There aren't many things worse than slinging small sample size preseason NFL takes, knowing how much vitriol is hurtling down the "didn't read the article" pipeline. A quick list off the top of my head: toilet snakes, local radio advertisements, Oxford comma aficionados, political Thanksgiving conversations, unexpected allergic food reactions, wearing the shirt of the band you're going to see in concert, inattentive motor vehicle operators, milk -- we're just scratching the surface here, but you get the point.
Or maybe you don't so let allow me to be more clear: the first week of the preseason is the first NFL action we've gotten in months. It's amazing and incredible but it's also terrible, for a couple of reasons. One, we're talking super small, rusty sample size here. And two, we've already spent months and months building up preconceived notions for how the season will play out, despite several decades of evidence proving we know nothing.
If you're down on the Broncos and Russell Wilson, Friday evening's nightcap was confirmation bias bliss. If you expected Sean Payton to sprinkle pixie dust on Denver's offense, smashing the panic button would be totally reasonable.
Asking questions is a pretty solid method for avoiding massive overreactions, so let's ask a few about Week 1. There are no good and/or right answers here, because it's too early. But if you think I'm wrong you can yell at me on X DOT COM (rolls right off the tongue) @WillBrinson and on Instagram at the same handle.
Is Russell Wilson washed?
Plenty of people will tell you Russell Wilson was "fine" during Week 1 of the preseason, his first live action in Sean Payton's offense. I am not one of those people. Russ was one of my MVP sleeper picks so this isn't confirmation bias: he didn't look the way I hoped he would in his first action with Payton calling plays. This might not be remotely indicative of how Russ ends up playing in 2023, but the highly-scrutinized quarterback played well into the second quarter of Denver's matchup against Arizona (less than eight minutes were left before halftime) and he looked lethargic.
I don't care about the points scored, at all. He threw a touchdown to Jerry Jeudy but it was a slant against a silly cover zero all-out blitz. Great job by Russ to throw the ball but that's a freebie. Jeudy killed him with a bad drop the play before and he was penalized by several missed kicks and heavy pressure from Arizona.
Russell Wilson took more massive hits in this preseason game than Peyton Manning did during entire Broncos seasons— Gregg Rosenthal (@greggrosenthal) August 12, 2023
But Wilson didn't step into any throws and just generally didn't seem comfortable or quick in the pocket. I'm comparing him to Drew Brees, which is unfair, except it's not -- Brees/Russ have been compared for years and Payton turning Russell into Brees 2.0 or Brees 1.5 was the big selling point of this marriage. Brees dropped back, moved in the pocket and scanned the field so quickly you felt like he was on fast forward. Russ looked like someone listening to a podcast at 0.5x speed while sitting in quicksand. I'm not sure he stepped into a single throw on Friday night.
Week 1 of the preseason is way too early to make a definite call about this year's Broncos. It's bad policy to let the preseason impact full-season beliefs. But I will certainly be dialing back my Denver optimism a bit until I see more reasons to be enthused about this offense and this quarterback.
What if Jordan Love is good?
Conversely, Jordan Love popped for me on Friday night. His final season at Utah State was no bueno but the previous year he built himself into a fascinating NFL prospect. Any presumption of Love succeeding because Aaron Rodgers was good once the Packers moved on from Brett Favre is silly, but it still lingers in the back of the brain, primarily because of the first round pick's tantalizing traits.
Love's touchdown pass to Romeo Doubs stood out because of how much touch he put on the ball:
Love lofted the ball to a spot not without risk, but it was in a spot where Doubs was probably the only guy coming down with the ball.
My highly-criticized(context is your friend, kids, read the article!) put Love in the "No Clue" tier. No one got mad about that because we don't have a freaking clue what Love will be. There are some moments indicating he could be a really fun quarterback, but moving on from a future Hall of Famer is always a dicey proposition.
If he lives up to his potential and pedigree, and the offensive line holds up and the pass catchers grow up, Green Bay is a very spicy team in the NFC North.
Is the future bright for Pittsburgh?
Obviously the most important Pittsburgh-related news on Friday was the world finding out my CBS colleague and fellow Wolfpack alum Bill Cowher's is being inducted into the NC State Ring of Honor (congrats coach on the honor and the world getting to see those college locks!).
Linebacker. NFL Player. Head Coach. Super Bowl Champion. Hall of Fame... 𝐀𝐍𝐃 𝐍𝐎𝐖 𝐓𝐇𝐄 𝐍𝐂 𝐒𝐓𝐀𝐓𝐄 𝐑𝐈𝐍𝐆 𝐎𝐅 𝐇𝐎𝐍𝐎𝐑— NC State Football (@PackFootball) August 11, 2023
We are proud to recognize Bill Cowher in our Ring of Honor on Friday, September 29.
📰: https://t.co/ShUybzGJ2M#1Pack1Goal pic.twitter.com/ObOUW0t1hJ
Mike Tomlin was his typical low-key self in the wake of Pickett's short-albeit-impressive outing, but if you were banking on Pittsburgh keeping his winning-season streak going and morphing into a contender in a loaded AFC, Friday was a very nice sliver of what could be.
Pickett had red flags coming out of Pitt but anyone who watched him play in college knows he has quite a bit of the intangible factor we sometimes like to call clutchability. Pickens is a freak. The defense should be stout once again. Matt Canada is the only thing stopping people from leaping onto this bandwagon. Pittsburgh's still lurking in the "sneaky" realm but a few more cameos from Pickett like Friday's will change that.
Is this Lions draft class legit?
Fun is easy -- the answer is yes. The biggest issue for Detroit this year was shoring up weak spots -- defense mostly -- and closing out/winning games. It was very easy to pan the Lions draft class after Day 1; their first-round picks were a running back and a linebacker. Long term drafting those positions at a high price probably won't work out. But for 2023 the early returns are very promising.
Brian Branch was frequently pegged as a first-round pick ahead of a very unpredictable draft. Detroit grabbed him in the second round and he was flying on Friday.
First-round linebacker Jack Campbell was equally encouraging -- if you want one quibble with Detroit, the dousing of Jameson Williams with targets didn't go well. But if these rookies provide this kind of season-long support, the Lions are a legit NFC threat and the offseason hype machine could live up to expectations.
Did the Bears do enough this offseason for Justin Fields to take a leap?
If you simply check the box score, you'd think Justin Fields 25-1 MVP odds were too long (they're preposterously short, don't bet that). If you watched the Bears and Titans play on Saturday, you're much more likely to give Ryan Poles and Matt Eberflus a golf clap for their offseason moves. D.J. Moore was the big addition, of course, and he housed a 62-yard screen pass on his first play as a member of the Bears.
The Bears gave up the No. 1 overall pick in a highly-touted QB draft but refused to do it without Moore. Moore also talked about how much he loves run blocking during a sideline interview, which is quite notable.The former first-round pick has more career receiving yards than the all-time Bears receiving leader. If he equals his annual Panthers production, it will help this team tremendously.
The loss of David Montgomery means Khalil Herbert steps in as RB1 and he also took a short pass from Fields -- who looked like he wanted to take off and run before deciding to drop the ball off to his running back -- the distance in the first quarter.
Chicago's getting plenty of buzz this offseason and it's not unjustified, the expectations are just a little too high. Having said that ... if the Bears roster moves hit at a high clip -- and early on the results are quite encouraging -- it is not impossible Justin Fields makes a similar-style leap as Jalen Hurts did last season. Take that with context, because I don't think the Bears have a prayer of the Super Bowl and I firmly believe the Fields MVP odds are ridiculous at this point. But his skillset is undeniable and if the roster around him is drastically improved it could be a very fun season in Chicago.
How big of a problem is Bryce Young's offensive line?
Short answer: pretty big! Bryce was sacked just once but took some big hits. Matt Corral was under siege when he took over for the following three-plus quarters. Things were so bad the offensive line had a separate meeting after the game and came in to the locker room later.
Bryce's debut was extremely hyped -- justifiably so -- and the good news is Jets, Young took a huge shot but popped up and slapped Ickey on the helmet in a clear "don't sweat it" moment. Ickey also got beat bad low by Bryce Huff later and Jermaine Johnson was a problem on the other side and up the middle. It's very possible/likely the Jets will have an elite pass rush at the end of the year and we'll look back on this as a preseason blip, when offensive lines tend to struggle.you could tell he "belonged." Give him time in the pocket and he can distribute as necessary in Frank Reich's system. After second-year left tackle Ickey Ekownu missed his assignment (it appeared) on a well-timed stunt by the
Carolina will have guys coming back to assist this offensive line, the message has been sent about improving, pass rushes will get a little less stout and the offense will ensure Bryce gets the ball out quick.
But all the pre- and post-draft talk about Bryce involved not just his height but him being "slight" ... he could be Andre the Giant and it wouldn't matter if he's getting popped on every play. I expect this unit to improve but as of right now yes it is a big concern. The coaching staff wouldn't disagree.
Is the Trey Lance experiment over?
"Over" is always a tough word to throw out, because it implies finality. And Trey Lance is still well in play to see some starts this year if something happens with Brock Purdy. But his Sunday afternoon start against the Raiders was highly concerning. He threw a touchdown pass that should have been an interception 99 percent of the time.
Lance looked extremely indecisive and uncomfortable in the pocket his whole time on the field. Even when he had chances to take off and run, it felt like he wanted to stay in the pocket and try to force the offense. It's unfair to bury him because of how few reps he's had over the last ... three years? But Brock Purdy is Kyle Shanahan's guy, quite clearly.
And Sam Darnold looked particularly sharp on Sunday afternoon, throwing some darts down the field to receivers. Lance's upside is unquestioned, and I still believe he can be the type of athlete/passer in a Shanahan system to put the 49ers way, way over the top. He's still just 23 with a wild ride in terms of starts and chances and injuries in this league. But if he's still figuring things out and Purdy/Darnold are good, there are certainly paths to this ending before it began.