NFL News & Analysis

2021 NFL Preseason Week 2: Schedule, game storylines, players to watch and more

Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields (1) passes the ball against the Miami Dolphins during the first half at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports

The second week of the 2021 NFL preseason has arrived. And between the 2021 rookie class, the many quarterback battles and the rosters that still need to be finalized, there is plenty to look out for in Week 2.

Here’s everything you need to know before Week 2 kicks off.

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New England Patriots at Philadelphia Eagles

Thursday, Aug. 19 | 7:30 PM EST | NFL Network

Mac Jones vs. Cam Newton Round 2: The No. 15 overall pick of the 2021 NFL draft will continue to compete with the 2015 NFL MVP for the Pats' starting job and could start to pull ahead if he puts on another quality performance.

It wasn't breathtaking football by any stretch, but Jones did precisely what the team wanted him to do in his debut: He avoided negatively graded throws, made the right decisions and put the ball exactly where it needed to be. The Alabama product delivered only one uncatchable pass on 20 attempts and even uncorked a big-time throw into the end zone that ultimately fell incomplete.

Jones earned an 82.0 passing grade against the Football Team, the highest mark among rookies for the week. The Patriots' coaching staff will be hoping for more of the same against Philadelphia this week.

Philly’s improving receiving room: DeVonta Smith is unlikely to play as he continues to make his way back from a knee injury, but there is still plenty to look out for in the Philly receiving room — most notably the battle between 2020 draft picks. 

Quez Watkins, a 2020 Day 3 pick, took a 79-yard screen to the house in preseason Week 1, while former first-rounder Jalen Reagor dropped one of his three targets en route to a sub-50.0 PFF grade. Reagor is reportedly regaining his confidence, though, and has been getting rave reviews out of camp for plays like this one.

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Cincinnati Bengals at Washington Football Team

Friday, Aug. 20 | 8:00 PM EST | NFL Network

No Joe Burrow, but more Ja’Marr Chase?: Burrow won't be taking the field for this one, but the team's top-five pick should get some work in early.

Chase ran only three routes in his first preseason but did manage to take a nicely designed screen 15 yards. The 2021 first-rounder reportedly looked rusty at the start of camp and went as far as acknowledging it by saying, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Since then, there has been nothing but positive reports about the rookie pass-catcher, which is unsurprising when he's putting up plays like this.

Kansas City Chiefs at Arizona Cardinals

Friday, Aug. 20 | 8:00 PM EST | ESPN

Corner situation turning positive: Entering the preseason, the Cards' top three corners were Malcolm Butler, Robert Alford and Byron Murphy Jr. It was an underwhelming unit on paper, at best, but the organization got a pleasant surprise in their opening preseason game.

NFL journeyman Daryl Worley put together an impressive performance that featured a forced fumble and a 75.8 coverage grade, while Marco Wilson stole the show by breaking up three of his six targets and allowing just 30 yards into his coverage.

Buffalo Bills at Chicago Bears

Saturday, Aug. 21 | 1:00 PM EST | NFL Network

Justin Fields building a strong start: Fields got off to a slow start last week before kicking it into high gear. He showed off his playmaking ability outside of the pocket — his six completions out of the pocket led all quarterbacks for the week — and closed out the day with a 70.0 passing grade. Given his tendency to hold onto the ball and the current state of the Bears’ offensive line, that’s probably something we will see a lot of this season. 

Mitchell Trubisky revenge game: How does the former Chicago Bear feel about being a Buffalo Bill?

“Nice to be in a place where people want you and care about you progressing as a person and a player.” — Trubisky earlier this month

The 2017 No. 2 overall pick will be making his return to Soldier Field for the first time after the Bears decided to cut ties. And with Josh Allen sitting out, it’ll be Trubisky who gets the start for the Bills. He only took two dropbacks for Buffalo last week — one resulted in a 10-yard, tight-window completion while the other was an inaccurate pass under pressure.

New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson (2) throws a pass against the New York Giants during the first half at MetLife Stadium. Credit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

New York Jets at Green Bay Packers

Saturday, Aug. 21 | 4:25 PM EST | NFL Network

Zach Wilson getting a second swing: Wilson took only nine dropbacks in Week 1, but there were zero signs of the struggles that had been reported from training camp. The release, accuracy, velocity and timing were all up to the same standard he set at BYU. Every single one of his throws was deemed accurate, according to PFF’s ball-location data. Don’t go all-in based on such a small sample, but it was a solid start for Wilson.

Baltimore Ravens at Carolina Panthers

Saturday, Aug. 21 | 7:00 PM EST | Local

Former XFL star eyeing consistency: Former Houston Roughnecks quarterback Phillip Walker started at QB as new Panther Sam Darnold sat out. He showed off his escapability and delivered a big-time throw on the run for a touchdown in the second quarter. Walker finished the day with three big-time throws, but inconsistent accuracy and a turnover-worthy play lowered his passing grade to 69.7 for the game.

Atlanta Falcons at Miami Dolphins

Saturday, Aug. 21 | 7:00 PM EST | Local

Miami’s cornerback room looks deep: It’s no secret that the outside cornerback tandem of Xavien Howard and Byron Jones is one of the best in the NFL, as they ranked fourth and 14th, respectively, in PFF’s preseason outside cornerback rankings. Throw in Justin Coleman, who is looking to bounce back to his best in the slot after struggling under Matt Patricia, and the depth at the cornerback position looks solid.

Young corners Noah Igbinoghene and Nik Needham performed admirably last week and will look to take steps forward as depth pieces. Igbinoghene, a 2020 first-round pick, forced an incompletion, tallied a couple of defensive stops and earned a 79.5 coverage grade. Needham, a 2019 undrafted free agent, broke up a couple of passes en route to a 90.3 coverage grade.

Tennessee Titans at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Saturday, Aug. 21 | 7:00 PM EST | Local

Joe Tryon Kicking More Ass: There is a whole lot of football left to be played before declaring this one a steal, but the early returns from Tryon have been positive. Head coach Bruce Arians raved about the 32nd overall pick early in training camp, and Tryon lived up to the hype in his preseason debut, recording three wins and a 77.8 pass-rush grade on 10 pass-rush snaps.

Detroit Lions at Pittsburgh Steelers

Saturday, Aug. 21 | 7:30 PM EST | NFL Network

Penei Sewell getting back into it: There were some positive plays from Sewell in his preseason debut, but there were also rusty moments where he looked exactly like a 20-year-old rookie tackle who hasn’t played in 20 months.

The former Oregon standout gave up a sack to fellow rookie Gregory Rousseau, whiffed completely on one run block, and lost rep in pass protection because he was slow out of his stance. Patience is key. With more reps, Sewell should get back to the player who rocked the college football world as a true freshman.

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Jacob Eason (9) throws the ball on Sunday, Aug. 15, 2021, during a preseason game between the Indianapolis Colts and the Carolina Panthers. Credit: Imagn

Indianapolis Colts at Minnesota Vikings

Saturday, Aug. 21 | 8:00 PM EST | Local

Jacob Eason, Sam Ehlinger and the battle for maybe QB1: There’s still a good chance Carson Wentz misses the first few games of the regular season as he recovers from a foot surgery, which would catapult either Eason or Ehlinger to the top of the depth chart.

Eason took his first snaps in a Colts uniform last week against Carolina and quickly showed off the arm strength that drew the league's attention when he was a prospect, recording a couple of big-time throws and earning a 93.2 passing grade. It wasn't all good, though, as he took three sacks and completed only one pass for five yards on his six dropbacks under pressure.

Ehlinger also had some highs and lows. He did come up with a couple of big-time throws, but a poorly thrown interception negated all that hard work. In all, he finished with a 64.0 passing grade.

Eason likely has the lead at this point, and he offers more upside. Still, nothing is final until more is seen in the preseason.

Houston Texans at Dallas Cowboys

Saturday, Aug. 21 | 8:00 PM EST | Local

Cowboys linebacker room needs to step up: Dallas made some power plays to revamp its linebacker corps this offseason after enduring a couple of underwhelming years from Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith. Through their first two preseason games, it looks like those moves might pay off. Safety-turned-linebacker Keanu Neal has played 19 snaps and put up a stellar 97.9 PFF grade. Micah Parsons has earned an 84.7 PFF grade across 25 snaps. Jabril Cox has put up a 74.4 across 73.

Las Vegas Raiders at Los Angeles Rams

Saturday, Aug. 21 | 10:00 PM EST | NFL Network

All eyes on first-rounder Alex Leatherwood: The Raiders taking a swing on Leatherwood with the 17th overall pick was one of the 2021 NFL Draft's biggest reaches, according to the PFF draft board. But general manager Mike Mayock and head coach Jon Gruden didn't care; they saw a starting right tackle.

Leatherwood didn't quite look like it in his preseason debut. There were several missed assignments, and he ended up with a 51.9 PFF grade across his 23 snaps, anchored by a 33.7 mark in pass protection.

It’s do-or-die time for Damon Arnette: Las Vegas made another bold call by taking Arnette with the 19th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, and he is now skating on thin ice with the team. He struggled as a rookie, fell into some off-the-field issues and struggled to get acclimated to the system in Las Vegas. He played 14 snaps in the preseason opener, but he missed a tackle and gave up a catch for 17 yards. Arnette needs to quickly turn the corner.

Denver Broncos at Seattle Seahawks

Saturday, Aug. 21 | 10:00 PM EST | Local

Can Drew Lock or Teddy Bridgewater Take a Lead?: Denver has a quarterback battle on its hands between two vastly different quarterbacks, but neither passer has managed to find true success of late.

One had a better preseason debut than the other, but head coach Vic Fangio still needs to see more before declaring the battle over. Lock earned an 84.3 PFF grade anchored by a 49-yard big-time throw to a wide-open K.J. Hamler, while Bridgewater managed a mark of only 69.5.

That pass from Lock perfectly encompasses the upside he offers, but overall decision-making and accuracy have always been a major issue. This Saturday will be pivotal when it comes to naming the Broncos' starting quarterback.

Patrick Surtain II building on a ridiculous debut: The former Alabama cornerback helped Broncos fans forget about the team's decision to pass on a franchise quarterback in the NFL draft with a jaw-dropping debut Saturday. The ninth overall pick played 13 coverage snaps and saw two targets against Minnesota — one ended in a pass breakup while the other resulted in six points for the Broncos when the cornerback jumped an out route and took it to the house. The first-year corner ultimately earned the highest PFF grade of the week (94.8) and is already showing how special he can be in the Broncos secondary.

New York Giants at Cleveland Browns

Sunday, Aug. 22 | 1:00 PM EST | NFL Network

JOK terrorizing: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah slipped in the 2021 draft, and the Browns are now reaping the benefits. He constantly put his short-area explosiveness on display, leading to seven total defensive stops on the night, one of which was a third-down sack on a blitz. He did make a couple of mistakes in coverage — one resulting in a touchdown — and got stuck on a couple of blocks, but he looks like a big-time playmaker for the Browns.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Trey Lance (5) throws a pass against the Kansas City Chiefs during the first quarter at Levi's Stadium. Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Chargers

Sunday, Aug. 22 | 7:30 PM EST | NFL Network

Trey Lance — raw or ready?: Lance came out of North Dakota State as a raw, high-upside quarterback prospect with elite physical tools. Despite that, there was still a chance for him to put Jimmy Garoppolo on the hot seat. And while he did show his upside with one big-time throw that ended in an 80-yard touchdown, his overall performance didn't do much for his chances of snatching the starting job.

The FCS product was late on a couple of throws, threw two very interceptable passes and nearly lost the ball on a strip-sack. None ended up giving the ball away to the opposition, but those mistakes still show up in the PFF grading system, which is why his grade ended up at 48.8 for the night.

Jacksonville Jaguars at New Orleans Saints

Monday, Aug 23 | 8:00 PM EST | ESPN

Trevor Lawrence getting over a subpar debut: The No. 1 overall pick opened up his first preseason with a middling performance over a small sample. He did connect on a big-time throw, but he also let a few bad throws slip and fumbled the ball once. He ended the game with a 58.5 passing grade across 11 dropbacks. He’ll look to bounce back with a cleaner outing this weekend.

QB Battle in NOLA: The starting quarterback race in NOLA is too close to call after Taysom Hill and Jameis Winston played at near-identical levels last week. They each tossed an interception, but Hill’s resulted from a stopped route by the receiver, and Winston's came on a deep ball that was deflected into the hands of a defensive back. The two finished with PFF grades of 79.8 (Hill) and 73.5 (Winston).

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