Trey Lance, Jalen Hurts fire up; Justin Fields, Matt Ryan on ice: NFL preseason Week 1 reactions & overreactions

The NFL is back, but not quite. With the 2022 preseason schedule starting over the weekend, there were some hints of what might happen during the regular season.

Beginning with the biggest position in the spotlight, quarterback, there were plenty of highs for Kenny Pickett and other promising rookies making their debuts, with the low of Zach Wilson scaring another knee injury to start a critical Year 2.

Wilson wasn’t the only first-rounder sophomore who was closely watched. And in the same game he was injured, the Eagles gained more confidence in their third-year QB.

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Against this background, read the most important insights from the exhibition campaign and separate the appropriate reactions from the overreactions:

NFL Preseason Week 1 food stalls

Reaction: Trey Lance is perfect for Kyle Shanahan’s 49ers offense.

Lance, relying only on a rush, lit the Packers in his first game as the undisputed limited starter (4-of-5 passing, 92 yards, TD, 18.4 yards per attempt, perfect 158.3 passer rating). Looking much more experienced, he had a good grasp of the versatile scheme and traded his green as a committed No. 2 rookie.

San Francisco was traded to Lance in 2021 because he had a much higher ceiling than Jimmy Garoppolo with his arm, accuracy and athleticism. After a full off-season of learning, his talent rises to his strong all-around support. The deep ball connection with rookie Danny Gray was a thing of beauty.


Reaction: Jalen Hurts is perfect for the Eagles’ pass-more offense

Hurts had a big runless outing with considerable action despite an unnecessarily hard punch from Jets linebacker Quincy Williams. He completed all of his passes (6 out of 6, 80 yards, TD 13.3 yards per attempt, also a perfect passing rating of 158.3), including a nice 22-yard strike against Dallas Goedert.

The Eagles pivot back to open up offense with expanded weapons, from new No. 1 AJ Brown to new possession man Zach Pascal. The plan is for Hurts to run no more than nine times per game, and that could mean he throws well over 30 times per game. Hurts seems up to the challenge of first proving himself as a passer.

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Overreaction: Justin Fields isn’t ready for the Bears offense.

Fields shone in his preseason debut as a rookie. A year later, after taking lumps at the end of the Matt Nagy era, Fields’ first second action as No. 1 lacked shine.

For some, the way Fields played against the Chiefs (4-of-7 passing, 48 yards, 6.9 yards per attempt, 78.3 passer rating, 10 rushing yards) expanded the narrative that the Things will collapse for him in Year 2 with concerns over the offensive line and receiving corps.

But the Bears should have been content with the little things, and the confidence (sometimes overconfidence) in the Fields handled itself in the Packers-style scheme under Luke Gentry. While Fields had the early Flash as a rookie, he didn’t have the systemic support to build his substance. There are good signs that sentiment will change as the bears adjust the offense more closely to its capabilities.

Overreaction: Matt Ryan isn’t saved by the Colts’ offense.

From most reports, as Indianapolis’ new pocket passer of choice, Ryan Frank Reich does not disappoint with his program mastery and leadership skills. The shaky short performance against the Bills (6-of-10 passing, 58 yards, 5.8 yards per attempt, 76.3 passer rating) didn’t reflect positive feelings in camp.

Although Sam Ehlinger was the best in the Colts’ opener, both as a rookie, fellow veteran Nick Foles operated at a lower level than Ryan. Bottom line, Reich has a QB-friendly system. Minus a dormant Jonathan Taylor, the Colts showed good variety in the passing game with their backs, wide receivers and tight ends. The strong running game support is always there and the line is sturdy.

The Colts aren’t looking for a renegade playmaker a la Carson Wentz at QB. They want a facilitator who can play within the scheme. Ryan is still in a good position to do that.

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Reaction: Daniel Jones could still be saved by the Giants’ offensive.

Jones also failed to deliver wow numbers (6 passes from 10, 69 yards, 6.9 yards per attempt, 80.8 passer rating) in his brief first stint for new coach Brian Daboll and new coordinator Mike Kafka. But he didn’t seem as shaken as he had with previous plans, and there were signs the Giants’ once-maligned offensive line is turning a corner to be a win.

The Giants also suggest they will have a varied, fluid passing game that will use more players in different ways. While this season is all or nothing, the situation is more favorable for a breakthrough.

Response: 49ers, Bills and Rams are getting richer in the passing game.

Danny Gray, the rookie third-rounder at Lance in San Francisco, has the size and speed to oust Brandon Aiyuk as the primary third-big playmaker to complement Deebo Samuel and George Kittle. Improving deep ball dimension while Lance adds a running element can make Kyle Shanahan’s balance offense even more dangerous.

The Bills are already packed with Josh Allen’s best wideout corps with Stefon Diggs, rising star Gabriel Davis, buzzing Isaiah McKenzie and new possession slot Jamison Crowder. Rookie fifth-rounder Khalil Shakir adds to that. He built on his early promise as Boise State’s inside-out playmaker by hitting all five targets for 92 yards on his debut against the Colts. Shakir can be an additional field stretcher and a valuable perimeter reserve until he takes on a bigger role in 2023.

The Rams don’t play their key offensive players under Sean McVay in the preseason, and the top three at wideout are seeded with Cooper Kupp, Allen Robinson and Van Jefferson. But their depth behind them turned out better than expected.

Lance McCutcheon, an undrafted rookie from Montana state, had lobbied for the team to compete at camp. He gave McVay more to think about, burning the Chargers for five catches and 87 yards and two TDs on just six goals, including a 60-yard play.

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Overreaction: The Buccaneers’ running back situation is concerning

Tampa Bay had some conditioning issues with Leonard Fournette during the offseason and then saw Giovani Bernard (ankle) injure himself again in the preseason opener. With Ronald Jones not re-signed, it was difficult to find the right backfield rotation to support Tom Brady.

But they see their third-round investment in rookie Rachaad White paying off. White was the star against the Dolphins with seven rushes for 32 yards and two catches for an additional 16 yards. He was more effective with less volume than youngster Ke’Shawn Vaughn, who had 12 touches for 41 yards.

White can handle some of Fournette’s power work, and his work at Arizona State suggests he can also be a key exit receiver when needed, as Fournette has become.

Response: The Chiefs’ running back situation is concerning

Kansas City has some doubts about Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s ability to handle an effective workload and is looking for the best backup option after failing to re-sign Darrel Williams. Jones was signed with that in mind. He and Jerick McKinnon were the experienced 2-3 strike that went into camp. While Derrick Gore has faded among the youngsters on the depth chart, rookie seventh-rounder Isiah Pacheco has garnered plenty of attention to move up as a reserve.

Unfortunately, CEH, Jones, Pacheco and Gore all had 11 rushing yards in 10 tries against the Bears. Jones was buried in the rotation without McKinnon and Pacheco had a limited chance to keep knocking on the door. The Chiefs will need better results to feel they have the right mix of rush and reception to assist and take pressure off Patrick Mahomes in a reimagined passing game.

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Response: The Texans and Jaguars running backs are worth watching.

The AFC South is home to two former league rushing champions, Jonathan Taylor and Derrick Henry. But don’t sleep on Jacksonville and Houston adding special young backs to the mix.

Jaguar’s 2021 first-round driver Travis Etienne is making up for lost time after tearing his cruciate ligament ahead of his rookie season. While James Robinson was still recovering from an Achilles injury, Etienne led her backfield and converted his 10 touches into 33 yards against the Browns. He put in some good bursts to build on the enthusiasm from his second training camp.

Texas rookie fourth-place finisher Dameon Pierce has a golden opportunity behind often-injured former Colt Marlon Mack and veteran former Patriot Rex Burkhead. On his debut against the Saints (five rushes, 49 yards), he showed great pace leading the team in rushing. For a team in full youth movement, Pierce has some inviting, well-rounded qualities to carve out a potential feature role.

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