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What we learned from Friday's preseason games

It's rare to see a quarterback given a free pass to the extent of Derek Carr's rookie season with the Raiders.

Carr's league-low 5.46 yards per pass attempt was the third-lowest figure in history for any quarterback with at least 500 pass attempts. He finished 28th out of 33 qualifiers in Total QBR.

When Around The NFL's Gregg Rosenthal studied Carr's film this offseason, he saw a quarterback who settled for dump-off passes, was hesitant to pull the trigger on open receivers and oversaw an offense that was "too often overwhelmed and barely operational."

Despite that lack of production, scouts were already lining up in early December to anoint Carr a better long-term prospect than Colin Kaepernick.

When ESPN's Mike Sando polled 35 scouts, coaches and executives a couple of months ago, Carr ranked above Teddy Bridgewater and Blake Bortles as the preferred second-year quarterback.

"He can spin it, he has good accuracy, he makes quick decisions," one defensive coordinator told Sando. "The people that like him but do not rank him higher, well, he has an awful supporting cast. No run game, awful receivers. They drafted some guys. They have a shot."

There's the rub.

Carr's improved weaponry was abundantly evident early in the Raiders' 18-3 preseason victory over the Rams.

Carr moved the offense up and down the field with help from rookie sensationAmari Cooper, veteran wideout Michael Crabtree and new starting running back Latavius Murray.

The most promising sign was an obvious intent to establish Cooper as the offensive focal point. The No. 4 overall pick in the draft touched the ball four times on the Raiders' first eight plays from scrimmage.

The boxscore might not be eye-catching, but the prominence of Cooper and the ability to move the ball into scoring territory counts as real progress for an offense that finished 31st in scoring and dead-last in yards last season.

Here's what else we learned from Friday's preseason slate:

  1. By the time Marcus Mariota came on the field for his third possession on Friday, the Titans trailed 17-0 and their rookie quarterback had thrown an interception and lost a fumble that was returned for a touchdown. Give Mariota credit, however: He showed some resolve in his third and final possession. He completed five consecutive passes, including a bullet, 17-yard completion to Harry Douglass on third-and-12. The drive, which ended with a Dexter McCluster 6-yard touchdown run, salvaged the rookie's eventful NFL debut.
  1. The color guy in Atlanta said before kickoff that Matt Ryan and Julio Jones have a "connection that is unmatched in the NFL." That's certainly debatable, but you can't complain with the pair's output during their lone possession Friday. Jones had four receptions for 61 yards and one touchdown. Ryan was 6 of 6 on the drive. This passing game could really hum in Kyle Shanahan's hands.
  1. Titans kicker Ryan Succop missed an extra-point attempt in the second quarter, becoming the first kicker to blow a 33-yard PAT. In theory, this rule change was supposed to make the extra point more exciting. In practice, it's just new opportunity for kickers to get fired.

Speaking of kickers, here's something that exists:

  1. The Seahawks have an interesting wildcard in rookie receiver Tyler Lockett, who returned kickoffs for 46 and 103 yards in the first half and added an 18-yard punt return in the second half of Friday night's game. A favorite of NFL Media analyst Daniel Jeremiah, Lockett adds a dynamic element to a special teams unit that was lacking big plays following last season's Percy Harvin trade. "How about Tyler Lockett?" Russell Wilson said late in the game. "He looked like Usain Bolt running down that sideline. A smaller version."
  1. Denver's defensive front dominated Seattle's offensive line. Von Miller bull rushed right tackle Justin Britt for a strip sack on Wilson. The next drive stalled when guard J.R. Sweezy got worked by Broncos defensive tackle Malik Jackson for a sack. This is the one weakness for the reigning NFC champions.
  1. Broncos starting running back C.J. Anderson left with an ankle issue, but waved off trainers and seemed unconcerned on the bench. Ronnie Hillman looked great in Anderson's stead, finishing the first half with 66 yards on seven carries. Montee Ball didn't look bad, either. We remain baffled by fantasy football heads drafting Anderson in the first round this summer. On the Seahawks' side, Super Bowl star Chris Matthews, who ran with the first-team offense, was forced from the game with a shoulder injury that will likely require tests

Bonus note: Rookie pass rushers Shane Ray of Denver and Frank Clark of Seattle were wildly impressive.

  1. The Giants watched four defensive backs leave the game with injuries in the first half. This is bad news for a team with significant depth issues in their secondary. Cornerbacks Trumaine McBride (hamstring) and Jayron Hosley (possible head injury) and safeties Landon Collins (knee) and Mykkele Thompson (Achilles) all exited by halftime. Big Blue was already playing without cornerback Prince Amukamara (groin) and safety Nat Berhe (calf).
  1. We got a glimpse of how important tight end Tyler Eifert can be in the Bengals' offense. Eifert -- who missed almost all of last season with an elbow injury -- commands the respect of defenses, a fact on display on Mohamed Sanu's 3-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter. Sanu got open because Eifert drew Hosley toward the corner of the end zone. Eifert, wearing a Gronk-like brace on his right arm, added two catches for 30 yards.
  1. Bad night all around for the Giants. Coach Tom Coughlin kept Eli Manning and the first-team offense on the field for four fruitless series. The starting offensive line -- which played five series -- was particularly unsightly. Prediction: Sgt. Coughlin's face matched the color of mercury in the postgame speech.
  1. The Bills' beleaguered quarterbacks exceeded expectations, with Tyrod Taylor as the headliner. Taylor bedeviled the Panthers' defense with his feet, leading a pair of touchdown drives. Although EJ Manuel uncorked a nice 51-yard touchdown pass to Deonte Thompson, he didn't do much else to impress. Manuel appears to be fading into the background, with Taylor and Cassel squaring off for the starting job.
  1. Chalk up the glowing reports of Cam Newton's improved footwork to offseason trope. That's not to say Newton isn't a great player or a franchise quarterback. But he's still the same inconsistent upper-body thrower with accuracy issues as a passer.
  1. If Friday's performance is any indication, Bills second-round rookie cornerback Ronald Darby will have a target on his back as the starter opposite Stephon Gilmore. He was beaten deep down the sideline by Ted Ginn and Devin Funchess and was no match for Kelvin Benjamin on a short touchdown.
  1. Blake Bortles looked more confident, more poised and more accurate -- backing up offseason and camp reports. In nearly two full quarters of action, he completed 11 of 15 passes for 118 yards. Three of the four incompletions were drops, including a perfect pass to Clay Harbor that might have gone for a long touchdown.
  1. Steelers receiver Martavis Bryant showed no ill effects from having his elbow drained last week, toasting Jaguars free-agent pickup Davon House for a 45-yard touchdown on the opening drive. Ben Roethlisberger finished with a perfect 158.3 rating on his one possession.
  1. Jaguars fans didn't get to see much of Julius Thomas, who has been described as the "best player on the team, period" this summer. Thomas fractured his left hand on Jacksonville's first drive, the team reported, and never returned to the game. He'll be out for the rest of the preseason, but coach Gus Bradley expects him to be ready for Week 1.
  1. The Rams' offense started strong with a 26-yard pass to Lance Kendricks and a 35-yard catch-and-run from Tavon Austin, who juked out half the Raiders' defense. After the coaching staff spent the past few monthsraving about Austin, we have no reason to believe he will not have a major role in this offense.
  1. Latavius Murray is a major upgrade on last year's cement-footed duo of Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew. Barring injury, there's no reason to believe Murray won't keep the lead role in the backfield all season long.
  1. Already a red-flag unit, the Rams' offensive line saw left guard Rodger Saffold exit with a shoulder injury.
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