Just a year ago, the expectation for the Eagles through the preseason in Chip Kelly's third season were sky high. Sam Bradford was engineering an uptempo offense that was piling up points. But the games they played in were as meaningless as the stats, because the Eagles were stuck in the mud for almost all of 2015. So what do we make of the 2016 preseason Eagles, an offensively inept unit through two games? It's hard not to be pessimistic even when analyzing the preseason.
After piling up 188 yards in Week 1 against the Buccaneers, the Eagles picked up right where they left off on Thursday, generating 45 total yards through the first three drives of the night. Bradford was under pressure early. Ryan Mathews wasn't finding any room to run. The Eagles offensive line wasn't able to hold off the Steelers pass rushers. The first-team wide receivers were missing in action.
The first play of the fourth drive was the most explosive of the game ... and it was called back because of offensive pass interference. On the next play, with Philly running the two-minute offense, Nelson Agholor hauled in a nice leaping grab on a potentially interceptable ball from Bradford. He followed it up by immediately dropping a easy opportunity on a crossing route.
Philly wouldn't find the end zone on offense until the second half, when backup quarterback Chase Daniel would march them down the field for a touchdown. Yay.
The concern for the Eagles is that the offense, which has plenty of big-name talent on it, feels like a house of cards. Bradford and Mathews are both injury prone. Jordan Matthews, Agholor and Rueben Randle aren't getting separation often. Lane Johnson, who signed a mammoth contract in the offseason, is likely to miss the first 10 games of the season with a suspension.
Factor all that in and it's not hard to imagine Bradford being forced to hold the ball and facing plenty of pressure from opposing defensive lines. If the running game can't get going, look out.
Here's 12 more takeaways from Thursday night's preseason football action.
1. There's some good news for the Eagles
Namely the defense, which looked impressive for Philadelphia. If you're holding out hope for an Eagles' playoff run, the defense is the primary reason. Or it should be anyway -- the defense recorded a ridiculous four first-half interceptions, including a pick-six from Nolan Carroll to put the first points on the board.
Pretty simple solution for producing wins, really.
As long as the Eagles force 5 turnovers per game, they should be in good shape this season.— Jimmy Kempski (@JimmyKempski) August 18, 2016
That's probably asking a bit much, but there are a lot of explosive playmakers on that side of the ball for Philadelphia. If the offense can avoid trainwreck status, the Eagles can make a move in the NFC East. -- Will Brinson
2. Steelers' Landry Jones can't stop throwing picks
The biggest culprit for the Eagles' big game on defense wasn't even the Eagles themselves. It was the Steelers' backup quarterback, who threw four picks in the first half of the game.
The throw to Carroll was the first one, and only one that resulted in points for Philly. But the rest weren't much better.
There was a brutal underthrow in the red zone that was nabbed by Malcolm Jenkins.
Jones actually got the Steelers back into the red zone on the other side of the field and was targeting Sammie Coates, this time making sure he didn't underthrow his receiver. Unfortunately there was a defensive back there and Aaron Grymes stole the ball.
The two-minute drill didn't work very well either, with Jones attempting to throw the ball down the field and finding Jaylen Watkins instead of his intended receiver.
Not an ideal first half. Steelers fans are probably hoping Ben Roethlisberger stays healthy. It's also possible there was miscommunication between Jones and his receivers.
Coates, however, gave the Steelers offense something to hang its hat on. Replacing Martavius Bryant is no easy task, but the second-year wideout at least looks capable of replicating a decently-high amount of Bryant's production for the Steelers. He's long, lean and can make acrobatic catches, which he showed during the first half against an Eagles defense that was having a pretty nice day.
He and Markus Wheaton should at least be able to fill the void and allow the Steelers to maintain a dominant offense in 2016. There's been a lot of hype about Coates thus far in the preseason, and he really does look like a legitimate threat to break out. -- WB
3. Garoppolo shines after Brady's bizarre accident
Everyone in New England was expecting Brady to make his preseason debut on Thursday, but that didn't happen after the quarterback suffered a self-inflicted injury.
Apparently, Brady sliced open his right thumb with a pair of scissors while working on his cleats before the game. The only update that anyone was given came from Brady's agent, Don Yee, who said that Brady will be "OK in time," which tells us nothing about the severity of the injury.
Brady's injury meant that Jimmy Garoppolo had to start against Chicago, which is almost a good thing for the Patriots, because Garoppolo needs all the game reps he can get before he takes over as the Patriots' full-time starter for the first four games of the season.
If Garoppolo was rattled by the fact that he had to start on a moment's notice after the Brady injury, he didn't show it. The Patriots quarterback went 16 of 21 for 181 yards and a touchdown, and had New England's offense rolling for most of the night.
Garoppolo was the on the field for six possessions against the Bears, and led the Patriots to a score on four of them. The only ugly possession that the Patriots put together while Garoppolo was on the field came on the team's opening offensive drive, when New England went three-and-out.
The only other time the Patriots didn't score while Garoppolo was on the field came on an 11-play, 83-yard drive that only ended after Brandon Bolden lost a fumble at the Bears' 7-yard line.
Garoppolo's most impressive drive came in a two-minute drill at the end of the first half. The quarterback capped the 57-yard drive with a 16-yard laser through double coverage that ended up in the waiting hands of tight end A.J. Derby.
Garoppolo's 181-yard performance was even more impressive when you consider that he didn't have Rob Gronkowski or Julian Edelman. As for Derby, he took advantage of all the offensive absences. The tight end finished the game with six catches for 71 yards.
LeGarrette Blount was also impressive for the Patriots, carrying the ball 11 times for 69 yards and a touchdown.
The Patriots also got two catches for 26 yards from new tight end Martellus Bennett. -- John Breech
4. The Bears offense is on the board
One week after looking absolutely atrocious in a 22-0 loss to the Broncos, the Bears offense actually looked good in New England.
On the Chicago's first two offensive series' of the game, Jay Cutler led the Bears on a 10-play, 59-yard scoring drive and an 11-play, 64-yard scoring drive. Bears fans probably didn't think that kind of sustained offense was even possible after the bloodbath against Denver.
Although Cutler looked good (8 of 12, 83 yards), the bright spot for the Bears had to be running back Jeremy Langford, who averaged seven yards per touch against the Patriots. Not only did Langford carry the ball eight times for 55 yards, but he also tacked on one catch for eight yards. -- JB
5. RG3 providing hope in Cleveland
It's early yet, but how can Browns fans not be excited about the possibility of 2016 under Hue Jackson with Robert Griffin III at the helm? The new Cleveland quarterback got beat up a bit during his first preseason start last week, but he followed it up with an impressive performance in Week 2, continuing to build up his confidence.
And later in the game RG3 found Gary Barnidge for a beautiful touchdown pass, showing off the arm that made him such a drool-worthy player during the first season of his career.
Maybe the most important thing from Griffin's performance? His intelligence on the field. Twice he used his legs to pick up chunks of yards and twice he slid before anyone got close to hitting him.
After Cameron Erving snapped the ball 100 feet (approximately) over his head, Griffin sprinted back and dove on the ball, while not at all attempting to pick it up and run. It was reminiscent of the playoff game where he injured his leg during his rookie season -- RG3 got hurt because he was trying to do too much.
Totally different situation, obviously, but he looked comfortable sliding for the first time in his career. He's still getting pressured a bit much for the Browns liking, but he looks sharp back there. What a year for Cleveland this is shaping up to be. -- WB
6. Jones and Freeman key Falcons offense
No one's excited about the Falcons offense this year. It feels like they have a ceiling, because of Matt Ryan. But they also have Julio Jones. And it's easy to forget what Julio can do because of how poorly the Falcons looked down the stretch last year, but he is very much a freak.
Ryan should be better in a second season in Kyle Shanahan's offense and the addition of Momahed Sanu should make Jones' life easier. Sanu is a sleeper to put up legit WR2 numbers, but he's a guarantee to be an improvement over Roddy White's 2015. He had a late first-quarter catch where he picked up a ton of yards after catch en route to a 32-yard gain.
The real story no one's talking about is Devonta Freeman. The Falcons offensive line is better, he's in his second season with Shanahan's offense as well and he looked outstanding during the first quarter for Atlanta. It featured a 19-yard touchdown run where Freeman showed excellent burst through the hole, some nice escapability in making a big cut and then the speed to beat every single defender to the end zone.
Shanahan loves to feed a feature back, and it wouldn't be a stunner if Freeman was that guy in 2016. -- WB
7. Lions' Marvin Jones dominates his old friends
After spending his first four seasons with the Bengals, Jones left Cincinnati this year and signed with the Lions after Detroit gave him a five-year, $40 million deal that included $20 million in guaranteed money. The Lions were more than happy to rub the Jones signing in the Bengals face on Thursday.
On Detroit's opening possession, Jones caught three passes for 56 yards, including the brilliant 32-yard catch you see below.
Jones finished the game with four catches for 65 yards.
Although Jones looked good, the Lions offense continued to struggle when it counts. For the second straight week, the Lions offense couldn't finish a big drive. On Detroit's opening drive, Matthew Stafford led the Lions on a 76-yard drive to the Bengals' 6-yard line, but they couldn't punch the ball into the end zone, and the team had to settle for a 24-yard Matt Prater field goal.
You can't completely blame Stafford for the struggles though: The quarterback got zero help from his running game. Stafford might have to throw the ball 90 times per game if the Lions want to be good this year.
Stafford finished the game 8 of 11 for 113 yards, a total that includes 12-yard laser to Golden Tate that you can see below.
Tate caught three passes for 41 yards.
Oh, and Lions fans, you should keep your fingers crossed that Stafford never gets hurt because Dan Orlovsky is not looking good. For the second straight week, the Lions backup quarterback threw a pick-six.
One final Lions note: Apparently, the team got bored with its old end zone because Detroit debuted a new end zone on Thursday. The game against the Bengals marked Detroit's first preseason game of the year, which means it was the first time the Lions were able to show off their new blue end zones.
Before this year, the Lions only added their team name to their end zones. They didn't add any extra color.
Unfortunately for the Lions, no one on the their first-string offense actually got to test out the new end zones, because Detroit didn't score any touchdowns in the first half against the Bengals. -- JB
8. Meet Bengals rookie Tyler Boyd
After the Bengals lost Jones (to the Lions) and Mohamed Sanu (to the Falcons), the general consensus was that they wouldn't have much depth at receiver this year. A hand injury suffered by Brandon LaFell this week didn't do anything to help that train of thought, either.
However, thanks to Tyler Boyd, all may not be lost for the Bengals. The rookie wide receiver already looks like a capable No. 2 behind A.J. Green. Boyd only caught two passes against the Lions, but they were both big.
Boyd's first catch was a diving 22-yarder that came on a pass from Andy Dalton.
The rookie also caught a pass from AJ McCarron when he hauled in a 12-yard touchdown in the second quarter.
The 2016 second-round pick also had a 24-yard punt return in the game.
Boyd wasn't the only one who looked good on Thursday, as both Bengals quarterbacks also looked sharp. On the Bengals' opening offensive possession, Dalton led the team on an eight-play, 74-yard touchdown drive. The Red Rifle was 5 of 5 for 63 yards on the drive. Dalton finished the game 7 of 9 for 79 yards.
As for McCarron, he continued to show why the Bengals have the best backup quarterback situation in the NFL. The Bengals' No. 2 quarterback went 10 of 15 for 95 yards and a touchdown against the Lions.
One Bengals player who didn't look sharp was kicker Mike Nugent, who missed an extra point in Detroit, a miss that comes just one week after he missed a 48-yard field goal in the Bengals' preseason opener. That being said, the Bengals kicker did redeem himself in Detroit with a 50-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. -- JB
9. Heads up, Packers fans: Eddie Lacy looks like 2014 Eddie Lacy
All offseason we've heard about how Packers running back Eddie Lacy has worked to slim down his figure, get in shape and return to being the dominant runner he was at the end of the 2014 season. 2015 -- a full-blown disaster -- was in the rearview mirror as Lacy prepared to help give the Packers some true balance.
It's easy to be skeptical of "best shape of his life" reports in June and July. The rubber meets the road in August when action starts. And Lacy looks darn good. He remains decidedly non-photogenic (he looks wide when running), but he showed much better burst and decisiveness through the hole, as well as explosion down the field.
Lacy also plunged in from the 1-yard line for a score.
All told he ran nine times in the first quarter for 45 yards and a score. It was an impressive effort for a guy who spent the entire offseason in Mike McCarthy's doghouse. If he's ready to full speed, the Packers offense is going to be filthy. -- WB
10. Raiders have a superstar on defense
If you're looking for a non-J.J. Watt version of a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, look no further than Khalil Mack. The Raiders defensive lineman exploded on the scene in 2015 and showed no signs of slowing down during a matchup against the Packers.
For much of the night he was going up against undrafted free agent Joe Caldwell, a seriously unfair mismatch. Regardless of where he was stationed, Mack was doing work and spending the evening in the Packers' kitchen.
He's just so effective both as a pass rusher and a run stopper it wouldn't be hard to see him put up huge numbers, make a huge impact and get the votes if the Raiders make a leap.
The Raiders defensive didn't exactly stop the Packers early though. Despite no Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay did a nice job moving down the field and creating running lanes for Lacy. -- WB
11. Russell Wilson runs for his life
The Seahawks offensive line is already in midseason form, which isn't good news for Wilson, who was sacked 45 times in 2015, a number that was tied for the third-highest total in the NFL last season.
Wilson was sacked a total of four times against the Vikings, which is a ridiculously high number when you consider that he only played two quarters. Starting quarterbacks don't usually play for two quarters in the second preseason game, but it seemed that Wilson and Seahawks coach Pete Carroll were determined to keep Wilson in until the offense actually did something.
Unfortunately for both guys, that never happened.
Of the five offensive possessions featuring Wilson, four of them ended in punts. Wilson went 5 of 11 for 77 yards, and really, his only highlight of the night was a 31-yard pass to Tyler Lockett.
The silver lining for the Seahawks is that Christine Michael looks like a man possessed. After struggling through his first three seasons, it looks like Michael might actually be ready to contribute this year. The Seahawks' 2013 second-round pick carried the ball 10 times for 55 yards against the Vikings. Michael also caught one pass for nine yards.
12. Blair Walsh exorcises the demons (Kind of) (OK, no he didn't)
The last time we saw Blair Walsh attempting a field goal against the Seahawks, he gave us one of the biggest choke jobs of all-time: He sent a 27-yard attempt wide left with just 22 seconds left in a playoff game that the Vikings would go on to lose.
The good news for Walsh is that he got a chance to redeem himself on Thursday with a field goal from the exact same distance: 27 yards. And he made it!
The bad news for Walsh is that there's a good chance that no one in Minnesota will remember that preseason field goal 10 years from now. However, they might remember the kick Walsh missed in the fourth quarter of Thursday's game. Yup, he missed another big kick. This time around, Walsh missed from 47-yards with just 2:10 left in the fourth quarter of an 11-11 game.
Walsh's topsy-turvy game didn't hurt the Vikings though, as they held on for a 18-11 win on a night where neither Adrian Peterson and Teddy Bridgewater played a single snap.
Although the Vikings offense struggled, the defense didn't, which will probably make their defensive guru coach, Mike Zimmer, pretty happy.
Remember those four sacks on Wilson that we talked about earlier? Well, they came from four different guys.
Defensive end Everson Griffen, nose tackle Linval Joseph, linebacker Anthony Barr and safety Andrew Sendejo all sacked Wilson during the game. If you're a defensive-minded coach, you love seeing a quarterback get sacked by four different guys from four different positions.
The Vikings backups weren't bad either: They iced the game in the fourth quarter when Marcus Sherels picked off Trevone Boykin and returned it 53 yards for a touchdown.
Generally, you don't hear a lot about the action in the fourth quarter of a preseason game because the seventh string is in, but we're talking about it in this game because some crazy things happened. Besides Sherels' pick-6, there was also a play where Boykin did a crazy flip into the end zone on a Seattle two-point conversion.
Let's just say you'll never see one of the NFL's 32 starting quarterbacks do this in the preseason.