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PFF Press Pass – NFL previews for every matchup during preseason Week 2

By PFF Preview Team
Aug 15, 2018

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Aug 9, 2018; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner (30) carries the ball against the Philadelphia Eagles in the first quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

The first full week of the 2018 NFL preseason schedule has come and gone, bringing with it several standout performances from rookies and veterans alike. Several first-rounders grabbed headlines early but other veterans took a step at righting their careers with some strong performances.

PFF’s Press Pass for Week 2 takes you deeper into the intriguing matchups for every game during the second full week of the preseason. Building on our features from last week, here are the budding storylines for all 16 games on the slate this weekend:

Thursday, August 16th

Philadelphia Eagles @ New England Patriots

2017’s top offensive line carries on

After finishing last season as the highest-graded offensive line, Lane Johnson and company are once again one of the highest-graded units after the first week of the preseason with a pass-blocking grade of 79.9, good for first in the NFL. Offensive tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai finished the game with a pass-blocking grade of 87.1, which was third-highest among offensive linemen with at least 30 snaps last week. Chance Warmack finished the game with an overall grade of 66.2 through 27 snaps. If Warmack’s play betters that of returning starter Stefen Wisniewski, who finished the contest with a grade of 50.4, throughout the preseason, head coach Doug Pederson may have a tough decision ahead of him. – Lee Sifford

Finding clarity in New England’s secondary

Much has yet to be decided in the Patriots’ secondary as we move into the second week of the preseason. Stephon Gilmore has one starting cornerback spot locked down, but the side opposite Gilmore and slot duties seem to be up for grabs. Eric Rowe appears to be the frontrunner on the outside, and he played well against Washington, allowing one catch on two targets in his seven coverage snaps. Rookie second-round pick Duke Dawson could also be in the mix to make an early impact. In his preseason debut, Dawson allowed one reception for two yards in limited work. Others to monitor against the Eagles and throughout the rest of the preseason include veteran Jason McCourty and youngsters Ryan LewisJ.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones and Cyrus Jones– Mike Johnson

The running back battle heats up

With Jeremy Hill and Mike Gillislee seemingly in a training camp battle for the final running back spot on the Patriots roster, Hill may have jumped out to an early advantage after Week 1 of the preseason. Hill ran with tremendous burst and showed elusive ability by forcing three missed tackles on just 13 touches. Hill was also a factor in the pass game with two receptions for 14 yards, which is something Gillislee has struggled with during his NFL career thus far. Since 2015, Gillislee has only recorded 16 receptions on 19 targets for 94 yards, while posting a receiving grade above 60.0 in only 7-of-29 games during that span. – Mike Johnson

New York Jets @ Washington Redskins

Darnold & Bridgewater push for more snaps

It’s extremely hard not to root for former first-round pick Teddy Bridgewater, who made a triumphant return to football last week more than two years after he suffered a career-threatening knee injury. Bridgewater more than rose to the occasion, and performed well against defensive pressure, completing 2-of-2 passes for 14 yards, an impressive feat, given his circumstances. If Bridgewater continues to shine in game action, he could either force more playing time with the Jets starters or generate interest from other quarterback-needy teams, so either way it’ll be important for him to perform well and build upon the overall grade 63.8 that he earned last week. – Mark Chichester

Sans Guice, the running back battle continues

This week, the organization formally announced that rookie running back Derrius Guice tore his ACL during his debut, and that the former LSU playmaker would be lost for the entire season. It’s a devastating blow for offense, but the team will now need to move on and determine the next man up. As it stands, second-year running back Samje Perine and third-year back Rob Kelley will battle it out for the starting job. In last week’s game against the Patriots, Perine came out on top in the battle, as he amassed 31 rushing yards on seven carries, with just under half of his yards coming after contact. Kelley will need to bounce back from a lackluster performance last week if he’s to make a push for the starting job, as he managed just six rushing yards from his four attempts and he ended the contest with a running grade of just 63.6, which ranked behind Perine (75.8), Guice (83.2) and Kapri Bibbs (76.9). – Mark Chichester

Alex Smith’s debut

Washington fans didn’t get the chance to see their shiny new quarterback play in the team’s season opener against the New England Patriots, so all eyes will undoubtedly be on Alex Smith and Jay Gruden’s offense come Thursday night. Before being traded to the Nation’s capital, a rejuvenated Smith had a career year in Kansas City, where he ended the season with a career-high overall grade of 82.1 and spent the best part of the season shredding secondaries with a deadly deep ball. – Mark Chichester

Pittsburgh Steelers @ Green Bay Packers

An eye to the future in Pittsburgh

The Steelers surprised many on Day 2 of the 2018 NFL Draft when they traded up to select Mason Rudolph, the Oklahoma State product, in the third round. With Landry Jones (a career backup) and Joshua Dobbs (last year’s fourth-round pick) already on the roster, the Steelers signaled that they were already thinking about life after Ben Roethlisberger.

Rudolph brought in an impressive college resume, posting a 115.6 passer rating and a 51.1 percent adjusted completion percentage on deep passes (20-plus yards), but left fans wanting more in his first NFL action. He went 7-for-12 passing for 101 yards and an overall grade of 46.4. – Andrew Russell

Toussaint pushing for backup running back spot?

With RB Le’Veon Bell still absent from camp, running backs James Conner and Fitzgerald Toussaint have seen increased opportunities. Last week against the Philadelphia Eagles, Toussaint earned an overall grade of 82.5, fifth highest among 131 running backs that recorded at least four carries. He gained 35 yards after contact (5.0 per carry) and broke two tackles on just seven carries, finding the end zone once as well. Conner also played well against the Eagles, earning a grade of 75.6 (13th among running backs) and averaging 4.3 yards after contact per carry. Conner is penciled in as the backup running back on the Steelers’ unofficial depth chart, but Toussaint could keep the pressure on with another strong showing against Green Bay. – Daniel Cohen

Packers cornerback battle after Week 1

After ranking 31st among NFL teams in cumulative coverage grade last season (54.9), the Green Bay Packers made it a point to address the cornerback position this offseason. They spent their first two draft picks on cornerbacks Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson, and they brought back CB Tramon Williams, who will likely start at corner on one side. With Alexander and last year’s top pick CB Kevin King dealing with injuries, the door is open for the Jackson and the rest of the corners to push for playing time this season. Eight different Packers cornerbacks saw at least 10 snaps against the Tennessee Titans last week, with Jackson leading the way with 33. None of the corners earned a game grade above 60.0. We’ll see if anyone can separate themselves from the pack this week, as they attempt to contain a talented Steelers receiving corps that saw four of their six receivers earn grades over 65.0 last week. – Daniel Cohen

Friday, August 17th

New York Giants @ Detroit Lions

Who’s defending the slot for New York?

The competition for the starting nickel role will continue to play out this week. With William Gay unable to go due to injury, B.W. Webb got the start at home last week. On 34 defensive snaps, Webb allowed two receptions on four targets for 34 yards. Recently acquired Leonard Johnson played over half of the game (44 snaps) but was beaten two times for touchdowns. He also had a couple pass breakups while allowing just four receptions on a game-high nine targets. With Gay back in the mix this week, the Giants will be looking for one of these players to separate from the pack with a standout performance in Detroit. – Aaron Bloch

Webb vs Lauletta

Kyle Lauletta earned an above average game grade of 76.9 in his first NFL action and looks ready to challenge Davis Webb for the right to backup Eli Manning. Webb struggled mightily against Cleveland as he was the lowest graded quarterback in Week 1, among signal-callers who recorded at least 15 dropbacks. Webb was unable to complete anything down the field (0 -of-6 on throws aimed 10-plus yards downfield) and gained just 3.6 yards per attempt on his throws from a clean pocket. – Aaron Bloch

Carry on, Kerryon

A training camp standout, Kerryon Johnson translated his strong practice to a standout performance in Oakland last week. The rookie running back made our Preseason Week 1 Team of the Week with an 80.7 grade and forced three missed tackles on just seven carries. He’s still behind LeGarrette Blount on a talented Lions depth chart, but at the very least, he continues to earn himself a bigger role in the rotation and possibly even distance himself from Ameer Abdullah and the other running backs. – Lorin Cox

Kansas City Chiefs @ Atlanta Falcons

Spencer Ware’s return to KC

Spencer Ware faced contact for the first time in training camp on Sunday, participating in 11-on-11 work. Ware’s 73.2 overall grade in 2016 was 11th among 42 running backs with at least 100 attempts, while his 1.7 yards per route run as a receiver was tied for the second-best out of 20 running backs with at least 40 targets. Kareem Hunt (82.4 overall grade in 2017) and Ware sharing the Chiefs’ backfield is something to watch and passing plays should be of particular interest as Ware’s 11.7 yards after the catch per reception on 42 targets in 2016 beat Hunt’s mark of 7.5 on 62 targets last season. – Andrew Fleischer

Eric Berry’s health

Eric Berry has now missed two consecutive practices with a sore heel, though it’s reportedly the opposite heel from his 2017 Achilles injury. Berry will be a key factor in whether the Chief’s secondary can function on a high level in 2018. Berry’s 90.1 overall grade in 2016 was the third-highest grade among safeties, and seeing snaps on Friday would provide the first game action for this elite defender since Week 1 of 2017. Berry allowed a scant 0.3 yards per snap in coverage in 2016, tying him for second best among qualifying safeties. – Andrew Fleischer

Isaiah Oliver tied atop the snap counts for Atlanta cornerbacks

Isaiah Oliver’s 42 snaps in the Falcons’ preseason Week 1 game were tied for the most among Falcons cornerbacks. His 65.9 overall grade for the game doesn’t leap off the screen, but the rookie second-rounder is one to watch this offseason. Oliver allowed a 43.4 percent catch rate in coverage in his final two years at Colorado, fourth best among college cornerbacks in that timeframe. If he can continue to improve his performance with regular snaps in the preseason, he could be another secondary weapon in the Falcons’ arsenal in 2018, a unit which PFF rated the fifth-best this offseason. – Andrew Fleischer

Miami Dolphins @ Carolina Panthers

More work on Kalen Ballage’s hands

Rookie running back Kalen Ballage was hardly featured in the passing game at Arizona State, yet he was targeted four times in his preseason debut. While he recorded 23 yards after the catch on three receptions including one first down, he had a costly fumble on one of his receptions which didn’t help his receiving grade of 29.8 against the Bucs, by far the lowest among any rookie running back three targets. His ability in the passing game will have to be improved if he, and Dolphins fans, want more looks as we get closer to the regular season. – Cam Mellor

Strong debuts for the rookie DB duo

Donte Jackson and Rashaan Gaulden logged a combined 57 snaps in the Panthers Week 1 preseason game against Buffalo, to a moderate success. Gaulden was targeted once in coverage, going down for just a three-yard gain while Jackson saw two targets and allowed just one to be caught for 14 yards to Kelvin Benjamin. A promising start to their respective careers, they’ll look to continue the trend against the Dolphins passing attack which ranked seventh overall last week. – Cam Mellor

Buffalo Bills @ Cleveland Browns

Bills QB controversy & health

Bills fans can breathe easily after hearing that reported injuries to Nathan Peterman and AJ McCarron are not serious. An injury would’ve come at the wrong time for Peterman after he earned his highest grade of his career (85.3) in the Bills first preseason game against the Carolina Panthers on 14 snaps. The most experienced quarterback of the trio, McCarron, played 21 snaps and earned a 74.8 overall grade. The player with the most anticipated debut — Josh Allen — played 34 snaps of which 27 were passing plays, earning a 70.3 game grade. Allen finished 1-of-4 on passes targeted at least 20 yards downfield for 27 yards. Buffalo let the Wyoming-alum loose in his first preseason game and it looks like they’ll continue to do the same against Cleveland. – Connor Price

Quick trip back to Cleveland for Coleman

Corey Coleman is a little over a week removed from being a Cleveland Brown and this week he’ll travel back to his former city for a preseason matchup. Coleman, who was selected in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Browns, was traded for a seventh-round pick and did not play any snaps in the Bills’ first preseason game. He has never earned above a 62.0 season grade and has had four drops each of the past two seasons. Will Coleman resurrect his once-promising career in Buffalo? – Connor Price

Arizona Cardinals @ New Orleans Saints

Tre’Quan Smith’s extended role for New Orleans

Third-round pick Tre’Quan Smith played primarily on the outside during his senior season at UCF however, in his first NFL action with the Saints, Smith lined up primarily on the outside but saw three of his five targets come from the slot, where he averaged 8.5 yards per route run. Smith was one of 10 rookie wide receivers to see five or more targets in last week’s slate of games and finished with an overall game grade of 75.6, fourth overall among that group of rookie receivers. With Brandon Coleman recently being cut, we might get to see Smith moved around more in the preseason to see the versatility he brings should Ted Ginn Jr. keep the starting spot on the outside opposite Michael Thomas. – Mike Cahill

Extended playing time for Mason Cole

After A.Q. Shipley went down for the season with an ACL, rookie Mason Cole was thrust into starting action. He started Saturday’s preseason game at center and played 10 snaps along with the other four starting lineman. In limited action, Cole finished the game with an overall grade of 68.4, third among rookie centers. Of those 10 snaps, only two of those snaps were in pass protection where he didn’t allow a quarterback pressure. The Cardinals may want to give him more opportunities at center in live pass-blocking situations since he last played primarily at center in 2016 before playing left tackle for Michigan in 2017. – Mike Cahill

Saturday, August 18th

Jacksonville Jaguars @ Minnesota Vikings

Dark horse to land the oustide LB spot in Jacksonville

With Paul Posluszny retiring and Myles Jack shifting to middle linebacker, the Jaguars opening at strongside linebacker seemed to go to Blair Brown, who the team drafted last year, but another candidate has emerged. A seventh-round pick this past April out of Wisconsin, Leon Jacobs is currently listed as the starter on the team’s depth chart. Despite playing 14 total snaps in the Jaguars Week 1 game, he made his presence known, recording two stops against the run, good for a run-stop percentage of 28.6 while he also caused a pressure on one of his two pass-rushing snaps. Another positive showing in expanded action could bring Jacobs one step closer to solidifying the starting role. – Aaron Resnick

Sloter eyeing the backup quarterback job in Minnesota

Kyle Sloter hasn’t taken a snap in a regular season NFL game, but last year his overall preseason grade of 83.7 ranked seventh among all signal-callers. Last preseason, he excelled in a clean pocket with a passer rating of 136.2 and that continued in Week 1 of this year. last week for the Vikings, Sloter had an overall grade 85.0 and with nine attempts from a clean pocket accumulated a passer rating of 125.6. Assuming the starters play more, Sloter will see fewer snaps in this game but his progress is worth monitoring. – Aaron Resnick

Oakland Raiders @ Los Angeles Rams

Eye on the offensive line in Oakland

Kolton Miller’s development throughout the preseason is surely one the Raiders have an intense focus on. In their preseason debut, the 15th overall selection of the 2018 NFL Draft played 12 snaps at left tackle recording a 68.5 pass-blocking grade while registering a pass-blocking efficiency rating of 92.9. With veteran Donald Penn moving to right tackle, the rookie should continue to get plenty of reps on the left-side throughout the preseason. – Cam Pezet

Rams defenders looking to impress

Outside of the big names on defense, keep an eye on several young Rams defenders to capitalize on their preseason snaps and vie for playing time. Mark Barron and Cory Littleton are slotted in at the starting inside linebacker spots in the Wade Phillips’ 3-4 defense, but rookie Micah Kiser impressed in their first preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens, registering an 81.9 run-defense grade on 24 snaps. Edge defenders Trevon Young and Ejuan Price also look to build off last week’s performance where they each generated three quarterback pressures. With promising pass-rushing rookie Ogbonnia Okoronkwo (47 total pressures in 2017 at Oklahoma) still working his way back to the field, the Rams defense could be scary if these pass-rushers are supplying pressure all season long. – Cam Pezet

Cincinnati Bengals @ Dallas Cowboys

Receivers making waves, on both sides

Bengals’ rookie Auden Tate made his case for a roster spot in his debut against the Bears after he hauled in the 33-yard game-winning touchdown and finished the game with the third-highest receiving grade in the game behind A.J. Green and Joe Mixon. The Cowboys have talked about utilizing free agent acquisition Tavon Austin in a myriad of ways this offseason. In his debut for the Cowboys, Austin saw all three of his targets come when he was lined up as an outside receiver as for his career, he’s averaged just under 50 percent of his snaps from the slot. The sample size is small, but his usage will be interesting to watch going forward. – Evan McPhillips

Westerman impresses for Cincinnati

The 2016 fifth-round draft pick out of Arizona State played well at right guard in the Bengals’ first preseason game. Westerman played 43 total snaps and didn’t allow a single pressure, while posting the second-highest offensive grade (90.5) for the Bengals. If he continues to perform well, he certainly could push incumbent Trey Hopkins for the starting right guard position. – Evan McPhillips

San Francisco 49ers @ Houston Texans

How much Watt will we see?

After playing in all 16 games in each of his first five seasons, J.J. Watt has played just eight combined games over the past two years. Although pegged with possibly having a bounce-back year, if Watt were to miss time again, players like Christian Covington, who had a pass-rushing productivity of 12.5, Duke Elijofor (11.9) and Marcus Hardison (11.1) could all see additional playing time. All finished last week among the highest-ranked 50 edge defenders and interior defensive linemen in terms of pass-rush productivity, which demonstrates the depth of the Texans’ defensive line. In addition to these three stand-out pass rushers, the defensive as a whole excelled with rushing defense in their first preseason game finishing the week with a run-defense grade of 77.6, which was good for sixth in the league. – Lee Sifford

Mostert a lock to make the team behind McKinnon, Breida?

Assuming he can return to good health over the next three weeks, Jerick McKinnon will begin the season as the 49ers lead back, but the depth behind him is yet to be determined. Matt Breida looked to be the next man up until he left last week’s game with a shoulder injury. With the combination of injuries, players like Joe Williams and Raheem Mostert will be given a shot to earn their spot on the 53-man roster come Week 1. Mostert, who had 67 yards after contact against the Dallas Cowboys, is currently first in this preseason with 8.4 yards after contact per carry running backs with eight or more attempts. However, despite Mostert’s first-game success, the 49ers signed Alfred Morris to provide additional competition in the backfield. Mostert’s special-teams prowess may give him the edge here, but another game like he had in Week 1, could push him up the RB depth chart. – Lee Sifford

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Tennessee Titans

Stewart vs Davis for cornerback snaps with Tampa

These two rookie cornerbacks will continue to battle it out for depth chart positioning, and it will be worth monitoring how they fare after both had similar performances in Week 1. Last week against the Dolphins, M.J. Stewart finished with an overall grade of 69.8 and a coverage grade of 68.5 while Carlton Davis posted an overall grade of 66.2 and a coverage grade of 63.3. Solid, not exceptional games, but certainly something to build on going forward as they try and make their case for playing time in the regular season. Stewart allowed a passer rating of 58.8 when targeted while Davis allowed a passer rating of 65.6. With Vernon Hargreaves sidelined due to a hamstring injury, the opportunity is there for Stewart and Davis to shine. – Cyrus Gellar

Too early to call Landry the steal of the draft?

Sure, it’s only been one preseason game, so we’ll pump the brakes, but PFF’s No. 1 rated edge defender prospect impressed in limited action in his professional debut. Albeit on only 13 pass-rush snaps, Harold Landry managed two pressures, including a sack and a forced fumble. Landry finished the contest with a pass-rush grade of 91.9 (the second-highest among all edge defenders), earning him a spot on PFF’s Preseason Week 1 NFL Team of the Week. Keep a close eye on the former Boston College prospect this Saturday, if he can continue to build upon his Week 1 performance it won’t be long before many are questioning how he ever fell to the second round. – Aaron Jones

Chicago Bears @ Denver Broncos

Roquan Smith’s debut for Chicago

Bears head coach Matt Nagy won’t confirm yet that Roquan Smith will play against the Broncos, but after missing all of training camp, the eighth overall pick will need as many reps as he can get. While he was our top linebacker in the 2018 NFL Draft, and his 88.5 coverage grade was the second-highest in the draft class at his position, he won’t be handed the starting job in Chicago, and he’ll likely come off the bench on Saturday in Denver. Danny Trevathan is expected to make his preseason debut after dealing with a hamstring injury during training camp and former fourth-round pick Nick Kwiatkoski has been a preseason standout who will likely hold the starting job until Smith proves he’s ready to take it from him. – Lorin Cox

Chad Kelly vs Paxton Lynch, Pt. II

Chad Kelly and Paxton Lynch find themselves in a competition for the backup quarterback spot in Denver. Last week, Lynch finished with a 45.9 overall grade, while on the other hand, Kelly came in and impressed during his first NFL game. Although he earned a 66.2 overall grade for the game, he had an 88.6 grade when given a clean pocket, completing 11 passes on 16 attempts for 146 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions on such plays. That is very encouraging for Broncos fans, especially if you consider that performance from a clean pocket is one of the most stable metrics for judging a quarterback. After that performance, and per Mike Florio, head coach Vance Joseph said that Kelly is the backup as it stands right now. – Daniel Rymer

Seattle Seahawks @ Los Angeles Chargers

The battle at running back continues

With the position battle at running back taking center stage at Seahawks training camp, many were looking to see if someone would stand out during their preseason opener last week against the Colts. Mike Davis‘ 69.5 overall grade ranked highest of the group but Chris Carson led the way with a 118.8 elusive rating. With rookie Rashaad Penny now sidelined for the next several weeks with a broken finger, expect Carson, Davis and J.D. McKissic to be in the mix for a larger workload verses the Chargers. – Cam Pezet

Derwin James earning heavy workload

Chargers rookie safety Derwin James burst onto the scene and played the third-most snaps on the defense against the Cardinals (28) in preseason Week 1. Opposing quarterbacks had an 89.6 passer rating when they targeted the rookie four times. Rayshawn Jenkins was given the starting nod at strong safety, but his snap count (17) was dwarfed by James although Jenkins earned the higher grade (75.1). James should continue to ascend the safety depth chart with a large workload this week and increased comfortability on the NFL field. – Connor Price

Monday, August 20th

Baltimore Ravens @ Indianapolis Colts

Williams fighting for more playing time

Tim Williams has put together two good performances in the first two weeks of the preseason as the second-year edge defender from Alabama had a pass-rushing grade of 91.6 against the Rams last week, ranking second among qualifying edge defenders. A continuation of his great start, and an improvement from the first preseason game in which Williams had an overall grade of 74.1 and a pass-rushing grade of 76.5. Last season, Williams played only 125 total snaps and earned an overall grade of 63.8. If he can continue to show progression and impress the coaches this preseason, he’ll likely find himself in the rotation more as the season goes on. – Daniel Rymer

Competition at running back heating up

With running backs Marlon Mack and Robert Turbin listed with week-to-week with injuries, Christine Michael and rookies Jordan Wilkins and Nyheim Hines will find themselves with a much bigger workload against the Giants. Wilkins showed off his elusiveness against the Seahawks last week, forcing three missed tackles on seven touches. At Ole Miss in 2017, Wilkins ranked 16th out of 83 running backs with an elusive rating of 78.5, while Hines ranked 17th with a mark of 77.9. While it appears Mack will be the starter entering the regular season, Michael, Wilkins and Hines all have a strong shot to become the No. 2 back, as Turbin starts the year with a four-game suspension. – Sam McGaw

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