We’re officially at the halfway mark of the NFL’s preseason slate.
With only the all-important third preseason game and the starter-barren fourth contest left to go, time is running out for teams to get themselves ready for Week 1.
Here are five of the biggest things we learned from the second week of preseason action:
The (2) gloves are off in New York
Teddy Bridgewater apparently didn’t get the memo that the preseason was supposed to be Sam Darnold’s show.
The New York Jets quarterback continued to remind the NFL world that he possesses starting-caliber talent during Thursday’s loss to the Washington Redskins. While you shouldn’t read too far into preseason statistics, Bridgewater’s numbers – 17 of 23 for 212 yards (9.2 YPA) with two touchdowns and one interception – jump off the screen.
Bridgewater has never been the most physically talented quarterback; he won in Minnesota by navigating the Vikings’ often defender-filled pocket and passed to every level with elite touch, allowing his receivers to flourish after the catch.
Related: 3 teams that should trade for Teddy Bridgewater
All of those skills were on display Thursday, but more importantly, Bridgewater showed no fear when facing pressure, or when asked to take a hit in order to make a play. Any lingering questions about how he’d be affected by such a gruesome knee injury, which was so severe that he was in danger of losing his leg, have been answered.
Bridgewater, naturally, looked far more comfortable under pressure than the No. 3 overall pick, who flashed more signs of his potential but did make rookie mistakes. Most notable among them was Darnold’s inability to push the ball downfield, with yards-per-attempt averages of 5.3 and 5.6 over the first two preseason games, respectively.
Darnold will likely still win the starting job even if Bridgewater outperforms him for the rest of the preseason, but the former Viking is making the Jets’ decision to move forward with the rookie far more difficult than likely anyone could’ve predicted.
Steelers may have found missing piece
Pittsburgh’s offense is brimming with talent. No trio is arguably more feared than Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, and JuJu Smith-Schuster; the offensive line is among the league’s best, and Ben Roethlisberger, while past his prime, is still more than capable of making magic happen with his top-tier weapons.
If the Steelers have one flaw offensively, however, it’s their lack of a receiver who can fight for 50-50 balls and consistently win on deep routes – a role that Martavis Bryant was supposed to fill before he was shipped to the Oakland Raiders.
Enter rookie James Washington, who caught five balls for 114 yards and two touchdowns against the Green Bay Packers.
Pittsburgh has apparently found the secret formula for finding standout pass-catchers in the draft. While Brown and Smith-Schuster will be the team’s dominant targets, the second-round pick can take the top off defenses.
The Steelers’ defense might not be good without Ryan Shazier, but with yet another game-breaking talent on offense, Pittsburgh could put up enough points that it barely matters.
Deshaun is ready to go
Losing Deshaun Watson to a season-ending knee injury in the midst of an unprecedented start to his NFL career was one of the biggest blows to the 2017 season.
It seemed just too cruel to rob football fans of what could’ve been a special campaign. To make matters worse, Watson’s ACL injury meant it was no guarantee he’d be healthy for the start of this year.
Fortunately for Houston Texans fans, and fans of offensive football in general, Watson showed no signs of discomfort during one series of action against the San Francisco 49ers.
Watson stood tall against pressure and had no issues planting his foot and letting it rip, ending the drive with a touchdown pass. Considering his injury and the Texans’ subpar offensive-line play last year, it would be understandable if Watson’s pocket presence suffered.
But the former Clemson standout appeared to be the same calm and collected passer that he was as a rookie.
Now, it remains to be seen how comfortable Houston will be with allowing Watson to run as much as he did in 2017, but the Texans can breathe a little easier after finally seeing their franchise quarterback back in action.
Bills’ QB battle is done
Josh Allen was among the most polarizing draft prospects in recent memory. However, even those who believed in his undeniable physical talents would’ve agreed he needed at least a year of riding the bench before becoming the Bills’ starter.
Buffalo didn’t exactly give the rookie the stiffest competition, putting him up against Nathan Peterman and AJ McCarron. But the rocket-armed passer has looked surprisingly sharp through two preseason games and is now a near-lock to be under center for Week 1.
Against the Cleveland Browns, the rookie finished with 60 yards on 9-of-13 passing and one touchdown, but the stats don’t tell the whole story. The play below, in particular, highlights Allen’s innate feel for the pocket and solid footwork – areas of his game most criticized during the draft process.
Allen is set to start the all-important third preseason game after McCarron suffered a minor shoulder injury against the Browns, and barring a catastrophic performance, it’s unlikely the No. 7 overall pick relinquishes his starting spot.
While Buffalo’s lack of weapons outside of LeSean McCoy is still a major concern, the Bills have no choice but to throw Allen into the deep end and pray he can swim.
Vikings’ offense has some work to do
Kirk Cousins looked every bit a $28-million man during the Vikings’ win over the Denver Broncos last week.
The quarterback, and the offense in general, came back to Earth with a bump against the uber-talented Jacksonville Jaguars defense. Cousins went 3 of 8 for just 12 yards and no touchdowns, Latavius Murray fumbled twice, and the Vikings took until the third quarter to finally get into the end zone.
In fairness, a patchwork offensive line containing four backups didn’t help, but Cousins simply looked off. The veteran is still learning Minnesota’s system, so growing pains are to be expected. But, it is concerning that Cousins struggled most when he was under pressure and forced to quickly go through his reads.
The Vikings’ defense is Super Bowl worthy, and Cousins was supposed to be the final piece to the championship puzzle. He showed he could be just that against Denver, but his struggles in the loss to Jacksonville proves the Vikings shouldn’t expect a seamless transition into a new era.
(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)