Trying to make heads or tails of the NFL preseason is as difficult as ever, even with two of the three weeks of 2022 complete. League teams continue to approach it in a variety of ways, some opting to use rookies while others rely on practice sessions and increasingly joint sessions with other clubs to serve as August’s testing ground.
So it’s easy to get encouraged watching 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 read the New York Jets and Cleveland Browns, teams likely to rely on backup pass rushers – Joe Flacco and Jacoby Brissett, respectively – to start the season, yet neither veteran has played in this game. month.
However, there were plenty of sterling performances over the weekend – as well as several worrisome ones – ahead of Tuesday’s league-wide roster cut to 80 players per team:
Baltimore Ravens: Their 24-17 win at Arizona on Sunday was the Ravens’ 22nd straight preseason win, a streak that stretches back to 2015. Those games don’t count in the standings, but it’s probably no coincidence that Baltimore has basically been a perennial contender for the whole of the 21st century. “You have to be ready to play,” said QB Tyler Huntley, who crashed in place of Lamar Jackson, completing 13 of 14 passes for 129 yards and a touchdown. “It just shows that we’re trying to win every time we step on the court. .”
KaVontae Turpin: The 2022 USFL MVP has booked a roster spot with the Dallas Cowboys thanks to Saturday’s performance. The 5-9, 153-pounder is listed as a receiver but makes his bones as a return ace. Against the Bolts, he scored 12 points on a 98-yard punt return and an 86-yard punt return, both in the first half.
Rookie quarterbacks: The first three passers selected in April’s draft shined. Expected to eventually become Ben Roethlisberger’s successor for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Kenny Pickett — the only QB taken in Round 1 this year — had a second impressive showing in Saturday’s preseason with the Pitt product playing with the start and against at Jacksonville University defense. August numbers: 19 completions on 22 attempts for 171 yards and three touchdowns – and zero turnovers. It seems unlikely that Pickett will outbid free agent signing Mitchell Trubisky on Opening Day … but equally unlikely that the rookie won’t finish this season in the saddle.
Malik Willis of the Tennessee Titans was in the starting lineup for the second straight game and threw his first career TD pass a week after running for one. He still needs plenty of polish, but he’s shown enough of a run threat to suggest he can wrap up the QB2 job before Week 1 and might even push starter Ryan Tannehill out the door before the start of the next season.
Finally, Desmond Ridder of the Atlanta Falcons wasn’t perfect on Monday night, but he was more than effective while connecting on 10 of 13 throws for 143 yards against the Jets. It may be a while before he replaces Marcus Mariota, but if the Falcons’ season goes as expected, there’s a good chance Ridder will start a few times in 2022.
“Hard Knocks” viewers: The Detroit Lions and coach Dan Campbell should provide plenty of good food on HBO this Tuesday night after a couple of joint practices in Indianapolis followed by a dramatic 27-26 victory – thanks in large part to the support of QB David Blough and the defense – against Poularakia on Saturday.
Kayvon Thibodeaux: The fifth overall pick in the 2022 draft, the New York Giants pass rusher escaped with “only” a sprained MCL after his right knee took the brunt of a cut block by Bengals TE Thaddeus Moss on Sunday night. Coach Brian Daboll couldn’t guarantee his talented rookie would be ready for Week 1, but the result is still a relative relief given the nature of the game when Thibodeaux was injured.
Romeo Doubs: The Green Bay Packers’ fourth-round rookie wide receiver caught his second TD pass in as many weeks and appears to be back in QB Aaron Rodgers’ good graces. “He’s going to be expected to play based on his performance so far in camp,” Rodgers said Monday, adding that Daubs has set a higher bar for himself than recent Pack rookies.
Matt Araiza: San Diego State’s famed “Punt God,” the rookie sacked Buffalo veteran Matt Haak (released Monday) without even attempting a kick Saturday. It might not be a huge surprise, given that Araiza was a sixth-round pick and launched an 82-yarder last week, while Haack put up a pair of 38-yarders this month. It also probably doesn’t matter too much given the Bills’ offense, which scored all four times in two playoff games last season, looks so good and hasn’t allowed a proper punt competition. Araiza may spend most of his time this year holding down K Tyler Bass.
Possible Isaiah: The Ravens’ fourth-rounder caught all eight of his targets Sunday for 100 yards and a TD. Given Jackson’s penchant for leaning on his tight ends, Likel could be quite the contributor in 2022 … even if Mark Andrews’ fantasy owners prefer him not to be.
Matt Patricia: It appears the longtime Patriots defensive assistant, also a former Lions coach, has ‘earned’ the offensive line job in New England after filling the role in Friday’s game, which was also QB Mac Jones’ 2022 preseason debut.” She’s really starting to feel it,” Jones said of Patricia. “He’s very easy to talk to on the sideline. Very easygoing, relaxed coach, but he demands a lot and I respect that for him. I hope he can develop for a long time.” And hopefully Jones knows he’ll also be talking a lot with Bill Belichick and quarterbacks coach Joe Judge, who shared play-calling duties with Patricia in the season opener.
Jody Fortune: The Kansas City Chiefs backup caught a pair of TD passes from QB Patrick Mahomes on Saturday and looks to be making a successful comeback after his 2021 season was cut short by an Achilles injury. And since KC has been known to run triple-tight sets, the outlook for this converted wideout looks rosy.
Buccaneers: Tom Brady of Tomba Bay is back in the building after the mid-camp break … and not a moment too soon after the Bucs’ brutal offensive performance (174 yards, 3 points) in Nashville over the weekend.
Drew Locke: He’s still alive for the Seattle Seahawks’ starting quarterback job after Geno Smith’s offense looked uninspired and was shut out in the first half at home by the Chicago Bears. Smith also hit his right knee.
Drew Locke: He missed Thursday’s loss, which he was scheduled to start, due to COVID-19 and missed an opportunity to build distance on Smith. This is not the first time that the virus has chosen Lock.
Buccaneers: TB12 lost another offensive inside linebacker after G Aaron Stinnie, who was in the mix for the retired Ali Marpet’s spot, tore multiple ligaments in his knee.
Tony Gonzalez: No disrespect to Fortune, but why is he – or anyone – allowed to wear No. 88, the Hall of Fame jersey popular in Kansas City?
Sam Darnold: The Panthers quarterback didn’t get to play Friday and threw all three passes in the preseason (one for a TD), but lost the starting spot to Baker Mayfield anyway.
Matt Corral: The Panthers quarterback played Friday … and suffered a Lisfranc injury that could cost the former Ole Miss star his rookie season. Corral wasn’t likely to see the field much — if at all — in 2022, but the prospect of surgery and rehabilitation will only hinder the third-round pick’s pro transition.
Penalties for Cowboys: On the plus side, Dallas reduced its number of flags 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 an illegal formation another time and two false starts for bad measure.
Bryce Hall: Not to be confused with Jets rookie RB Breece Hall, New York’s third-year — started all 17 games last season — showed why he appears to be sliding into a backup role. Hall got burned for a 52-yard catch by Falcons TE Kyle Pitts – not much of a shame in that – on Atlanta’s first drive, but then delivered a 13-yard TD to WR Olamide Zaccheaus on the next. Given the choice of targeting rookie CB Sauce Gardner or Hall, pretty good bet opposing QBs will pick.
Backup QBs for Vikings: Reserves Kellen Mond and Sean Mannion were so contained that Minnesota opened a trade for journeyman Nick Mullens on Monday. Mond, a 2021 third-round pick who started Saturday, has made two cuts and — after former coach Mike Zimmer expressed frustration with him during his rookie season — is looking increasingly unlikely to take over for Kirk Cousins. in the future.
Charles Cross: Seattle’s first-round left tackle committed four penalties before halftime, three of which were fouls. A longtime problem area, the Seahawks O-line, which will rely on Cross and rookie tackle Abraham Lucas, remains a work in progress.
Cardinals alternate uniforms: Sorry, but the black helmets you plan to mix in this season aren’t helping. Still owners of the league’s ugliest running backs, this organization should take QB Kyler Murray’s advice … and dial it back or start over completely. FWIW, the Arizona 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 standouts