Winners and Losers from NFL Preseason Week 1
It's never too early to make sweeping conclusions about the NFL preseason.
Oh, wait, yes it is.
Well, that's not what we're going to do here. Instead, we're just going to look at some players whose stock may have improved or taken a hit over the weekend. This could be a player who stood out on the field or struggled. It could also be a player whose teammates excelled in his absence or a player who struggled in the absence of his teammate.
In any case, nothing is set in stone with these players. There are still two weeks of preseason action remaining before teams must make their first set of cutdowns from 90 to 75 players. The first cutoff date is August 26, so that gives these players plenty of time to change that all-important preseason narrative.
So, with that in mind, let's take a look at five winners and five losers from this weekend.
Winner: DeMarcus Ware, DE, Denver Broncos
If only the Denver Broncos had been able to sign pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware six months ago, their Super Bowl showdown with the Seattle Seahawks may have been slightly less embarrassing.
The Broncos defense was unable to bring down quarterback Russell Wilson a single time in that game. What the Broncos could not do in 60 minutes six months ago, Ware accomplished in two minutes and 41 seconds of game time on the Seahawks' third offensive play from scrimmage (one of them a penalty). Ware also gave chase to Wilson on two other occasions, finishing the night with three total pressures.
Ware was a salary-cap casualty of the Dallas Cowboys in March after free agency had already begun, and there was immediately some competition to sign him. The Broncos won out, and they can now boast one of the most fearsome pass-rushing duos in the league with Ware and outside linebacker Von Miller.
Loser: Ryan Mallett, QB, New England Patriots
We didn't learn anything about Patriots quarterback Ryan Mallett on Thursday night against Washington that we didn't already know.
He showed many of the same characteristics that have followed him throughout his NFL career. He flashed the cannon arm that made him such an intriguing prospect in 2011, but he did not look comfortable in the pocket, his footwork and timing were off and he was inaccurate on short throws.
He wasn't getting much help from his offensive line or wide receivers. The pressure was in his face, taking away his ability to step into throws. That being said, he wasn't stepping into throws even when he had a clean pocket and plenty of time.
There were also two missed connections with receivers who were either not on the same page in terms of what route to run (wide receiver Josh Boyce) or simply were not looking for a ball headed straight at them (running back Roy Finch).
Mallett's contract expires after the 2014 season, and barring a dramatic turn of events, he will likely leave Foxborough. Whether his next destination is as a potential starter or a career backup will be determined by how he performs in the rest of the preseason—and any opportunities he gets in the regular season.
Winner: Christine Michael, RB, Seattle Seahawks
The Seattle Seahawks are loaded with depth at running back, and with Marshawn Lynch out of the team's first preseason game, there were plenty of opportunities for Seattle's other backs to flex their muscles.
Second-year back Christine Michael was the one who capitalized the most on that opportunity. He stole the show by not only scoring the Seahawks' first touchdown of the preseason, but by showing off the range of skills that made him an intriguing prospect in the second round in 2013.
His final stat line (seven carries, 16 yards, 2.3 yards per carry) is rather underwhelming, but he still showed off the first-step quickness and vision to be an effective back.
He also showed off his soft hands by hauling in three passes for 12 yards, but he needs to improve as a blocker, as seen when he whiffed on a block that resulted in Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson taking a sack.
Lynch will continue to be the linchpin for the Seahawks offense, but Michael offers a nice change-of-pace option to keep defenses honest.
Loser: BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB, Cincinnati Bengals
The Cincinnati Bengals have an embarrassment of riches at running back with young studs Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill and solid depth in the likes of Rex Burkhead and Cedric Peerman. As Bleacher Report AFC North lead writer Andrea Hangst pointed out, this could be bad news for running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
The team's leading rusher of the past two seasons, Green-Ellis has watched his team select a running back with a high draft pick each year since he joined the team. He has not averaged four yards per attempt or more since 2010, and at 29 years old, he may be looking back (not forward) at the highlights of his career.
The Bengals could save $2.3 million in cap space by unloading Green-Ellis' contract, and with a youth movement unfolding in Cincinnati, that's exactly what might happen.
Winner: Ryan Tannehill, QB, Miami Dolphins
There have been a lot of questions about the Miami Dolphins offense this offseason. How will the revamped offensive line come together? Will quarterback Ryan Tannehill take the next step in his development? Will he get more help from his receivers? How would Bill Lazor's offense translate to Tannehill's skill set?
In their first preseason game, the answers to all these questions ended up on the positive side of the spectrum.
Tannehill and the first-team offense were only on the field for one drive, but that drive was a great glimpse into what we can expect from the Dolphins offense schematically, and it all works in favor of Tannehill. The third-year quarterback will have more opportunities to throw on the run, and the play-calling will be far more creative and complementary to the skill sets of the players in the Dolphins offense.
He looked sharp throwing the ball and went 6-of-6 for 62 yards and a touchdown. His best throw of the night was a bullet of a pass for a 36-yard completion to wide receiver Rishard Matthews on a post route over the middle. He stayed true to his progressions and appeared to have good command of the offense.
Most importantly: The Dolphins offensive line kept him clean and gave him a nice pocket to step into his throws. Granted, this was against an Atlanta Falcons defense that is working with a revamped front seven and a new defensive scheme, but it was a good start nonetheless.
Loser: Eric Fisher, OT, Kansas City Chiefs
After being named the first overall pick in the 2013 draft by the Kansas City Chiefs, offensive tackle Eric Fisher started his career at right tackle. With Branden Albert having left for the Miami Dolphins this offseason, Fisher is in line for a position switch and is now protecting quarterback Alex Smith's blind side.
It was an ugly start for Fisher against the Cincinnati Bengals, as defensive end Robert Geathers beat him for a sack-fumble in the first half. To be fair, Smith tried to take blame for the sack after the fact, via Adam Teicher of ESPN.com, saying that he should have gotten the ball out quicker, but Fisher was bull-rushed hard into the backfield and took away any chance Smith had of escaping the pocket.
Fisher was far from stalwart last year at right tackle, yielding 35 quarterback pressures, five hits and seven sacks, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Players often make their biggest improvements from their rookie year to their second year, though, and Fisher will have to do so as well if he is going to be trusted full-time at left tackle.
Winner: Dee Milliner, CB, New York Jets
The New York Jets drafted Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner in the first round in 2013, just days after trading away All-World cornerback Darrelle Revis. No one will mistake the former for the latter just yet, but Milliner had a strong showing on Friday night against the Indianapolis Colts.
He broke up a pass in two of his three defensive series: one from Colts quarterback Andrew Luck to wide receiver Hakeem Nicks and another from quarterback Matt Hasselbeck to wide receiver Donte Moncrief in the end zone.
Milliner struggled hard through the 2013 season but finished with strong performances against Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon in Week 16 and Miami Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace in the season finale. After reviewing those two games, he allowed just 10 catches on 28 targets with one touchdown, three interceptions and 10 pass breakups.
Milliner is the latest cornerback to proclaim himself the best in the league, and while he may have a way to go before living up to that distinction, he has certainly proved that he can play in the NFL.
Loser: Jake Matthews, OT, Atlanta Falcons
A top draft choice cannot validate or invalidate his team's selection in one preseason game. That being said, Atlanta Falcons offensive tackle Jake Matthews got off to a very rough start on Friday night against the Miami Dolphins.
Matthews was flagged for two penalties in only 19 snaps, according to NFL.com. One of the penalties was a holding call that wiped away a 76-yard touchdown run by running back Antone Smith. The other was illegal use of hands to the face. He also allowed quarterback Matt Ryan to be hit while throwing on the opening drive.
The Falcons had major problems with their offensive tackles last season. Right tackle Lamar Holmes and left tackle Sam Baker turned in some of the worst offensive tackle play in the league as part of an offensive line that allowed Matt Ryan to be sacked a career-high 44 times.
Matthews' coaches have raved about him since the start of camp, with offensive line coach Mike Tice saying, via Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com, "Sometimes, I don't even watch him on film. I look at the other stuff and try to clean that up." Tice did mention, however, Matthews' problems with using his hands. Those showed up twice on Friday and will have to be cleaned up before the season starts.
Winner: Johnny Manziel, QB, Cleveland Browns
Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel made his highly anticipated NFL debut on Saturday night and gave viewers exactly what they expected: an exciting performance.
Manziel went 7-of-11 for 63 yards on the day, but he could have completed two more passes that were dropped. He also ran six times for 27 yards, with an impressive 16-yard run on third down to move the chains.
Brian Hoyer was the starting quarterback for the night and has been the more impressive quarterback in practice so far, according to Pat McManamon of ESPN.com. Manziel had the better performance, albeit mostly with Cleveland's backups against the Detroit Lions backups.
Manziel will start the second preseason game, according to Dan Hellie of NFL Network, and with a strong performance against the Washington Redskins, the Browns may have enough evidence to make a decision as to who will be the starting quarterback.
Loser: People Who Like Tackling (NFL Fans)
OK, this doesn't fit the guideline of this slideshow, but I couldn't bring myself to finish here without mentioning all the poor tackling that took place this weekend.
The Cleveland Browns, Miami Dolphins, Atlanta Falcons and Pittsburgh Steelers were among the teams that had issues with tackling. It wasn't necessarily a surprise, considering the new rules of the collective bargaining agreement that limit tackling in practices.
Add it to the list of rules that favor the offenses. Although the "new emphasis" on defensive holding and illegal contact is expected to have an impact in 2014, the lack of tackling in practices could be argued as another huge factor that tilts the scales to the offense.
You have to imagine the tackling will get better. Surely, it can't get much worse.
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