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What we learned from Saturday's preseason games

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  • By Around The NFL staff NFL.com
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Saturday's slate of seven preseason games kicked off with a quarterback duel between Kirk Cousins and Blake Bortles before moving on a battle between the Raiders and Rams at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Here's what we learned from the third day of football in Week 2 of the 2018 NFL preseason:

Jacksonville Jaguars 14, Minnesota Vikings 10


1. In a sloppy, penalty-filled first half, Blake Bortles got off to a worrisome start. On his first drive, the Jaguars quarterback nearly threw an interception that hit Vikings corner Mackensie Alexander in the hands. On the next possession, Bortles threw an interception right to the hands of safety Harrison Smith. The QB never saw Smith dancing right in the throwing lane. Playing the entire first half, Bortles looked scattershot, didn't check out of stacked boxes that bottled up Leonard Fournette, and had a delay of game penalty on first and goal from the five-yard line. Playing behind a banged-up O-line, Bortles had pressure in his face constantly, which exacerbated the QB's struggles. The veteran did calm down for spurts, finishing 12 of 20 for 159 yards. It's clear the Jags' offense will utilize running backs heavily in the passing game -- T.J. Yeldon (four catches for 58 yards) and Fournette (two receptions for 17 yards). Bortles' uneven play is sure to lead to social media calls for the Jags to try to trade for Jets backup Teddy Bridgewater, who has excelled this preseason.

Where the offense struggled, the Jags' defense looked in midseason form. Yannick Ngakoue was particularly feisty, compiling a sack (after which he was assessed a celebration penalty) and four tackles, one of which helped cause a fumble. Ngakoue is in for a monster season in a stacked Jags defense.

2. Playing behind a shuffled offensive line, Kirk Cousins struggled in his home debut in a Minnesota Vikings jersey. Consistently harassed by the Jags' front, Cousins went 3-of-8 passing for 12 yards on four drives (one drive lasted just one play, ending on a Latavius Murray fumble). Cousins was off-target on several of his tosses, missing high, wide and in the dirt. We won't take too much from Cousins' problems Saturday afternoon. The bigger issue is in front of the Vikings' passer. Injuries have forced the Vikes to employ a makeshift O-line at this point. It's worth noting that Minnesota went through similar shuffling last offseason before settling on its starters. For a team that is solid in every other phase, however, the offensive line could become a harbinger of headaches if Mike Zimmer's staff doesn't get improved play in front of Cousins.

3. The preseason battle for the Vikings' third tailback job is heating up between a pair of undrafted rookies. Bruising back Mike Boone showed off Saturday. The Cincinnati product ran with bombastic power, good speed to the edge and violent finishes. He finished with 91 rushing yards on 13 carries (7.0 average) and a TD, looking like an early-career Chris Ivory. Roc Thomas, who flashed last week, looked solid again. The versatile tailback compiled 25 rushing yards on five carries and two receptions for 12 yards. Thomas' dual-threat capabilities might give him an edge to play the Jerick McKinnon role behind Dalvin Cook and Murray. The two rookies should get plenty of reps the rest of the preseason in a battle to see which will make the roster. Saturday's tilt, however, showed that each should be on an NFL team somewhere.

-- Kevin Patra

Cincinnati Bengals 21, Dallas Cowboys 13


1. Good luck drawing definitive conclusions about this Cowboys offense with star back Ezekiel Elliott held out of the lineup for the second straight week. Dak Prescott made noise, though, generating 10 points off four drives and making good use of backup runner Rod Smith, who totaled 68 yards off 14 touches. Prescott was lucky to have a contested ball down the sideline flip off the hands of Dre Kirkpatrick instead of watching the Bengals cover man take it to the house. Still, the third-year signal-caller moved the sticks with his arms and produced 86 yards through the air. Prescott missed tight end Blake Jarwin on a looping shot into the end zone, but made up for that with a short scoring strike to Terrance Williams to cap a 16-play, 82-yard touchdown march that covered nearly nine minutes of play.

2. The most concerning moment for Dallas came when All-Pro guard Zack Martin left minutes into the second quarter with a knee injury following a second-down run by Smith. Martin was quickly ruled out for the rest of the night as Cowboys fans everywhere hold their breath, but he later returned to the sideline in street clothes and appeared to be in good spirits.

3. There's plenty to like about Cincy's Geno Atkins-led front seven, with longtime Bengals pass-rusher Carlos Dunlap telling the club's broadcast crew "this is the best defensive line we've had since I've been here." On Saturday, though, the unit lost too many battles up front. The Bengals attack, meanwhile, endured problems of their own against the Dallas defense. Andy Dalton dialed up a trio of three-and-outs to open the game as the Cowboys rifled off 29 plays before the Bengals snapped their seventh. After last week's promising start, lead back Joe Mixon was held to 9 total yards while second-year receiver John Ross failed to make an impact.

-- Marc Sessler

Los Angeles Rams 19, Oakland Raiders 15


1. With the Rams playing the Raiders in Week 1 of the regular season, coach Sean McVay elected to rest his starters and key backups with the exception of right guard Jamon Brown, who will serve a two-game suspension to start the season. Fans in attendance at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and the TV viewing audience missed out on seeing Jared Goff and Todd Gurley and high-profile offseason additions Brandin Cooks, Ndamukong Suh, Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib, but players battling for coveted roster spots likely appreciated the extra playing time.

Backup quarterback Sean Mannion drew the start, but the offense went three-and-out on two straight possessions. After settling down, Mannion turned in an efficient second quarter by completing 10 of 16 passes for 84 yards, including a 47-yard strike to wide receiver KhaDarel Hodge. Mannion gave way to third-string quarterback Brandon Allen after halftime.

2. Raiders coach Jon Gruden took the same approach as McVay by resting starters, so the offense didn't have Derek Carr, Marshawn Lynch, Amari Cooper or Jordy Nelson. Nevertheless, the Raiders have a battle for the backup quarterback spot, and Saturday provided Connor Cook and EJ Manuel the opportunity to make their case.

Cook started and the Raiders sputtered, going three-and-out in three consecutive series. Cook played through the first quarter, completing 4 of 7 passes for an uninspiring 15 yards and a 62.2 passer rating. Manuel came in the second quarter, and then the two quarterbacks split playing time in the second half. Connor finished the game completing 6 of 12 passes for 49 yards, while Manuel completed 10 of 16 passes for 89 yards and a touchdown. Both quarterbacks lost a fumble, and the right to open the regular season as the No. 2 behind Carr continues.

3. Raiders running back Chris Warren III got the start and impressed for a second straight preseason game. Warren, who totaled 86 yards on 13 carries last week, followed up with an impressive 110 yards rushing and a touchdown on 18 carries. The Raiders' backfield projects as Lynch and Doug Martin at the top two, but Oakland could find it difficult to ignore Warren's production when it comes to setting the depth chart at the third or fourth running back spots for the regular season.

-- Herbie Teope

Houston Texans 16, San Francisco 49ers 13


1. Jimmy Garoppolo followed up a lackluster one-series preseason debut with a tasty performance in Houston. Without his top two running backs, the 49ers quarterback started Saturday's game by leading a 10-play scoring drive on which he converted three third and fourth downs. The highlights from Jimmy G: his patient goal-line TD pass to Trent Taylor; and a beautiful 40-yard completion to Marquise Goodwin on his first third-down attempt of the game. Garoppolo-to-Goodwin promises to be the league's second hottest alliterated QB-WR combo in the league, right behind Big Ben-to-Brown. Garoppolo played two series and into the second quarter on Saturday, moving the chains six times and completing 83 percent of his passes for 136 yards, a touchdown and an interception. (The pick was thrown a bit too high for Dante Pettis on an intermediate post route on first-and-35.) If I'm Kyle Shanahan, I've seen enough of Garoppolo this preseason. San Francisco's offense has been saddled with enough injuries to warrant sitting Jimmy G for the final two exhibitions.

2. Not to be outdone, Deshaun Watson looked comfortable in his second in-game series since returning from last year's devastating knee injury. On his lone series, the Texans' second-year stud led a touchdown drive of his own, connecting with slot receiver Bruce Ellington three times on the 11-play march, including on the fourth-down red-zone score. Watson (5/8, 73 yds, TD) was sharp and as mobile as he needed to be in Houston's pocket, which, given the inexperience on the offensive line, held up quite nicely against San Francisco's first team. Elsewhere on the offense, former Steelers receiver Sammie Coates saw an outsized amount of attention, garnering seven targets and three receptions on the night before exiting with a concussion. Another head injury of note: starting cornerback Kevin Johnson suffered a concussion on the third play of the game and didn't come back.

-- Jeremy Bergman

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 30, Tennessee Titans 14


1. The Buccaneers will have to wait until Week 4 to see Jameis Winston take the field, but they needn't be too worried about his replacement for the time being. Ryan Fitzpatrick was good enough for a second straight week, posting a forgettable stat line (5 of 13, 46 yards) but demonstrating connections with established targets Mike Evans, Cameron Brate and Adam Humphries. Fitzpatrick even scrambled once for seven yards. Four quarters of that might not be enough, but for the preseason, it works.

2. Jameis Winston, however, was very sharp when running with a mix of the starting receiving corps and backup linemen. He was facing some second-team Titans defenders, though, and still made one of those "Jameis, what are you doing?" throws, which surprisingly ended up in the hands of soon-to-be-emergent star Chris Godwin for a touchdown. Winston appears to be building good momentum ahead of his three-week hiatus, as does the right side of Tampa Bay's line (Demar Dotson and Caleb Benenoch), which did an excellent job of clearing lanes for Peyton Barber (and perhaps, Ronald Jones, if he can get his pass blocking up to speed) and protecting Fitzpatrick. At times, Tampa Bay seems like a milquetoast team, but Saturday night provided some reasons to feel encouraged.

3. Tennessee, on the other hand, should be very excited by what it has in Taywan Taylor. The speedy wideout flashed his most prominent attribute with the game's opening score, taking a screen pass with the help of one blocker and outrunning the remaining defender (Tampa Bay's Justin Evans) 47 yards for a touchdown. Taylor caught another touchdown in the second half, a quick slant tossed by backup Blaine Gabbert, to cap a four-reception, 95-yard, two-touchdown night. After catching just 16 passes in 2017, Taylor appears poised to break out in 2018.

-- Nick Shook

Chicago Bears 24, Denver Broncos 23


1. After throwing for just 4 yards last week, Mitch Trubisky showed chemistry with Trey Burton, hitting the ex-Eagles tight end for 38 yards off three grabs on Chicago's opening drive. We've heard all offseason about Trubisky's tangible growth, but we still saw growing pains with a handful of off-target darts and one bad pick that saw safety Justin Simmons jump the route. The Bears also put up points when a 19-yard rip from Trubisky to fascinating rookie Anthony Miller -- followed by Jordan Howard's 17-yard run -- triggered the signal-caller's 7-yard scoring strike to Burton. This combination should have Fantasy Heads drooling.

On the injury front, pass-rusher Leonard Floyd (hand) and tight end Adam Shaheen (ankle) left the game and never returned.

2. Case Keenum oversaw a quick three-and-out before guiding the Broncos on a serviceable, 10-play field goal march. Keenum was one of football's most accurate throwers last season with the Vikings, but he unfurled two end-zone overthrows and a third lob that went over a pass-catcher's head. Keenum meshed well with Emmanuel Sanders (3/27), but overthrew him, too, on their final march together. A big pass interference call on rookie Courtland Sutton saved the day, setting up third-round runner Royce Freeman's short touchdown burst before Keenum exited.

Second-year signal-caller Chad Kelly overtook Paxton Lynch last week as Denver's No. 2 and looked like the better option once again with a 16-yard scoring strike to Sutton. Kelly (7-of-9 passing for 90 yards) is an energizing, hard-throwing field general with more promising tape over the past two games than Lynch has mustered career-wide. The latter stages of these preseason games are often rough on the viewer, but it was enjoyable to see Kelly push the ball down the field. The question is whether he can be trusted to start if something ugly befell Keenum.

3. The Broncos paired Von Miller and first-round pass-rusher Bradley Chubb for three drives. Miller authored one powerful, disruptive push into the backfield, while Chubb looked sensational dropping Trubisky to the end zone turf on a first-quarter safety for Denver.

-- Marc Sessler

Los Angeles Chargers 24, Seattle Seahawks 14


1. If we isolate Saturday night's game, there's a tale of good and bad for Chris Carson.

The good: Carson looks good. The running back was rarely brought down by a single defender, staying upright through contact and showing excellent burst from his first carry of the night, which went for a touchdown that was negated by a block in the back penalty drawn by rookie tight end Will Dissly. The preseason isn't necessarily about stats (nine carries, 34 yards) or final scores; rather, it's more about what flashes on the tape. Carson provided plenty of that.

The bad: Carson fumbled on the goal line, and might have fumbled a play earlier, though the Seahawks recovered (or the officials didn't see him lose the ball). Combined, there is somewhat of a reason for concern about his ability to securely carry the football. But the good -- which continues to trend toward really good -- outweighs the bad, especially for a team that desperately needs a rushing attack in 2018.

2. Los Angeles didn't get an extended look at a Philip Rivers-led offense, but it doesn't really need to. In his short time on the field, Rivers completed 6 of 7 passes for 62 yards and the Chargers went right down the field on the Seahawks (nine plays, 70 yards) to score. What was most impressive was the cohesiveness and effectiveness of the Chargers' line, which cleared lanes for Melvin Gordon (10 carries, 35 yards, one touchdown) with seeming ease.

What's most intriguing -- even if laughably so -- is the battle between Cardale Jones and Geno Smith for the Chargers' backup gig. The latter got the first shot Saturday night after Jones received the Week 1 start. Smith completed 6 of 8 attempts for 85 yards, including a 25-yard connection with 2017 first-round pick Mike Williams for a highlight-reel touchdown. It was the second time in as many weeks Smith tossed up a jump ball and one of his receivers came down with it for a big play. As our Gregg Rosenthal tweeted, receivers love balling out for Geno.

3. Bonus nugget: Once-embattled Chargers kicker Roberto Aguayo drilled a 39-yard field goal and made both of his point-after attempts. This is good for humanity.

-- Nick Shook

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