What we learned in Thursday's preseason action

In an era of offensive firepower, 2015 might go down as the most explosive in NFL history.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy believes his offense has the potential to be the best pro football has ever seen. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin expects his attack to rival Green Bay's. Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton is drawing comparisons to the Rams' famed "Greatest Show on Turf."

Beyond that dynamic trio, the Broncos and Cowboys return stellar units. The Bengals and Giants are as stacked as they have been in years.

There's another team with a legitimate chance at a top-five offense: Don't sleep on the Detroit Lions and Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate Ameer Abdullah.

After stealing the show in training camp, Abdullah was the most impressive player we witnessed in six Thursday night matchups.

The Jets' defense found out what Detroit coordinator Teryl Austin meant when he said attempting to tackle Abdullah is like "grasping for air."

Abdullah showed lightning-quick footwork, making safety Calvin Pryor whiff on a 7-yard run. On the next drive, Abdullah displayed rare acceleration to and through the hole, picking up speed with a cut that left a half-dozen Jets defenders in his wake en route to a 45-yard romp.

Drafted to replace Reggie Bush, Abdullah is a major upgrade in the backfield and a perfect fit for a Lions offense that boasts the best wide receiver of the past half-decade (Calvin Johnson), a Hines Ward-like run-after-catch threat as a second fiddle (Golden Tate) and an athletic pass-catching tight end (Eric Ebron).

If Matthew Stafford gains a measure of consistency, opposing defenses will be picking their poison all season.

  1. Jimmy Garoppolo's first audition was a letdown, failing to generate big plays. Garoppolo's lone touchdown "drive" in nine possessions was a 55-yard scamper from Jonas Gray, who took advantage of great blocking and a slow-moving Packers secondary.
  1. Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler was given the star treatment, playing the first series of the game and sitting the rest of the way. He appears to be locked in as the No. 1 corner. In a bit of a surprise, seventh-round rookie corner Darryl Roberts also saw time with the first-team defense before leaving with an apparent hand injury.
  1. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers' first-team offense received extensive playing time, playing into the second quarter. Rodgers dialed breakout candidateDavante Adams' number four times on the first drive alone. Might that be a sign of things to come?
  1. Our first look at Joe Flacco in Marc Trestman's new offense was full of positives. The veteran quarterback hit 5 of 6 passes for 33 yards and blasted out of the pocket for a 17-yard scramble on a 16-play, 80-yard scoring march capped by Lorenzo Taliaferro's 1-yard scoring burst. Baltimore used the second-year back a bunch, giving him six carries to just two for veteran Justin Forsett on the opening drive. Taliaferro tailed off, though, finishing with just 36 yards off 12 totes.
  1. With Drew Brees out of the lineup, Luke McCown struggled through a pair of three-and-outs before capping a 10-play scoring drive with a 28-yard pass to Brandin Cooks. Ryan Griffin relieved him to throw a 21-yard touchdown to Khiry Robinson. Cooks dazzled last preseason and looked speedy tonight, weaving through Ravens defenders for yards after the catch on his scoring play. We're expecting a big season from the second-year target.
  1. With Jimmy Graham making his money in Seattle, the Saints gave third-year tight end Josh Hill plenty of action. Our "Making the Leap" candidate came through against Baltimore's secondary, hauling in three balls for 40 yards. We remain concerned about reports that Benjamin Watson is swallowing up targets in practice, but a big preseason from Hill might open up his opportunities come September.

Bonus takeaway: And a downer, to be fair, as the Saints endured a laundry list of injuries on Thursday, with cornerback Brandon Browner carted off with a leg issue, while linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and cornerback Delvin Breaux also departed with undisclosed setbacks.

  1. Few quarterbacks are under more pressure than Robert Griffin III. The former No. 2 overall pick was a hot-and-cold act on Thursday night, but showed juicy arm strength on a beautiful deep strike to Pierre Garcon, who toasted embattled second-year Browns cornerback Justin Gilbert on the route only to drop the ball at the 15-yard line. Griffin also made a nice decision to run for three yards on a third-and-2 scenario, but followed with overthrown lobs to Garcon on back-to-back fade routes in the red zone. Griffin looked healthy and showed a live arm, but Kirk Cousins did a better job moving the team and generating 17 points out of the backups.
  1. Browns starter Josh McCown opened a perfect 5-of-5 passing for 33 yards with a 2-yard touchdown strike to Travis Benjamin. After McCown shredded Washington's first-string defense, Johnny Manziel hit the field to guide the Browns on a five-play, 36-yard drive capped by his 12-yard touchdown scamper. Manziel looked like a more controlled version of what we saw last season, but his seven completions went for just 3.8 yards per pass.
  1. Days after earning a starting job, Redskins tight end Niles Paulwill miss the season after season-ending left ankle fracture dislocation. The tight end position has reached a point of crisis for Washington, with third-stringer Logan Paulsen battling a toe injury and Reed dealing with a minor hamstring injury. Time to call Chris Cooley?
  1. Chargers first-round pick Melvin Gordon was outplayed by second-year back Branden Oliver. We still expect Gordon to be the primary runner this season, but it's disconcerting that he showed the same hesitation and stutter-stepping at the line of scrimmage that has plagued him in camp.
  1. With Darren McFadden and Joseph Randle out, undrafted rookie Gus Johnson drew the start for the Cowboys. He powered his way to a 5-yard touchdown before leaving with a shoulder injury. Johnson is worth tracking, but he's far from guaranteed to make the final roster.
  1. Cowboys second-round pass rusher Randy Gregory came strong with a bull rush to gain his first preseason sack. The play came late in the third quarter, which suggests Gregory still has plenty of climbing to do on the depth chart.
  1. Nice start for Miami's offense, with quarterback Ryan Tannehill looking more comfortable than ever in play-caller Bill Lazor's attack. The fourth-year passer finished 6-of-7 passing for 56 yards on the night after guiding the Dolphins on a 14-play, 85-yard drive that chewed over eight minutes off the clock. His 2-yard touchdown pass to Jarvis Landry left Tannehill at an acceptable eight yards per throw. Lamarr Houston and Willie Young weren't on the field, but Chicago's lack of team speed on defense was an issue.
  1. The bigger story for Miami was the defensive line, which forced the Bears into a three-and-out and left reporters commenting how newcomer Ndamukong Suhabused Chicago's interior line during his brief stint on the field. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler played into the second quarter and mustered just a field goal against the 'Fins.
  1. Dolphins running back Lamar Miller picked up where he left off with a nice 27-yard dart through a wide-open Bears defensive front, but Miami's highlight of the night came off this second-quarter rope from McLeod Bethel-Thompson to wideout LaRon Byrd:
  1. Abdullah wasn't the only rookie running back to impress in Detroit. Undrafted free agent Zach Zenner, a SPARQ standout and three-time 2,000-yard rusher at South Dakota State, offered decisiveness, vision and burst in the second half, outplaying core special teamer George Winn. If the Lions try to sneak Zenner through waivers, we have a feeling he will get claimed.
  1. Peripatetic former Rams fourth-round pick Greg Salas made a strong bid for a roster spot, hauling in five of nine targets for 92 yards and a touchdown. He's likely battling Jeremy Ross, Lance Moore and Ryan Broyles for two spots behind Johnson, Tate and Corey Fuller.
  1. Ryan Fitzpatrick played just one series for the Jets, completing two of three passes for 16 yards. Rookie Bryce Petty had a rough debut, averaging a paltry 2.8 yards on 18 pass attempts.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast breaks down what Geno Smith's injury means for the Jets and recaps the first Hard Knocks episode in Houston.

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