Preseason Enthusiasm Index: Steelers Up, Bears Down

Preseason Enthusiasm Index: Steelers Up, Bears Down MikeTanier 23 Aug 2021, 09:49 am

Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger

Ben Roethlisberger can’t throw deep anymore. But perhaps he doesn’t have to.

Roethlisberger’s fadeaway jumper to Diontae Johnson was the signature highlighting of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ pummeling of the Detroit Lions on Saturday, and perhaps of the entire second week of the preseason. It was a perfect Rorschach Test of the observer’s prior sentiments. A segment of the Steelers fan base floated Big Ben’s floater as proof that he’s still got it. The remainder of us realized that Roethlisberger looked like a Little League dad pitching infield popup practice.

If Johnson weren’t open by three paces before the safety had time to converge on that pitch-and-wait play, Roethlisberger’s weather balloon would have either resulted in an interception or Johnson’s decapitation. But here’s the thing: Johnson is likely to be wide open a lot this year. And if he isn’t, Chase Claypool, Juju Smith-Schuster, Eric Ebron, or Pat Freiermuth will be. And if all of them are covered, Najee Harris will be facing a five-defender box.

The Steelers’ formula for success last year was a ruin defense, lots of weapons, a Hall of Fame quarterback in grizzled field general mode, and a soft schedule. It ran until it didn’t. Still, the Steelers’ 12 -4 record in 2020 would have been interpreted differently if the losses were scattered across the schedule instead of bunched together in a late-season swoon, or had they lost to an opponent such as the Titan in the playoffs instead of the Browns, their punch bag for the past half-century or so.

The stink of last year’s collapse lingered through the spring and summertime, especially when the Steelers decided to focus on Roethlisberger’s supporting cast instead of searching his successor. But after three preseason games, the Steelers’ confidence in Roethlisberger shows justified. The Pittsburgh defense appears as vicious as ever. Harris and tight purpose Freiermuth( two touchdowns against the Lions) appear to be meaningful upgrades at the ability status. And other than that wounded quail, Roethlisberger has just enough mustard left on his fastball to fire 15 -yarders into traffic when he’s not just tossing passes underneath to a immense inventory of open targets. The offensive pipeline? It’s a potential problem, but Roethlisberger can probably remain effective in last year’s 2. 3-second time-to-throw range.

Our Football Outsiders Almanac projection for the Steelers of 8. 8 wins sounds modest, but we give the Steelers a reasonable 17% luck of winning 12 -plus plays. The analytics are crying out to us not to get too caught up in the 2020 storyline and instead examine both last season as a whole and the talent on the current roster. With Roethlisberger in the lineup for something dress rehearsal-like on Saturday, the Steelers gazed a lot like the team our techniques hint they could still be this year.

Walkthrough takes preseason act with more grains of salt than anyone. But Saturday’s performance increased my ebullience for the 2021 Steelers: they will be relevant, competitive, and fun to watch, even if Roethlisberger has some senior moments.

Other teams, especially the ones that took their starters out of mothballs for a few series, insured their stock futures either rise or immerse this weekend. Here’s Walkthrough’s exclusive Enthusiasm Index for several contenders and would-be challengers after Week 2 of the preseason 😛 TAGEND

Denver Broncos: Rising

The Broncos may be the ultimate false-read team. They have given their starters a ton of work while sorting out the Teddy Bridgewater-Drew Lock competition. Meanwhile, their Seahawks and Vikings antagonists continued just about every relevant starter either on sideline-interview-in-baseball-cap job or docked at the Port of Venice in a plague galley.

Still, the Broncos have outscored antagonists 43 -6 in first halves, and it’s hard to argue that their prevailing preseason is evident that they will be bad. Our 8.8 -win, 17% Super Bowl contender projection for the Broncos is nearly identical to our Steelers projection. It’s easy to envision them as broadly similar crews: fine protections, ample weapons, some flavor of suitability at quarterback. The Steelers have more of everything at most positions, but the Broncos have a much better offensive line and a smoother direction to the playoffs in a divide with a powerhouse and two likely also-rans.

Minnesota Vikings: Falling

Kirk Cousins and many starters returned in Saturday’s loss to the Colts. They transformed the story of Vikings training camp from a dystopian pandemic morality play into simply another dreary narration of a maxed-out veteran team bobbing up and down on the currents of NFL parity. Cousins completed five extends for 23 yards on Saturday. Adam Thielen hobbled off with a thigh bruise after one catch. The starting-ish defense was able to shut down Sam Ehlinger, hooray.

Our projection for the Vikings is a shocking 9.1 wins. That still feels attainable if A) the Vikings don’t suffer any significant injury setbacks at all moving forward; and B) the Bears continue to self-destruct of their own volition.

Chicago Bears: Falling

Bears starters failed in all three phases against a cluster of Bills 1.5 th-stringers on Saturday. The Chicago offensive line appears frightful. A defense of their pedigree should be able to shut down The Mitch Trubisky Show without much need for game-planning. We’ll touch on the Bears quarterback fiasco a little later, but right now Chicago appears to be a team with a bottom-1 0 offense and a middle-of-the-pack defense that thinks it has a middle-of-the-pack offense and top-1 0 defense.

New England Patriots: Steady

Veteran defense. Solid offensive line. Lot of questions about the passing game. My Patriots-Eagles camp visit last week painted a very different picture of the New England offense than what the hell is interpreted in Thursday night’s blowout. Our 9.8 -win projection still feels high-pitched, particularly with the Bills locked in atop the AFC East and another challenger make ground in a hurry…

Dallas Cowboys: Steady

Every time the Cowboys sound the Everything is Just Fine siren about Dak Prescott I grow a little more skeptical that everything is just fine with Dak Prescott. On the other hand, the Eagles and Giant are bottom-feeders, leaving merely one potential challenger in the NFC East…

Washington Football Team: Falling

Fitzpatrick appears about as effective as Andy Dalton, Joe Flacco, and all the other broken-down ex-servicemen serving as mentors or first-level video game foremen for rookies around the NFL. Washington will repent not prosecuting a plausible quarterback of the future if Fitzpatrick plays like he did against the Bengals and the Football Team turns into the Bears, but without Justin Fields to look forward to.

Washington’s 8.1 -win projection is buoyed by the Eagles and Monsters, who offer both the Football Team and the Cowboys about 3.5 easy wins. And with no quarterback prospect in the wings, we will at least be spared the October press conference at which Fitzcharming reacts to getting benched with “Gosh golly gee, I am stunned that this happened to a commander and warrior of my caliber, ” then get praised for his honesty.

Speaking of which…

Miami Dolphins: Rising

Tua Tagovailoa develops more impressive each week. The defense and skill positions search solid. The Dolphins’ simply real weakness are on the offensive cable( which has too much young knack to be horrible) and at running back, where Myles Gaskin had a solid overall concert on Saturday against the Georgia Tech freshman team.

You may have noticed that AFC squads are mostly rising in this segment, while many NFC squads are falling. “Enthusiasm” is as much about eagerness to watch a young squad develop as an expectation that they will beat a projection( 9.0 wins, in the Dolphins’ case) or reach the playoffs. Inevitably, some exciting team like Miami will get bumped from the AFC playoffs due to a tough division/ discussion while some dreary also-ran such as the Bears or Washington squirts into the NFC playoffs. Which is precisely what happened last year.

Indianapolis Colts: Falling

I’m pessimistic enough about the Colts to more than compensate for my optimism about the rest of the AFC.

Kansas City Chiefs: Steady

The rebuilt Kansas City Chiefs offensive line payed about a B+ as run-/ screen-blockers and maybe a C+ in pass protection against a Cardinals defense without Chandler Jones or J.J. Watt on Friday. There were two rookies( middle Creed Humphrey, right guard Trey Smith) and an inexperienced sophomore( Lucas Niang) in the lineup, and it depicted on blitz pickup and stunt recognition. The three youngsters are all legit potentials, and Kyle Long might still play important roles somewhere on the line, but the Chiefs are Super Bowl favorites , not a rebuilding squad; developing soreness on the offensive cable could really hurt.

Also, I retain searching for depth behind Tyreek Hill at wide receiver in the preseason and maintain finding Mecole Hardman, who would battle for the fifth or sixth receiver spot for the Steelers, and Demarcus Robinson, the sort of player the Texans spent the offseason loading up upon. Graded on the “prohibitive Super Bowl favorite” scale, this is an issue.

The only reason the Chiefs aren’t “falling” is because the Ravens and Bills have prevented their starters bubble-wrapped throughout the preseason; it is like an overreaction to worry about Patrick Mahomes and company because they actually played. That said, the AFC gazes most competitive than ever, and neither the Chiefs, the Bills , nor the Ravens can expect to coast into the playoffs.

Quarterback Controversy Updates

The Should Start/ Would Start percentages below are based on a complex, rigorously tested Football Outsiders formula. They are not simply made-up numbers off the top of my head. Scout’s honor!

The Taysom Hill/ Jameis Winston competition is omitted because the Saints play on Monday night. The Trevor Lawrence/ Gardner Minshew tournament is omitted because the Jaguars play on Monday night, and likewise because it is very, very silly.

Chicago Bears: Andy Dalton versus Justin Fields Should Start: Battlegrounds 97%, Dalton 2 %, Nick Foles 1% Will Start: Dalton 90%, Fields 10%

The Bears are all but sandbagging Fields in their effort to prop up Dalton. What happened on Saturday was borderline malpractice: Dalton stumbled around for the whole first half while Jim Miller gushed about him on the Bears television homercast, then Fields served as a second-half crash-test dummy.

Matt Nagy reaffirmed after video games that Dalton would be the Week 1 starter. If you listen carefully, you can hear the locker chamber slipping away from Nagy, like a dying oak tree groaning in the wind before it topples down a riverbank.

The Bears controversy may point in a 2018 Browns situation: when the rubber band finally clicks, Fields will be handed the starting job and everyone involved in the Dalton farce will get fired.

Denver Broncos: Teddy Bridgewater versus Drew Lock Should Start: Bridgewater 75%. Lock 25% Will Start: Bridgewater 52%, Lock 48%

Bridgewater and the first string outperformed Lock and the second string against the Seahawks’ silly string on Saturday night. Bridgewater clearly has the higher mean performance level, while Lock has a far higher standard deviation.

Coaching wisdom dictates that the Broncos should start Bridgewater and trust their defense to win more games by 20 -1 6 final scores than they lose 23 -2 0. But coaching wise also dictates that it shapes more appreciation to allow a fading prospect to fail once and for all before supplanting him than to bench him in August and risk declaring a mistake in October.

Vic Fangio said that he will make a quarterback decision very soon. It probably won’t be his final one.

New England Patriots: Cam Newton versus Mac Jones Should Start: Newton 60%, Jones 40% Will Start: Newton 75%, Jones 25%

Newton looked like 2015 Cam Newton against the Eagles’ second string. Jones looked like 2007 Tom Brady against the Eagles’ ukulele string. The Patriots are set to win three more Super Bowls with either quarterback so long as they face Joe Flacco or Nick Mullens every week.

San Francisco 49 ers Jimmy Garoppolo versus Trey Lance Should Start: Garoppolo 62.5%, Lance 37.5% Will Start: Garoppolo 85%, Lance 15%

Both 49 ers quarterbacks took turns hurling tip-drill interceptions behind their receivers on Sunday night against the Chargers, with Lance leading a pre-halftime touchdown drive due in large portion to busted coverages. Garoppolo refuses to be quite as inept as Andy Dalton, Lance refuses to display the relative readiness we see from Justin Fields, and Kyle Shanahan refuses to coach like flop-sweaty Matt Nagy: Lance is getting plenty of reps with the first team, rendering him meaningful run and us a true evaluation. Highlight bombs to open receivers are fun and all, but Lance’s long stretches of shakiness are probably a sign that Shanahan should take the pressure off and let Lance learn from the bench until Garoppolo unavoidably gets hurt.

First-Round Draft Pick Updates

Yes, Airplane followers, Zach Wilson moved the offense very well against a bunch of dudes in Packers uniforms on Saturday. He even deserved me some fund by helping Jets-Packers clear a 31.5 over-under.( Always jump on an over that’s below 32, even in the preseason ). But this segment is all about the non-quarterback first-round picks, since we are encompassed the majority of members of the quarterbacks in the last segment.

Ja’Marr Chase, WR, Cincinnati Bengals

Three targets. Three plunges . Cancel the season! But earnestly: one shed to Chase from Brandon Allen was behind him, another was about to lead him straight into a safety with violence in his heart, and the third came up on him rapidly after he stumbled out of his itinerary. Not a great performance, but not a cause for concern.

DeVonta Smith, WR, Philadelphia Eagles

Smitty’s Thursday night was a little like Chase’s Friday night, although he caught two short passes after failing to haul in some iffy sheds early in video games. Both rookie receivers will be just fine once their favorite starting quarterback return, though fantasy gamers should be wary of Chase losing targets to Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd as he adjusts to the NFL, and of the Eagles simply being terrible.

Jaylen Waddle, WR, Miami Dolphins

Joe Burrow is getting over a lawsuit of the yips. Jalen Hurts is getting over a case of the trots. But Tua Tagovailoa is just fine, and he pitched three short consummations( one of them actually a shovel handoff) to Waddle for 21 gardens. Waddle seems slated for a screens-and-reverses type role, with Will Fuller and DeVante Parker handling the outside receiver duties in the unlikely event that the two are health at the same time.

Najee Harris, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers

Harris took a procedure shallow cross up the sideline for a 46 -yard gain on Saturday. He now has 13 preseason carries for 42 gardens in three games: not stellar, but enough to indicate that he will be an upgrade over James Conner and company, which may be all the Steelers need of him.

Penei Sewell, T, Detroit Lions

Another week, another perceptibly bumpy performance for Sewell. The Anthony Thomas alarm is going off: Sewell may end up a liability early in the season as he simultaneously learns right tackle and comes back from an opt-out year.

Greg Rousseau, ER, Buffalo Bills

Two games, two sacks, lots of pressure. Young pass-rushers Boogie Basham and A.J. Epenesa likewise shined against the Bears’ offensive starters, which means they should perform well when they face NFL-caliber offensive starters.

Rousseau, like Sewell, opted out in 2020. But Rousseau beat Sewell for a bag last week and seems far out of range along in his growing. It’s almost certainly easier for an edge rusher to bounce back from a year away from football than an offensive tackle. If an boundary rusher makes a technical mistake, he disappears for a snap. When the tackle establishes one, it’s on the opponent’s highlight reel.

Joe Tryon-Shoyinka, ER, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tryon-Shoyinka matched Rousseau’s effort in the battle of first-round pass rushers on stacked protections with a sacking and a strong overall concert against the Titan. The anti-Mahomes MOAR SACKZ template some challengers followed on draft period simply might pay dividends.

Kwity Paye, ER, Indianapolis Colts

Hey, the Colts are kinda-sorta contenders too! Paye has reportedly been destroying Colts left tackles( such as they are) throughout camp and blew through Vikings tackle Rashod Hill for a sack on Saturday.

One final note on the subject of first-rounders: Hill is starting for the Vikings because first-round tackle Christian Darrisaw underwent a core muscle procedure on August 12. Darrisaw is expected to return for the regular season. Again: the Vikings will be solid wild-card challengers as long as absolutely nothing at all goes wrong besides the many things which have already gone wrong.

Who’s That Guy?

Last week’s edition of Who’s That Guy? focused mostly on rando running backs who munched a bunch of fourth-quarter carries. This week’s installment purports a little closer to the 53 -man roster. The following musicians likely won undertakings this weekend. Some of their backstories also illustrate how good( and bad) listings are assembled.

Sam Eguavoen, LB, Miami Dolphins 11 total tackles, 4.0 sacks, one safety

Eguavoen has been a crackerjack Dolphins special teamer for two seasons after moving undrafted out of Texas Tech in 2019. He may have been on the bubble of an upgraded Dolphins roster after spending a chunk of training camp on the COVID list. He’s almost certainly no longer on the bubble after demonstrating that he can be a useful interior blitzer on Saturday.

When questioned after the game when he last recorded four sackings, Eguavoen told reporters “My dream. Last-place night .” Kids, if you work hard, follow your nerve, and play the Atlanta Falcons every week, all of your dreams can come true too.

Josh Oliver, TE, Baltimore Ravens Seven catches, 50 yards

Oliver converted from linebacker early in his San Jose State career and capture 56 pass in his final college season. He caught three pass in four games as a Jaguars rookie in 2019 but missed all of 2020 with a foot injury. Urban Meyer had no room on his extent map for a developmental tight extremity , none at all, the very thought that he could spare a spot for someone like Oliver was just inconceivable, so the Jaguars traded Oliver to the Ravens for a conditional seventh-round pick in March. Oliver had a strong camp entering Saturday’s win over the Panthers and should pay a occupation as the Ravens’ oft-used third tight end.

All Tim Tebow jokes aside, Oliver is an example of the damage a bad coach-and-four/ company does where reference is shapes chamber on the 90 -man roster for failed expectations, pet jobs, or the owner’s nephews. Oliver won’t count for 0.05 wins either way for the Raven or Jaguars, but a team that casts too many musicians like Oliver aside for dopey reasons soon detects how quickly those little losses add up.

Charles Omenihu, DE, Houston Texans 2.0 sacks, one fumble recovery

Omenihu was a J.J. Watt-sized and -shaped defender out of the University of Texas when the Texans selected him in the fifth round in 2019. He has been a sturdy rotation defender for the last two seasons, with 4.0 bags, 12 slams, and 14 hastes in 2020. Per Aaron Reiss of The Athletic, Omenihu is slated for an expanded role in Lovie Smith’s defense, playing outside on hasten downs and moving inside in the nickel package.

To elaborate on the Oliver/ Tebow theme, Omenihu is exactly the sort of player who should get extra opportunities on a down-to-the-foundation rebuilding team such as the Texans. But Nick Cesario junked up the extent chart at every outlook with the kind of veterans person like Jack Easterby usurps are good because he has heard of them. Omenihu’s role may be safe, but all of those ex-servicemen littering the Texans’ 90 -man roster are sure to choke out a few Omenihu kinds with little name acknowledgment but high upside.

Jaret Patterson, RB, Washington Football Team (16-71-1 hasten, 3-24 receiving on Friday)

In addition to 95 scrimmage yards, Patterson returned a third-quarter kickoff for 37 gardens against the Bengals. Here’s my draft writeup for Patterson, which has never before been published because he went undrafted out of Buffalo 😛 TAGEND

You may recollect Patterson as the guy who operated for 409 gardens and eight touchdowns against Kent State last year. He likewise hastened for 301 gardens and four touchdowns the previous week against Bowling Green.

MAC planneds were a total mess last season, with some teams playing just three games. The Kent State defense looked like a cluster of young men who spent the previous six months playing Fortnite when they faced Buffalo, though it was their fourth game of the season. That said, Patterson was also productive in 2018 and 2019, so while his 710 -yard fortnight may have been a mirage, his ability to play some sort of NFL role probably is not.

Patterson is a thick, short bowling ball. He looks a little like Ito Smith when running and could probably have an Ito-like impact as a committee back.

Patterson played with Washington’s second string on Friday and is poised to replace Peyton Barber as the No. 3 rusher behind Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic. Based on the versatility, quick paws, and balance he displayed against both the Bengals and Patriots, he’ll stir the Football Team and carve out a role on offense.

Bryce Perkins, QB, Los Angeles Rams 26-of-39, 208 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 INT Nine rushes for 41 yards

Perkins moved undrafted in 2020 after throwing for 3,530 yards and 22 touchdowns and rushing for 11 touchdowns at Virginia in 2019. He expended almost all of last season on the Rams’ practice squad. He played extensively in Saturday’s loss to the Raiders as part of Sean McVay’s continuing seeking to make the Rams preseason as bearing as possible.

Perkins excels at swimming extends into wide-open windows and doing playground stuff against backup defenders, constructing him the ultimate third-string quarterback. He may beat out Ducky Hodges for that persona in Los Angeles.

The big-hearted takeaway of Perkins’ extended Saturday night audition, coupled with speedy John Wolford’s lock on the backup chore, is that McVay has developed a scrambler fetish. He can make all the goo-goo eyes over dinner at Matthew Stafford he craves, but in his head he’s thinking, “Imagine if announcers started praising me for resurrecting the Wildcat or revolutionizing the two-quarterback platoon. That would be sooooo hotttttt.”

1

SF QB

I don’t conceive Fields is going to start for SF. That ship has sailed

2

if it was just the one time, get used to it

When Fitz was getting replaced by Jameis in Tampa Bay, I don’t recall any news stories about him bitching about it. Were there and I missed them? Has Fitz ever complained about being replaced by the youngster other than last year?

Read more: footballoutsiders.com

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