2021 NFL preseason, Week 3: What we learned from Friday's games

NFL.com breaks down what you need to know from Week 3 of the 2021 NFL preseason. Catch up on each game's biggest takeaways using the links below:

Indianapolis Colts
Indianapolis Colts
2021 · 3-0-0
Detroit Lions
Detroit Lions
2021 · 0-3-0

Grant Gordon's takeaways:

  1. Colts cashing in. Excellent last season, the Colts' defense is going to get a boost up front with the addition of rookie first-rounder Kwity Paye. The 21st overall pick of the 2021 NFL Draft zoomed past Lions left tackle Tyrell Crosby on the fourth play from scrimmage Friday for a strip sack. Paye's a playmaker who forecasts to be an instant impact-maker for Indy. In 17 plays, he had three tackles and his second sack in as many preseason outings. Plenty of Paye days and questionable puns such as that lie ahead for the Colts.
  2. Forgettable preseason for Perriman. Long handcuffed by problems dropping the ball, Lions wide receiver Breshad Perriman had a couple passes he likely should've hauled in Friday. Instead, over two preseason outings, he's caught just one ball for 6 yards (which came against the Colts) on five targets in 45 plays. With the dearth of talent at wide receiver for the Lions, it would seem unlikely that Perriman, who was signed to a one-year deal this offseason, would be cut, but stranger things have happened.

NFL Research: In the competition for the Colts' QB2 spot, Jacob Eason finished the preseason completing 41 of 62 passes (66%) for 389 passing yards, no passing touchdowns or interceptions and an 83.3 passer rating. Sam Ehlinger, who left Friday's game with a knee injury, was 21 for 31 (67.7%) for 288 passing yards, no TDs, 3 INT and a 57.6 passer rating.

Carolina Panthers
Carolina Panthers
2021 · 1-2-0
Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh Steelers
2021 · 3-1-0

Nick Shook's takeaways:

  1. The 2021 season is going to be an adventure with Sam Darnold. When given the responsibility to survey the field in the pocket, Darnold looked as unsettled as he did a week earlier, displaying happy feet in the pocket and trying to do too much at times. Offensive coordinator Joe Brady recognized this, shifting Carolina's offense to a quick-fire attack, which helped Darnold calm down and engineer a couple of scoring drives before the end of the half. His best moments came when his targets were in one-on-one situations, with Darnold placing passes in perfect spots for Terrace Marshall Jr. and Robby Anderson to snag them. The latter was Darnold's best attempt of the night, a pretty back-shoulder toss for a touchdown. Carolina's potential will be in the hands of Brady, who has to know Darnold is at his best when things don't take long to develop. On Friday night, he made the correct ones, and if this becomes the running theme for the Panthers, they'll have a chance to compete in 2021.
  2. The stats don't reflect it, but Dwayne Haskins continues to slowly improve. Haskins looked more comfortable in Pittsburgh's offense Friday night than he has at any other point in the preseason, sensing and escaping pressure to deliver on-target passes on multiple occasions. His greatest issue was on the other end of those attempts, which were broken up on nice plays by Jaycee Horn and Jeremy Chinn, or dropped by intended receivers. His worst mistake -- an unnecessary short-range bullet to fullback Derek Watt -- is the one that stands out in his stat line, which is deceiving when compared to the tape. He was reinserted late in the game and able to end the preseason on a positive note by driving Pittsburgh down for six on a pass over the middle to Ray-Ray McCloud. Haskins is not starting-lineup ready, but he's making incremental progress, which is all you can expect from him at this point.

NFL Research: Sam Darnold finished Friday completing 19 of 25 passes (76%) for 162 passing yards, two touchdowns and a 119.1 passer rating. Those 162 passing yards and two touchdowns are preseason career highs for Darnold.

Philadelphia Eagles
Philadelphia Eagles
2021 · 0-2-1
New York Jets
New York Jets
2021 · 2-0-1

Nick Shook's takeaways:

  1. Josh Johnson impressed enough to earn a place on this roster. The former XFL quarterback and longtime NFL journeyman got a final chance to prove his worthiness on Friday night and did not waste it, effectively engineering the offense down the field while compiling a passing line of 7 for 8 for 73 yards and a well-placed touchdown pass to Lawrence Cager. Johnson looked very much in control, which is exactly what the Jets should want from a veteran backup in the event they don't have Zach Wilson available. This should serve as proof that he can provide value to these Jets.
  2. Joe Flacco can still sling it. The veteran quarterback was lights out Friday night, completing 13 of 16 passes for 188 yards and two touchdowns that involved a little extra work on the part of the pass catcher. Boston Scott's score was a simple checkdown to the running back, but the touchdown pass to J.J. Arcega-Whiteside was Flacco's most impressive, requiring the quarterback to evade pressure and make a throw on the run over a defender, with Arcega-Whiteside doing the rest. Philadelphia is entering a new era with Jalen Hurts as its presumptive starter, but Eagles fans can rest easy knowing Flacco is ready to fill in when required.

NFL Research: Joe Flacco completed 13 of 16 (81.3%) passes for 188 passing yards, two touchdowns and a 155.2 passer rating. Those numbers are each preseason bests for Flacco since at least 2016.

Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City Chiefs
2021 · 3-0-0
Minnesota Vikings
Minnesota Vikings
2021 · 0-3-0

Adam Maya's takeaways:

  1. False start. The Vikings again opted to sit almost all of their top skill players and again couldn't get into the end zone (until the Chiefs emptied their bench). Kirk Cousins, flanked by his starting O-line, played three drives for the second week in a row but only managed to complete short passes while guiding the offense to a mere field goal before back-to-back three-and-outs. Outside of tight end Irv Smith extending plays after the catch, virtually nothing looked promising with Minnesota's offense Friday -- and for much of the preseason. Perhaps it'll all be moot for a unit that ranked No. 8 in offensive DVOA during the regular season last year. That production, of course, was after not playing preseason games. Twelve preseason quarters this year didn't seem to be any more useful.
  2. Reception committee. Patrick Mahomes leading long touchdown drives in the two series that he played could be expected. It was how he did it that was intriguing. The all-world QB connected with six receivers, and only three of his eight completions went to All-Pros Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. It's been unclear who will emerge as Kansas City's No. 3 target, but Friday offered more evidence that the receiving corps might be deep. That wasn't the case down the stretch in 2020, particularly during the playoffs, as the passing offense became overly reliant on its aforementioned duo. A pair of first-down completions to Demarcus Robinson and a touchdown toss to Blake Bell, versus a Vikings defense playing half its starters, demonstrated how Mahomes' rapport with his receivers is growing. It's a scary thought.

NFL Research: Patrick Mahomes set preseason career highs with an 88.9 completion percentage (8-9 passing) and a 158.3 passer rating, joining Ben Roethlisberger (Week 2 vs Lions) as the only QBs with perfect passer ratings in a game this preseason.

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