What we learned from Thursday's preseason games

Swaddled in aqua and white, Jay Cutler on Thursday evening saw his first action as quarterback for the Miami Dolphins.

The sample size was thin, but the veteran passer looked comfortable enough after failing to log a pro start since last November.

Cutler's numbers -- a modest 3-of-6 passing for 24 yards -- are mildly deceiving considering a pretty 31-yard strike to DeVante Parker was wiped out by a holding call. Along the way, Cutler was kept upright save for a wallop that saw him land on his throwing shoulder.

Early concerns on the Cutler front were two-fold: (1) Would he hit the field in football shape after a trifling foray into broadcasting and (2) show any semblance of chemistry with his newfound gaggle of pass-catchers? No major concerns emerged on either front, with Cutler fitting in as well as anything we've seen from the sidelined Ryan Tannehill. Evidence of this came on Cutler's second drive, which failed to deliver points but showcased the quarterback running a no-huddle version of the offense on his first night on the job.

Teams typically reveal sub-zero data during these on-field August rituals, but this appears to be the same Cutler from autumns past. With that comes a rash of positives -- command of the playbook and unusual arm strength -- and a Cutler-esque ceiling bound to haunt the Dolphins in critical moments.

Love him or hate him, this is the Cutler we've known all along -- and, for now, Miami's most important puzzle piece in 2017.

Here's what else we learned during Thursday's preseason action:

  1. Starting opposite Cutler, Ryan Mallett (13 of 22 for 113 yards) continued to operate as a mixed bag for the Ravens. Filling in for the back-addled Joe Flacco, Baltimore's backup passer generated 35 yards over his first three drives, with the final of those marches ending with a hazardous deep ball to Quincy Adeboyejo that wound up in the hands of Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard. Mallett bounced back against Miami's backups, putting the team in position for a pair of Justin Tucker field goals before tossing a 1-yard scoring strike to Larry Donnell following a Dolphins blocked punt. It wasn't a complete car crash, with Mallett hitting targets for gains of 8, 9, 11, 11 and 19 yards. Still, he was guilty of missing receivers, throwing short of the sticks, unfurling tipped balls and failing to squelch an aura of discomfort over one of the NFL's most concerning backup quarterback scenarios.
  1. The Ravens clearly view Terrance West as their lead back. The fourth-year runner handled six of Baltimore's first eight carries, generating a troubling minus-2 yards off the workload. Buck Allen hit the scene in the second quarter and ran hard for 40 yards off 10 totes, while adding another 16 yards through the air. The loss of Kenneth Dixon will sting this team all season.
  1. Tyrod Taylor's evening ended under a cloud. Buffalo's starting quarterback led six drives, generating three punts, a field goal and a pair of ugly picks. The first came off a deflection at his own 10-yard line, but the second was enough to cause Bills fans to toss furniture through living-room windows (if the preseason can elicit such a reaction), with Taylor lobbing an underthrown pass downfield for Anquan Boldin, only to have the ball snatched away by Ronald Darby, the ex-Buffalo cover man traded to the Eagles a week ago. Amid whispers of a down camp for Taylor, Buffalo's starter put up a grisly line that saw him peg 8 of 18 throws at just 2.9 yards per attempt -- good enough for a ghastly passer rating of 12.0.
  1. After decisively (and mercifully) parting ways with naif-booter Roberto Aguayo, the Bucs have found rock-solid stability in the kicking game -- right? Wrong. After Tampa drew first blood against Jacksonville with Doug Martin's 2-yard scoring burst, veteran Nick Folk pranced onto the field to cap off the march, only to have the extra point swatted down by tall-as-an-oak Jaguars lineman Calais Campbell. The kicker went on to hit a pair of field goals before botching a 47-yarder, forcing coach Dirk Koetter to shake his head over the dark-arts chaos attached to Tampa's special teams. Folk is a proven leg, but this still feels like one of the most hexed positional groups league-wide.
  1. Speaking of Martin, the Bucs back looked sensational for the second straight game, pounding his way for 30 yards off six carries over Tampa's first two drives. The 28-year-old runner galloped with saucy explosion and speed, leading the way for a Bucs attack that outgained the Jaguars 240 yards to 59 over the first two quarters.
  1. It was encouraging to see Jameis Winston (21 of 29 for 196 yards) calmly guide Tampa downfield on back-to-back scoring drives to start the night. Still, the promising field-general made an awful decision on his third series, launching the ball into space while being tugged to the turf at the Jacksonville 11. Winston's duck of a pass looped into the end zone, where it was picked off by Barry Church. Officials nullified the turnover, ruling that Winston's progress was stopped, but it's just the type of decision Koetter will fry his quarterback for on next week's Hard Knocks. Winston nearly threw another pick on the following drive and fumbled a pass attempt before the half that was picked up by teammate Adam Humphries. The box score looks hot, but Thursday was a reminder that one of the league's most promising young quarterbacks still has work to do after generating 41 turnovers over his first two NFL seasons.
  1. Is Blake Bortles running out of rope in Jacksonville? Another frustrating outing saw the devolving fourth-year quarterback utterly misfire on a deep ball to wideout Allen Robinson, who got open between a pair of cover men 30 yards downfield. It's worth noting that a steamed Doug Marrone forced his Jaguars starters to play into the second half with Chad Henne -- not Bortles -- at the helm. Henne doesn't exactly get the blood humming, but how long until management decides it's time for Bortles to be hidden away like the Ark of the Covenant?
  1. The Bills don't have Sammy Watkins anymore, but they do have rookie Zay Jones, who piled up 42 yards off three catches led by this brilliant, high-concentration sideline grab from first-year passer Nathan Peterman:
  1. In Philadelphia, Carson Wentz was sluggish out of the gate, sailing a pair of passes over the head of Alshon Jeffery, with the second of those coming in the end zone on third-and-goal. Wentz looked his best guiding the Eagles on a 65-yard, first-quarter march that went swimmingly until LeGarrette Blount fumbled the ball away at Buffalo's 27. For the second straight week, Philly's overmatched line struggled to open holes on the ground.
  1. On the opposite side of the ball, Eagles lineman Brandon Graham flashed moments of dominance, surging into Buffalo's backfield to bury LeSean McCoy for a 3-yard loss. Piling up six sacks, 13 hits on the quarterback and eight tackles for negative yardage, Jim Schwartz's front seven caused issues all night for the work-in-progress Bills.
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