. But that has allowed them to give their young pass rushers ample time, and first-round pick Gregory Rousseau has looked ahead of schedule," The Athletic's Joe Buscaglia wrote.
Rousseau's quick progression—and his ability to translate it to the playing field—is a tremendous sign for Bills fans. Rousseau came into the draft with limited edge-rushing experience and only 15 collegiate games on his resume. However, it's already looking like he can be an early contributor.
Getting early contributions from Rousseau and rookie second-round pick Boogie Basham would greatly benefit a Bills defense that ranked 16th in points allowed and logged only 38 sacks last season.
Titans Should Have an Improved Defense in 2021
The Titans won the AFC South last season but never truly looked like Super Bowl contenders. While their second-ranked offense was tough to handle, their 28th-ranked defense was too often a liability
Tennessee took some steps this offseason to resolve the issue. It promoted outside linebackers coach Shane Bowen to defensive coordinator and added the likes of pass-rusher Bud Dupree, cornerback Janoris Jenkins and rookie corner Caleb Farley.
While many of Tennessee's starters didn't play—including Dupree and Farley—Bowen's defense looked like a much more fast and physical unit than last year's defense. Atlanta was held to only three points through three quarters, and quarterback AJ McCarron—who started in place of Matt Ryan—finished 5-of-12 for 36 yards and an interception.
It's worth noting that many of the Falcons' top players sat Friday, but Tennessee's defensive performance should not be overlooked.
"This is the Titans defense we've been seeing through 2 weeks of camp. Getting after the QB and getting hands on the ball," Austin Stanley of AtoZSports Nashville tweeted.
Titans fans should be able to look forward to better defense and a more-balanced team in 2021.
Falcons Defense Also Showing Signs of Improvement
The Falcons weren't a playoff team in 2020, and their defense was even worse than Tennessee's. Atlanta finished the season ranked 29th in total defense while producing just 29 sacks as a team.
As was the case with Tennessee's defense, Atlanta's unit looked like a quicker and more disciplined than last year's squad. While the Falcons didn't entirely shut down Tennessee's offense, they did regularly pressure the quarterback, avoid surrendering chunk plays and limit scoring opportunities.
Tennessee was only able to find the end zone once through the first three quarters.
Again, many starters didn't suit up, but this was still a promising debut for new defensive coordinator Dean Pees.
"Defense looks creative; Getting to the quarterback, DBs look fluid," Jake Gordon of SportsTalkATL tweeted.
The Falcons were too often forced to try winning via a shootout in 2020—they allowed 30 or more points seven times—but that hopefully won't be the case this season. When Matt Ryan, Calvin Ridley and the rest of Atlanta's starters are in the game, holding opponents to 23 points is often going to result in a victory.
Dak Prescott May Be Close to His Return
Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott didn't play Friday, but cameras did catch him throwing before the game. Prescott—who is both returning from a 2020 ankle fracture and dealing with a shoulder injury—did not appear to be hampered by either injury during warmups.
This is huge for Dallas, as it could indicate that Prescott will be ready to take the field before preseason's end.
Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones called Prescott "ahead of schedule" on the pregame show (h/t The Athletic's Jon Machota). "He threw the ball well tonight. It’s gonna be great as he starts to work back in."
This comes mere days after the Cowboys announced that Prescott would undergo a second precautionary MRI on his throwing shoulder.
Dallas cautioned at the time that the MRI was "not a reason to worry," and this appears to be the case. As long as Prescott doesn't experience a setback, he should have the opportunity to get on a game field—for the first time since last October—ahead of Week 1.
Cardinals Can and Will Get Creative with Rondale Moore
The Cardinals had a strong receiving corps—headlined by DeAndre Hopkins, Christian Kirk, Andy Isabella and A.J. Green—heading into this year's draft. In the draft, Arizona used a second-round pick on Purdue wideout Rondale Moore.
On Friday, the Cardinals provided a glimpse of how they plan to utilize the rookie: Early, often, and in a variety of ways.
Arizona's first offensive play of the night was a bubble screen to Moore that went for seven yards. Moore caught another seven-yard pass from quarterback Colt McCoy on the Cardinals' next possession. He also carried the ball twice on that drive. On Arizona's touchdown drive in the second quarter, Moore caught a nine-yard pass from Chris Streveler.
According to Nathan Jahnke of Pro Football Focus, Moore played 16 snaps during Arizona's first two drives, two out wide and 14 in the slot.
Moore finished the first half with three receptions, two carries and 39 scrimmage yards. It's clear that coach Kliff Kingsbury is looking to utilize Moore in a variety of ways. Fans—and fantasy managers—can likely expect that trend to continue in the regular season.