Preseason Week 3 Takeaways: Should Panthers Worry About QB Sam Darnold?August 28, 2021
Preseason Week 3 Takeaways: Should Panthers Worry About QB Sam Darnold?
Roster decisions are being made across the NFL, with the third week of preseason games serving as the backdrop.
Earlier Friday, the New Orleans Saints chose Jameis Winston as their starting quarterback, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. Two days before, the Denver Broncos announced Teddy Bridgewater had won their starting job.
Not everything is decided, though. A few roster spots remain available, as front offices whittle down the possibilities for their initial 53. With the final round of preseason cuts coming Tuesday, those who played Friday evening had one last chance to impress.
Eight teams—the Indianapolis Colts, Detroit Lions, Philadelphia Eagles, New York Jets, Pittsburgh Steelers, Carolina Panthers, Minnesota Vikings and Kansas City Chiefs—took the field for the last time until the games actually start to count Sept. 9.
Sam Darnold's Shaky Start Brings More Questions Than Answers
Excuses will be made.
"It's only the preseason."
"The entire offense isn't on the field."
"The majority of the first-string unit just started playing together."
Blah, blah, blah.
Sam Darnold didn't look good in his first extended exposure as the Carolina Panthers' starting quarterback, and concerns over whether the offense will actually improve with him under center arose during his performance against the Steelers' second-string defense.
He threw an incomplete pass under duress that could have easily been ruled a fumble in Carolina's own territory. Pressure got to him. He also threw a woeful pass behind wide receiver Robby Anderson, who ran a crossing pattern. It should have been a turnover. Fortunately, rookie defensive back Tre Norwood dropped the pass.
A late second-quarter surge courtesy of a muffed punt by the Steelers and solid final drive of the half allowed the Panthers to convert in Pittsburgh territory.
To be fair, Carolina took the field without running back Christian McCaffrey. Also, the offensive line was a mess at times. Offensive coordinator Joe Brady countered by getting the ball out of Darnold's hands quickly, including for an easy wide receiver screen that resulted in a touchdown.
However, the offense's inability to move the ball with consistency against a backup defense should be concerning. Darnold must show he can elevate the play of those around him. The first taste of the Panthers offense made it look like a unit that will struggle to move the ball during the regular season.
Philadelphia Eagles Appear to Showcase LT Andre Dillard for Potential Trade
The Eagles will likely contend that Andre Dillard started the final preseason game because the first-round draft pick missed a couple of weeks during training camp with a sprained knee.
However, Jordan Mailata all but secured the starting left tackle spot, and it made sense to showcase Dillard for offensive line-needy teams that might try to swing a trade.
Mailata's teammates see how the 24-year-old convert from rugby just oozes potential.
"He should be able to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, however he wants. I'll say that," right tackle Lane Johnson told reporters last week. "You see it. His hands land, and guys go flying."
The Eagles traded up to select Dillard with the 22nd overall pick in 2019. When the Washington State product entered the league, he was the most experienced and polished pass protector in his class. But injuries stunted his development.
A quick look shows multiple teams in desperate need of offensive line help. The Panthers, Cincinnati Bengals, Steelers, Colts and Chicago Bears should contact Philadelphia and inquire about the asking price.
Dillard is still 25 years old and has two years and a fifth-year option remaining on his deal. The third-year left tackle did have a false start Friday, but he played well enough in the 31-31 tie to get excited about his potential again.
Kendrick Green Makes Mark as Steelers' Starting Center
The Steelers have yet to officially name rookie Kendrick Green their starting center, but the competition has been over for some time.
With Pittsburgh's preseason now complete, Green looks like a third-round steal who's capable of continuing the organization's long tradition of standout pivots.
The Steelers' succession of snappers may be the most overlooked legacy in professional football. The team went from Ray Mansfield to Mike Webster to Dermontti Dawson to Jeff Hartings to Maurkice Pouncey.
Green will continue to bring a different level of athleticism and physicality to the Steelers' offensive interior.
Highlights of him burying defenders during the preseason can be found all over social media, which is the way he likes it.
"Trying to play hard and trying to finish guys," the rookie said. "That's what Coach preaches. That's the culture we're trying to build in the room."
Three potential starters played Friday. Left tackle Chukwuma Okorafor and left guard Kevin Dotson joined Green. Right guard Trai Turner got the night off, while right tackle Zach Banner, who's making his way back from a knee injury, will eventually join the unit and get more snaps.
Green is now the tone-setter, though. He may have his struggles, as any rookie will. But the fact that he's already built confidence in himself and his teammates shows the Steelers front five may not be as bad as originally thought.
Kwity Paye Gives Colts Everything Team Needs as Edge Defender
Kwity Paye made up for the fact that he didn't play in the Indianapolis Colts' preseason opener against the Carolina Panthers.
Over the last two games, this year's 21st overall pick registered two sacks, one tackle for loss and three quarterback hits.
He opened Friday's game with a bang by blowing by Detroit Lions backup left tackle Tyrell Crosby for a strip-sack on quarterback Tim Boyle.
Indianapolis lost quite a bit of sack production from last season. Justin Houston, who finished second on the team with eight sacks, signed with the Baltimore Ravens in free agency. Denico Autry managed 7.5, but he's now with the Tennessee Titans. The Colts don't have an edge defender on the roster who registered more than two sacks in 2020.
Paye gives the team a legitimate inside-out presence alongside defensive tackle DeForest Buckner. The rookie can capitalize on Bucker collapsing the pocket and vice versa.
Furthermore, Paye made the most of his opportunities by playing the run well.
"We got out of it what we wanted to get out of it," head coach Frank Reich told reporters. "Obviously, he looked really good out there."
Buckner is the spearhead to the Colts defense. Paye can make the entire unit better if he can consistently win one-on-one battles when opposing offenses concentrate on stopping the first-team All-Pro from working along the interior.
Vikings Offense, Rookie QB Kellen Mond Not Showing Much
Well, Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer didn't get what he wanted.
"I'd like to see touchdowns to be honest with you," Zimmer told reporters earlier this week about his goals for the third preseason contest against the Kansas City Chiefs. "I think we need to have some success. They're confident, but you know confidence comes when you play well and you show it. I really don't want to go into the first ballgame and we haven’t looked crisp or sharp."
Kirk Cousins led three drives that resulted in three points. Coordinator Klint Kubiak's offense hasn't clicked even with the team's starter under center. But that should be OK. Cousins is a proven signal-caller, and Minnesota didn't have all of its top skill-position performers on the field.
A bigger concern may be emerging about the team's backup situation. The Vikings invested a third-round pick in Kellen Mond.
Minnesota didn't bring in Mond to push Cousins. Yet the front office saw value in him with the 66th overall pick. He's a developmental prospect who could turn into QB1 down the road since Cousins only has one more year on his deal beyond this season.
But the rookie quarterback may not see the field for a long time based on his preseason play. The athletic signal-caller fumbled three times in two games and threw an interception Friday. Jake Browning hasn't been any better.
At this point, the Vikings should be searching for a viable backup option, especially considering Cousins' stance on COVID-19 vaccination.