Week 2 of the NFL preseason brought us Lamar Jackson doing extremely Lamar Jackson things, a 74-yard punt, and one miserable Cardinals’ performance in what promises to be a string of them.
Week 3, the closest we’re going to get to anything resembling regular-season football until September, saw stars like Tom Brady, Matt Ryan, and Ben Roethlisberger light up the skies for multiple drives. It was the backdrop for Andrew Luck’s stunning retirement at age 29. It gave us an honest-to-goodness 100-yard receiving day from JJ Arcega-Whiteside.
It also gave us one game on an 80-yard field where no one was quite sure what the rules were.
REMINDER: this is a touchdown because the NFL can't figure out how to effectively convert a CFL field to American football specifications pic.twitter.com/53t2cdwY60— Christian D'Andrea (@TrainIsland) August 23, 2019
So ... yeah. The league’s latest international expedition leaned harder toward last year’s canceled Mexico City game than any of the contests that graced the British Isles the past decade. It also painted a stout portrait of just how far separated from actual NFL football August still is.
But while Week 3 wasn’t the typical showcase it once was for starters, it still presented some major opportunities for eager young players to show out and older veterans to cement their place on the depth chart. So who wore the NFL’s preseason dress rehearsal the best?
Not considered: Patrick Chung, who turned a potential robbery at his own house into a felony charge for himself
The Patriots’ veteran safety was indicted last Thursday after police officers reportedly arrived at his home to investigate a tripped burglar alarm and found cocaine inside the residence. He now faces a felony charge for drug possession and pleaded not guilty Aug. 26 — 13 days before New England kicks off its regular season with a primetime game against the Steelers. His next hearing won’t take place until November, however.
While the charges will likely result in an NFL suspension of at least four games under the league’s personal conduct policy, the potential loss of a starting safety may not hurt the Patriots’ in their 2019 title defense. Chung is a valued veteran in the secondary, but he’s also begun to age his way out of the team’s future plans. At 32 years old, he’s already hit the annual restructuring/extending phase of his career. Retirement may have been on the horizon even without a drug charge. There’s a chance his legal situation isn’t sorted out until after the season, leaving Chung the opportunity to retire before the league can pass down any discipline for 2020.
If he does miss significant time, New England is ready. The Patriots managed to hold the Rams — 2018’s No. 2 scoring offense — to just three points in a Super Bowl that Chung missed 80 percent of thanks to a broken arm. The club has been prepping for 2019 without him due to that injury and can add some more assignments to Duron Harmon’s homework pile. Chung’s indictment also increases the odds Obi Melifonwu, a 2017 second-round pick once cast aside by Jon Gruden, sticks with the Patriots in an effort to turn his otherworldly athleticism into game-changing defense in the secondary.
Now, onto this week’s actual winners:
7. Matt Nichols, who is still the best quarterback to play in Winnipeg this year
Nichols’ CFL team, the Blue Bombers, played host to Thursday’s Packers-Raiders game — a game in which Aaron Rodgers was set to make his Green Bay debut under head coach Matt LaFleur’s offense. Instead, the two-time MVP was left roaming the sidelines thanks to concerns about Investors Group Field. CFL goalposts, located in the middle of a 20-yard end zone in a 110-yard field, are toward the back of what would have been a traditional NFL end zone. This left a gaping mouth hungry for snapped ACLs:
Officials responded by shortening the field to 80 yards, making the end zone the space between the 10-yard line and the original goal line. Kickoffs were nixed entirely. Touchbacks came out to what was actually the 15, but looked like the 25 if you stared at the field numbers.
The Packers decided to sit Rodgers (and the rest of their offensive starters) and started Tim Boyle in his place. The Raiders countered with Mike Glennon. This may have permanently damaged American-Canadian relations moving forward.
Nichols, meanwhile, has put up a 71.3 percent completion rate, 8.1 yards per pass, and a 15:5 TD:INT ratio in nine CFL games this summer. All hail the quarterback king of Winnipeg.
6. Trace McSorley, who is giving off Taysom Hill vibes right now
McSorley’s path to Penn State was carved by James Franklin, who was one of the few college coaches who saw the 6’0 dual-threat passer as an NCAA quarterback and not a safety. He outperformed expectations en route to 77 career touchdown passes and a Big Ten championship with the Nittany Lions. That track record enticed Baltimore to add him to a roster that already featured Lamar Jackson and Robert Griffin III in the QB room.
The preseason has been the runway for a Swiss Army knife of a player. On Thursday he showed he’s capable of making NFL-caliber throws, even if he can’t yet make them consistently.
In the first half of Week 3, McSorley completed 16 of 24 passes for 203 yards and two touchdowns while adding another trip to the end zone on the ground. His overall preseason performance is still lacking — he’s completed only 57 percent of his passes and has thrown two interceptions against a run of second- and third-string defenses — but there’s reason to believe he can stick around. McSorley runs a 4.5-second 40 and was one of the combine’s top performers at his position. That athleticism will give him the chance to make an impact across the Baltimore playbook.
Though he might not be in position to back up Jackson in 2019, the careers of similarly athletic-but-inaccurate college quarterbacks like Hill and Joe Webb suggest he can carve out a place in the league. Maybe he won’t be behind center each time he takes the field, but McSorley’s make-it-work talent should earn him a spot on an active roster this fall.
5. Trevor Davis, who excels on an 80-yard field
The trip to the great-ish white north was a boon for the Packers’ fourth-year wideout, who may have cemented a spot on the roster with a big performance against the Raiders. Davis, typically used as a returner in his pro career, had four catches on five targets for 66 yards in the first half alone Thursday night. He caught a beautiful corner end zone route for a touchdown, which hilariously wound up coming down on the 5-yard line due to the league’s inability to correctly plan for the Canada of it all:
ah yes, the classic corner end zone jump ball at the 5 yard line pic.twitter.com/D7vBCj9RqL— Christian D'Andrea (@TrainIsland) August 23, 2019
Davis also had a 17-yard punt return, showcasing the versatility that should make him a useful addition to LaFleur’s aerial attack in 2019. All six of his offensive touches for the night — five receptions, one carry — resulted in first downs.
4. Josh Allen. No, the other Josh Allen
Pass rusher Josh Allen. The one your football nerd friend derisively calls “the good Josh Allen.”
For the record, I’m not down with that nickname until we get a couple more looks at quarterback Josh Allen in Buffalo, but I understand the sentiment. Allen went from a two-star high school recruit to an absolute wrecking ball at the University of Kentucky. He represented a major bargain when he slid to the Jaguars at the seventh overall pick. On Thursday he showed he can be the next man up in Jacksonville’s dominant defense.
Allen effectively set up camp in the Dolphins’ backfield, disrupting seemingly every play he was on the field in a 22-7 loss. The rookie looks he can absolutely be a dominant force alongside Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue in the Jags’ pass rush. Though he doesn’t have a sack yet this preseason, he’s got three QB hits and three tackles for loss in roughly four quarters of play — and he’ll be even better when Jacksonville unleashes the full force of its defense in the regular season.
3. The Lions, who made their best defensive lineman happy ...
... while retaining him at a relative discount. Damon Harrison was one of the league’s top interior linemen last season, but he wasn’t paid like one. The former Giant — liberated for the low cost of a conditional fifth-round pick! — made 81 tackles, including career highs in both sacks (3.5) and tackles for loss (nine). Despite that, he was set to make only $7 million.
That led to an offseason holdout. While the burly pocket disruptor made it to training camp, working out an extension was high on general manager Bob Quinn’s priority list. On Thursday, the two sides came to an agreement on a one-year extension that brings $12 million in new guarantees for the man they call “Snacks.”
For Detroit, the extension represents about $5 million in extra cash over the next two years. While that’s a significant increase, it’s still an underpay for a player of Harrison’s caliber. By bumping his 2019 salary up, Harrison jumps from the league’s 16th-best paid DT to a tie for 13th. A scheduled $11 million salary in 2020 won’t even push him into the top 10 at his position.
That’s a major win for head coach Matt Patricia. His second year in Detroit is predicated on rebuilding the kind of defense that made him a rising star in New England. Signing players like Trey Flowers, Justin Coleman, and Mike Daniels can help him get there. Keeping a veteran leader and run-stuffer like Harrison at a reasonable price is a major piece of the puzzle, too.
2. Daniel Jones, who is still making Dave Gettleman look smart
Another week, another rock-solid performance from the maligned Giants rookie. Jones went 9 for 11 with an uber-efficient 141 yards as New York improved to 3-0 this preseason. He’s completed 83.3 percent of his passes this August and has upped his yards-per-attempt average to 12.3 — light years better than the 6.4 career average he carried at Duke. His 140.1 passer rating is the highest in the league this preseason.
That’s all very impressive, but Newsday’s Tom Rock summed up Jones’ unlikely preseason rise with a single image:
The media swarms the Giants’ star quarterback while another nearby player puts his shoes on. pic.twitter.com/BavFoglHFY— Tom Rock (@TomRock_Newsday) August 23, 2019
Yes, it’s still the preseason ... but the Giants might have been right about Jones this whole time. This could be a banner year for the Cold Takes Exposed Twitter account.
1. Former Patriots backup quarterbacks, who will get the chance to do the damn thing this season
Jimmy Garoppolo is back on the field after suffering a torn ACL last fall. Jacoby Brissett has once again been promoted from understudy to lead with Andrew Luck’s abrupt retirement. Suddenly the two players who made starts for New England during Tom Brady’s 2016 Deflategate suspension are primed for starring roles in the 2019 regular season.
For Brissett, this will be a chance to prove his first go-round as Luck’s replacement was not an accurate reflection of who he can be as a quarterback. In 2017, the second-year pro was thrown into the fire for an Indianapolis team that had few weapons. His first start came just 15 days after he was traded by the Patriots, and he took up residence in the pocket behind an offensive line that allowed him to be sacked a league-high 52 times.
The Colts are a significantly better team now, two years after Brissett went 4-11 as a starter. He’s got better blocking, a strong running game to help suck opposing safeties closer to the line of scrimmage, and an upgraded receiving corps that, for the first time in a long time, isn’t just “T.Y. Hilton and a bunch of fourth wideout types.” With unrestricted free agency looming, a big performance in ‘19 could lead to a massive raise in 2020.
Garoppolo already got paid, but he’s still got nearly as many questions to answer. He’s had the opportunity to realistically earn starts in three of his five seasons as a pro, but suffered injury in two of them. Now he’s back to lead a rebuilt 49ers team to glory — if he can stay healthy.
The Niners QB proved more seaworthy in his second preseason game than his first. His 2019 debut saw him post a pristine 0.0 passer rating while completing just 1 of 6 passes against the Broncos. That brought about varying stages of concern that were quickly swept aside by a 14-of-20, 188-yard, one-touchdown game against the Chiefs in Week 3. If his offensive line can keep him upright and healthy — and clear space for the league’s deepest and most versatile tailback rotation — he can build on the furious 2017 finish that earned him a $137.5 million contract.
Also, Danny Etling led the Falcons in rushing this week. Pretty good!
2019 will be the year the Patriots learn whether they got a good deal for trading away their Tom Brady insurance policies. Of course, that will all be a moot point if the six-time Super Bowl winner continues to play at an MVP level until the heat death of the universe.