Preseason Week 1 Saturday Winners and Losers: Mike McDaniel, Kenny Pickett shine while Cowboys’ discipline, Justin Fields struggle

    Saturday saw most teams on the field for Week 1 of the NFL preseason. Justin Fields is in for a long season, while Kenny Pickett shined.

    The NFL preseason is an opportunity to see who will potentially make the bottom of the roster. However, when a theme from the season before for a team comes out in Week 1 of the preseason with a vengeance, it’s not easy to avoid.

    Saturday brought us a slew of rookie QB performances, and results varied. Camera crews and broadcast teams were also getting into the swing of things. But we learned a few valuable lessons on Saturday, and a few could spell doom.

    Preseason Week 1 winners and losers, Saturday edition

    With the bulk of the NFL playing on Saturday, there was no shortage of options to choose from. Although, any grandiose declarations should be reserved for regular-season play.

    Winner: Mike McDaniel/Skylar Thompson

    It’s not often we see a seventh-round QB go 20 of 28 (71.4%) for 218 yards and a touchdown in his first-ever NFL outing, but Miami’s Skylar Thompson did. And that begs the question: Could Mike McDaniel completely turn the Dolphins offense around with Tua Tagovailoa?

    We just witnessed Jimmy Garoppolo finish his 49ers career with a 30-14 record. He is, objectively, not an overly talented quarterback.

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers didn’t have their top defenders in the game, but the Dolphins didn’t dress Jaylen Waddle or Tyreek Hill. And maybe, just maybe, Miami finally has the schematic advantage they’ve been looking for offensively since they drafted Tua.

    Loser: Ian Book

    Unfortunately, the comfortability we saw from Thompson was not around for the Saints’ second-year QB, Ian Book. The Notre Dame product looked like a mechanical mess on the field against Houston.

    Although he finished 15 of 22 (68.2%), he only amassed 121 yards, was sacked five times, threw an inexcusable interception, and fumbled an under-center snap that Houston recovered.

    The interception was thrown high over the middle of the field to an outstretched receiver who didn’t have a defender within five yards of him. He was not pressured, and it appeared that was his initial read because his eyes, feet, and hips never deviated from the target.

    However, there wasn’t a good enough replay to show if Book or center Nick Martin was to blame for the snap.

    Winner: Boogie Basham

    Boogie Basham is not fighting for a roster spot. However, with the likes of Greg Rousseau, Von Miller, A.J. Epenesa, and Shaq Lawson on the roster, he is fighting for a higher snap count.

    The second-year player out of Wake Forest is a big, long, and powerful outside rusher with good athleticism. If you really squint, you could see a little Cam Jordan in him.

    Basham came off the edge against Colts second-year tackle Jordan Murray and took his lunch money on a second-and-4. Basham surprised the tackle with a robust first step up the arc, which forced the blocker to open his hips. After a rip-and-dip, all that was left for Basham was to bend his 280-pound frame up into the pocket to force a fumble recovered by rookie Terrel Bernard for a touchdown.

    Loser: Cowboys’ discipline

    Typically caring about penalties in a preseason game would be like worrying about eating a single donut as a 200-pound male model with a six-pack. It wouldn’t matter.

    The problem with Dallas accumulating 17 penalties for a smooth 129 yards against Denver on Saturday is just one season ago, the Cowboys led the NFL in penalties with 141. That was 10 more than the next closest team.

    On Saturday, they recorded 10 more penalties than points and tied Denvers’ points with their penalties. During camp, head coach Mike McCarthy was asked what his team’s identity was.

    “Our team identity is grit, discipline, and fundamentally sound,” he said. Hopefully, for Cowboys fans, they see that from the starters in the regular season.

    Winner: Josh Johnson

    Speaking of the Cowboys, Josh Johnson had himself quite a day against Dallas in the first half of their preseason matchup. Sometimes playing quarterback efficiently can be as simple as identifying a matchup and exploiting it.

    Johnson did that by attacking the right side of the Cowboys’ defense near the sideline. Second-year CB Nahshon Wright had no answer for whatever receiver he faced. But choosing a mismatch is only part of the battle. Johnson executed some beautifully-placed passes that took chunks out of the defense.

    But Johnson is also somewhat in a battle for the backup role behind Russell Wilson, and Brett Rypien appears to be hot on his tails based on camp reports.

    On Saturday, Johnson turned the tides.

    Loser: Justin Fields

    Justin Fields only attempted seven passes and had one rush on Saturday, but he’s not on the losers list because of his own performance. The Bears’ second-year QB is a loser by proxy.

    Chicago’s offensive depth chart is a wreck, and Fields will bear the brunt of it as the franchise QB. He was sacked twice against a Chiefs pass rush that boasts a singular threat in Chris Jones. The phrase “hit as he throws” will be uttered often during Bears broadcasts this season.

    But Fields also got a bit of the “Cam Newton treatment” on a scramble to the right side. He slid around the line of scrimmage. The former baseball player couldn’t have made it more obvious, yet Juan Thornhill came flying in, putting a shoulder into Fields’s earhole. No penalty.

    Winner: Kenny Pickett

    There wasn’t anything spectacular about Kenny Pickett’s performance against Seattle’s reserve unit in the second half. However, the stadium sounded like a regular-season game, and Pickett finished 13 of 15 for 95 yards and two touchdowns.

    He was decisive and efficient, even if there was no downfield element to the passing attack with him in the game. Pickett picked apart a Seattle defense that wasn’t necessarily pressuring receivers too much in a watered-down soft-zone look on most occasions. But the Pittsburgh product took what that defense gave him and made lemonade.

    Loser: Matt Corral

    There’s no need for alarm bells after one preseason game. That is especially true for the likes of Matt Corral, who was always going to take time at the NFL level after graduating from an Ole Miss offense that makes most high school playbooks seem complex.

    He’s still a slippery athlete with a big arm, and that was more than enough to bet on at the next level. But he didn’t look comfortable in his first live snaps. He finished 1 of 9 for 11 yards while looking a bit skittish in the pocket and a bit off-target on his throws.

    Panthers fans can and should be excited about his potential, but they must understand it will take a lot of time to iron him out.

    Winner: Sam Howell

    The North Carolina quarterback looked rock steady against the Panthers’ defense he faced in the second half of the Commanders’ preseason game.

    While Sam Howell didn’t throw any touchdowns, he found a crease for a nifty touchdown scamper as the pocket collapsed and scored again on a QB sneak that he took outside the tackle on the goal line.

    But he also looked like he’d been there before in the pocket. He wasn’t afraid to push the ball downfield, although it almost cost him on a third-and-12 comeback that almost went the opposite direction.

    Like with most young quarterbacks, it took time in the pocket for Howell to get into a rhythm. But when he did, the Commanders’ offense moved the ball well.

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