Thursday night’s 16-game slate marked the final chance for players to prove their 53-man roster worthiness. Here’s what we’ve learned from Week 4 of the 2018 NFL preseason so far:
1. Cleveland has been forced to play Spencer Drango at starting right guard due to Kevin Zeitler missing time with an injury, but the latter saw action Thursday. Rookie Austin Corbett did, too, and together, the line looked excellent in a 35-17 win over the Detroit Lions. Recent signing Earl Watford replaced Zeitler after Cleveland’s opening series and there was almost no drop-off, with Watford executing most plays well despite having only been with the Browns for two days. Watford and Corbett pulled and executed blocks that sprung Nick Chubb and Matthew Dayes for significant runs, with the latter scoring on a 42-yard touchdown off the left hip of Corbett. Most of it came against an alarmingly thin reserve front seven for Detroit, but A’Shawn Robinson was cleared out of the A gap by backup center Austin Reiter on Chubb’s touchdown run, and Anthony Zettel saw reps deep into the second quarter, meaning it wasn’t entirely backups Cleveland was pushing around.
2. Since the Browns have given us an excellent season of Hard Knocks, we’ll add in an extra bullet on them. The series has teased an upcoming roster decision that might have to be made between Carl Nassib and Nate Orchard, and the latter hasn’t had the best preseason. That changed Thursday night, when he dropped just off the edge of the line, jumped and intercepted Matt Cassel’s throw and returned it for 64 yards. It might not end up being enough, but it’s a heck of a way to finish the preseason for Orchard, who’s going to make that decision tougher for the coaching staff.
3. Green Bay Packers backup quarterback DeShone Kizer showed flashes of why he won the starting job in Cleveland as a rookie. The former Notre Dame standout extended his second and final drive with a 10-yard rush, completed a handful of short passes and then showed off the long-range rifle that is his arm to cap his evening. Kizer dropped, scanned the field and found Geronimo Allison streaking a step ahead of his man down the left sideline for a touchdown connection. In typical Kizer fashion, he made a fairly deep pass look like a 31-yard layup. But he also threw an interception on his first drive, using that same strong arm to sail a pass over the head of his intended receiver and into the arms of Armani Watts. As we saw in 2017, with every good play comes the bad for Kizer.
4. Paxton Lynch might be the Broncos’ third-string quarterback, but he isn’t going down without a fight. After patiently waiting for Chad Kelly to get his reps in, Lynch took the field and was the sharpest he’s been as a professional. Lynch completed his first nine pass attempts, including a touchdown pass to Jordan Leslie, and finished with a line of 14-of-15 passing for 128 yards and two touchdowns. As we’ll say throughout this space, it’s Week 4 of the preseason, but Lynch needed a good showing with his Broncos future in jeopardy. GM John Elway mentioned Thursday night’s outcome would factor into his decision to keep two or three quarterbacks. Lynch can rest easy knowing he gave it his best, no matter what Elway decides Saturday.
5. After Thursday night’s contest, it’s all but official: The Chargers’ backup quarterback job belongs to Geno Smith. Cardale Jones took the majority of the snaps against the 49ers, but the same red flags remained. Jones was slow to throw for a good amount of the night, even behind decent protection, and it hampered the Chargers’ offense. His lone touchdown throw was a nice one over a defensive back, but came from five yards out after the Chargers recovered a 49ers fumble at San Francisco’s 10. Simply, Jones hasn’t done enough to legitimately contend with Smith this season. What will be interesting moving forward is how the Chargers — typically a two-quarterback franchise — trims its roster at the position, especially considering the organization acquired Jones via trade after hiring coach Anthony Lynn.
— Nick Shook
6. Lamar Jackson put in another solid performance for the Ravens. The first-round pick started against the Redskins, connecting on 9 of 15 passes for 109 yards. He also rushed for 25 yards on three carries — and scored a TD on a 1-yard carry. After starting the preseason with some rocky performances, Jackson’s last two games should give the Ravens more confidence in their Joe Flacco emergency option. Robert Griffin III not playing against his former team is just as notable. It’s difficult to say what the Ravens’ plans might be for the veteran QB. Will he stay on the roster? Are they trying to trade him? Answers will be provided soon enough.
7. AJ McCarron got his chance against the Chicago Bears to prove whether he deserves to be in the Buffalo Bills starting quarterback conversation, and he only demonstrated why he’s been a career backup. Granted, McCarron had little help from his offensive line in the 28-27 win, but his oversized Week 4 playing sample really only proved that the Browns got lucky with that paperwork mix-up last October. McCarron’s statline of 13-for-34 passing for 156 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions won’t help his starting QB aspirations. He was sacked five times and it was only in the nadir of Week 4 when he finally found a little late-game redemption against the Bears’ roster-spot hunters. With McCarron seeing every snap, it seems all but certain Bills coach Sean McDermott has narrowed his starting quarterback spotlight to Nathan Peterman and rookie Josh Allen (although, McDermott said after the game that McCarron “absolutely” remains in contention for the job). Peterman performed better than Allen in Week 3 of the preseason, but he wasn’t the No. 6 overall pick of the draft, so it’s anyone’s guess who will be under center Week 1.
8. The knee injury Matt Barkley suffered in the first quarter against the Indianapolis Colts likely doomed any chance he had of staying with the Cincinnati Bengals beyond this week. Barkley left the game on the Bengals’ second possession after being hit low by Colts defensive end Kemoko Turay. That opened the door for Jeff Driskel to enter the game earlier than expected. Driskel completed 14 of 20 passes for 116 yards and a touchdown. Unless coach Marvin Lewis sees something the rest of Bengaldom doesn’t, Driskel will be the backup this season.
9. Did Samaje Perine do enough to save his job in Washington? The running back put in a decent effort for the Redskins, tallying 30 yards on seven carries in the loss to the Ravens. He also had a fumble. He wraps up the preseason averaging 6.1 yards per carry, but he also had two fumbles on his 15 touches. It would seem that would still be enough to stay on the roster for a Redskins team that has been bitten hard by injury this preseason after injuries derailed their 2017 season. Adrian Peterson’s quick depth chart ascension is a promising development for the team, but the 33-year-old’s history of injuries might convince coach Jay Gruden that Perine deserves a place on the roster.
— Austin Knoblauch
10. In the backup quarterback competition for the Miami Dolphins, Brock Osweiler outperformed David Fales against the Atlanta Falcons. Osweiler led three scoring drives just in the first quarter, completing 11 of 14 passes for 105 yards and a TD. In sprinting for first downs and spinning away from defenders, the performance might have been enough for him to win the honor of backing up Ryan Tannehill. He finished the night completing 16 of 25 passes for 147 yards and two touchdowns.
11. The theme of the Jets vs. Eagles game seemingly centered upon quarterback turnovers. Christian Hackenberg was picked off on his first drive for the Eagles. He completed 7 of 16 passes for 69 yards, had two interceptions and one lost fumble en route to a 16.9 passer rating. This was not the revenge game that he might’ve hoped for against his former team. Jets QB John Wolford didn’t have a much better night. He completed 8 of 20 passes for 89 yards along with one interception, one lost fumble and a 33.1 passer rating. Bring on the Sam Darnold era.
— Lakisha Jackson