Different teams handle the 3-game preseason differently. Some, like the Chiefs, want their starters to have some reps before the games count. Others, such as the Rams, don’t play starters no matter what. These specific examples are actually our last 2 Super Bowl winners, so either method can clearly work. My job here is to provide you with information about those who did participate, especially the rookies. So let’s get to it! Here are my 2023 preseason week 2 takeaways.
Ravens’ 24-Game Preseason Winning Streak Snapped by Commanders
I didn’t expect to be writing this. Baltimore winning in the preseason has become a fact of life given that they haven’t lost since 2015. It’s not like they even play starters to keep the streak going. They started Josh Johnson at QB! When the Ravens marched right down the field to take a 7-0 lead, it looked like another easy night. However, the Commanders have a knack for knocking off unbeaten teams. Last year when Philly hosted Washington at 8-0, they were promptly taken down. Little did we know that a repeat was going to occur on Sunday night.
WAS QB Sam Howell played great. He went 19/25 for 188 yards and 2 TDs, easily outplaying Jacoby Brissett. The Commanders actually took a 14-7 halftime lead, but Baltimore opened the 3rd quarter with a TD march. Down 28-20 following a Chris Rodriguez fumble, a Ravens TD, and a Brissett INT, it was up to former Bulldog Jake Fromm to steal the victory. Fromm led a TD drive but came up short on the two-point conversion, cutting the deficit to 2. After the defense forced a punt, Fromm (10/16, 91 yards, TD) led a drive to the 31. K Joey Slye made a 49-yard FG, and an INT on Baltimore’s next play sealed a 29-28 upset. Anything can happen in the preseason, and this week saved the best for last!
Giants and Steelers Showing Early Promise on Offense
Two teams that played their starters, at least for a series, were very impressive offensively. First, we had the Giants. Coach Brian Daboll seemed determined to play with his new toys. New TE Darren Waller was targeted early and often, catching 3 passes for 30 yards on his one drive. Third-round rookie WR Jalin Hyatt also impressed despite 1 drop. He caught 4 passes for 35 yards, showcasing his elite speed on a 33-yard TD grab. Those new weapons enabled QB Daniel Jones to go 8/9 for 69 yards and a TD on his 1 series. This offense is in midseason form even without RB Saquon Barkley playing.
For the second week in a row, the first-team offense of the Steelers looked exceptional. Second-year QB Kenny Pickett has only played 1 drive each week because his two drives to date have been so flawless. This week, he went 3/4 for 43 yards and a TD, ending his drive with a TD pass for the second game in a row. Despite mixed play from 1st-round OT Broderick Jones, the Steelers’ line looks much improved, which is great news for both Pickett and RB Najee Harris. With a dangerous defense led by TJ Watt, some offensive balance will make Pittsburgh a tough out each and every week.
Since 2021, when the owners approved a rule eliminating overtime in the preseason, we have had just one preseason game that ended in a tie (the Eagles and Jets tied that first year). The reasoning is simple: team often go for the win in the preseason, going for 2 to take a lead instead of kicking a PAT to tie the score. Players and coaches don’t like ties, and during the preseason, teams aren’t lambasted for eschewing the safe approach and taking a big risk. The games don’t count and are merely for practice after all. This week, we added 2 games at once to our tied preseason game tally.
On Thursday, the Browns and Eagles tied at 18. Down 18-10, PHI QB Tanner McKee led the team for a TD and a 2-point conversion to tie the game. Cleveland responded and had a chance to win, but Cade York missed two straight FGs (one miss was nullified by penalty). Neither team could do anything else, and the score remained tied. Then, on Friday, Cincinnati and Atlanta participated in a slugfest that was just 10-6 ATL through 3 quarters. With 3 minutes left, the Bengals came alive and took a 13-10 lead, but the defense allowed Atlanta to kick a field goal with 2 seconds left. The game ended 13-13.
These scores are quirky in that neither trailing team possessing the ball was down 7, where the 2-point conversion decision would have applied. I don’t think these ties are any more or less likely to occur in any given year. They’re just neat footnotes that provide intrigue during a sometimes monotonous preseason slate. No other games ended in a tie this weekend, and we got some exciting matchups, so the ties may be forgotten by Sunday. Regardless, they’re fun to think about!
DC Vic Fangio Making a Big Difference for Dolphins
Much of the talk surrounding the Dolphins has addressed their speed on offense. This is natural when you possess talents like WRs Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle and RBs Raheem Mostert and Devon Achane. Others have focused on the addition of CB Jalen Ramsey. The biggest change, and the one likely to have the greatest impact, is the hiring of Vic Fangio. Despite the explosiveness of the Miami offense when Tua Tagovailoa was on the field, the defense held the team back. Turnovers made their stats look decent, but this was a middling or worse defense for much of the season.
Fangio is known for getting the best out of the players he is given on that side of the ball, and he’s already doing it. With the caveat that Miami has played Atlanta and Houston, the Dolphin D has allowed just 9 points of offense through 2 games. With swarming rushers, sticky coverage, and creative schemes, this defense has suffocated opponents during the preseason. I don’t want to make too much of preseason performance, but there are things we already know. First, Fangio will make Bradley Chubb better because he did so in Denver. Additionally, expect the secondary to be much improved based on previous Fangio teams. Miami’s new DC is the biggest reason this team is a legitimate contender in 2023.
Jimmy Garoppolo and Brock Purdy Look Sharp in 2023 Debuts
A former Niner QB and a current Niner QB both played well in their first preseason appearances. Jimmy Garoppolo, now a Raider, played one series and completed all 4 of his pass attempts for 39 yards. In just 9 plays, Garoppolo guided his squad to the end zone. Three of the passes were short, but one was a midrange heave to new WR Jakobi Meyers, connecting for 18 yards. Crucially, Jimmy G avoided the killer mistakes that occasionally plagued him in SF. The Raiders have been great in the preseason, but their talent level is not very strong in their division. Still, this type of play from Garoppolo can keep the team competitive.
Garoppolo’s replacement, SF’s Brock Purdy, took his first snaps since tearing his UCL in the NFC Championship Game last season. Fans were curious whether he could duplicate his shocking run as a rookie Mr. Irrelevant. So far, he’s doing just fine. He too only played one series, but it was very efficient. Purdy completed 4 of 5 passes for 65 yards and ran once for 8 yards. Most importantly, he seemed comfortable and trusted his newly healed elbow on the drive, which led to a field goal. Coach Kyle Shanahan is treating Purdy as a true QB1, and I doubt he’s regretting it at this moment.
We start as usual with the QBs, but there isn’t much to report on that front. Carolina’s Bryce Young continued to be impossible to evaluate due to being under constant pressure. The offensive line is going to get the poor guy killed. Houston’s CJ Stroud looked better than last week, but that was a really low bar, and he scored just 3 points. One rookie we didn’t get to see was the Colts’ Anthony Richardson. He was unfortunately named the starting QB for the regular season earlier in the week. Richardson needed to learn and work on his mechanics, but now he won’t get that chance. We also didn’t see Tennessee’s Will Levis, who missed his team’s game with an injury.
Our highest-profile debut this week was Falcons RB Bijan Robinson, and he didn’t disappoint. Though he had just 4 carries and 1 reception, Robinson demonstrated his abnormal burst, a rare combination of speed and power the league hasn’t seen in years. Another strong RB was Jacksonville’s Tank Bigsby. With 13 carries for 70 yards, Bigsby showed that he could spell Travis Etienne, which is great news for the Jags. At WR, we got a nice performance from Seahawks 1st-round pick Jaxon Smith-Njigba. He caught 3 passes early in the game for 58 yards, showing his great route running. Nobody was anywhere near him on his catches, and there were no busted coverages. JSN just used ridiculous moves to create separation, showing that he’s finally healthy.
Two other receivers showed out. Rashee Rice, the Chiefs second-round pick who some viewed as a reach (even me), apparently used his doubters as fuel. Rice caught 8 passes for 96 yards, leading the Chiefs in both categories. He looked explosive and uncoverable, even against Arizona’s starters. I know the Cardinals are the worst team in the league, but it was still an impressive showing. SF’s Ronnie Bell, a 7th-round pick who fell in the draft because of injury issues, is looking like a steal. Bell feasted against Denver, earning 7 catches for a league-leading 114 yards. If he continues to look this good, the 49ers won’t be able to cut him. He’ll even receive meaningful snaps.
On defense, 7th-round S DeMarcco Hellams stole the show Thursday night for Atlanta. He made 5 tackles, broke up 2 passes, and earned his 2nd INT of the preseason. His teammates named him player of the game, and he’s on his way to earning a roster spot. In the other tie, Browns UDFA LB Mohamoud Diabate blew up the Eagles. His 8 tackles included 1 for loss, which happened to be in the end zone for a safety. Making eye-popping plays gets you noticed, and Diabate delivered. Finally, Chargers LB Daiyan Henley was all over the field. His stats included 9 tackles, a half sack, and a QB hit. The Bolts saw Henley’s three-down starting potential when they drafted him in round 3.