Trying to make a coin toss in the NFL preseason is as tricky as ever, even with two of the three weeks on the 2022 roster completed. League teams continue to approach it in a variety of ways, some opting to utilize starters, while others rely on increasingly common practice training camps and joint sessions with other clubs to serve as their August proving ground.
So it’s easy to feel encouraged when you watch fourth-year New York Giants QB Daniel Jones complete 14 of 16 passes… until you remember he’s flourishing against the Cincinnati Bengals reserves. Alternatively, it would be nice to take a look at the New York Jets and Cleveland Browns, teams that are likely to rely on backup passers — Joe Flacco and Jacoby Brissett, respectively — to start the season, but none of the veterans have played in a game this month.
Still, many excellent performances emerged over the weekend – as well as several troubling ones – before Tuesday’s league-wide roster was reduced to 80 players per team:
Baltimore Ravens: Their 24-17 win in Arizona on Sunday was the Ravens’ 22nd straight preseason win, a streak that stretched into 2015. Those games don’t count in the standings, but it’s probably no coincidence that Baltimore was basically a perennial contender. for the entirety of the 21st century. “You have to be ready to play,” said QB Tyler Huntley, who came on for Lamar Jackson, completing 13 of 14 passes for 129 yards and a touchdown. “It shows that we are trying to win every time we touch the field.”
Ka Vontae Turpin: 2022 USFL MVP, he’s virtually guaranteed to be on the Dallas Cowboys roster thanks to Saturday’s showing. The 5-9, 153-pounder is listed as a receiver but stands out as a returning ace. Against the Bolts, he shot for 12 points, courtesy of a 98-yard kickoff return and an 86-yard punt return, both in the first half.
rookie quarterbacks: The top three passers selected in the April draft shone. Expected to become Ben Roethlisberger’s retired successor at the Pittsburgh Steelers, Kenny Pickett – the only QB won in this year’s first round – had an impressive second preseason performance, coming Saturday with Pitt’s product playing starters and against the Jacksonville Varsity Defense. His August numbers: 19 shots in 22 attempts for 171 yards and three touchdowns — and zero turnovers. It seems unlikely that Pickett will overtake free agent Mitchell Trubisky on opening day…but equally unlikely that the rookie won’t end this season in the saddle.
Tennessee Titans’ Malik Willis was in the starting lineup for the second straight game and made his first professional TD pass a week after running for one. He still needs a lot of polishing, but has shone enough as a running pass threat to suggest he might get the QB2 job before Week 1 and might even push starter Ryan Tannehill out the door before the start of next season. .
Finally, Atlanta Falcons’ Desmond Ridder wasn’t perfect on Monday night, but he was more than efficient connecting on 10-of-13 for 143 yards against the Jets. It might be a while before he replaces Marcus Mariota, but if the Falcons’ season goes as expected, there’s a good chance Ridder will start some games in 2022.
‘Hard Knocks’ Viewers: The Detroit Lions and head coach Dan Campbell are expected to provide plenty of good fodder on HBO this Tuesday night after some joint practice at Indianapolis, followed by a dramatic 27-26 victory — thanks in large part to backup QB David Blough and defense – over the Colts on Saturday.
Kayvon Thibodeaux: The fifth overall pick in the 2022 draft, the New York Giants pass rusher escaped with “only” a sprained anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee after his right knee was impacted by a block by Bengals TE Thaddeus Moss on Sunday night. . Coach Brian Daboll cannot guarantee that his talented rookie will be ready for Week 1, but the result is nonetheless a relative relief given the nature of the play when Thibodeaux was injured.
Romeo Dubs: The Green Bay Packers rookie receiver in the fourth round caught his second TD pass in a few weeks and looks to be back in QB Aaron Rodgers’ good graces. “He’s expected to play based on his performance so far at camp,” Rodgers said Monday, adding that Doubs has set a higher standard for himself than the Pack’s recent rookie pass catchers.
Matt Araiza: San Diego State’s famous “Punt God”, the rookie displaced Buffalo veteran Matt Haack (released Monday) without even attempting a kick on Saturday. Perhaps not a huge surprise, as Araiza was called up in the sixth round and threw an 82-yard dash the week before, while Haack generated a pair of 38 yards this month. It’s also probably not massively significant, given the Bills’ offense, which scored four times in two playoff games last season, looks so good and hasn’t allowed for proper punting competition. Araiza can spend most of her time this year holding K Tyler Bass.
Likely Isaiah: The Ravens’ fourth round snatched all eight targets on Sunday with 100 yards and a touchdown. Given Jackson’s penchant for leaning on his tight ends, it could likely be a big contributor in 2022… even if Mark Andrews’ costume owners would prefer he isn’t.
Matt Patricia: It appears the Patriots’ longtime defensive assistant, also a former Lions coach, “won” the offensive call-call job in New England after playing the role in Friday’s game, which was also the QB’s debut. Mac Jones in the 2022 preseason. “He’s really starting to feel it,” Jones said of Patricia. “It’s very easy to talk to him on the sidelines. Very easy, relaxed coach but he demands a lot and I respect that about him. I hope we can grow for a long time.” And I hope Jones knows that he’ll also be talking a lot with Bill Belichick and quarterback coach Joe Judge, who shared call-call duties with Patricia in the preseason opener.
Jody Fortson: The Kansas City Chiefs reserve tight end caught two TD passes from QB Patrick Mahomes on Saturday and looks to be off to a successful comeback after his 2021 season was cut short by an Achilles tendon injury. And given that KC is known for using triple-tight sets, the outlook for this converted wideout looks rosy.
Privateers: Tompa Bay’s Tom Brady is back in the building after his mid-camp interlude… and not too soon after the Bucs’ brutal offensive performance (174 yards, 3 points) in Nashville over the weekend.
Drew Block: He’s still alive for the job of starting quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks after the Geno Smith-led offense looked utterly uninspired as he was sent off in the first half at home by the Chicago Bears. Smith also hit his right knee.
Drew Block: He missed Thursday’s loss, which was supposed to start, due to COVID-19 and missed the opportunity to create distance from Smith. It’s not the first time the virus has chosen Lock.
Privateers: TB12 lost another player from the inside offensive line after G Aaron Stinnie, who was in contention for retired Ali Marpet’s post, tore several ligaments in his knee.
Tony Gonzales: No disrespect to Fortson, but why can he – or anyone – wear the #88 jersey that the Hall of Fame tight end popularized in Kansas City?
Sam Darnold: The Panthers quarterback failed to play on Friday and played all three preseason passes (one for a TD), but lost the starting position to Baker Mayfield anyway.
Matt Curral: The Panthers quarterback played Friday… and suffered a Lisfranc injury that could cost the former Ole Miss star his rookie season. Corral likely wouldn’t see much of the field – if he ever would – in 2022, but the prospect of surgery and rehabilitation will only get in the way of the third-round professional transition.
Cowboys Penalties: On the bright side, Dallas reduced his flag count from 17 in the preseason opener to eight on Saturday against the Chargers. However, that number should have been even lower, the McCarthy team offside once, called for illegal formation again and two false starts for bad measure.
Bryce Salon: Not to be confused with Jets rookie RB Breece Hall, New York’s third-year cornerback — he started all 17 games last season — showed why he seems to be slipping into a reserve role. Hall was burned for a 52-yard catch by Falcons TE Kyle Pitts – not too much shame on it – on Atlanta’s first attempt, but then yielded a 13-yard TD to WR Olamide Zaccheaus on the next. Given the choice of targeting rookie CB Sauce Gardner or Hall, a good bet on who the opposing QBs will pick.
Vikings backup QBs: Reserves Kellen Mond and Sean Mannion were so disappointing that Minnesota traded for journeyman Nick Mullens on Monday. Mond, a 2021 third-round player who started on Saturday, threw two interceptions and — after former head coach Mike Zimmer expressed frustration with him during his rookie season — it looks increasingly unlikely to take on Kirk Cousins in the future. .
Carlos Cruz: Seattle’s first-round left tackle committed four penalties before halftime, three of them false starts. A long-standing problem area, the Seahawks’ O-line, which will feature Cross and fellow rookie Abraham Lucas, remains a work in progress.
Alternative cardinals’ uniforms: Sorry, but the black helmets you plan on mixing up this season don’t help. Still owning the ugliest threads in the league, this organization should take QB Kyler Murray’s advice… and either play it back or start over. FWIW, Arizona’s social media team also offered good advice…
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.
This article originally appeared in USA TODAY: NFL Preseason Winners, Losers: Isaiah Likely Among the Highlights