NFL.com breaks down what you need to know from Week 1 of the 2023 NFL preseason. Catch up on each game's biggest takeaways using the links below:
Eric Edholm's takeaways:
- Jordan Love shows promise, chemistry with rookies. Love and the Packers starters (minus David Bakhtiari and a few others) played for two series, and the results continued a theme we've heard from training camp: mostly very good. Love completed 7 of 10 passes for 46 yards and a touchdown, hitting Romeo Doubs for a pretty 9-yard score on their final snaps of the night. Most of Love's passes were quick, but Matt LaFleur let his new QB1 air out a few longer passes and roll out of the pocket some. Two early targets who caught our eye were rookies, tight end Luke Musgrave and wide receiver Jayden Reed. Love looked for Musgrave three times, including twice on his first four throws, and the big tight end moves really well, folks. Reed made a pretty adjustment to a high throw from Love and later drew a pass interference flag on a nice slot fade. Both rookies are going to play a lot this season, and if Love shows the same poise, command and feel -- even with a few off-target throws -- the Packers could be in better shape than we realize. The ball went where it should have gone on every throw, it seemed, and Love and Christian Watson almost hooked up on what would have been about a 43-yard connection.
- Positive Burrow news ahead of positive showings from Hill, Evans. The most buzzworthy event Friday night for the Bengals was Joe Burrow throwing pregame passes -- with no sleeve on his injured calf visible. Burrow moved well about two hours before kickoff, which had to excite Bengals fans. Once the game started, two plays stood out: Dax Hill's pass breakup and Chris Evans' long run. Hill, the Bengals' 2022 first-rounder, saw spot duty last season mostly in the slot, but is now a starting deep safety. He displayed exceptional range on Love's early deep pass to Watson, with Love trying to look off Hill, but Hill not biting. He knocked the ball away on what would have been a catch of 40-plus yards. That's what you want to see. It's also a big preseason for Evans, who is facing competition from fourth-round RB Chase Brown. Evans' 33-yard run in the second quarter, breaking two tackles, was exactly what the Bengals wanted to see from a player who has barely run the ball since his arrival in 2021. General manager Duke Tobin visited the Bengals broadcast booth during the run and said of Evans, "We know he's a really good pass receiver. We want to see what he can do carrying the ball. We want to see what he can do in pass protection. That's a good step in the right direction."
Grant Gordon's takeaways:
- Fins rookie RB's toughness outshines speed. There's speed to burn throughout the Dolphins' offense. Rookie running back De'Von Achane seemed to offer an embarrassment in fleet-footed riches in that department when he was taken in the third round this spring. However, on Friday, Achane's toughness was on display more than anything. Doing his darndest behind a struggling Dolphins offensive line playing only two starters, Achane, who did show off his afterburners on a 38-yard kick return, had 10 carries for 25 yards. Hardly impressive, but he earned all those yards and battled for every inch. He added 41 yards on four receptions, including one grab over the middle in which he took a major hit to the breadbasket. Achane's speed has been measured and lauded, but the rookie's fortitude was impressive on Friday.
- Falcons flex RB depth. In a slog of a game with starters as hard to find as points through three quarters, Atlanta's offensive backfield depth was impressive even if the ball carriers weren't among the squad's heralded chain-movers. Falcons rookie running back Bijan Robinson unfortunately saw no run. Neither did Cordarrelle Patterson or Tyler Allgeier. On paper, the aforementioned trio offers an argument that Atlanta houses one of the deepest and most talented backfields in the league. On Friday, the former showed in the form of rookie Carlos Washington and, in particular, Godwin Igwebuike. Washington (44 yards on 12 touches) looked solid at times in his first live audition for a roster spot. Igwebuike, a journeyman hoping he's not just a preseason fill-in, got a full game's worth of reps and production, tallying 13 attempts, 70 yards (5.4 yards per carry) and the night's first touchdown on a nice 11-yard run. There is no dearth of RB talent in Atlanta, which clearly suits Arthur Smith's offense just fine and dandy.
Bobby Kownack's takeaways:
- Pickett has look of a veteran. Head coach Mike Tomlin rolled out Kenny Pickett against the Buccaneers with the goal of seeing a leap from his second-year quarterback. He only needed one drive to confirm his hopes. Pickett played the surgeon against Tampa Bay's defense, completing 6 of 7 passes for 70 yards and a touchdown. Both of the QB's best highlights came on third-and-long conversions. The first saw Pickett roll to the right needing to pick up 10. He fired an 11-yard sideline dart to Diontae Johnson, who was on the receiving end of half of the signal-caller's completions. On his next third-down conversion, Pickett found George Pickens in tight coverage across the middle, and the second-year WR weaved through a group of outmatched Bucs defenders another 20 yards for a 33-yard score. Pickett looked comfortable early, manipulated the pocket and appeared to feel the game slow down, all of which suggests the Steelers O might be able to keep up with its fearsome defense in 2023.
- Bucs O-line doesn't look sharp. Tampa Bay's offensive line woes led to just 76.9 rushing yards per game last season. It would be unfair to say those issues carried over in the preseason considering Ryan Jensen, Matt Feiler and Tristan Wirfs sat out, but the product that did take the field looked harrowingly similar. Running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn, who started the contest, managed four yards on seven carries for 0.6 yards per attempt. By the time quarterbacks Baker Mayfield, Kyle Trask and the offensive line that began the game departed during the third quarter, Tampa Bay had just 41 yards rushing on 20 carries. Rookie right guard Cody Mauch and Luke Goedeke, both of whom are expected to start the regular season, struggled individually. They committed a holding penalty apiece, Mauch added a false start and Goedeke looked out of sorts against backups in his attempted change from guard to right tackle. They'll almost certainly require more time in the coming preseason games to iron out the kinks.
Bobby Kownack's takeaways:
- Trio of early Lions picks flash. Jahmyr Gibbs , the NFL's No. 12 overall pick, displayed his signature versatility in a small sample size, turning 18 offensive snaps into seven touches for 37 yards. The 5-foot-11 Gibbs showed shiftiness between the tackles, and also lowered his shoulder rather than retreat to the sideline on an outside run during his final drive. That extra effort picked up a first down and helped set up an eventual field goal, Detroit's only points of the first half. His fellow first-rounder, linebacker Jack Campbell, looked every bit the capable leader in the middle of the defense. He enjoyed a solid, if quiet, debut while pacing Detroit with four tackles heading into halftime. Meanwhile, corner Brian Branch might be the one fans come away talking about most. His first of three tackles, a thumping screen-buster that stopped Giants wide receiver Cole Beasley cold, set Ford Field abuzz in the first quarter. Should the trend those three started Friday continue, the Lions' heightened expectations this year could receive a big rookie boost.
- Pinnock makes statement without breaking a sweat. Big Blue approached Friday's preseason opener as an opportunity to evaluate backups and position battles, sitting out the majority of starters on both sides of the ball. Even second-stringers like quarterback Tyrod Taylor, running back Matt Breida and tight end Daniel Bellinger only played two drives (seven snaps). Although Jason Pinnock is listed as the team's starter at strong safety on the unofficial depth chart, he received the same game plan on defense. Pinnock's two drives only amounted to five snaps, largely due to the individual impact he delivered. The third-year safety, who started five games for New York in 2022, picked off Nate Sudfeld on the game's first throw, and he ended the next drive with a deflection on fourth down. The Giants defender then called it a night with one pick, one tackle for loss and two passes defensed. He was everywhere, and more importantly, perhaps he'll find himself next in the starting lineup for an entire campaign.
Eric Edholm's takeaways:
- Howell's debut with new OC is slow going. It was tough sledding early for QB Sam Howell and most of the starting Commanders offense in Eric Bieniemy's first game calling plays. Howell had trouble setting his feet and throwing cleanly, as the offensive line had a rough go of it the first two drives. Andrew Wylie, the team's new right tackle, was flagged twice for holding, including once in the end zone for a safety. The Commanders' third drive was progress. Howell's ball placement wasn't perfect, but he completed 5 of 7 passes on the series for 57 yards, keeping the possession alive with a nice fourth-down improv throw. Howell was replaced by Jacoby Brissett, who was impressive prior to an interception right before the half where he got a little greedy. Some Browns starters were on the field when Brissett completed 3 of 4 passes for 53 yards, capping the 88-yard drive with a TD run. Did this tilt the QB race back in Brissett's favor? Not necessarily, because the OL concerns aren't going away, but it certainly gives Howell a reminder that he has a pretty talented 48-game starter breathing down his neck.
- Browns weather delay, showcase starting offense. A 90-minute weather delay pushed kickoff back, but Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski trudged forward with his starters, who played one series despite the rainy conditions. "It's part of our process," he told the Browns broadcast crew. "It's part of getting ready for September." And everyone knows what that means: QB Deshaun Watson still needs live reps. For the most part, Watson looked comfortable. The ball came out in rhythm and on schedule in a 3-for-3, 12-yard performance. But most notably, he exhibited what we didn't always see in six games last season: the proper fight-flight response. Watson often struggled in Stefanski's system last year knowing when to bail and scramble and when to hang in the pocket. Friday saw one designed run and a few scrambles from Watson, including one where he was nearly sacked by Chase Young but broke free for a 9-yard gain. We even had a fun wrinkle on the starters' drive, with camp star Elijah Moore lined up in the backfield, taking a handoff 18 yards. Despite the delay, the Browns gave us a nice snapshot on the opening drive of how this offense is supposed to work -- everything but the turnover on downs on fourth-and-goal.
Eric Edholm's takeaways:
- The Sean Payton era started slowly. Denver's first-team offense had four series Friday against the Cardinals, and there was more bad than good overall. Mix in Payton losing his first preseason challenge (and game) in Denver and two different Broncos kickers missing field-goal attempts, and there have been better days at the office. Russell Wilson had two balls swatted down -- something onlookers have seen in Broncos camp, too -- and then was clobbered on second and third down, stopping the third drive in its tracks. I thought that might be it for Wilson and Co., but Payton sent them back out there and appeared determined to jam the ball in the end zone with the starters. It worked. With a short field, Wilson sharpened up with four good throws. After Jerry Jeudy's third-down drop, Payton wasn't going to watch another kicker miss -- he went for it, and Jeudy atoned with a TD catch. That was good, but the Broncos' offensive line might be the chief concern, with Wilson's early shakiness something to monitor. Payton keeping his offense out there says he knows there's still a long way to go.
- Tune struggles early before rallying. There has been some mild Clayton Tune buzz in Cardinals camp, but a tough outing (with a good finish) Friday night against the Broncos will give him some teaching points -- and also serve as a reminder for others not to place the fifth-round rookie too high up Arizona's depth chart as Kyler Murray works his way back from injury. Tune had a ball batted down at the line, took three sacks and threw a pick (although Rondale Moore fell down). Tune also missed at least four makeable throws to receivers with separation, throwing high and wide to the perimeter. He looked nervous and rushed early before settling down eventually in the third quarter. Plenty of rookie quarterbacks have had worse preseason debuts. It's nothing to freak about. But Colt McCoy, who was solid (4 for 4, 17 yards) in his lone series, is the starter now if Murray isn't. Tune's athleticism is interesting, and he's a gamer, so I expect cleaner execution in the final two preseason games. We might see him this coming regular season, too, but patience will be crucial, even for a guy with 44 college starts.
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