The NFL preseason might not be the real product, but it’s still our first taste of football in six months. And it’s the first glimpse we’ve seen of most teams in seven months. So it’s easy to see why fans overreact to any little development.
For every highlight, we start googling “Super Bowl tickets.” For every lowlight, we wonder if this is the year to start a competitive ax-throwing league that meets every Sunday so we’re not tempted to watch the eye-bleeding pain our team brings us each week.
We understand where those visceral reactions come from in the preseason. Sometimes they’re warranted, but usually, everyone just needs to chill a bit and try to enjoy the last vestige of summer.
With that, let us present you with the 2018 preseason edition of our panic index so you can gauge what, if anything, is worth worrying out about right now.
Saquon Barkley is already hurt?!?
The New York Giants gave their fans a splash of hysteria when rookie running back Saquon Barkley tweaked his leg after making a terrific catch in practice Monday.
Barkley was the No. 2 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft — the highest any running back has been selected in 12 years — and shot the already lofty expectations heaped upon him sky high when he ran 39 yards on his very first touch of preseason.
So it’s understandable why Giants fans would freak out about the thought of losing Barkley to a leg injury before he ever took a meaningful snap. Fortunately for New York, the leg wrap came off shortly thereafter and the team called the injury a “mild” hamstring strain. He sat out practice on Tuesday, but Pat Shurmur said Barkley was “day to day.”
Preseason is ripe for overreactions and there are a few players who can elicit the most extreme reactions, good and bad. Barkley is that player for the Giants right now.
Panic index: Deep breaths, Giants fans: Barkley’s just fine. It’s a long season ahead, so now’s the time to be ultra-conservative and take extra care of every bump and bruise.
Tom Brady is getting too old for this shit
Every year, it seems like the Patriots’ receiving corps goes through a little bit of a redesign and it never really matters because 1) Tom Brady is still the quarterback, 2) Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman are still around, and 3) even if one or both of those guys is injured, someone else will step up because, well, see reason No. 1.
This year could be different, though. The Patriots still have Brady, Gronk, and Edelman, but they also lost two of their top three receivers from last year (Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola), and Edelman will serve a four-game suspension to start the season. Their recent signing of veteran Eric Decker reeked of desperation more than anything, and they have to rely on a few other players of varying health, age, and uncertainty (Phillip Dorsett, Cordarrelle Patterson, Kenny Britt).
After a particularly rough day of practice that included 10 drops and a whole lot of miscommunication, Brady seemed like he was feeling that 41-year-old dad level of frustration:
Tom Brady and his receivers are having a tough practice. After one incomplete pass, Brady asked for the ball back and punted it into the crowd.— Mark Daniels (@MarkDanielsPJ) August 13, 2018
Maybe Brady’s case of the dropsies is contagious. Maybe there are still kinks to work out with the new guys. Or maybe this will catch up to them in the regular season and that will take its toll on their middle-aged quarterback.
Panic index: The Patriots’ receivers might take a step back this year, but to believe the New England offense is in any real danger of regression, we’d have to see it on a consistent basis.
At least as of right now, that doesn’t appear to be happening:
Tom Brady finished this training camp 152 of 215 (70.7 percent) with 3 interceptions.— Jeff Howe (@jeffphowe) August 14, 2018
2017: 189 of 270 (70 percent), 2 INT
2016: 191 of 274 (69.7 percent), 4 INT
Even at 41, Brady is still Brady and he’s still going to play until well after everyone and everything you’ve ever known is dead.
Josh Allen is a malfunctioning football robot
There were plenty of reasons not to draft Josh Allen early in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. He played his college ball at Wyoming, where topped out at 0-3 against Power 5 Conference competition with a 1:8 touchdown ratio. He wasn’t especially accurate against lesser-regarded foes, either; he completed just 56.2 percent of his passes as a college quarterback and lost games against Eastern Michigan and UNLV during his two-year tenure as a starter.
But he’s big, got a rocket arm, and looks like a Starting Lineup action figure, so the Bills rolled the dice on him anyway. They couldn’t have been thrilled when the play everyone was talking about from his preseason debut looked like this:
Lmaooo. This is the FULL JOSH ALLEN EXPERIENCE pic.twitter.com/lLFuonQUMI— Billy Marshall (@BillyM_91) August 10, 2018
Allen tried to pull off some video game nonsense in Game 1, running 18 yards in the wrong direction to avoid defenders, then launching what had become a fourth-and-21 prayer in the vague direction of his team. It was, hopefully, a learning moment for a young passer. For one amazing play, Allen took first real test at the NFL level — and watched as a lineup of Panthers backups made him look foolish.
Panic index: All right, so that ... wasn’t great. And Allen finished his pro debut with just nine completions in 19 attempts, while Nathan Peterman and AJ McCarron were much more efficient. But Allen made a few other plays that showed off his potential — and hey, at least he looks the part of an NFL starting quarterback.
The Chargers have a poor run defense ... again
Last season, the Chargers had one of the worst run defenses in the league. They finished dead last in yards per carry, 31st in rushing yards per game, and 25th in rush defense DVOA.
While the raw stats from their preseason opener against the Cardinals look good (21 carries, 56 yards, 1 touchdown), the first-team defense got pushed around by a Cardinals offensive line that struggled mightily last year.
Welcome back, David Johnson. First two snaps of the season. pic.twitter.com/KcQ6GTMmCl— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) August 13, 2018
David Johnson is one of the elite backs in the game, but allowing 14 yards on back-to-back carries isn’t a great omen for things to come during the season. Brandon Mebane has struggled since tearing his biceps towards the end of the 2016 season, making the Chargers soft up the middle.
Luckily, the Chargers do have an elite pass rush and a strong secondary to make up for their run defense, but in a one-game sample, run defense can still cost a game — and that’s scary for a team that juuuuuust missed the playoffs last season.
Panic index: The Chargers are probably going to have a poor run defense again, but that shouldn’t stop them from having a strong defense again. Pass defense reigns supreme in the NFL, and the Chargers undoubtedly have a good one.
The Browns still can’t get out of their own way
You didn’t have to be an especially savvy football fan to understand why the Browns failed to win much over the years. When you spend first-round picks on Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden in the same year, that tends to happen!
Talent isn’t really an issue for the Browns this year. They have talented receivers, good running backs, an exciting second-year tight end and, most shockingly of all, a pair of above-average quarterbacks.
Cleveland may not jump to 12-4 or anything, but the Browns should at least be good enough to get back to something close to .500, in theory.
Here’s where we dump cold water on your optimism. The Browns had no business going 0-16 last season. They were 0-7 in one-score games, including two overtime losses. For any other team, that all points to a bounce back — nobody’s luck is that bad in that many close games. Except the Browns, who happen to be the most poorly coached team in the league.
The only difference this year is that head coach Hue Jackson swapped out himself as offensive coordinator for Todd Haley. So far, there’s no reason to have any faith in Jackson and his staff. Already, Haley and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams (himself vastly overrated) are fighting with each other over practice incidents. It’s Jackson’s job to untangle those two egos, but he’s sparring with Haley himself ... and not over Jackson’s decision to punish a player by putting him at increased risk for injury in a preseason game.
Panic index: All the talent in the world won’t save you from terrible coaching. Verbal sparring among the coaches doesn’t have to derail a team, but given the track record of these three, it’s not something that inspires much confidence. If there’s a silver lining here, it’s that the Browns surely won’t give Jackson a third season after his 1-31 start ... surely.
The hatin’ ass Jaguars are imploding
The Jacksonville defense is arguably the best in the NFL, and it’s filled to the brim with confidence and swagger. That hatin’ ass attitude meant nightmares for offenses last year, but the danger is that it can also lead to drama too. Without opposing offenses to take out their frustrations on, the defense has gone after journalists and each other so far in August.
On Sunday, the Jaguars announced suspensions for cornerback Jalen Ramsey and defensive end Dante Fowler Jr.
Fowler’s punishment came after he was involved in multiple fights at practice Sunday, including one after the session ended with fellow defensive end Yannick Ngakoue:
After 11 consecutive padded practices, tempers flared during a #Jaguars team period Sunday and continued afterward when Dante Fowler and Yannick Ngakoue repeatedly had to be separated by teammates. https://t.co/8DtCN9kLBV pic.twitter.com/D9V6GhDC8h— Phillip Heilman (@phillip_heilman) August 12, 2018
At the end of the video tweeted by the Florida Times-Union’s Phillip Heilman, Ramsey can be heard telling the reporters to “stop recording that shit.” Later, he went to Twitter:
Both Fowler and Ramsey will miss the Jaguars’ second preseason game and return to practice Monday, so it doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme. But the question is whether or not it’s a crack in the Jaguars’ resolve that could turn into a full-blown chasm.
Panic index: Training camp fights are nothing new. Every team has them and there’s not much reason to think the Jaguars won’t be a defensive Goliath again. Fowler may have overstayed his welcome, but Duval’s going to be just fine.