The good, bad and ugly from each NFL team’s preseason game: Cowboys rookie RB shines, Broncos O-line struggles

The good, bad and ugly from each NFL team’s preseason game: Cowboys rookie RB shines, Broncos O-line struggles

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The NFL preseason isn’t about wins and losses. Participation trophies are handed out like youth sports at the end of the three-game run, four games for the two teams that play in the Hall of Fame Game. However, those “trophies” come in the form of 53-man roster spots as well as practice squad slots. 

It’s hard to overreact after your team played just one game. With that in mind, here’s a look at how each NFL team’s first evaluation exhibition went as well as the notable moments as we highlight the good, bad and ugly for all 32 clubs in Week 1 of the 2023 preseason. 

Arizona Cardinals (defeated Denver Broncos 18-17)

The good: Fifth-round rookie quarterback Clayton Tune settling down after a shaky start to finish with 135 yards and a touchdown after a few bad misses and an interception on 13-of-23 passing. The more Tune plays, the better he will likely look, and seeing him finish strong has to be encouraging for first-year head coach Jonathan Gannon and his staff. The Cardinals defense also consistently harassed Broncos quarterbacks, recording the highest pressure rate (50%) in the entire NFL in Week 1 of the preseason. 

The bad: Allowing Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson to beat them for a 21-yard touchdown on fourth-and-4. Wilson, who had by far the worst year of his career in 2022, had struggled mightily up to that point in the exhibition game as the Cardinals had deflected two passes at the line of scrimmage and sacked him twice. Arizona, who generated pressure on 50% of the Broncos’ dropbacks — the highest rate in the league in Week of the preseason — felt they needed to all-out blitz Wilson on the play, allowing Jerry Jeudy to cook the safety in the slot. If they run a more conservative coverage, the Cardinals probably get home anyways, forcing a turnover on downs. 

The ugly: Tune’s interception was ugly all the way around. His intended target, Rondale Moore, fell down as Tune was getting set to throw, but the pass appeared like it would have been wide to the left of Moore anyways. Broncos cornerback Essang Bassey ran in a straight line in order to haul in the easy interception. This was certainly the lowlight of the Cardinals’ night. 

Atlanta Falcons (defeated Miami Dolphins 19-3)

The good: The Falcons’ new-look defender under first-year defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen shined. Sixth-round rookie safety DeMarcco Hellams, an Alabama alum, was their brightest star on Friday, racking up a team-high seven tackles and a red zone interception of Miami backup quarterback Mike White. 

Dee Alford’s 79-yard punt return touchdown served as the only touchdown of the second half, and it was electric as Alford broke multiple tackles before cutting all the way across the field for the score.

The bad and the ugly: It would have been nice for the Falcons to have mustered more than one offensive touchdown. Yes, only their backups took the field offensively, but you like better offensive cohesion, especially in the second half. Atlanta punted (three times) or had a turnover on downs (once) on all four of their offensive drives in the second half, excluding the end of the game kneel down possession. 

Baltimore Ravens (defeated Philadelphia Eagles 20-19)

The good: Baltimore’s backup quarterback situation. Lamar Jackson has missed 10 of the Ravens’ last 22 games including the playoffs after not missing any in his career because of injury from 2018-2020. Both longtime backup Tyler Huntley (88 passing yards, one passing touchdown on 8-of-11 passing) and journeyman Josh Johnson (45 passing yards, one passing touchdown — seven yards — on 8-of-12 passing) performed well. The Ravens are in a solid spot should anything happen to Jackson. Also, All-Pro kicker Justin Tucker still has the juice at 33 years old. He proved that by draining a 60-yard field goal with ease. 

The bad and the ugly: Wide receiver James Proche needs a stellar performance this preseason to remain a Baltimore Raven after the team signed Odell Beckham Jr. in free agency and drafted Zay Flowers in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft. He did the opposite of that Saturday, muffing a punt return on special teams while also only securing one catch for negative one yards on three targets as a receiver. 

Buffalo Bills (defeated Indianapolis Colts 23-19)

The good: Damar Hamlin made his return to NFL football. He began the game on the kickoff team before playing 20 defensive snaps and four special teams snaps in total. He registered three tackles.

“It for sure felt like a little weight off my shoulders,” Hamlin said when talking about making his first tackle. “I think it’ll be like that probably every game. But even before my situation it’s kind of like that, we all get butterflies until we get that first contact. That’s universal for being an athlete, that just lets you know you’re human, that just lets you know you live in the moment.”  

The bad and the ugly: The two turnovers. Backup quarterback Kyle Allen saw his wide receiver screen pass dropped and deflected into the Colts’ hands for a pick six. 

The second one was a lost fumble after a completion for a first down from backup quarterback Matt Barkley to tight end Jace Sternberger. Both of the giveaways were preventable, fundamental things that can be tweaked and corrected. However, both were ugly moments for the victorious Bills.

Carolina Panthers (defeated 27-0 by New York Jets)

The good: Quarterback Bryce Young, the first overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, survived. The 5-foot-10, 204-pound passer who was heavily scrutinized for his stature during the pre-draft process absorbed one sack and two hits. He did a nice job getting the ball out on time, completing four of his six passes for 21 yards, given the constant pressure he was under on Saturday.

“Obviously, we had a little too much pressure at times,” Panthers head coach Frank Reich said postgame on Saturday. “Bryce was accurate, he got rid of the ball quickly. We had to try to overcome some bad field positions, which we did not do. We got our second drive, we’re backed up there, pretty much. Those are great situations, we talk about this all the time. Let’s get the tough situations in and put ourselves to the test. We had a couple of those today. We didn’t pass those tests, but those are good to learn from.”  

The bad and the ugly: The beating was worse for backup Matt Corrall, who was sacked four times and hit two other times. That performance led to offensive tackle Cameron Irving and the offensive line collectively taking the blame for the Panthers’ offensive struggles against the Jets.

“We had to keep it real with each other,” Erving said postgame Saturday, via ESPN. “The s— wasn’t good enough. Top to bottom, no matter if it’s preseason, regular season, the s— was not good enough. Any level, from any position, myself included, especially my f—–g self. All we can do is try to regroup and fix it.”

Erving was also complimentary of his rookie quarterback’s resilience throughout the game.

“Poise, man. The kid’s poised,” Erving said. “He lives in the moment. That’s all you can ask from a quarterback. He has a short-term memory. He did everything he was supposed to do. He processed everything. But us as an O-line, we have to do better.”

Chicago Bears (defeated Tennessee Titans 23-17)

The good: Quarterback Justin Fields’ perfect passing day: 3 for 3 with 129 passing yards and two passing touchdowns — a 62-yarder to new top wideout DJ Moore and a 56-yarder to running back Khalil Herbert. Both came via screen passes, which is why Fields’ air yards total is minus-6 as his completions were behind the line of scrimmage. It’s nice to see him get acquainted with new starters in his offense early. The Bears defense also registered eight sacks, the most of any team this preseason. Defensive lineman Trevis Gipson’s eight quarterback pressures lead all players this preseason. Yes, the Titans had offensive line issues last season, but it’s an encouraging sign for last season’s worst pass rush. 

The bad and the ugly: Turnovers. The offense struggled without Fields and the starters in the game, committing two turnovers (an interception and a fumble lost) with the backups running the show. Velus Jones Jr.’s muffed punt was ugly given he could’ve let the ball bounce and avoided the tough situation entirely. 

Cincinnati Bengals (defeated 36-19 by Green Bay Packers)

The good: Defensive tackle Domenique Davis, a 27-year-old undrafted free agent, dominated up front with four quarterback pressures, a quarterback hit and a fumble recovery. One of his pressures up the middle directly resulted in Packers backup quarterback Sean Clifford tossing a pick-six to Bengals cornerback Tycen Anderson. Fellow defensive tackle Jay Tufele, fourth-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, also stood out with a game-high tackles and a quarterback pressure. 

The bad and the ugly: Backup quarterbacks Jake Browning and Trevor Siemian both threw an interception and both registered a 49.9 passer rating. Not a great sign for Cincinnati should Joe Burrow end up missing time in the regular season because of his calf injury. The Bengals failed to register an offensive touchdown. 

“I saw some good things, we moved the ball at times,” Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor said postgame on Friday. “Ultimately, their job is to get us in the end zone. Offensively, we didn’t get the ball in the end zone at all. Kicked some field goals, had the defensive touchdown, but ultimately, that’s what we are judged on — protecting the football and getting the team in the end zone. Not enough of that tonight.”  

Cleveland Browns (defeated 17-15 by Washington Commanders)

The good: Quarterback Deshaun Watson looked more comfortable in his preseason start against Washington on Friday than he did in any of the six games he started in 2022. He completed all three of his pass attempts for 12 yards, and he did a good job of scrambling when necessary, totaling 20 rushing yards on three carries. Fifth-round rookie and backup quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson continues to impress. He had a near-perfect outing as he totaled 102 passing yards and a seven-yard touchdown pass on 9-of-10 passing while also adding 11 yards on three rushes.  

The bad and the ugly:  Kicker Cade York missed his only field goal of the night, pushing a 46-yard attempt wide right. He also missed a 49-yard attempt in similar fashion at the Hall of Fame Game. Cleveland might have a kicker problem.

Dallas Cowboys (defeated 28-23 by Jacksonville Jaguars)

The good: Deuce Vaughn. The 5-6, 176-pound rookie was the highlight of the game for the Cowboys. The sixth-round pick’s 26-yard run behind the right guard showcased his vertical speed as well as his ability to truck opposing defenders for additional yardage. The roar of the AT&T Stadium crowd felt different when Vaughn was making something happen on Saturday. He totaled 62 scrimmage yards on 11 touches, and it feels like he’ll be a regular part of the game plan during the regular season. 

Rookie third-round pick linebacker DeMarvion Overshown, one of Micah Parsons’ pupils, flashed as well with six tackles. The converted safety has plenty of speed and force when he collides with an opposing ball-carrier. 

The bad and the ugly: Dallas’ offensive line depth. Zack Martin returned to the team on Monday after signing a revised deal, but after the first five, things get a little dicey. The backups who started on Saturday from left to right were Asim Richards at left tackle, Matt Farniok at left guard, Brock Hoffman at center, Josh Ball at right guard and Matt Waletzko at right tackle. Martin along with Terence Steele (right tackle), Tyler Biadasz (center), Tyler Smith (left guard) and Tyron Smith (left tackle) need to stay healthy. Right now, none of the backups has inspired confidence. 

“You would always like to get to a point in camp where you have your five guys that you’re going to try to get connected and get into a rhythm and so forth,” Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy said postgame Saturday. “We’re obviously not at that point. We have some veterans and we have some moving parts, so on the flip side of that it does create a lot of opportunity for our young players. This is good for us. I think this will pay dividends in the long run. At some point you do want to get into that routine of getting five guys working together.”

Denver Broncos (defeated 18-17 by Arizona Cardinals)

The good: Russell Wilson eventually threw a touchdown pass. He beat an all-out blitz on fourth-and-4 just outside the red zone for a 21-yard score, but Wilson getting to that point required him to play a quarter-and-a-half against the Arizona Cardinals defense. He finished his day with 93 yards and a touchdown on 7-of-13 passing. 

The bad and the ugly: The Denver Broncos offensive line allowed an NFL-worst 50% quarterback pressure rate in Week 1 of the preseason. That included two of Wilson’s passes being swatted away and a sack of their franchise quarterback. Denver handed right tackle Mike McGlinchey a five-year, $87.5 million deal and left guard Ben Powers a four-year, $52 million contract his offseason. For Wilson’s sake, hopefully the group can mesh when everyone is out there. 

Detroit Lions (defeated New York Giants 21-16)

The good: Detroit’s early-round draft picks sizzled Friday night. Twelfth overall pick Jahmyr Gibbs totaled 37 yards from scrimmage on seven touches as the RB displayed some nice elusiveness plus an ability to lower his shoulder and power through in between the tackles in order to pick up a first down. Eighteenth overall pick, inside linebacker Jack Campbell, was solid with a team-high four tackles plus one pass defended. Second-round rookie safety Brian Branch may have gotten the best crowd reaction of the night after dropping a sledgehammer on Giants wide receiver Cole Beasley. A nice debut for the lion cubs. 

The bad and the ugly: Backup quarterback Nate Sudfeld’s preseason performance was dismal. He threw two interceptions, including one on the first play of the game shown below. He barely completed 50% of his passes, 15-of-28 passing for 194 yards and the two picks. It makes total sense why the Lions felt the need to sign Teddy Bridgewater to be Jared Goff’s backup.  

Green Bay Packers (defeated Cincinnati Bengals 36-19)

The good: Quarterback Jordan Love showed promise while playing with most of the Packers’ starting lineup on Green Bay’s first two drives of the game. He threw for 46 yards, including a nine-yard touchdown to second-year receiver Romeo Doubs, on 7-of-10 passing. Most of his completions were quick, designed passes, but head coach Matt LaFleur did allow for Love to take a couple of deep shots, including a near connection with Christian Watson that would’ve been about 43 yards. With the exception of a couple throws, Love was on target. His final throw of the night, the touchdown to Doubs, had excellent touch and placement as he put it only where Doubs could go get it.

“All in all, I thought it was a good first performance,” Packers head coach Matt LaFleur said postgame on Friday. “It was very limited action. I’m sure he would love to have the throw to [Luke] Musgrave back, but there’s a lot to learn from. A lot of good came out of it. Just the poise he showed, the command he showed. I thought we were getting in and out of the huddle quickly, so I thought it was a really good first exposure for him for this season.”  

Seventh-round rookie cornerback Carrington Valentine out of Kentucky also put on a show totaling four tackles and three passes defended. 

The bad: Rookie sixth-round kicker Anders Carlson’s extra point misses. He has big shoes to fill with the Packers’ all-time leading scorer Mason Crosby no longer with the Green and Gold after 16 seasons in Green Bay. Carlson pushed two of his five extra points wide right on Friday. He made his only field goal attempt of the game, a 45-yarder in the third quarter.

“I don’t wanna look too far into it,” LaFleur said. “It’s one game, but as long as you learn from it and get better and make the necessary adjustments, then a lot of times you come back stronger from it.”  

The ugly: Love’s ugliest play of the night came when second-round rookie tight end Luke Musgrave broke wide open on a crossing route. The Packers quarterback simply airmailed the throw, launching way too high and off to the left. Love lamented the play as he certainly looks to prevent that type of situation from occurring again. 

“The one I wish I could get back: that throw over the middle to Luke,” Love said postgame on Friday. “Man, just missed him. That’s an easy throw, routine throw, just couldn’t come up with it. But other than that, I thought we played well. I thought all the pass game was in stride.”

Houston Texans (defeated New England Patriots 20-9)

The good: Wide receiver Tank Dell was far and away the brightest part of the Houston Texans’ preseason victory. The third-round rookie, who No. 2 overall pick C.J. Stroud pushed Houston to draft, totaled five catches for 65 yards, and the most acrobatic receiving touchdown, a six-yard-score, of the preseason so far. If Dell can continue to get open despite his slender frame — 5-10, 165 pounds — then Houston may have a long-term solution at the slot receiver position. 

The bad: Stroud’s NFL debut against Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots defense. Belichick has a reputation for dominating rookie quarterbacks and that came to pass on Thursday. Stroud completed two of his four passes across a couple of possessions for 13 yards. He also threw an ugly interception on his second pass of the night, right into the hands of Patriots defensive back Jalen Mills. 

“I thought it was good for C.J. to go out and get some live reps, get some real looks,” Houston Texans first-year head coach DeMeco Ryans said Thursday. “I thought he moved around well, went to the right place with the ball a couple times, and it was good to see him move out of the pocket and try to make some things happen there. We know we’ve got some things to clean up, up front, and I don’t want him having to move as much, but we all have things to clean up and get better at. But I thought it was a good first outing, good look at live action, so I thought it was good for him.”

The ugly: Stroud’s aforementioned interception that went right to Mills. 

Indianapolis Colts (defeated 23-19 by Buffalo Bills)

The good: Anthony Richardson settling in after tossing an interception on his first drive. The young QB ended the day completing seven of his 12 passes for 67 yards. Richardson’s best throw of the day was this 34-yard toss to wide receiver Alec Pierce, but Pierce couldn’t corral the picturesque deep ball. That play displayed the cannon of an arm that led to the Colts taking him fourth overall: 

The bad and the ugly: Richardson’s early interception in the first quarter when he threw off his back foot. It appeared like he and his receiver were not on the same page since Richardson threw a ball that looked intended for a player running some type of comeback or hitch route and his intended target was further up the sideline. Receiver Isaiah McKenzie apologized on the sideline following that play, according to The Athletic

“I would say that interception is on me, a little miscommunication there,” McKenzie said on the CBS broadcast. “But for the most part, I love what I saw from him [Richardson] and how he distributed the ball.”  

Jacksonville Jaguars (defeated Dallas Cowboys 28-23)

The good: Wide receiver Calvin Ridley had an injury free debut in his return to football after missing the bulk of the last two seasons as Trevor Lawrence connected with him for two receptions and 21 yards. Lawrence had a nice albeit brief day with 36 passing yards, a nine-yard touchdown to Christian Kirk, and an interception. The best play of the day belonged to Lawrence’s backup, Nathan Rourke. The undrafted rookie out of Ohio University provided the football world with the best play of the preseason and perhaps the best football of the entire 2023 season. He spun away from would-be tackles and fired a 21-yard touchdown pass to Qadree Ollison while being dragged down by the wait. Rourke finished with 153 passing yards and that scoring strike on 9-of-17 passing. 

The bad and the ugly: Lawrence’s interception in which he appeared to either overthrow Ridley or tried to squeeze the football into an incredibly tight window to tight end Evan Engram. On Monday, head coach Doug Pederson disagreed that there were route issues on the playing, stating, via the Florida Times-Union, that the football “slipped out of his [Lawrecen’s] hand.”

Kansas City Chiefs (defeated 26-24 by New Orleans Saints)

The good: Chiefs’ fresh faces at wide receiver shined. Former New York Giant Richie James, who co-led the G-Men with 57 catches last season, totaled 44 yards on two catches. One was a 43-yard gain, and the other was a one-yard touchdown catch.

Justyn Ross, the oft-injured former Clemson wideout, once dominated an Alabama secondary with Pat Surtain II, Trevon Diggs, and Xavier McKinney in the 2019 College Football Playoff National Championship game to the tune of 153 receiving yards and a touchdown (74 yards) on six catches. He didn’t stuff the stat sheet like that in his Chiefs preseason debut, but he did find the end zone on Sunday on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Shane Buechele. Ross finished with 29 receiving on two catches, including the 15-yard score.

The bad and the ugly: The Chiefs’ starting defensive line without All-Pro defensive tackle Chris Jones. Jones is still holding out after a career year and with 2023 being the only season left on his current deal, so Kansas City’s starting defensive front was comprised of free-agent signing Charles Omenihu and George Karlaftis at the two defensive end spots while Chiefs mainstay Derek Nnadi and journeyman Daniel Wise started at the two defensive tackle spots. None of them were able to so much as touch Carr or backup Jameis Winston, let alone sack them. Winston’s three sacks only occurred once defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo spiced up his preseason game with regularly blitzing his backups. 

Las Vegas Raiders (defeated San Francisco 49ers 34-7)

The good: The Raiders’ pass rush. Las Vegas struggled to find pass rush help after Pro Bowlers Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones represented 17 of their 27 sacks last season, an overall total that ranked as the third fewest in 2022. They got four sacks, tied for the sixth most in the first week of the preseason, from backups — Amari Burney (1.0),  John Jenkins (1.0),  Adam Butler (1.0), Jordan Willis (0.5) and Isaac Rochell (0.5) — while generating a quarterback pressure rate of 48.9%, the eighth most in the NFL this past week.

Rookie fourth-round pick Aidan O’Connell impressed in his start, throwing for 141 passing yards and a touchdown (nine yards) while completing 15 of his 18 passes. He displayed some hope for Raiders fans should Jimmy Garoppolo suffer another injury in 2023.

The bad and the ugly: Wide receiver Tre Tucker, the Raiders’ third-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft that they acquired when they sent Pro Bowl tight end Darren Waller to the New York Giants, dropped a couple passes — one on a third-and-7 slant route and another on a different third down that would have been a 34-yard pickup. The second one was ruled incomplete following replay review. Not much went wrong for the Raiders, but Las Vegas would probably like to see Tucker clean up a couple things fundamentally. 

Los Angeles Chargers (defeated Los Angeles Rams 34-17)

The good: Rookie fourth-round pick receiver/returner Derius Davis out of TCU — college football’s reigning Jet award winner (the nation’s top return man) — showcased his game-breaking ability with an 81-yard punt return touchdown. He totaled five such scores in college, including two last season, and the Chargers hope Saturday’s was the first of many. 

His college teammate, Chargers first-round pick wide receiver Quentin Johnston, also found the end zone on an eight-yard catch. Johnston totaled 10 receiving yards and a touchdown on three catches. 

The Chargers’ ground game dominated as well Saturday, totaling 214 yards on 31 carries, an incredible 6.9 yards per rush, while rotating through undrafted rookie Elijah Doston (six carries for 92 yards, and two touchdowns) and incumbents Joshua Kelley (54 yards on nine carries) and Isaiah Spiller (27 yards on five carries). That’s the type of production head coach Brandon Staley was looking for when he hired offensive coordinator Kellen Moore this offseason. 

The bad and the ugly: There isn’t too much to nitpick other than the Chargers defensive backups allowing Rams rookie quarterback Stetson Bennett (191 passing yards and one touchdown on 17-of-29 passing) to heat up a little bit. All in all, a dominant night for SoFi Stadium’s renters. 

Los Angeles Rams (defeated 34-17 by Los Angeles Chargers)

The good: Rookie fourth-round quarterback Stetson Bennett (191 passing yards and one touchdown on 17-of-29 passing) came to life after three errant passes to start the game. The Rams need a capable backup for 15-year veteran Matthew Stafford as he’s coming off a season in which he dealt with neck and head injuries. Perhaps his fellow Georgia Bulldog can be that trusty No. 2. Rookie fifth-round Puka Nacua, the recipient of Bennett’s scoring strike, stood out as well with three catches for 32 yards. 

The bad: The Rams’ defensive depth players were run-flattened by the Chargers’ ground game, allowing them to rack up 214 yards on 31 carries, an incredible 6.9 yards per rush. Los Angeles still lacks legit depth after mortgaging the future to go all in for Super Bowl LVI, which they won, so the strategy was a success. However, that teambuilding strategy will leave them thin for at least one more year until they finally have possession of a first-round pick in 2024. The last time they picked in the first round was selecting quarterback Jared Goff first overall in 2016. 

The ugly: Poor depth, poor special teams. Rookie kicker Tanner Brown missed a 46-yard field goal. Rookie punter Ethan Evans saw Chargers rookie returner Derius Davis take one of his punts back 81 yards for a touchdown. Most of their special teams coverage groups are young, inexperienced players too. This could be one of the worst special teams units in the NFL in 2023. 

Miami Dolphins (defeated 19-3 by Atlanta Falcons)

The good: Third-round rookie running back De’Von Achane stood out despite playing behind a makeshift offensive line. He strung together 25 yards on 10 carries, 41 receiving yards on four catches and a 38-yard kickoff return. The rushing yards were hard earned and his speed flashed, especially on the kickoff return.

The bad and the ugly: Miami backup quarterbacks Mike White and Skylar Thompson combined to throw 149 yards and three interceptions on 19-of-30 passing, totaling a combined passer rating of 41.5. They also took five sacks. White signed a two-year, $8 million contract this offseason after playing solidly in relief of Zach Wilson last season with the Jets. His time in Miami got off to a rough start. Especially after throwing an ugly interception near the goal line. 

Minnesota Vikings (defeated 24-13 by Seattle Seahawks)

The good: First-round receiver Jordan Addison displayed a high ceiling. While he only had one catch for 22 yards, his best “catch” of the night was an incompletion that should have been called a reception. Addison displayed Pro Bowl-caliber toe drag swag with turf flying up as both of his feet came down inbounds. Backup running back Ty Chandler also stood out, stuffing the stat sheet with 70 scrimmage yards (41 rushing yards on 11 carries, 29 receiving yards on four catches). 

The bad and the ugly: Their defensive depth. Seahawks backup quarterback Drew Lock shredded their secondary (191 passing yards, two touchdowns, one interception on 17-of-24 passing) with the exception of one mind-numbing throw. Yes, the Vikings played their backups, but they were the second-worst total defense (388.7 total yards per game allowed) and second-worst pass defense (245.8 passing yards per game allowed) in 2022. Minnesota may not like what it sees if injuries in the secondary occur. 

New England Patriots (defeated 20-9 by Houston Texans)

The good: Rookie defensive end and second-round pick Keion White blew past the Texans’ backup offensive linemen with ease, totaling three quarterback pressures, three tackles and a quarterback hit. He also showed some savvy by hitting Houston running back Dare Ogunbowale during a fumble, allowing his New England teammates to recover the fumble. 

The bad: The Patriots offense was unable to sustain drives, only scoring a touchdown on their final possession of the night, needing 14 plays to do so. Yes, mostly backups played in Week 1 of the preseason, but it would have been encouraging to have scored at least two touchdowns. 

The ugly: Patriots passers were under pressure on 33.3% of their dropbacks on Thursday, a figure that ranked 19th out of the 32 teams through Week 1 of the preseason. If New England hopes to rediscover offensive rhythm under new offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien, that figure has to go down. 

New Orleans Saints (defeated Kansas City Chiefs 26-24)

The good: Derek Carr looked exactly the way the New Orleans Saints could have hoped their $150 million man would in his Saints debut: efficient and prolific. He completed six of his eight passes for 70 passing yards and a four-yard passing touchdown. Carr’s opening drive operation led head coach Dennis Allen to pull the starters after one drive. He connected with 2019 Offensive Player of the Year Michael Thomas for a 16-yard gain as well as Pro Bowl running back Alvin Kamara. New Orleans has to be happy with the very early results of the Carr era. 

The bad: The backup defense allowed Blaine Gabbert and Shane Buechele to score 24 unanswered points to take a 24-17 lead just past the halfway mark in the fourth quarter. The Saints’ defensive depth is relatively inexperienced after years of salary cap contract maneuvering via restructures.

The ugly: Rookie kicker Blake Grupe, who drained the game-winning 31-yard field goal as time expired, was stopped by security twice on Sunday since his 5-7, 156-pound frame didn’t scream NFL player to Saints stadium security. That’s no way to treat your local heroes. 

New York Giants (defeated 21-16 by Detroit Lions)

The good: Starting safety Jason Pinnock totaled a tackle for loss on Jahmyr Gibbs, defended two passes and hauled in an interception on five plays on Friday night. That’s peak preseason efficiency. 

The bad and the ugly: The New York Giants offensive line. Yes, mostly backups played, but their front five put up one of the worst performances of any team across the NFL in Week 1 of the preseason. Their 45.9% quarterback pressure rate allowed was the fourth-worst in the league, and their five sacks allowed were tied for the second-most allowed in the entire NFL. Giants head coach Brian Daboll better start praying his starting offensive lineman have a healthy 2023. 

New York Jets (defeated Carolina Panthers 27-0)

The good: The Jets defense, which was the No. 4 scoring defense (18.6 points per game allowed) a year ago, will be dominant once again in 2023. They didn’t even play their starters, and they still dominated a Panthers offensive line compromised of four projected starters. Gang Green’s six sacks and 20 quarterback pressures were both the second most of any team in the league through the first week of the preseason. Rookie Will McDonald IV, the team’s 15th overall draft pick in 2023, balled out with spin moves and the whole repertoire, racking up a sack and six pressures, tied for the second most in the league this preseason.

Zach Wilson also cruised, throwing for 123 yards and a two-yard touchdown on 14-of-20 passing. 

The bad and the ugly: That the Jets didn’t break 30? New York essentially had a perfect performance, so not much to see here. 

Philadelphia Eagles (defeated 20-19 by Baltimore Ravens)

The good: New Eagles running back D’Andre Swift, a second-round pick by the Detroit Lions in the 2020 NFL Draft, only needed one play for head coach Nick Sirianni to see enough in Week 1 of the preseason: This 22-yard run in which he broke some ankles and trucked a defender.

Undrafted Alabama cornerback Eli Ricks also dazzled with a pick-six of backup quarterback Anthony Brown. That wasn’t his only play of the night: Opposing passers were 1 for 5 with seven yards and the interception for a 0.0 passer rating against him. He also added two passes defended.

The bad and the ugly: The only real bad news for Philadelphia is losing special teams linebacker Shaun Bradley for the season with an Achilles injury. Otherwise, the defending NFC champions once again look stout. 

Pittsburgh Steelers (defeated Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27-17)

The good: Second-year quarterback Kenny Pickett looked polished on his one drive with the first team that ended with a 33-yard touchdown strike to George Pickens. Sure, the Buccaneers played their backups, but Pickett performed exactly the way Steelers nation could have hoped: He completed six of his seven passes for 70 yards and the aforementioned touchdown to Pickens. Two of his best plays came on the money down, third down. He hit receiver Diontae Johnson for 11 yards on third-and-10, and he found Pickens for the touchdown on third-and-eight. 

“We saw what we needed to see,” Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said postgame on Friday. “They are young guys, but they have some experience, so we asked them to step outside themselves. … We aren’t going to wear our hands out patting ourselves on the back.”  

The bad and the ugly: This is mostly nitpicking since so much went right for the Steelers, but two of the Buccaneers quarterbacks diced them up. Starter Baker Mayfield (63 yards and a touchdown on 8-of-9 passing) and backup John Wolford (111 yards and a touchdown on 10-of-17 passing) carved up Pittsburgh’s backup secondary. Not the end of the world, but I’m sure Tomlin would’ve liked to have seen them put up more of a fight in the secondary. 

San Francisco 49ers (defeated 34-7 by Las Vegas Raiders)

The good: Defensive end Clelin Ferrell, the fourth overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft by the Las Vegas Raiders, is looking to break through in his second NFL stop. He did so on Sunday, flashing with a nice run-stuffing tackle plus a sack of Raiders starting quarterback Aidan O’Connell in which he beat the left tackle with an easy swim move.

Seventh-round rookie receiver Ronnie Bell out of Michigan stood out as well, leading the 49ers with 58 receiving yards on three catches. That includes this highlight reel, over-the-shoulder grab on a pass from Sam Darnold. 

The bad: Rookie kicker Jake Moody, who the San Francisco 49ers selected in the third round (99th overall) of the 2023 NFL Draft out of Michigan  — making him the highest-drafted kicker since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Roberto Aguayo in the second round (59th overall) — struggled in his NFL debut. Moody missed both field goals on Sunday, a 40-yard attempt that was off to the left and a 58-yard attempt that went wide to the right. He did connect on his only extra point of the day. 

“He’s been great,” San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said of Moody postgame on Sunday. “He handles himself well. So, no issues here with me.”  

The ugly: Quarterback Trey Lance, the 49ers’ third overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, struggled mightily on Sunday despite what his box score says: 112 passing yards and a touchdown on 10-of-15 passing. His “touchdown” should’ve been intercepted as it went right through the hands of Raiders defensive back Duke Shelley before magically landing in the hands of 49ers tight end Ross Dwelley. 

Lance was sacked four times, some of which can be attributed to poor pass protection, but he also had two throws hit defenders in the hands and held the ball too long. He looks like a significant project entering his third NFL season. 

Seattle Seahawks (defeated Minnesota Vikings 24-13)

The good: The Seahawks’ 2023 draft class flashed some potential, which is exactly what the front office hoped to see. Wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba, the 20th overall pick and first receiver taken in the most recent draft, had a decent night (three catches for 25 yards). His 15-yard catch was his bet play of the night. Second-round running back Zach Charbonnet (four carries for 14 yards, two catches for 14 yards) looked solid as well as both a rusher and receiver. Fifth-round defensive end Mike Morris accounted for two quarterback pressures and one quarterback hit. Encouraging signs all around.

The bad and the ugly: Overall, the Seahawks had a very nice night across the board. Backup quarterback Drew Lock, the game’s starter with Geno Smith chilling on the sidelines, was mostly good, completing 17 of his 24 passes for 191 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. However, his interception was mystifying. Lock threw the ball right into the chest of a Vikings defender as intended target Matt Landers was triple-covered. 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (defeated 27-17 by Pittsburgh Steelers)

The good: Baker Mayfield looked like a starting quarterback. He has bounced around the league the last two seasons, suiting up for three different teams. However, he did what he needed to do in his short time playing against the Steelers: He totaled 63 yards passing, including an eight-yard beauty to the back of the end zone for a touchdown, while completing eight of his nine passes.

The bad: The Buccaneers still struggle with run blocking. They averaged an NFL-worst 76.9 rushing yards per game last season, and they weren’t all that fantastic on Friday. Sure, three of their offensive line starters (left tackle Tristan Wirfs, center Ryan Jensen and left guard Matt Feiler) sat out, but projected starters at right guard (second-round rookie Cody Mauch) and right tackle (Luke Goedeke) had far from a clean outing. Tampa Bay totaled 41 rushing yards on 20 carries midway through the third quarter when the starters departed after Kyle Trask’s action. Not great. 

The ugly: The Buccaneers’ secondary backups got cooked, not once, but twice. First, it was whiffing on multiple tackles when the Steelers were facing a third-and-eight, which allowed receiver George Pickens to score a 33-yard touchdown. 

In the third quarter, the secondary allowed Steelers second-year wide receiver Calvin Austin III to just breeze on down the left sideline for an easy 67-yard touchdown. Tampa Bay better hope it has an injury-free secondary in 2023.

Tennessee Titans (defeated 23-17 by Chicago Bears)

The good: Backup quarterback Malik Willis leading the Titans down the field for an opening drive touchdown was a strong start. He immediately began the game with a 30-yard completion, and 11 plays later the Titans were in the end zone. Rookie second-round quarterback Will Levis also led Tennessee to a touchdown on his first drive of the game at the start of the second quarter. He completed a 21-yard strike right away, and five plays later, the titans were in the end zone. 

The bad: However, both Willis and Levis failed to sustain drives the same way after their initial successes as an end-of-the-half 41-yard field goal was the only other score of the game. Willis finished with 189 passing yards, an interception as well as 22 rushing yards on three carries, including a two-yard rushing touchdown. Levis finished with 85 passing yards on 9-of-14 passing with an interceptions. Titans head coach Mike Vrabel had a clear message for his rookie quarterback on Sunday, a day after the loss: Keep it simple. 

“Just letting the game come to him [Levis], just take what’s there,” Vrabel said. “Just trying to make sure we are not overdoing it, we are just playing one role, a large role as the quarterback in the offense, taking what they give you, and when there’s opportunities to work the ball down the field, do that. He did some nice things, and [he] would like to have some things back.”

The ugly: Each quarterback absorbed four sacks. The Titans had offensive line issues a year ago as multiple quarterbacks suffered injuries. That’s why they went out and signed former first-round pick tackle Andre Dillard (three years, $29 million) and selected Northwestern offensive lineman Peter Skoronski 11th overall in the 2023 NFL Draft. Their 38.8% quarterback pressure rate allowed was the 10th worst in Week 1 of the preseason. Some of the sacks were on the quarterbacks, but the whole offense in general needs to do better in protection. 

Washington Commanders (defeated Cleveland Browns 17-15)

The good: Former No. 2 overall pick and 2020 Defensive Rookie of the Year Chase Young looks explosive again. He totaled one quarterback pressure on only four snaps Friday night against the Cleveland Browns, but he put on display both the athleticism and pass-rush technique that had the football world drooling not too long ago. Young looks primed for a huge season entering the final year of his rookie deal.  

Quarterback Sam Howell also had a nice night with the starting group, completing nine of his 12 passes for 77 yards, including a 26-yard scoring strike to second-year wide receiver Jahan Dotson.

The bad: The difference in this preseason game’s outcome was two points, the equivalent of the safety Washington surrendered when right tackle Andrew Wylie committed a holding penalty in the end zone. 

The ugly: Jacoby Brissett undermined a fair performance — 75 passing yards on 6-of-10 passing and a 12-yard rushing touchdown — on Friday with an absolute lollipop of an interception. He decided to heave a throw off his back foot while under pressure, which made for an easy play for the Browns undrafted rookie safety Ronnie Hickman. That throw is definitely one Brissett would like to have back.