There were only two games on the NFL Preseason schedule Friday night, but neither of them were pretty.
In what could only be called pure hell, Friday’s preseason games both struggled tremendously to keep the attention of viewers at home, similar to some of the action we saw on Thursday night. In Detroit, players were leaving injured faster than fans leaving their seats. In Tampa Bay, both offenses need a ton of work.
For a “dress rehearsal ” type game, all four teams seemed lost at moments with no one impressing with their first-team units. One of those teams were favorites to win their division and become the new powerhouse of the NFL.
Look, it’s preseason and I had to sit and watch these games, so you didn’t. Here are the takeaways from both games on Friday night.
Buffalo’s offense struggled, but not all of it was Josh Allen’s fault
The Buffalo Bills have been one of the better teams throughout the preseason. Second-year quarterback Josh Allen has looked the part of the long-term solution under center. He’s also produced several quality drives with a mixture of the first and second-team offense.
So what went wrong against the Detroit Lions? And, to be frank, how much do Bills fans blame on Allen?
2 passes from Josh Allen to John Brown 👍 I'm not sure why Brown's legs just stopped moving on first catch. I didn't think throw was too low to keep going 🚀 Maybe felt defender was closer than he was? That 2nd play was nice and these could help Josh / this offense out immensely. pic.twitter.com/R7tnkYlZsZ
— Bills QB Watch (@BillsQBwatch) August 24, 2019
It’s hard to take the fall for struggling when you go 3 for 6 on the night for 49 yards. Yes, the rocket cannon gunslinger only passed six times and collected 17 more on the ground. Granted, the former Wyoming product did throw a horrendous interception, but he also led Buffalo down the field twice for touchdowns.
Five rushers combined for 126 yards in the first half on 18 carries. It’s not Allen’s fault that Brian Daboll wanted to run it up the gut so much. While some fans might worry Allen’s regressing, at least his final drive looked promising for the future.
Thank you Cleveland defense
Listen, the Cleveland Browns offense will find their identity once both Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. play. The defense, however, certainly made their mark against Jameis Winston and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Cleveland sacked Winston a total of five times throughout the first half of Friday’s action. Newly signed Sheldon Richardson collapsed the pocket and added pressure up the middle while Olivier Vernon was dominant against Tampa’s offensive line. Throw in Joe Schobert, Myles Garrett, Denzel Ward, Larry Ogunjobi, and Damarious Randall; the Browns defense could be something special.
Olivier Vernon just ran through Demar Dotson like he was an inflatable dummy pic.twitter.com/R1NiBnovw4
— Sam Monson (@PFF_Sam) August 23, 2019
All the parts are there for Cleveland’s defense to be one of the best in the NFL. Steve Wilks is one of the great defensive minds of football. While Baker Mayfield struggled on offense, he was missing a majority of his key starters. If Cleveland’s defense can be the x-factor, it doesn’t matter what the offense does.
Cleveland looks legit on one side of the ball. If the other side matches up, they’re going to be a threat.
T.J. Hockenson, yep, he’s a Rookie
The Lions shocked many when they selected Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson with the eighth overall selection in the NFL draft. Perhaps the most complete tight end in the draft class, the former Hawkeye was expected to be the safety net Eric Ebron never could be in the Motor City.
By halftime, fans had mixed reviews watching an eerily similar clone of Ebron.
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) August 24, 2019
Hockenson played pretty well on the night with three catches for 57 yards. He also dropped a pass from Matthew Stafford near the goal line that would have set up a touchdown. On top of that, the rookie tight end was called for a careless holding call, setting the team back.
Hockenson looked, well like a rookie. He made several big plays but also a few mistakes. That’s bound to happen for most players early on. It’s not uncommon for rookies to make mistakes, but Detroit better hope it doesn’t turn into a habit.
Prayers for Jameis Winston
The Bucs hired Bruce Arians to see if he could fix the mechanics of their hopeful franchise quarterback. The hope is he’ll rebound, look like the 2016 version of the number one pick and they’ll have their franchise quarterback. Arians has been known to help fix struggling quarterbacks, making this a perfect hire.
Maybe Winston will at least look the part of a starting quarterback. His offensive line isn’t going to do him any favors though.
Jameis Winston is going to need some ice after this game.
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) August 24, 2019
Besides the fact that Tampa Bay’s first-team offensive line gave up five sacks in this preseason matchup, Winston consistently was under pressure against the Browns defense. The 25-year-old quarterback took 12 hits over the course of just two quarters. Winston finished 9 of 19 for 88 yards on the night.
Ali Marpet looked great while Ryan Jensen did his best to stop the pressure up the middle. The rest of the offensive line struggled mightily against Cleveland’s front seven. Winston is hoping for a comeback season, but his line of defense could be a liability in his progress. Hopefully, the former top pick can figure it out, but his offensive line could push back his development.
Stop. With. Preseason. Football.
On the opening drive for Buffalo, Lions linebacker Jarrad Davis was carted off after suffering a leg injury. Several drives later, Bills offensive guard Quinton Spain would leave with an ankle injury. Detriot’s center Frank Ragnow needed to be helped off by trainers and so did Buffalo’s TreDavious White.
Do you see the pattern here? And that was all in two-quarters of football.
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) August 24, 2019
The NFL preseason needs to change. While it’s nice to see top players and future stars play several drives, the risk of losing a focal roster piece isn’t worth it. Multiple ideas have been brought up to replace the season such as longer joint practices, events with fans and even little scrimmages. However, the fact of risking a team’s top player isn’t appealing to anyone.
Following a week filled with multiple key injuries, the NFL will need to look into changing the rule soon. Either that or sit your starters all preseason; you already know what they can do.
Cole Thompson is the Lead NFL writer for Pro Football Network. Follow him on Twitter at @MrColeThompson.