NFL Preseason Handicapping: What Did We Learn from Week #1?

Pre-season week 1 – What did we learn?

There isn’t always too much to take from pre-season football. All the teams are playing their most basic offensive and defensive strategy, and the high profile players play just a handful of snaps, if any at all.

Coaches are less interested in wins and losses at this time of year, and want to keep their new game plans under wraps. In general, teams are more concentrated on getting the little things right and eliminating the sloppy errors before the real football begins in September.

This week has thrown out a few interesting observations though, so here goes my top five things to learn from this year’s pre-season;

1) Injuries are unavoidable in the NFL

Despite playing cautious football and limiting the starters, there were some big name casualties in the first week of the pre-season. The most high profile was Washington TE Niles Paul, who suffered a fracture and dislocation of his ankle while blocking on a run play. According to reports, he had looked great in camp, and had impressed coaches by gaining 10-15 pounds of muscle while transitioning from wide receiver to tight end. This is a blow to the Redskins, and to the progression of this talented player. Elsewhere saw season ending injuries for Rams cornerback E.J Gaines, Vikings RT Phil Loadholt and also a hand fracture for Jacksonville tight end Julius Thomas. Thomas will sit the remainder of the pre-season, but is expected to be back for the regular season.

2) The new extra point rule hasn’t changed a thing

The extra point has had an adjustment for the upcoming season, with kicks moved from the two yard line back to the 15. This was decided on due to the boring, high percentage play of the old XP, which was successful over 99% of the time. The extra yardage means the 1 point attempt has gone from a 20 yard field-goal to a 33 yard attempt, in the hope more teams would ‘go for two’, which has remained at the two yard line. Bill Belichick decided on a two point attempt with the Patriots first TD, as did Mike Tomlin with the Steelers – both successful. Other teams followed, but the majority settled for the kick from the further distance. This was still successful at 43 out of the 45 attempts, but the later the season goes on, the harder the decision could become. The weather in New England, Green Bay and Chicago in December makes a 33 yard attempt anything but a formality, so look for the cold weather teams to work some more at the 2-point conversion throughout the rest of the pre-season.

3) Jimmy Garoppolo doesn’t look ready to fill Tom Brady’s cleats….yet

Tom Brady featured in just seven snaps in the week 1 pre-season game vs Green Bay, the rest was left up to backup Jimmy Garoppolo. He saw out the game, and managed a QB rating of just 65.8 in the 22-11 home defeat. Garoppolo completed 20 of 30 passes, but held the ball a bit too long and was sacked a massive seven times. There was flashes of good though, in particular how he ended the first half. This summed it up from the Boston Herald:

After the Packers turned the ball over on downs near midfield with 53 seconds left, Garoppolo hit Jonathan Krause for a 9-yard gain. But after an incompletion to James White, trainers attended to the running back who took a hit to his thigh, which caused the Pats to lose their last timeout of the half.

Although Garoppolo found Krause again for a first down, he was sacked on second down soon after as the clock ticked down. While the team originally planned to throw on third down, Garoppolo realized the situation with no timeouts and spiked the ball, allowing Stephen Gostkowski to kick a 56-yard field goal to end the half.

 

This showcased his great football brain, and didn’t go unnoticed by Belichick, saying ‘I think Jimmy did a good job to recognize that situation’. There will undoubtedly be growing pains, but if Brady is set to miss playing time, I have no doubt that Bill Belichick will have Garoppolo ready to go, and tailor a game-plan to suit his abilities. Remember, Matt Cassel won 11 games as the backup in the 2008 season!

4) However, New Orleans don’t have to worry about life after Brees

The Saints looked towards young QBs Ryan Griffin and Garrett Grayson in the pre-season opener against the Baltimore Ravens, while starter Drew Brees sat out. QB2 Luke McCown started the game, and went 7 for 10 for 75 yards and 1 TD. Griffin came in during the second quarter, and completed 58.8% of his throws and managed a 98.2 QB rating, looking very effective. The surprise of the night was undoubtedly the rookie though. Garrett Grayson scored the highest PFF rating of all QBs for week 1, threw for 87 yards and ran effectively twice for 15 yards. NFL consultant Chris Landry broke down both QB’s, and said of Garrett ‘In a couple of situations, I think people may have been surprised of his movement. He showed some mobility when a play broke down, and can run and slide. He’s very very skilled in that aspect’. There has certainly been some concern in the ageing Drew Brees, despite being the second highest rated QB in 2014. He will miss his Jimmy Graham this season, so we could see some regression in 2015, but it must be a relief for everyone involved with the Saints to see great depth in the most important position on the field.

5) And finally, yes, Tebow-Mania still exists!

The Eagles looked phenomenal in their win over Indianapolis and their speed between plays even caught the refs out at one point. They gassed the opposing defence, and it was clear that the Colts second string couldn’t keep up with the pace at which Philadelphia played. After great QB performances by both Mark Sanchez and Matt Barkley, Tim Tebow entered the game with seven minutes left in the third quarter, and received a standing ovation. Tebow completed his first few throws to huge cheers, but also fumbled/recovered a muffed handoff in his first game of football since 2013. After his opening drive which resulted in a field goal, Tebow had mixed success, leading the team to one more field goal, but being sacked twice on third down opportunities. Head coach Chip Kelly came to Tebow’s defence after criticism, and said: “You have to look who’s in with who. A different set of receivers were in when Tim was in, and a different line at times. A couple of those you’re wondering ‘why is he doing that?’ Well, the receiver ran the wrong route. There were a couple of busts out there”. Tebow got his final cheer of the night when he got a touchdown with his legs, diving over safety Winston Guy for a 7-yard score. The Eagles look stacked at the QB position, and you have to wonder how many traditional ‘passers’ you actually need on your roster. Matt Barkley is no doubt the better passer and all round QB out of the two batting for the QB3 spot, but when you have Sam Bradford and Mark Sanchez on the books, isn’t it worth taking a flyer on the wildcard Tebow? I think the fans certainly agree!

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