First-year coach Sean McVay was pulled west by the Rams to save an offense that fumbled and bumbled for years under ex-lead man Jeff Fisher.
The new-look attack — unveiled on Saturday night in sun-swept Los Angeles — operated as a mixed bag in a 13-10 preseason win over the visiting Cowboys.
Second-year starting quarterback Jared Goff drew first blood with a crisply thrown pass to wideout Robert Woods, who lost the ball at the Dallas 4-yard line following a crushing blow by Cowboys linebacker Anthony Hitchens. The pigskin fluttered into the end zone, where third-round Rams receiver Cooper Kupp wisely fell on it for his first NFL touchdown.
Exiting after the score, Goff barely put enough film on tape to draw any conclusions, but he threw the ball decisively and looked comfortable under center. More concerning was an offensive line that failed to open holes for Todd Gurley.
Gurley’s four rushes went for a whopping two yards before the starters were yanked off the field. You don’t need a hot-blooded Nancy Drew to tell you that Saturday’s on-field bag of delights was hardly enough evidence to draw conclusions about McVay’s impact on this attack.
If the offensive line doesn’t rapidly rise, though, it might not matter.
Here’s what else we learned from Saturday night’s preseason action:
1. We struggle to imagine the Jets wheeling out anyone but Josh McCown come Week 1 in Buffalo. The wily veteran calmly marched New York’s offense down the field for a touchdown on the game’s opening drive. The scoring march was set up by a beautiful 53-yard rope to lead wideout Robby Anderson before McCown pegged Charone Peake over the middle for a four-yard score.
2. Unveiled on New York’s second drive, the enigmatic Christian Hackenberg played deep into the third quarter. The ruddy-cheeked second-year passer opened 5-for-5 and looked competent hitting wideout Chris Harper on a 14-yard strike across the middle of the field before whipping a well-aimed pass up the sideline to Jalin Marshall, who couldn’t hold on. It wasn’t Hackenberg’s fault that Chandler Catanzaro botched a 55-yard field goal attempt to end the quarterback’s second series. The young signal-caller’s lowest moments came on (a) a tipped pass that was nearly picked before halftime and (b) a third-quarter botched snap that spun into the arms of Tennessee’s Justin Staples.
Hackenberg (18-of-25 for 127 yards) played under control despite generating zero points and throwing for a concerning 5.1 yards per attempt inside New York’s low-wattage attack. It was a bland, uninspiring — but inoffensive — debut to his second campaign.
3. Waves of fatalistic offseason press about the Jets can’t change the brutal nature of Leonard Williams. On Tennessee’s first series, Gang Green’s monstrous third-year lineman sprung off Titans guard Quinton Spain, charged into the pocket and body-rocked quarterback Marcus Mariota to the godless turf. Two downs later, on third-and-22, New York’s pass rush flushed the Titans signal-caller out of the pocket and toward the sideline short of the sticks to end the march.
Mariota’s subsequent and final series nearly ended with a pick by Jets cornerback Buster Skrine, who tipped a pass intended for tight end Delanie Walker. Tennessee showed nothing on offense, unfurling a hyper-vanilla attack that saw Mariota finish just 2-for-3 for 15 yards.
4. Gang Green’s pass rush wasn’t finished as linebacker Julian Stanford surged through a Red Sea-sized opening to obliterate Titans trick-shot backup Alex Tanney, who was quickly removed from the contest in favor of deep-roster-human Tyler Ferguson. Tanney later returned to action to face a Jets defensive front that piled up an outrageous eight sacks and 10 tackles for loss while making mincemeat of Tennessee’s highly touted offensive line. If the Jets plan to tank, we suggest a different strategy than this.
5. Tennessee’s play of the night came from third-round wideout Taywan Taylor, who played deep into the second half with first-rounder Corey Davis out of the mix and dusted New York’s Darryl Roberts for a leaping 42-yard grab.
6. In La La Land, the Cowboys kept Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Dez Bryant, Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, Travis Frederick and Jaylon Smith coddled in bubble wrap, drenching Saturday’s Cowboys-Rams tilt in an aura of desperate meaningless. In their absence, first-round pass rusher Taco Charlton stole the show with a productive three-tackle night capped by a tackle for loss, a quarterback hit and a deep-backfield sack of Rams backup Sean Mannion.
7. Darren McFadden (six carries for 28 yards) ran well in place of Elliott, but color me concerned about the prospects of Kellen Moore as the stopgap behind Prescott. The Cowboys reserve passer threw for just 4.1 yards per attempt before Cooper Rush took over.
8. Against the Raiders, Cardinals passer Carson Palmer looked sharp, throwing with good velocity behind a line that kept him safe. He just missed Jaron Brown on a deep shot that would have triggered an easy score and later missed Brown on a quick-strike lob, but Palmer capably overcame those errors to lead Arizona to pay dirt with a blazing 12-yard laser to Brittan Golden.
9. Cardinals running back David Johnson is a candidate to lead the league in rushing attempts, but barely saw the field Saturday with just three rushes for 16 yards before Chris Johnson took over. Another missing figure: Arizona wideout and bounce-back candidate John Brown.
10. The Raiders treated the night like an invisible exhibition, refusing to let quarterback Derek Carr or running back Marshawn Lynch sniff the field. It’s worth noting that EJ Manuel opened the game ahead of Connor Cook under center, while DeAndre Washington took all the early snaps ahead of Jalen Richard.
11. It was just one play, but Cardinals fans had to enjoy seeing versatile defensive back Tyrann Mathieu zero in on Seth Roberts on a third-down toss from Manuel caught short of the sticks. Arizona’s fate on defense rests with Honey Badger playing 16 healthy games. Coming off a down campaign, he looked spry on Saturday night.
12. For the second game in a row, Arizona’s Robert Nkemdiche was a force to be reckoned with. Last year’s first-round defensive end shrugged off a blocker to bury Richard in his tracks on a third-and-1 run in the second quarter before penetrating the backfield again on a failed fourth-down attempt that saw Richard gang-tackled in his own backfield. Nkemdiche returned to wreak havoc on the following series against a Raiders offense that looked lost at sea without Carr. The preseason operates as a mega-tease, but this Cardinals defense has looked spicy in two straight affairs.