The first week of the NFL preseason brought some surprise performances, some blowouts, and some close games; although some wins and losses were more important than others. Which teams should feel solid and who should be worried?
NFL football is finally back and it was on display throughout the entire weekend with all 32 teams hitting the field for the first time this preseason. Some teams had starters playing early in their games, while others never put in a first-stringer during their inaugural four quarters.
No matter how teams approached their preseason game, there were eyes on certain players in every squad. While some of them showed that they have “winner” written all over them, there are others who may have some work to do if they want to see the field much this season.
With all but two teams (Dallas and Pittsburgh) only having one preseason game under their belts, there is only a small amount of film and data to go off of. But, based on the way they played, here are the winners and losers of the first week of preseason matchups:
Justin Fields, QB – Chicago Bears
It was obvious from the beginning that Fields was going to be the highlight of the week for Chicago, and he did not disappoint. This is great news for Bears fans who have been fiending for a successful quarterback since Jim McMahon in 1985.
Fields had his fair share of hiccups, like his one fumble he was lucky to get back and a lofty pass which he was lucky wasn’t intercepted. However, he made up for it with poise and his ability to scramble out of a closing pocket, which he showed on his first TD as a Chicago Bear (below)
The former Buckeye is still technically sitting at QB2 behind 10-year veteran Andy Dalton, but with Fields’ speed–which topped out at 20.39 MPH–and his ability to find the open receiver, he could be starting sooner rather than later.
At the end of the game, Fields was under center for seven series, two ending in touchdowns and three stalling to a three-and-out. He finished the game with a 106.7 passer rating after going 14/20 for 142 yards and throwing a wide open touchdown to Jesse James to go along with his five rushes for 33 yards and another score.
Overall Grade: B+
Patrick Surtain II, CB – Denver Broncos
The Broncos’ secondary last year was nothing special. They finished the 2020 season allowing an average of 237.9 passing yards per game (15th best) and allowing almost a 66% completion percentage by opposing QBs (18th best).
In comes Denver’s first-round pick, CB Patrick Surtain II, who has been criticized heavily due to the fact that Justin Fields and Mac Jones were still available when they selected the son of 3x Pro-Bowl CB Patrick Surtain I with their 9th overall pick.
Surtain II quickly shut the critics up when he deflected two balls and picked another one off for a touchdown midway through the second quarter (below).
The Broncos’ defense allowed the 25th most points per game last season (29.7), and that same defense also scored the least amount of points (0), but it’s obvious Surtain II is looking to change those ways of the past.
PFF gave Surtain II a grade of 94.8 in his debut as a Bronco, and from the looks of it, he could be an instant contender for Defensive Rookie of the Year and make plenty of QBs angry throughout his first season.
Overall Grade: A-
Indianapolis’ backup QB battle
Indianapolis is all-in on new QB Carson Wentz after trading for him in the offseason, so when he went down with an foot injury that required surgery, it was apparent that the backup passers are going to be the main focus for the time being.
Luckily those two quarterbacks, Jacob Eason and Sam Ehlinger, put on a show in the Colts’ first preseason game against the Carolina Panthers.
Eason went 15-for-21 for 183 yards–and could have had more if his receivers were able to hang onto two easily catchable balls–which led the Colts to 10 points in two quarters.
Even though Eason did fumble the ball on his third series, he came back strong and delivered quite a few pretty throws (below) that should give Colts fans some confidence in their backup QB out of Washington.
Meanwhile, Sam Ehlinger started the second half with an interception on a short pass which stopped a somewhat-promising drive after forcing Carolina into a three-and-out.
Fortunately, Ehlinger bounced back and eventually led the game-winning drive after showing off his huge arm (below) that landed him success at the University of Texas.
When comparing the two backup quarterbacks it’s obvious that the Colts’ have reliable-looking replacements during Wentz’s rehab but both have their faults that they need to work on before week one of the regular season.
Tim Tebow, TE – Jacksonville Jaguars
After eight years removed from the sport, the famous Florida Gator returned to a new home at a new position. And even though it would appear to be the best money-making scheme that an NFL team has had in years, it never seemed like it would end happily for Tebow.
Tebow played abysmally in his first game as a TE and was manhandled at the line of scrimmage whenever he was asked to block. Not only that, Tebow’s attempts at blocking the Cleveland Browns’ second and third-string defense went viral which made the decision to cut him even more evident to new head coach Urban Meyer.
His one target as a tight end in the NFL was ultimately caught by Tavon Austin instead, and in his 16 snaps on offense he did not seem to make a single difference in the way the two teams played.
Overall Grade: F
The New Orleans Saints QB battle
The retirement of future Hall of Fame QB Drew Brees has led to a slew of questions regarding the future of the New Orleans Saints quarterback position.
Brees’ two backups from last year, Taysom Hill and Jameis Winston, are fighting for the opportunity to lead the Saints to their fifth-straight playoff appearance, but both look to have their own problems.
On Saturday’s matchup against Baltimore, the Saints showed that neither QB looked ready to bear the responsibility of being the week one starter. Both threw interceptions that added to New Orleans six total turnovers on offense, and both had passer ratings below 78.
Hill may have started on Saturday for three series–going 8-for-12 for 81 yards and the INT–but it was Winston who had the “better” showing even though he was 7-for-12 for 96 yards with his own INT.
The difference? Winston’s easy eight-yard TD pass to Lil’Jordan Humphrey which boosted Winston’s rating on paper.
At the end of the day, both QBs led the Saints down the field and into the red zone, both had easy passes dropped by receivers, both had an interception, and both had veteran running backs fumble the ball away.
It will be interesting to see how both these QBs react to such pitiful performances, but for the time being it’s hard to see the Saints succeeding like they have in the past with either Hill or Winston.
The Tennessee Titans’ offensive line
Titans’ QB Ryan Tannehill, who signed a 4-year/$118 million contract last season, arguably has the best wide receiver core in the NFL, but if he wants to reach the talented Julio Jones and A.J. Brown he’s going to have to trust his offensive line to get better.
Granted, the Titans did not play seven of their best linemen during their first preseason game, but that does not mean that they should not be worried.
Everybody saw what happened to the Chiefs in Super Bowl LV last season when they were without four of their best offensive linemen. In the world we live in, with an extra regular season game and much more physicality at the line, it’s more important than ever to have talented backups on the bench.
The difference between Tennessee and Kansas City, though, is that Patrick Mahomes was able to use his athleticism and legs to get away from the incoming pass rush (for the most part). Tannehill does not have this luxury.
If the Titans’ lose one of their starting linemen protecting Tannehill, there could be a serious risk to their Super Bowl chances even with talent like Derrick Henry at running back.
Even the Titans’ veteran backups like RT David Quessenberry, LG Ross Reynolds, and C Daniel Munyer were shaky to say the least. But the biggest disappointment was the Titans’ second-round pick from last season, RG Dillon Radunz, who consistently let defensive ends pass him and pressure the QB.
In the end, the Titans’ backup linemen allowed the Atlanta Falcons defense to sack the quarterback four times and hit the quarterback seven times. This is not a good sign for Tennessee if they want to make a deep run in the playoffs.
Overall Grade: D-