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Manziel, Clowney debut: 18 takeaways from Saturday

  • By Gregg Rosenthal and Kevin Patra
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We will forget the preseason like a dream the moment it is over. For now, we can't help but revel in actual football being played again. The stars of NFL draft season were finally on the field Saturday night.

If we do remember anything about this first preseason week, it will be the debuts of Jadeveon Clowney and Johnny Manziel. The No. 1 overall pick was a rare bright spot in an otherwise desultory night for the Houston Texans.

Clowney showed power and explosion rushing the passer and stuffing the run at outside linebacker. Jumping from college to the NFL didn't make Clowney look any less like a physical marvel. Watching him line up next to J.J. Watt was a lot of fun, although it wasn't all positive. Clowney "looked like a fish out of water" in pass coverage, per NFL Media's Daniel Jeremiah, giving up a would-be touchdown that was overturned by penalty.

Manziel similarly showed flashes of his college skill set. He made a few plays with his legs, although he was too eager to take a hit against pro defenders. His decision-making was slow at times, but his throws were accurate. In the end, the Browns only scored three points in Manziel's four drives. Brian Hoyer was also up and down. In short: Nothing was decided about the Browns' starting job.

Saturday night left us wanting more, with the real stuff less than a month away. Here's what else we learned:

Detroit Lions 13, Cleveland Browns 12


1. Manziel was used multiple times on read-option plays, something he barely tried in college. He didn't always make the right decision and tried to bowl over defenders for a first down on one play. He also slid head first. Manziel's improvisational skills did help him run for 16 yards on a scramble.

2. NFL Media's Dan Hellie reports that Manziel will start the next game against Washington. Browns coach Mike Pettine wouldn't confirm the news after the game, but that sounds like a matter of time.

3. Hoyer's accuracy was erratic until a strong final drive. He did a nice job going through his progressions in his three series. Like Manziel, his numbers would have been a lot better if not for a few drops. The quarterbacks were the least of the Browns' offensive problems Saturday.

4. Lions receiver Ryan Broyles, making yet another return from ACL surgery, looked solid while catching three passes. Detroit would love it if he emerged as a No. 3 receiver.

-- Gregg Rosenthal

New York Giants 20, Pittsburgh Steelers 16


1. Jason Pierre-Paul looked every bit of the healthy, spry rusher he promised to be this season. The defensive end was consistently in the Steelers' backfield and running to the ball with determination on every play.

2. We didn't learn anything new about how Eli Manning will perform in the Giants' offense. The quarterback threw just two passes (completing zero) in four series.

3. It was confirmed that Big Blue plans to grind the ball on the ground. Rashad Jennings showed burst on a 73-yard touchdown scamper. The back was barely touched on the run -- it was the best blocking play the Giants have seen in years. Andre Williams continued to prove he'll get plenty of carries as the backup.

4. The Steelers clearly made it a point to get the ball to their young speedy playmakers. On the team's first possession, Dri Archer took a nifty screen pass from the slot, and the NFL Combine's fastest man darted 46 yards across the field. On the next possession, Pittsburgh ran an end around to Markus Wheaton

5. It was not a good night for Steelers receiver Martavis Bryant. The rookie muffed a punt, had a terrible drop and fumbled the ball to kill a potential game-winning drive.

-- Kevin Patra

Tennessee Titans 20, Green Bay Packers 16


1. Matt Flynn started the game for Green Bay, which was played in a driving rainstorm. In short: we didn't learn much other than Packers rookie Davante Adams can't hold onto the ball in the rain. He fumbled twice.

2. Titans linebacker Colin McCarthy will be out "for a while" with a shoulder injury, according to coach Ken Whisenhunt. Linebacker Zach Brown, meanwhile, "pissed off" Whisenhunt by breaking a team rule. Brown was benched early in the game. Center Chris Spencer left with an ankle injury.

3. Whisenhunt said that rookie running back Bishop Sankey "stood out." Sankey was held to 37 yards rushing on 13 carries, but also led the team with 38 yards receiving and a score.

4. Packers running back James Starks, who finished last season on a roll, looked explosive on six carries for 49 yards.

-- Gregg Rosenthal

Arizona Cardinals 32, Houston Texans 0


1. Keep the hype train for Cardinals receiver John Brown steamrolling downhill. The receiver caught five passes for 87 yards -- not counting a pass drawing a 39-yard interference call. Brown was targeted 10 times, so his numbers could have been even better. The 5-foot-11 jitterbug seemed to be open on every play.

2. The Cards' offense looks like it picked up right where it left off last season. Carson Palmer and backup Drew Stanton combined to complete their first nine passes and threw touchdowns on the team's first two drives. (Who said the Cards were allowed to throw the ball to tight ends??) Both quarterbacks made some passes with pressure in their faces.

3. The three best quarterbacks in the game were all wearing Cardinals jerseys. Logan Thomas was throwing darts late and his TD throw will undoubtedly be compared to a Ben Roethlisberger play.

4. That previous point might say more about the futility of the Texans' quarterback situation. Ryan Fitzpatrick was the epitome of terrible. He made awful reads, pitiful decisions and pathetic passes. He played an entire half and ended his night 6-of-14 passing for 55 yards and two interceptions. (It looked worse than even that stat line makes it appear.) Case Keenum and Tom Savage were similarly unspectacular.

5.

-- Kevin Patra

The latest Around The League Podcast highlights the winners and losers from the first week of preseason action.

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