The Cardinals first-team defense made a statement against Minnesota. Kirk Cousins was 3 for 13 passing, for 35 yards and other than one long scoring run, the Vikings offense was not able to move the ball.
Arizona ran out their starting lineup with the exceptions of Haason Reddick who is recovering from a knee scope and, Patrick Peterson who is suspended until week seven. Joe Walker stood in for Reddick after Dennis Gardeck provided mixed results in the first two games. It was initially believed Reddick would be ready by week one. There is growing concern that may not be the case.
Rookie Byron Murphy appears to have locked down a starting job at corner, at least until/unless Rober Alford is able to return.
Most of the Falcons starters took the field versus Washington. The one significant exception being middle linebacker Deion Jones. After playing last season without him due to an early injury, the coaching staff has taken no chances with Jones this preseason. He returned to practice this week and will be ready for the opener.
As a whole Atlanta looked good, giving up three points to Washington’s first offense. Defensive end Adrian Clayborn supplied some pass rush pressure but no one stood out in terms of box score production.
The situation we are watching closely in Baltimore is the battle at inside linebacker between Kenny Young and Chris Board. Board started the first two preseason games and is generally assumed to be the opening day starter if healthy. Young has played well, however, and the third warmup game did nothing to confirm either way. Young started against the Eagles but it proves nothing since Board did not play at all after being banged up in the last preseason contest. If you have a dog in this race, be patient and sit him week one unless we get a more clear picture between now and then.
It was business as expected for the Bills. The only starter that sat was defensive end Jerry Hughes, who was replaced by Shaq Lawson. There are no starting jobs in question here and they came through the game with no major injuries. Tre’Davious White sustained a quad contusion but should be good for week one.
Carolina’s dress rehearsal was on script. They came out in a 3-4 base scheme with no unexpected names in the starting lineup. Shaq Thompson joined Luke Kuechly at linebacker in both base and sub-package situations while Mario Addison and Bruce Irvin were at outside linebacker.
The Bears elected not to participate in the dress rehearsal round. There were no starters in the lineup as the coaching staff used the game to evaluate the bottom of the roster, providing an opportunity to some fringe players battling for jobs.
With the exception of tackle Geno Atkins and a couple of banged-up corners, Cincinnati played their first-team defense against the Giants. They were gashed on the first few plays before tightening up and holding the Giants starters to a field goal. It looks like safeties Shawn Williams and Jesse Bates are in for another big year.
I generally refrain from doing this but as a Bengals homer, I have to toss out an offensive nugget. If you are looking to handcuff Joe Mixon; pick up Rodney Anderson, not Giovani Bernard. The rookie was impressive in his first game action.
Olivier Vernon had a great outing that included a pair of sacks. In fact, the Tampa Bay offensive line had no answer for Cleveland’s pass rush that got home for seven sacks on the night, including five while Jameis Winston was in the game.
Dynasty managers may want to stash Sheldrick Redwine on the taxi squad. He has made a strong impression working with the second team and looks like a solid future starter.
The Cowboys have several players in question for the opener. On the upside, Byron Jones was activated from the PUP on Monday. There is hope that he, along with DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford, Sean Lee, and Maliek Collins will all be ready. There is less optimism for Taco Charlton who suffered an ankle injury against the Texans. We are awaiting the results of an MRI. With Robert Quinn suspended, Lawrence and Dorance Armstrong are the likely starters against the Giants. If Lawrence is not ready, Kerry Hyder Jr or Joe Jackson would be the next man up.
The game between Denver and the Rams closer resembled what we will expect to see from other teams in the fourth warmup game. Neither team put a starter on the field, instead, the game was used by both coaching staffs to evaluate their depth and give a lot of fringe players an opportunity to show something.
With former Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia as their head coach, we know to expect multiple looks from the Lions defense. We also know that rookie linebacker Jahlani Tavai has been impressive during the preseason. Mix those factors together and we get the Lions opening in a 3-4 against Buffalo with Mike Daniels and A’Shawn Robinson at defensive end, Damon Harrison at nose tackle, Christian Jones and Devon Kennard at outside linebacker and Tavai joining Jarrad Davis at inside linebacker.
While the alignment was interesting, it did not last long as Davis was injured on the second play and had to be helped off the field. It did not look good for Davis who was not able to put weight on his right foot. There is some concern Davis might have injured his Achilles.
Initially, it was Jalen Reeves-Maybin who came on to replace Davis. When the Lions went to a nickel set, Tavai went to the sideline with Reeves-Maybin lining up at middle linebacker. After a pair of two and out series, the coaching staff had Tavai replace Reeves-Maybin as the nickel linebacker. Tavai went the rest of the way in that role with the first-team defense, including wearing the communications helmet and calling plays.
Tavai has been turning heads all summer, leading to speculation the coaching staff would get him on the field early in some capacity. If Davis is indeed lost for the season or out for multiple games, the rookie could be in for a big year.
Green Bay Packers
Neither the Packers nor their opponents from Oakland elected to play starters in their matchup, but Green Bay did have a standout performance. In fact, this is the second time inside linebacker Ty Summers has turned in an eye-catching performance. This time around he had nine tackles and an assist. Oren Burks may have trouble getting his job back when he is healthy.
The Texans did not look good against Dallas in any aspect. The starters were run over for 17 first-quarter points and the offense failed to score at all. Jadaveon Clowney continues to hold out and is now being shopped while neither starting safety has played in the preseason due to undisclosed injuries. From an individual player perspective, no defender turned in an eye-catching performance against the Cowboys.
Like their opponents from Chicago, the Colts held out all their defensive starters. This is bad news for those of us rooting for rookie Bobby Okereke, in that he was in the lineup. He may not start week one but Okereke has played well throughout the preseason. It is a matter of time before the coaching staff has to get him involved.
Jacksonville showed us something new but not totally unexpected. When news hit about Telvin Smith Sr taking the year off, there was speculation the team would use rookie Josh Allen to help fill the void at linebacker. I believe it was Doug Marrone who put the rumor to rest, or so we thought, by telling reporters Allen was drafted to rush the passer and would be used on the edge. That may be the case, but Allen played some linebacker against Miami.
Quincy Williams returned to practice on Tuesday and should be good to go for the opener. He was working as a three-down starter on the weak-side prior to the knee issue and should return to that role immediately.
Kansas City Chiefs
Sometimes identifying a defensive set is a matter of perspective. The Chiefs opening lineup versus San Francisco is a perfect example. If we look from a personnel perspective, Kansas City was in a nickel variation with three corners and two safeties on the field. If we look at it in terms of how they lined up, it was a normal 4-3 base, with Daniel Sorensen at weak-side linebacker and Kendall Fuller at safety. Whatever we call it, this is a look we will see a lot of from the Chiefs. The only difference being that Tyrann Mathieu will be at safety and Fuller on the outside when everyone is healthy.
Mathieu was the only starter not to play in this game so we got a pretty solid look at what the defense will look like. On early downs, Reggie Ragland will be at middle linebacker with Anthony Hitchens and either Sorensen or Damien Williams on the outside. In true nickel sets, Ragland will go out for the extra defensive back. Darron Lee continues to see time exclusively with the second team.
Breelan Speaks looked good early in training camp but it now looks like he will miss significant time after having surgery to repair a sprained MCL and a meniscus injury. This could bump up the stock of Alex Okafor who could see more playing time. Okafor has played well this summer and is worth keeping an eye on. He has the potential to be a decent DL2.
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers gave us a mixture of confirmation and uncertainty in their game with Seattle. We were able to confirm that Adrian Phillips will indeed step into the role of Derwin James at safety and that Phillips should be highly productive in that role.
We were also able to confirm Kazyr White as the team’s starting middle linebacker. White has now started every preseason game at the position and has looked every bit the part. Denzel Perryman has worked with the second team in each of the last two games. If there was any lingering doubt, it was removed when Perryman went down with a knee injury against Seattle. It did not look good, especially since he missed much of last season due to knee surgery.
There remains some mystery surrounding the team’s weak-side linebacker position. Jatavis Brown started against Seattle and was his usual productive self. He paired with White in nickel situations and made plays all over the field versus both the run and pass. There is no reason this guy should not be a three-down starter, but we have seen him stuck on the bench before. Considering the Chargers sat several first-team veterans in this game, we should not read too much into Brown making the start.
When it comes to Thomas Davis who is currently listed as the starter, information has been top-secret. We have not seen him on the field during the preseason, nor has there been any report on his status. All things considered here, I am starting to feel a lot better about Brown.
Uchenna Nwosu also sat out, giving Emeke Egbule the start on the strong side.
Los Angeles Rams
Los Angeles elected to forgo the dress rehearsal all together. No defensive starter took part, thus there was nothing of interest to be learned.
The game three Dolphins were basically the same as the games one and two Dolphins. Kiko Alonso, Raekwon McMillan, Reshad Jones, and T.J. McDonald all sat out; while Jerome Baker and Sam Eguavoen served as three-down linebackers, and Mikah Fitzpatrick joined Bobby McCain were the safeties.
We still have no confirmation that Eguavoen will continue in a full-time role once everyone is healthy but he certainly looks capable. There are rumors that Alonso is in danger of not making the team because he is not a great fit in the new scheme and is making a lot of money. If he is healthy and is still in a Dolphins uniform when the season opens, I have to believe Alonso will have a role, even if it is only on early downs.
One mystery has been cleared up in Miami. The somewhat surprising release of T.J. McDonald is a sure sign the team expects to have Reshad Jones for week one. Jones should line up at strong safety with Bobby McCain at free and Minkah Fitzpatrick free to roam. There is little doubt that Jones will be the most fantasy friendly of this trio, providing he can stay healthy at least.
There was one crystal clear observation from the game against Jacksonville; Baker is going to be a good one.
The Vikings have come through training camp and the preseason with no major injuries, no drama, and no surprises. About the only thing to report on here is how solid Everson Griffen looked after a down year in 2018. All signs suggest he will once again be a dependable every week starter for IDP managers.
New England Patriots
By now everyone understands the risk of believing anything the Patriots show or say. That said, they came out against the Panthers in what looked like probable opening day lineups on both sides of the ball. They were in a 3-3-5 nickel set on the opening play with Michael Bennett, Lawrence Guy and Chase Winovich up front. Dont'a Hightower was at middle linebacker with Jamie Collins Sr on the strong side and Kyle Van Noy weak. Duron Harmon filled in for Patrick Chung at strong safety.
On the second play, they were in a 3-4 look with Guy and Byron Cowart on the ends, and Danny Shelton at nose tackle. The inside linebackers were Hightower and Elandon Roberts, with Collins and Van Noy up at the line on the outside.
Play three was yet another mixture of guys that were in on at least one of the first two plays. The important point to come from all this being; Collins and Van Noy are probably going to be on the field close to full time, along with the starters in the secondary. Everyone else is going to be in and out of the lineup a lot.
Van Noy may have been injured on the second series. He was looked at by trainers on the field before walking off on his own power and heading into the tent. He looked alright after coming out but did not go back in the game. Keep an eye on his status.
One additional note of interest; Winnovich played from a two-point stance on many if not all his snaps. If you drafted him, be aware of his positional designation when host sites do their final updates.
New Orleans Saints
With the exception of tackle Sheldon Rankins who is still recovering from last year’s Achilles injury and Alex Anzalone who has been working mostly as a two-down middle linebacker, the Saints put their full starting defense on the field against the Jets. It would have been nice to see them have more success getting to the quarterback, but all in all the unit had a good outing.
Safety Von Bell finished with just one tackle and one assist but his impact was larger than the numbers suggest. Unlike previous years, he has not been sharing time with anyone. That could point to a breakout season for the fourth-year pro.
New York Giants
Tae Davis continues to work not only as a three-down inside linebacker but also at the position the team calls their $LB. This will all but surely be Alex Ogletree’s job once he is healthy. He is on track to play in the opener. When both Davis and Ogletree were playing in the first preseason game, Davis was all over the field making plays from the other ILB spot. He has been a little quiet in the two games Ogletree has missed.
New York Jets
One of our priority watch list items for this round of games was the Jets inside linebacker position. With the injury to Avery Williamson, veteran journeyman Neville Hewitt got the start and remained on the field in most sub-package situations. Hewitt spent his first three seasons as a backup for Miami with this being his first real opportunity to start. So far so good, as he performed much better than anticipated. On the first series, he made a pair of solid plays against the run and did a more than respectable job in coverage, even when matched up against Alvin Kamara. In short, Hewitt looks like a player to target if you have a need at the position. He could have a surprisingly strong season.
The Raiders dress rehearsal was in the second preseason game. Against Green Bay, they played no defensive starter other than Maurice Hurst who is the third man in the tackle rotation.
The Eagles are still dealing with several injuries, particularly at linebacker where Nigel Bradham has still not seen the field, and Kamu Grugier-Hill will be out at least a few games into the regular season. In response, Philadelphia has been using a lot of nickel defense with corner/free safety Anthony Maddox as the extra defensive back. Zach Brown and Nate Gerry continued to see every down action.
Free safety Rodney McLeod returned to start against Baltimore but corners Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby did not. The team still has hope for Darby playing week one. If that is the case, he and Rasul Douglas are the likely starters.
Going into their game with the Titans, we were trying to get a fix on what the Steelers will look like at inside linebacker. Pittsburgh played their starters for virtually the entire first quarter, but we are still trying to figure out what they are doing at inside linebacker
Pittsburgh opened with Devin Bush and Mark Barron at the positions. It got strange when Vince Williams replaced Bush on the second series, and then Bush came on later as the lone inside linebacker in a couple of dime sets. Many starters played into the second quarter with Williams and Bush together on the inside. It is hard to fathom the Steelers not keeping Bush on the field close to full time, so something has to give. If you have a Pittsburgh ILB on your roster, it would be a good idea to sit him week one and watch the situation intently.
We got a good look at the Seahawks defensive starters, at least the ones healthy enough to go. The lineup was as expected in the back seven with Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright as three-down linebackers and Mychal Kendricks at the strong side on early downs. In nickel sets, Kendricks was replaced by corner Jamar Taylor.
Marquise Blair may have been closing the gap on starter Tedrick Thompson at safety before suffering a bruised back in the second preseason game. Blair is expected to be ready for the regular season and may be available for the preseason finale, but his chances of becoming an early starter have been reduced significantly.
Seattle was also without Ezekiel Ansah and first-round pick L.J. Collier, making Cassius Marsh and Quinton Jefferson the starting defensive ends. The team still has hope Ansah will be available for week one, but Collier is not likely to be. With Jarran Reed suspended the first six games it is hard to see how the Seahawks will generate much pass rush without turning to the blitz.
San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco rested a few guys that are a little gimpy and trying to get ready for week one. Defensive ends Dee Ford and Nick Bosa and safety Adrian Colbert did not suit up, but the 49ers did get Kwon Alexander and Jimmy Ward saw their first game action of the preseason. Alexander looked comfortable in his new position at weak-side linebacker. As was widely anticipated, he and middle backer Fred Warner were the sub-package linebackers. Tavarius Moore replaced Colbert at free safety while Ward returned to his customary role of slot defender.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers defense played well against Cleveland despite having a few starters out of action while nursing injuries. They expect to have Lavonte David back in time for the opener, which is good since Deone Bucannon suffered a knee injury against the Browns. We are awaiting word on the severity of the injury.
Rookie Devin White has not played poorly during the preseason but has not been the impact player many expected. He has been surprisingly light in the box scores as well. In a half of football against Cleveland, White managed two tackles and an assist.
For those in corner-required leagues, M.J. Stewart is looking good. He started at free safety for the injured Justin Evans against Cleveland and had been working as a slot corner/extra safety in nickel situations before going full time. Evan is expected to be ready for week one but Stewart should continue to have a big role.
The most important note from the Titans matchup with Pittsburgh is the continued three-man rotation at inside linebacker. We had hints this might be the case in earlier games but the first team was not on the field long enough in those games to confirm anything. Against the Steelers, Jayon Brown and Rashaan Evans were together on the first series. Wesley Woodyard replaced Brown on the second series then Brown replaced Evans on the third. This is basically the same rotation they used last year with the exception of Woodyard starting over Evans. Unless something changes here, Brown and Evans should get enough opportunity to put up good numbers, but the lost snaps will keep their value down some.
The only other important observation from this game; Tennessee needs pass rushers. They had no sacks and two quarterback hurries over the course of the entire game.
Josh Harvey-Clemons and Jon Bostic were the starting inside linebackers for Washington against Atlanta. Both were on the field in nickel sub-packages as well. Harvey-Clemons has shown well throughout the preseason so is not an unexpected move. He clearly outplayed the competition. Both starters here will have ample opportunity and should provide decent numbers. Bostic probably has a higher floor with Harvey-Clemons having a higher ceiling.