2016 NFL Training Camp: August 17, 2016
Dom Murtha checks in to give an update on the top storylines surrounding NFL training camp.
Falcons 23 Redskins 17
This game appeared to be the quintessential “shake off the rust” matchup, as each team really labored through the motions – a phrase many football coaches often scold their players with in regards to lackadaisical effort. It wasn’t until the Falcons backup quarterback Matt Schaub took over that the game really opened up, as he and deep threat Aldrick Robinson hooked up three times – twice of which went for tremendous gains.
Robinson – a player flying more under the radar than a stealth bomber – is battling for a spot on the starting depth chart. He has the support of fellow wideout Julio Jones who was quoted: “He (Robinson) can go get the ball where ever it's at… He's got great hands and can go get the ball." With Jones’ endorsement along with some really impressive catches/gains last week, Robinson not only appears to be a lock now to make the roster, but also has an outside chance at becoming one of the Falcons top-3 wideouts headed into the season.
As for the Redskins, while the entirety of the game appeared to be a net loss for them, one positive takeaway is that at least when starters were lined up on both sides, they managed to win the battle of field position. Outside of the first two possessions of the game however, Washington looked outmatched and utterly sloppy. Not a great sign for coach Gruden and his defending NFC East champs.
The Redskins were flagged 14 times for 123 yards and registered only a mere 234 total yards. That’s more than half of their total yards negated by penalties. Luckily it’s only the first week of the preseason, so coach Gruden has plenty of time to get his team whipped back into shape and under some legitimate discipline.
Eagles 17 Buccaneers 9
Another case of two teams looking to work out the kinks; Philly vs. Tampa ended up being one of the sloppiest games of the week.
It began with the Bucs fumbling the opening kickoff – which led to a Philadelphia score – and then only four minutes later getting strip-sacked, leading to another Eagles touchdown. The misery didn’t end there for Tampa, as they netted for the night only 31 total rushing yards on 21 carries, while their backup quarterbacks combined for zero touchdowns and three interceptions. In all, five turnovers, a missed PAT, and only nine points in 60 minutes for Tampa.
As for Philly, while they weren’t nearly as tragic as the Bucs on Thursday night, they still allowed Chase Daniel to be sacked four times in only a quarter and a half of action and managed only 3.6 yards per carry between their running backs. Ultimately this is nothing that the Eagles will not be able to bounce back from, but with a potential 10-game suspension looming over the head of their top offensive lineman – Lane Johnson – you wouldn’t be out of line to have concerns for Philly up front entering the season. Certainly something to follow going forward here.
Even the positive takeaway for the Eagles in this game – the flashed potential of rookie Carson Wentz – has to be shrouded in disappointment, as he suffered a hairline fracture in his ribs that may keep him out for the rest of the preseason. It appears to be back to the drawing board for first year head coach Doug Pederson.
Patriots 34 Saints 22
It was business as usual for the Patriots, as they didn’t turn the ball over, kept the penalties to a minimum, protected their quarterbacks, and most importantly came away with the win. Tyler Gaffney was the breakout player offensively, while Jimmy Garoppolo did a nice job showcasing his skills and previewing to the fantasy world what they might be able to expect during Tom Brady’s four-game suspension. On defense, Tre Flowers led the team in tackles (6) and sacks (1), while Jaime Collins recorded a 43-yard pick-six off of Luke McCown. Probably the most impressive play of the day was that of Cre’von LeBlanc, who picked off Garrett Grayson in the end zone with one arm while his back was more or less directed towards the play.
While losers of the contest, the Saints didn’t do anything particularly bad on Thursday night, as both Luke McCown and Garret Grayson showed relatively well in relief of Drew Brees – who only threw and completed one pass on the night. Rookie receiver Michael Thomas was definitely the bright spot for New Orleans on the night, as he was targeted six times, hauled in four balls, and registered 67 yards receiving. Of his four catches, two of them were acrobatic catches; as well two of them were completed after defensive pass interference.
As for another Saints rookie, the same positivity cannot be shared, as first round pick DT Sheldon Rankins has been diagnosed with a fractured fibula (timetable: 6-8 weeks). For further insight on this injury, check out Fantasy Alarm’s “Fantasy Doctor” Dr. Selene Parekh.
Ravens 22 Panthers 19
A game that was temporarily put on pause so that both teams and the spectators could watch the Michael Phelps Olympic race should tell you everything you need to know about how each side valued the importance of preseason Week 1. After all of the Phelps festivities were out of the way, the game was once again underway.
Both sides looked relatively solid, while the Panthers maybe were a bit undisciplined with their nine penalties – but that is to be expected in the first preseason game.
A statistical standout? That would have to be Baltimore’s Terrance West, as he surprisingly got into the end zone twice despite averaging only 2.8 yards per carry. This shouldn’t mean much for his workload during the regular season, however it should be noted that he was given a team leading (tied) nine carries despite being considered at best fourth on the depth chart. He is certainly fighting a battle to make the cut, however there aren’t many scenarios in which he can win.
Jets 17 Jaguars 13
Let the fight between Geno Smith and Bryce Petty begin. Now that Ryan Fitzpatrick is back as the Jets starting quarterback, there are four quarterbacks on a roster that only has room for three. Some teams even go with only two quarterbacks, but the Jets appear to be built to carry three. With Fitz firmly seated as the starter, and rookie Christian Hackenberg being treated as the red shirted heir apparent considering his second round draft status, that leaves only one quarterback roster spot for two Jets quarterbacks in Geno and Petty. With their play largely in a dead heat on the field on Thursday night, one would have to believe that Geno still has a sizeable lead in this battle.
First of all, he was going to be the unquestioned starter entering the season had Fitzpatrick not caved in and inked a deal last month. That alone should be enough in this discussion, but to take it a step further, if the Jets believed so much in Bryce Petty, then why didn’t they just cut Geno the second Fitzpatrick resigned? To take it even further, if the Jets believed so much in Petty, then why did they use a second round pick on a quarterback only one year after they drafted him? I see this battle ending with Petty supporters getting their hearts broken considering he has yet to take a regular season NFL snap.
As for the game itself, the Jets looked good operationally considering they were only penalized twice and didn’t turn the ball over. Their 415 yards allowed call for some defensive improvement, however the Jags are an imposing offense.
Speaking of Jacksonville, their 415 yards of total offense are great to see in Week 1 of the preseason, however their 12 penalties are something that needs to be cleaned up. My biggest takeaway from them is that Allen Robinson appeared to be in midseason form, making spectacular catches that are rarely seen in the preseason. Fantasy owners should fell optimistic owning him in 2016.
Broncos 22 Bears 0
The real storyline here is in the Broncos quarterback battle, and it is honestly tough to say today if any headway was gained on Thursday night. This is because by all accounts all three quarterbacks performed very well against the Bears in a convincing shutout. Sanchez connected with Demariyus Thomas on a long and wide-open touchdown, while Trevor Siemian completed 7-for-12 for 88 yards in the second quarter. The one QB who might have gained the most honestly is rookie Paxton Lynch, as his performance was good enough to legitimately insert his name into the quarterback battle according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. With Lynch clearly being the most talented of the three and showing enough competence in his first game, Schefter believes now that it won’t be long before he takes the job out in Denver. For now though, consider Sanchez the leader in the clubhouse with Siemian and now suddenly Lynch breathing down his neck.
Another positive takeaway for Denver is the emergence of Cody Latimer, who hauled in seven passes for 82 yards on Thursday night. Most importantly here is that Latimer played with all three quarterbacks and emerged as the most trusted option of each. Hopefully 2016 is finally the year that he breaks out like many have been predicting over the last few seasons.
As for the Bears… They stunk. With zero points to speak of, I have zero words to give them.
Lions 30 Steelers 17
Now this was a game of big plays.
Lions rookie running back Dwayne Washington brought a kick back 96 yards to the house, Steelers backup quarterback Landry Jones and wideout Darrius Heyward-Bey hooked up for a spectacular 29-yard touchdown in the back of the end zone, Lions Andre Roberts hauled in a 28-yard touchdown pass from Dan Orlovsky, Steelers Doran Grant picked off Orlovsky for a 39-yard TD return, while the Lions Jace Billingsley finished off the scoring with a 27-yard touchdown grab from rookie quarterback Jake Rudock.
Both the offense and defenses allowed big plays, which is something that both teams need to work on. All will likely be back to normal once the starters begin getting more burn (likely more towards Game 3 of the preseason).
Dolphins 27 Giants 10
This was a tale of two halves, as the Giants first team defense proved to be a well-oiled machine capable of shutting an opponent out. They played so well, that it wasn’t until the middle of the second quarter that the Dolphins even recorded a first down. The Giants also ran the ball effectively in the first half, putting their two biggest concerns from last season at ease – for at least another week.
The disappointment for New York can be classified in their quarterback play – most specifically that of Ryan Nassib. He was horrific, throwing two interceptions and fumbling three times in a full first half of action. It is hoped that Nassib understands the gravity of this preseason, because while he likely won’t play during the regular season because of Eli Manning’s head scratching indestructability, the Giants need to figure out if they want to extend his contract after this season to remain their backup/quarterback in waiting. Starts like this will not help his chances going forward.
As for the Dolphins, if the Giants first teamers were as successful as I described, it only makes sense that the Dolphins first teamers were contrarily disappointing. As least their second teamers showed resiliency, as they came back from a 10-point deficit deep into the second quarter and rattled off 27 consecutive points to come away with the victory. Other than that, there were no really big standout performers in terms of fantasy implications.
Vikings 17 Bengals 16
In a week of games that were filled with countless penalties, turnovers, and utter sloppiness, the Vikings and Bengals showed us why they were both playoff teams last season. Neither was heavily penalized, neither turned the ball over much, but most importantly both teams got excellent quarterback play.
For the Vikings, starter Teddy Bridgewater – in limited action – completed 6-of-7 of his pass attempts for 92 yards and a long bomb of a touchdown. He showed poise and command, while he most expertly displayed improvement in his ability to step up in the pocket. For the Bengals it wasn’t so much starter Andy Dalton who showed up big, but rather backup A.J. McCarron who balled out. McCarron finished 11-of-16 for 125 yards and a touchdown, while he completed several passes that literally couldn’t be thrown any better. Backing up a quarterback who dealt with injuries last season, it is good to see improvement out of McCarron.
Packers 17 Browns 11
Back to Week 1 preseason garbage, as the Packers and the Browns couldn’t have showcased a much worse display of football. This game offered a combined 17 penalties, only 28 points, three turnovers, and an eye-popping three safeties.
With many negatives to discuss – including RGIII’s lukewarm debut – there at least was the performance of Packers kicker Mason Crosby, who drilled two 54-yarders with ease.
On to the next one.
Raiders 31 Cardinals 10
With many of these games this week offering no breakout players to keep an eye on, the Raiders George Atkinson III did all he could to change that narrative, as he took two of his five carries to the house after a total of 97 rushing yards. In both home run scampers, Atkinson displayed excellent vision, fluid hips, impressive power, and adequate breakaway speed. It is safe to say that with his play, Atkinson inserted himself into the running back rotation conversation, however still firmly behind starter Latavius Murray and rookie DeAndre Washington, who also had himself a nice game on Friday night.
As for the Cardinals no one really stood out except for Andre Ellington. He ran the ball very effectively (three carries for 41 yards) including a touchdown, while he also returned two kicks for an average of 19 yards. If he is going to get back in the mix for the Cardinals offense, he needs to prove his worth as a gadget player as well as a traditional running back. This was a step in the right direction for him.
Rams 28 Cowboys 24
A few storylines to discuss here: first of all, despite coming away with a win, what an awful way to bring football back to LA, as the Cowboys returned the opening kick for a touchdown to suck the energy right out of the building. Secondly, enough can’t be said about the impressive play of both team’s young signal callers.
The big storyline to discuss is the emergence of Dak Prescott because of the higher profile that the Cowboys command and because of how well noted Tony Romo’s injury history has been over the years. Prescott in all honesty couldn’t have looked much better in his first career NFL action and start. He completed 10-of-12 passes – the two incompletions being drops – while he threw for 139 yards and two beautiful touchdown passes.
Not to keep going on about Dallas, but a couple of more things here… It’s important for fantasy owners to know that Dez Bryant is back and looks to be just as good as he was prior to his injuries of last season. He made two vintage Dez catches on the sideline with a defender draped all over him, one of which went for a spectacular touchdown.
Final thought about Dallas, their first team defense looked as bad as advertised, as they struggled against one of the expected worst offenses in the NFL this season. This is something that they need to figure out, but without much talent in the front seven, they may continue to find this an issue.
Finally, on to LA… I mentioned that both teams had young quarterbacks show up well for them, and while those who didn’t watch assume that I meant first overall pick Jared Goff for the Rams, you will be surprised. I in fact meant second year quarterback Sean Mannion, who – while largely against the Cowboys second and third string – completed 18-of-25 passes for 147 yards and three touchdowns – including the game winner in the final two minutes. As for Goff, he really struggled in his first NFL action. He only totaled 38 yards and an interception, and after getting pulverized by a blind blitzer in the second quarter, his debut was ended prematurely.
The Rams running game looked good even without workhorse Todd Gurley, as they totaled 139 yards and a touchdown – good enough for 5.8 yards per carry. As I mentioned earlier however, this may be simply due to the Cowboys lack of talent on their defensive front seven. Of the Rams backs that impressed the most, Benny Cunningham looked solid against the Cowboys ones, while the production that the rookie Malcolm Brown racked up in the second half was certainly good enough to throw his name in the mix for spell duties going forward.
Seahawks 17 Chiefs 16
This game was more of a feel out process until the end, when rookie quarterback Trevone Boykin led the comeback and heaved a Hail Mary touchdown pass for the victory as time expired. In all he finished with 188 yards and that touchdown on 16-of-26 completions. Certainly a debut for him to remember.
In the backfield for Seattle, some interesting developments have emerged. Based off of the stats and indications from Saturday night, it would appear that Christine Michael is in fact the Seahawks immediate backup to Thomas Rawls, despite expectations that C.J. Prosise would serve as Rawls’ best handcuff option. What is further concerning for Prosise owners is that fellow rookie Alex Collins appears to be ahead of him on the depth chart as well, because of the lost reps that Prosise is experiencing due to his hamstring injury. It may be premature, but owners should begin considering adjusting their draft plans accordingly.
Nothing much really to report out of the Chiefs, other than Marcus Peters continues to impress coaches and strike fear into quarterbacks. He again picked off a pass, proving to be one of the best ball hawking corners in the league today, despite only entering his second year in the league.
Colts 19 Bills 18
Not much really to discuss here, as both teams protected their veterans and didn’t exactly put the pedal to the floor. If I were to pick a particular storyline to detail from the game, I suppose rookie quarterback Cardale Jones’ game is something to highlight, as he threw for 162 yards and a touchdown, while he added an additional 34 on the ground. Here’s his body of work in his NFL debut.
Titans 27 Chargers 10
We’ve been hearing a lot of talk this offseason on how the Titans were going to change their offensive identity to smash-mouth football, as they not only traded for DeMarco Murray, but also drafted Heisman winning running back Derrick Henry in the second round. To solidify this thought process, on Tuesday, the Titans traded arguably their most talented receiver in Dorial Green-Beckham for extra offensive line depth.
Having said all of this, in Week 1 of the preseason they really put their money where their mouth is, as they compiled 288 rushing yards and cut through the Chargers front seven like warm butter. It’s tough to tell really where to start, as they won nearly every battle up front and each running back that they sent out there ran hog wild on the Chargers defense. DeMarco Murray averaged an astounding 15.5 yards per carry and scored a touchdown, rookie Derrick Henry averaged 7.4 and scored, Bishop Sankey a whopping 17.3 with a touchdown, while even Antonio Andrews averaged 5.1. If this is any indication of the Titans plan this season, there is a chance that both Murray and Henry become viable fantasy options, similarly to DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart with the Panthers in 2008 and 2009.
As for the Chargers, not much redeeming can be said. They got their doors blown off from start to finish and they didn’t move the ball much outside of a long completion and touchdown to Melvin Gordon. They’ve got some work to do going forward.
Texans 24 49ers 13
Right off the bat, with pressure on the Texans two big free agent acquisitions, they received largely positive reviews. Sure Osweiler could have been better, but with only three series of action, he didn’t have much of a chance to produce. On the day he finished 4-of-7 for 27 yards. In relief of Osweiler, Tom Savage impressed, giving some thoughts on whether or not he should be considered the backup instead of Brandon Weeden. Lamar Miller was received much more warmly than the newly acquired quarterback, as he ran four times for 30 yards; good enough for a 7.5 yards per carry average.
The star for San Francisco on Sunday was second year running back Mike Davis, who looked slimmed down and subsequently featured extra burst out of the backfield. He finished the day with 72 rushing yards on five carries, good enough for 14.4 yards pre carry.
Another small tidbit to mention here is that rookie quarterback Jeff Driskel proved that his fastest at his position 40-time at the combine was no fluke, as he racked up 61 yards on five scramble attempts.
Expect more of the same next Wednesday, as I will be wrapping up the matchups from Week 2 of the NFL preseason.