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What we learned from preseason Week 2

NFL.com has you covered in Week 2 of the preseason, with observations from all 16 games from this past weekend. Catch up on all of the action right here:

What we learned Saturday

Is Jadeveon Clowney poised to translate his prodigious physical gifts into an overdue breakout season in Houston?

He offered promising signs in a dominant performance versus the New Orleans Saints' overwhelmed offensive tackles Saturday night.

Reminiscent of a rabid Seattle Seahawks squad in the preseason of 2013, the Texans' defense was flying to the ball in a summertime home game. Clowney was the ringleader, steamrolling helpless tackles Zach Strief and Andrus Peat en route to Drew Brees, who was tossed like a dog with a chew toy.

Clowney's bull rush was simply too powerful for the twin 6-foot-7, 320-pound behemoths in an obvious mismatch. Still in the game late in the third quarter, he threw reserve left tackle Tony Hills like a rag doll to hit tailback Daniel Lasco four yards deep in the backfield.

The top overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft led a comprehensive stifling of New Orleans' first-team offense, as Brees managed just 3.6 yards per attempt to go with Mark Ingram's 1.57 yards per carry.

If a freakishly talented Clowney carries this powerhouse form into the regular season as a complement to the unblockable J.J. Watt, Houston's defense is going to be nightmare fuel for opposing quarterbacks.

Here's what else we learned in Saturday's preseason action:

  1. It was a small sample size, but the Indianapolis Colts had to be encouraged by Andrew Luck's performance in his first action since a lacerated kidney ended his disappointing 2015 season. Afforded solid pass protection, Luck showed 2014 form, looking comfortable in the pocket while moving the chains with short, quick throws. He also pulled the trigger on a sideline out route that seemed to be missing from his repertoire last year. Overall, it was a sharp performance for the NFL's highest-paid quarterback, finishing 8 of 8 for 69 yards.
  1. Although undrafted rookie Josh Ferguson started in the Luck-less backfield last week, it was all Frank Gore and Robert Turbin with the first-team offense versus the Ravens. Ferguson has averaged a minuscule 0.69 yards per carry on 13 totes while blowing blitz pickup on multiple plays. Turbin should be locked into the No. 2 spot on the depth chart.
  1. Claimed off waivers from the Seahawks back in September of 2015, T.Y. McGill was the most disruptive of the Colts' defensive linemen for the second straight week. He has always possessed intriguing talent, but the Seahawks let him go because he liked to freelance rather than staying disciplined in his gaps.
  1. As impressive as Terrance West looked in the preseason opener, he was third in the backfield pecking order behind Justin Forsett and Buck Allen. Forsett started and handled the bulk of the first-team work, with Allen working as the receiving back. Rookie Kenneth Dixon remains fourth on the depth chart. Of the quartet, West had the best play of the game with a 19-yard reception.
  1. Rookie wide receivers Will Fuller and Braxton Miller appear to be locked in as the Texans' starters alongside DeAndre Hopkins. Play-caller George Godsey has done an excellent job of manufacturing touches to get the ball in Miller's hands. Fuller's blazing speed showed up on a go route that resulted in a 19-yard touchdown pass from Brock Osweiler. With all the speed Houston has imported at the skill positions this year, Osweiler simply has to play like a point guard, distributing rather than forcing.
  1. The Broncos' quarterback battle remains "wide open" after Trevor Siemian and Mark Sanchez were bitten by the turnover bug versus the 49ers.
  1. Although Todd Davis is the favorite to replace Danny Trevathan next to Brandon Marshall at inside linebacker, Zaire Anderson is making a strong push for playing time in Denver. A practice squad member last season, Anderson forced a pair of fumbles on 49ers running back Mike Davis after scoring a touchdown on Bennie Fowler's blocked punt last week.
  1. Rookie tailback Devontae Booker played ahead of Ronnie Hillman, who entered entered along with No. 3 quarterback Paxton Lynch in the third quarter. Booker looked impressive on eight carries, ostensibly leaving Hillman's role up in the air.
  1. Blaine Gabbert's performance was unremarkable. He authored one three-and-out, had a second drive stall near midfield and led a five-play, 63-yard touchdown drive on his third series. Through two preseason games, tight end Vance McDonald has been Gabbert's go-to receiver, hauling in five passes for 92 yards. With Colin Kaepernickexhibiting renewed arm strength in pre-game drills, the 49ers' quarterback battle should continue into next week.

-- Chris Wesseling

  1. After going run-heavy last week, the Titans put the ball in Marcus Mariota's hands versus a stout Panthers front seven -- Tennessee's first-team run game averaged just 2.8 yards per carry over 10 rushes on the first four drives. The quarterback delivered, going 9-of-10 passing for 104 yards and a TD -- his one incompletion was a forced pass into heavy coverage that was intercepted. Mariota showed that "exotic smashmouth" will be more than just ground and pound. Mariota's pinpoint accuracy and playmaking on the run (with both legs and arm) on Saturday underscored the reasons we believe he'll make a major leap in Year 2.
  1. Get used to the Mariota-to-Tajae Sharpe connection. The rookie receiver caught all six targets his way for 68 yards. Sharpe continues to impress with his superb route running and receptions in tight windows. On Saturday, he also showed an ability to highpoint the ball against converging defensive backs. Sharpe worked over Panthers rookie corner Daryl Worley. For any Fantasy Footballers out there, it's probably too late to get Sharpe at a bargain rate -- or at least it should be that way.
  1. Tyrod Taylor continues to show why he was worth the pay raise. Despite not having his starting offensive line intact, Taylor escaped Giants pressure early -- often with ease. He highlighted the day with beautiful spin that made a blitzing Janoris Jenkins look silly and roped a 50-plus yard bomb to tight end Charles Clay. When Taylor is healthy, he's so much fun to watch and a handful for defenses.
  1. LeSean McCoy had zero yards on five carries, but proved he's the Bills second-best receiving option behind Sammy Watkins (who sat out the contest). Shady looked fresh and fast, and ran some superb routes against weak Giants linebackers. McCoy ended up with four receptions fro 58 yards and a TD. With Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin currently the best options at receiver behind Watkins, offensive coordinator Greg Roman should utilize McCoy often in the passing game.
  1. It was a terrible game all around for the Giants. The first-team offense was a mess -- more penalties (three) than first downs (one) on four drives. Big Blue's offensive line was particularly terrible, getting eaten alive by a swarming Bills defense (Jerry Hughes whooped up on Marshall Newhouse regularly). Coach Ben McAdoo kept the first-team blockers in the game until halftime in an effort to build continuity and find a positive; it didn't help. Through three quarters the Giants' run game had 1.9 YPC on 17 totes. Woof. The D wasn't much better, highlighted by EJ Manuel leading a second-team Bills offense on a 10-play, 49-yard TD drive against the Giants' first-team defense.

One bright spot: The game finally appears to be clicking for Giants safety Landon Collins.

  1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie kicker Roberto Aguayo seems to have the preseason yips. A week after missing a PAT, the second-round pick missed two field goals wide right, from 32 and 49 yards, respectively (he also connected from 28 and 34 yards). It's rough on the young player, who has been subjected to a bevy of jokes at his expense after being drafted in the second round. We should remember former first-round pick Sebastian Janikowski struggled his rookie season. Hopefully Aguayo overcomes his struggles by the time games count.

On the plus side for the Bucs' rookies: First-round pick Vernon Hargreaves flashed with two interceptions playing in the second unit.

  1. We aren't going to get bent out of shape about Jameis Winston tossing an interception and failing to register a completion over his first six pass attempts (he finished 3 of 9 with an interception and a touchdown). His fade TD pass to Mike Evans was a thing of beauty, and we expect to see plenty more. There will be kinks to work out for the second-year quarterback, which is why preseason games are played.
  1. Blake Bortles looks much more poised this preseason, comfortable making pre-snap reads and going through his progression. The most evident change in the Jaguars' offense is a revamped offensive line. Bortles was barely touched all night and the group paved massive holes in the ground game. Luke Joeckel played well for the second straight week. It will be interesting to see what coach Gus Bradley does when Kelvin Beachum returns from injury.
  1. Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon continue to split reps with the Jaguars' first-team offense, but Ivory is getting the majority of the carries -- six totes to two. Yeldon added a 14-yard TD catch, which is where much of his early season production should come.
  1. Alex Smith's Death By Efficient Paper Cuts Offense was in midseason form with a 13-play TD drive to open the game. Receiver Chris Conley, however, is looking like a deep complement to Jeremy Maclin (who was ejected for a scrap). The 6-foot-3 second-year wideout caught a deep bomb from Smith for 37 yards on the third drive. Conley later showed off moves in space on an 18-yard catch and run. His improvement could help diversify the Chiefs' offense in 2016.
  1. Nick Foles got a looooong look as the Chiefs backup. It's likely that coach Andy Reid needs tape of Foles in K.C.'s offense to determine the pecking order entering the season. Or maybe Reid just wanted to troll Rams fans (please get a joke, internet).
  1. Jared Gofffumbled in his first two series. The rookie is still early in the learning process.
  1. Todd Gurley played in his first preseason game ever. He looked like the offensive rookie of the year we remember, bulldozing defenders on four carries and a TD on his one and only drive. The battle for the few snaps behind Gurley between Benny Cunningham and Malcolm Brown is interesting. Cunningham will likely get the gig, displaying burst at the line and speed in space. Brown runs like a freight train. Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk -- calling the game on TV -- gushed about the power back's ability to bring the pain but also cut with speed in the hole. Brown later had a spectacular one-handed catch for a TD.
  1. The Rams' offensive line controlled the Chiefs' defense (which is still missing key pieces) on back-to-back TD drives to open the game. Perhaps all those draft picks are finally starting to gel.

-- Kevin Patra

What we learned Friday

Tony Romo was relegated to an afterthought in his first game back from a broken collarbone. That's the power of Dakmania.

Cowboys backup Dak Prescott lit up the Miami Dolphins' secondary Friday night just like he did against the Los Angeles Rams last week. The rookie fourth-rounder showed off his full arsenal with back-shoulder throws, a long touchdown pass to Dez Bryant and a gorgeous rainmaker to Brice Butler that traveled more than 60 yards. Oh, and he also rushed for 28 yards and two scores.

A young backup quarterback will be popular in any town. But owner Jerry Jones must feel like he struck oil with Prescott after failed attempts to trade up for Paxton Lynch and Connor Cook in the draft.

All of the usual preseason caveats apply. Prescott is playing against vanilla schemes and often against backups. The Cowboys' offensive line is so good that it makes game action look like a 7-on-7 drill. But the kid now has more touchdowns (6) than incompletions (5). Prescott's decision-making and accuracy coming out of a spread offense have been more impressive than his athleticism. NFL quarterbacking isn't supposed to look this easy.

None of this means Prescott will be a superstar or that we should be taking "QB competition!" jokes seriously. Prescott will make mistakes and also has been fortunate, having an interception overturned Friday by a roughing the passer penalty. But it's not too early to say Dallas has a potential "quarterback of the future" to groom. That's a key position when you have a 36-year-old starter facing his football mortality.

*Here's what else we learned Friday: *

  1. Romo's return to the field helped solidify his encouraging training camp. He looked like Romo, completing 4 of 5 passes and leading the Cowboys to a touchdown on his second drive.
  1. Alfred Morris (13 carries for 85 yards) has looked so reliable all month that Darren McFadden could have a hard time passing him on the depth chart when McFadden gets healthy (one of them could also become available for a trade).
  1. The healthy return of Dez Bryant also has been fun to watch. He keeps aggressively attacking passes like it's the regular season, and he beat Miami starter Byron Maxwell for one of his two catches.
  1. Miami's 41-14 loss to Dallas flipped the team's preseason narratives. The defense was a sieve while Ryan Tannehill played very well. If not for an ugly Jordan Cameron drop, the Dolphins would have scored touchdowns in three of Tannehill's four drives.
  1. Dolphins receiver Kenny Stills took a step toward bouncing back from a poor first year in Miami, grabbing three passes for 71 yards and two scores. His first grab came on a beautiful 55-yard bomb when coach Adam Gase had Tannehill on a planned roll out. Miami coaches have always strangely stayed away from calling Tannehill throws on the run, which might be his biggest strength.
  1. Jay Ajayi started over Arian Foster at running back for Miami, but Foster earned two carries with the starting unit on the game's second drive. Foster lost five yards on the carries.
  1. The pitchforks will be out for Jets backup Geno Smith after an interception where he failed to see an underneath defender. Bryce Petty rallied the Jets' deep reserves for 16 points in the second half. Second-round pick Christian Hackenberg never got off the bench. Geno is still expected to keep the backup job, but expect media/fan push for Petty to compete.
  1. The Washington Redskins sat a number of healthy key starters, including starting quarterback Kirk Cousins. That didn't prevent an injury to a valuable starter, with Matt Jones leaving the game after spraining his AC joint in his left shoulder. Chris Thompson is next on the depth chart and rookie Keith Marshall struggled for a second straight week.

Perhaps the Redskins could give the Cowboys a call and see if that trusty veteran Alfred Morris is available in a deal.

  1. Other injuries of note: Dolphins backup Matt Moore was evaluated for a concussion. Jets wide receiver Quincy Enunwa is in the concussion protocol after leaving the game. Chargers tight end Jeff Cumberland was carted to the locker room with an Achilles tendon injury and didn't return.
  1. The Jets' starters and backups had a rough half against Washington, getting dominated on both lines of scrimmage. But that feels like a minor annoyance compared to the healthy return to the field by Darrelle Revis. He had a nice open field tackle and an end-zone interception in limited work. Despite all the great players up front, he feels like the key to the Jets' defense.
  1. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians will have plenty to swear about this week. The first five drives by the Cardinals included three first downs and two interceptions. Chargers cornerback Brandon Flowers made an incredible play on a blitz to pick off Carson Palmer and score. Palmer had another pass that could have been intercepted.
  1. San Diego has more defensive talent than most people realize. Rugged inside linebacker Denzel Perryman and free agent pickup cornerback Casey Hayward were among the standouts. It appears that Hayward will play on the outside for the Chargers, with Flowers in the slot. Arizona didn't score until there was under five minutes left.
  1. Random quarterback depth chart note: Chargers undrafted rookie Mike Bercovici played ahead of Zach Mettenberger. It's possible Mettenberger doesn't make the team.
  1. There is definitely a new trend by NFL coaches sitting key starters in Week 2 of the preseason. Philip Rivers sat Friday, just like Aaron Rodgers, Teddy Bridgewater, Kirk Cousins and many others. It feels like a matter of time before the preseason is officially reduced a game.

-- Gregg Rosenthal

What we learned Thursday

The awakening is upon us.

After washing out in Seattle, Dallas and Washington last season, enigmatic tailback Christine Michael experienced his football epiphany last December and January when the Seahawks offered him a second chance at realizing his vast potential.

Thrust into the starting lineup for the regular-season finale and the wild-card game, Michael ran with authority while moving the chains in the most promising two-game stretch of his disappointing career. Immediately thereafter, multiple Seahawks coaches noted that a suddenly disciplined Michael was truly humbled by his failings.

"This is a classic example of if you just keep hoping and you stay with it and you give guys chances that sometimes they come right through for you," coach Pete Carroll explained in mid-January. "This is looking like that. It's only a few games, but they're really strong indicators that he's ready to take advantage of this opportunity. Nothing less than what we had hoped for a while back."

Michael carried that newfound maturity into the offseason, emerging as the leader in a running back room missing Marshawn Lynch for the first time in a half decade.

When Darrell Bevell was asked last week why fans should believe in Michael, Seattle's offensive coordinator responded, "He's had an awakening."

The new and improved Michael was evident in the preseason opener, inspiring Carroll to wax poetic about a lethal one-two punch with Thomas Rawls.

Carroll went on to laud Michael as an "explosive and dynamic athlete." Lest that be written off as hyperbole, it should be noted that Michael's "athletic explosiveness" has been compared to Adrian Peterson's.

Where Michael struggled prior to last winter's epiphany was in the mastery of fundamentals. He was reluctant to switch the ball to his left hand when the situation called for it. Even more troubling, he struggled to read the holes in Tom Cable's zone blocking scheme, leading to hesitation in his first crucial steps toward the line of scrimmage.

The preseason game film suggests he has overcome those issues.

"Physically, I think he's showed greater consistency hitting things the way we expect him to hit them. He was kind of a loose cannon (before)," Carroll said early this week. "Mentally, certainly he's different. He's grown up."

Michael was a revelation versus the Vikings Thursday night, showcasing the vision, explosiveness and tackle-breaking ability of an elite NFL running back. He also lined up out wide for the second straight week, evidence that the coaches have no qualms about utilizing him in the passing game. These are demonstrated traits that Michael will carry into September versus legitimate NFL defenses.

We know that a healthy Rawls is a stud running back. Now that Michael has seen the light, Carroll boasts a pair of exciting playmakers in his backfield.

That might be anathema to fantasy footballers, but it's a godsend for the post-Lynch Seahawks.

Here's what else we learned from Thursday's preseason games:

  1. Teddy Bridgewater didn't play against the Seahawks, and coach Mike Zimmer declined to comment on why, other than to say it wasn't disciplinary.
  1. The Seahawks drafted defensive tackle Jarran Reed with the belief that he was the best run-stuffer available. He lived up to that billing Thursday night, dominating the interior of the Vikings' offensive line.
  1. We thought Blair Walsh had redeemed himself from his playoff miss against Seattle last season with his 27-yarder in the second quarter. It turns out, Walsh is still searching for his atonement. With less than three minutes remaining in the game, Walsh had the opportunity to make what could have been a game-winning 47-yard field goal. Like his playoff miss last season, however, Walsh hooked it left. Marcus Sherels bailed the kicker out with his game-winning pick-six off Trevone Boykin just four plays later, but Walsh's lack of clutchness still looms large in Minnesota.
  1. Playing without four of the Patriots' top weapons in the passing game, Jimmy Garoppolo started slowly and finished in strong fashion for the second consecutive week. Once again, he wasn't quite as impressive as the box score might suggest. Meanwhile, Tom Brady was held out of action after accidentally slicing his thumb on a pair of scissors.
  1. Pay no attention to the speculation that LeGarrette Blount is on the roster bubble. New England's most impressive offensive player Thursday night, Blount is locked in as the between-the-tackles hammer.
  1. Keep an eye on Patriots second-year defensive end Trey Flowers, who was a disruptive force at the line of scrimmage for the second week in a row.
  1. Despite offseason discussion of a committee attack in Chicago, Jeremy Langford sure seems to have a stranglehold on the No. 1 job. Operating as the every-down back, he showed a nice burst and decisive cutting against the Patriots' first-string defense.
  1. For all of the hype lavished upon Sammie Coates this month, the second-year Steelers receiver has been outplayed by Eli Rogers in the first two preseason games. Although Coates made a spectacular toe-tapping sideline grab and a second nice hands catch, he was out-contested on a pair of interceptions and charged with an offensive pass interference penalty. A favorite of offensive coordinator Todd Haley, Rogers is emerging as the favorite to enter Week 1 as the slot receiver.
  1. The Cowboys' backup quarterback failures have garnered national attention over the past couple of years, but the Steelers haven't done any better behind Ben Roethlisberger. Former fourth-round draft pick Landry Jones hasn't developed into a reliable backup and veteran Bruce Gradkowski is out indefinitely with a torn hamstring. Will we see another Mike Vick sighting in Pittsburgh?
  1. Undrafted rookie Paul Turner is making a push for a roster spot in Philadelphia. He led the team in receiving for the second straight week and has been the most consistent wideout in training camp (which tells us plenty about the Eagles receivers). "He's really beginning to stand out," coach Doug Pederson said after Thursday's victory.
  1. Pederson told reporters earlier in the week that recently acquired Dorial Green-Beckham would sit out versus the Steelers. That didn't happen. Green-Beckham entered in the middle of the second quarter and saw a pair of targets with the second-team offense.
  1. News of the weird: Eagles kicker Caleb Sturgissuffered a pregame concussion when an errant punt hit him in the head.

-- Chris Wesseling

  1. The Lions' first-team offensive line was better in pass protection this week, but still can't open any holes in the ground game. If the group doesn't improve, Matthew Stafford might need to throw it 50 times a game for the Lions to move the ball.
  1. Stafford looks very comfortable in Jim Bob Cooter's offense. The big-armed quarterback slung it in his first drive and completed 8 of 11 passes for 113 yards. Look for a big dose of no-huddle from Detroit's offense this year. Stafford's connection with Marvin Jones looks in midseason form. Jones caught back-to-back big plays on the first drive, including a gorgeous toe-tapping 19-yard grab against his former team.
  1. The Bengals didn't show any signs of missing Jones or Mohamed Sanu. Rookie Tyler Boyd continued his studly preseason. The receiver had a spectacular diving snag on the first series and later found a soft spot in a zone defense for a touchdown. Despite the offseason hand-wringing, Cincy's offense will be just fine in 2016. It's an efficient, grinding production.
  1. Jeremy Hill flashed decisiveness, power and burst through the hole, battering his way for 5.3 yards per carry on three first-drive totes, which culminated in a powerful 9-yard TD rush. Hill is entering 2016 surprisingly under the radar after coming on strong down the stretch last season.
  1. Quarterback Brett Hundley started for the Packers, but re-injured his left ankle on the third drive. The second-year player missed time in camp with the injury. It's something to monitor for Aaron Rodgers' backup, but coach Mike McCarthy said the injury doesn't look serious. With undrafted quarterback Joe Callahan under center, we won't take much away from the receiver battle, but Davante Adams and tight end Jared Cook displayed sure hands -- a notable change for two drop-prone pass catchers.
  1. The Packers' first-team offensive line did yeoman's work against a solid Raiders defense on the first drive of the game: A 14-play, 74-yard grinder that culminated in an Eddie Lacy leap into the end zone. Lacy again looked spry, powerful and patient to the hole. But there were several plays he went untouched until the second level thanks to the offensive line's blocking. A clicking Packers' O-line is a gorgeous sign for Rodgers and Lacy.
  1. Could the Packers have the most underrated secondary in the NFL?
  1. The Raiders' offense had a mediocre night -- that's being nice because it's preseason. Coach Jack Del Rio kept sending the first-team unit on the field the entire first half in an effort to coax something positive. It never came. Derek Carr's struggles were similar to those he battled down the stretch in 2015. At one point Carr hurled a forced pass to Amari Cooper that was picked off. It's the type of play that conjures the negative side of all those Brett Favre comparisons. Carr ended up with nine completions for 38 yards for an average of 2.9 yards per pass. Luckily for Carr and the Raiders, the preseason doesn't count.
  1. Oakland's highly regarded offensive line was good in pass blocking, but struggled to open up holes in the running game. The Raiders' offense needs better balance moving forward.
  1. The Carl Nassib cult is growing. The Browns' intriguing rookie defensive end began rotating with the starters. On his first drive, he immediately tipped a Matt Ryan pass. The rest of his snaps (which were plentiful) seemed like he was in the Falcons' backfield every play. Nassib finished with a strip-sack, fumble recovery and had another sack negated by penalty. Nassib, Emmanuel Ogbah and Jamie Meder offer some the Browns young, intriguing building blocks in the front seven.
  1. It wasn't all roses for the Browns. The backend of their defense is a mess. At this point it wouldn't even be shocking if former first-round pick Justin Gilbert ended up getting cut. Despite the optimism of some young players, this is still a defense devoid of starting playmakers. The Falcons' first-team unit moved the ball at will on the first drive and went for 234 first-half yards. It could be an ugly season for Cleveland's D.
  1. With Vic Beasley sitting out, the Falcons' pass rush was nearly nonexistent against a Browns offensive line that was destroyed last week.
  1. The Falcons continue to split first-team snaps between Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. It's clear who is the better runner. Freeman went for 10.5 yards per carry (long of 19 yards) and a touchdown on four totes. Coleman had 16 yards on five carries. It's not even just the stats; it's how they run. One dashes with decisive, quick cuts, getting up field. The other often stutters and gets smothered. Freeman's talent should eventually force the Falcons to scrap a shared system.
  1. How you feel about Atlanta's playoff chances in 2016 likely depends on what side of the Mohamed Sanu debate you fall. Thursday he flashed for three catches on five targets, including a 32-yard catch and run on a second-and-20. It's clear he's head-and-shoulders better than the spare parts the Falcons had at No. 2 receiver last year.

-- Kevin Patra

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