What we learned from Sunday’s preseason games

30 Aug


Six teams wrapped up their third week of the preseason on Sunday. The Chicago Bears beat the Tennessee Titans, while the Cincinnati Bengals fell to the Washington Redskins, and the Minnesota Vikings beat the San Francisco 49ers. Here were the three big takeaways from the games:

1. Bears quarterback Mike Glennon had a bounceback performance and appears to have done enough to hold off rookie Mitchell Trubisky as Week 1 is now just days away.

2. Whoever the Bears end up rolling with at quarterback, it looks like they’ll be without their top receiver in Cameron Meredith. Initial tests revealed the wideout suffered a torn ACL.

3. The Bengals‘ offense, with impressive rookies Joe Mixon and John Ross joining the fold, hummed with Andy Dalton and A.J. Green leading the way.

4. Niners rookie linebacker Reuben Foster lived up to the hype.

5. Is the 49ers‘ defense really good or did the Vikings‘ offensive line make them look good?

Here’s what else we learned from Sunday’s games:

Bears 19, Titans 7

1. This was the Glennon comeback game John Fox was waiting for. The Bears‘ presumptive starter rebounded from weeks of dodging the Trubisky hype train to go 11 of 18 for 134 yards and a touchdown. Glennon did the little things well, like a crisp out route to Kendall Wright for a first down early in the first quarter. But he also made the above-and-beyond throws, like a 28-yard completion to Meredith. Glennon was facing pressure in the pocket and Meredith was draped by Titans corner Adoree’ Jackson. This was the most realistic game-planned set of plays run by Glennon this year. His first series resulted in a 15-play, 96-yard touchdown drive that lasted nearly eight minutes. Tennessee did Chicago a favor by bringing the heat, and Glennon handled it well.

1a. Speaking of Meredith, one can only hope he makes a full recovery. After a pair of nice grabs, Meredith sustained a torn ACL on a brutal confluence of hits. Fox did not show the replay (which was gruesome) out of respect for Meredith, who was immediately placed in an air cast and wheeled off the field. The broadcast team reported the ACL injury before the end of the game, which might signify just how severe it could be. As NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport mentioned Sunday, there could very well be additional damage. We’ll have more updates as information becomes available.


2. Speaking of Trubisky, he did not let up, either. A beautiful, 45-yard touchdown pass to a motoring Tanner Gentry punctuated a strong, 10-of-15 outing for 128 yards and a touchdown. Colleague Marc Sessler posted on Twitter it would be impossible to keep Trubisky from starting by Week 2 — and while the Bears seem intent on allowing Glennon to keep this role, Trubisky is not making it easy. Glennon’s strong Sunday performance was the best possible scenario for the Bears, who want Trubisky to really earn the job and snatch it away from a professional-grade starter.

3. Titans coach Mike Mularkey was disgusted by a first-half performance that yielded zero points, telling the broadcast team that he was unhappy with the offense, defense and special teams (the Titans had a blocked punt in the first half). The result? Tennessee’s starters stayed in until the fourth quarter. It wasn’t until a 3-yard Derrick Henry touchdown catch that Mularkey pulled them out. After Henry’s touchdown, tackle Taylor Lewan took off his helmet and head-butted it — a gesture caught in slow motion and re-aired on television. It’s clear the score was a weight off their backs after a not-so-good afternoon.

4. Marcus Mariota struggled in particular. I noted after one of his earlier performances this preseason that Mariota seemed sturdier and perhaps more accurate. That was not the case Sunday. I counted at least a half dozen overthrows; moderate-to-high-risk attempts that were skied over the intended targets. Analyst Charles Davis said it was Mariota not “finishing the throw.” To me, that was almost visible in real time. Mariota was, at times, like a Little League pitcher learning to follow through again. Of course, Mariota also dazzled on Sunday and made throws only a small percentage of NFL quarterbacks can make. Mularkey will take the good with the bad.

5. A rough but encouraging day for Jackson. The Titans‘ rookie corner was picked on all afternoon, though mostly due to his inexperience. I thought Jackson was never really out of position, but the victim of a great catch by Meredith and maybe some youthful aggression.

Redskins 23, Bengals 17

1. I think if you’re the Bengals, you consider this a win despite losing the game. Once viewed as an incomplete product, this offense is finally starting to make sense to me. Dalton could not miss A.J. Green early, which is a welcome sign for the Pro Bowl wideout who missed six games a year ago. In 2016, Green was being targeted 10 times per game by Dalton, and stunningly that number could actually rise if rookie wideout John Ross can extract some pressure. Dalton and Ross do not seem to have their timing down just yet on the deep route — one pass sailed about 10 yards past the speedy Ross — though Ross missed significant time early in camp. By the time Dalton and Ross have their mechanics down, this could be a scary starting 11.


1a. Ross, by the way, was utilized in a jet-sweep type play with the starting offense. This confirms the obvious in his debut: The Bengals will get him the ball any way possible.

2. Joe Mixon seems to be the glue holding this all together. The Bengals have the deepest running back depth chart in football, and won’t be afraid to feature Mixon like a primary every-down back. His juke move on Josh Norman — a cherry atop an otherwise impressive 6-yard run — was professional-grade. His lone error, a fumble caused by Mixon closing his arms just a second too early, was forgivable.

3. There are no words:

4. Terrelle Pryor eventually redeemed himself with a tough catch — his second of the preseason — but I’m not convinced his addition is enough to offset the losses of Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson. Pryor’s route-running ability has come a long way, but Kirk Cousins is going to need him to be more than a nice conversion project; he’s going to need Pryor to carry certain possessions. In fairness, Washington was asking Pryor to go over the middle quite a bit on Sunday, and it’s difficult to gauge those routes when the games don’t impact the final standings.

5. Speaking to reporters after the game, tight end Jordan Reed (toe) said he felt good in his debut. From afar, he looked comfortable pushing off the sprained toe and flashed some of his trademark speed. He caught two passes for 12 yards.

6. A random note on Cousins: After getting plowed by Dre Kirkpatrick on a cornerback blitz, Cousins opted to keep the ball on the next play (what looked to me like a zone-read handoff) and run for the first down. When he tossed the pick-six to Vontaze Burfict (a beautiful bait and read by the Bengals linebacker) Cousins was the closest one to making a tackle. He chased Burfict all the way to the end zone.

Vikings 32, 49ers 31

1. I think your final takeaway from Sunday’s 49ers/Vikings game depends on how you feel about San Francisco’s defense. If you believe in the combination of Solomon Thomas, Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner and that defensive coordinator Robert Saleh is delivering on his promise to create a violent defense, then it wasn’t too depressing to watch the Vikings‘ offensive line get run over. If the Buckner/Thomas/Armstead era is still a year or two from taking off, and were made to look as good as they were last night because of the Vikings offensive line, then this was a red-alert game. Sam Bradford (17-of-21, 134 yards) was on the run, at one point getting knocked down when his own offensive lineman was thrown into his chest. Dalvin Cook has shown an ability to pick up stray blitzers, but this is not going to be enough to keep Bradford off the ground.


1.a. As the St. Paul Pioneer Press noted Sunday night: 11 possessions for the Vikings first-team offense, 3 total points.

2. Reuben Foster lived up to the hype on Sunday night. The rookie linebacker delivered two memorable pops, first on Cook after Bradford floated a late outlet pass, and again later on in the half on Laquon Treadwell. Foster has that classic thumper lineage but has certainly proven himself open and agile when facing quicker targets in the open field.

3. The 49ers remind me a bit of the Browns this preseason defensively. There is a lot to like — a person projecting potential over time would take their chances with a roster like this. However, it’s difficult to buy into an identity just yet. Seeing Foster blow people up Sunday, or even safety Eric Reid coming down and delivering some Kam Chancellor-esque hits was enticing — but what does it really mean come Sept. 10 against the Panthers?

4. Another what does it really mean statement: Brian Hoyer looked incredible on Sunday. Hoyer started the game 9-of-9 for 152 yards and a pair of touchdowns. A few quick slants to Pierre Garcon set up this beautiful 46-yard bomb to Marquise Goodwin. Former NFL player Matt Bowen breaks the route concept down well here. If Shanahan was able to assemble just a microcosm of Atlanta’s offense in San Francisco this year, how good could the 49ers be?

5. The rumors of a more in-shape Carlos Hyde seem to be true. The 49ers‘ workhorse sliced through Minnesota’s defense on a 7-route for Hoyer’s second touchdown of the night. Players return to camp every summer claiming their change in diet or workout regimen have them prepared to play the best football of their lives. Hyde’s burst and breakaway speed seem to have proven that true in Hyde’s case.

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