In Week 3 of the preseason the Ravens suffered a few injuries, the Browns were badly beaten and the Steelers’ triplets looked solid. Let’s take a look around the details of how each of the Bengals’ AFC North rivals performed in the dress rehearsal of the preseason.
John Harbaugh critical of preseason after injuries
An all too familiar sight occurred to the Ravens on Saturday night. Tight end Benjamin Watson, who was signed by the Ravens this offseason, tore his achilles on the first offensive play. Watson will now miss the entire 2016 season, and at his age (35) there are questions as to if he’ll return to the NFL.
Rookie running back, Kenneth Dixon, also suffered sprained knee on an ugly looking tackle. Dixon underwent an MRI on Sunday to determine the extent of the injury.
After the Ravens’ game on Saturday, Harbaugh shared his criticism of the current set up for the preseason.
"It's not the '70s anymore," Harbaugh told ESPN after the Ravens' 30-9 win over the Detroit Lions. "These guys playing in these games -- it's tough -- and they're not meaningful games. They are important to get better, and they improve us. But, we football coaches can find ways to get our guys ready and get our players evaluated without the kind of risk that a game necessarily entails.
He also offered a solution to the problem.
"If you go more games, fewer preseason games, and bigger rosters, that's good for everybody," Harbaugh said. "To me, that's something that they can put their heads together and work out. It would be a positive."
Harbaugh makes some great points. More regular season games would be good for the league and fans. The league has been trying to expand to 18 games, and replacing preseason games may be the only way to get there. A bigger roster helps teams and obviously players. The bigger roster would allow for more depth given how many injuries and the level of fatigue players go through over a larger season. There would also be more players with jobs, obviously.
Overall Harbaugh isn’t wrong, and it doesn’t seem like it would be that hard to go through with his plan. Although Terrell Suggs probably said it best.
"Anytime you line up on a football field and risk getting hurt, it's out there," Suggs told ESPN following Saturday’s game. "Truth be told, we need some of these games... just maybe not four ... maybe three, maybe two. But we do need some of them, but other than that, people getting hurt, it's very unfortunate, but we know it's part of the game."
Ravens thinning out at tight end
The Ravens look like they may only have one healthy tight end to start the season. It’s strange that the Ravens are at this point after tight end was a position of strength early in camp, but with Watson out for the season, Dennis Pitta breaking his finger and Maxx Williams nursing an undisclosed injury, the only tight end left for Week 1 is Crockett Gillmore. This causes quite a few problems, but the issues should only last until Nick Boyle and Darren Waller return from their 10 and four game suspensions, respectively.
The first problem comes when the Ravens go short yardage. Most teams in the NFL like to beef up and run at least two tight ends in these situations, but the Ravens will have to get crafty. They’ll likely have to spread the defense out by going to three or more wide receiver sets.
Fullback Kyle Juszczyk may need to double as a tight end for a little while as well. Just like the Bengals have become familiar with this concept as Ryan Hewitt’s versatility to block from the backfield and at the line of scrimmage has come in handy in the same way.
Cleveland parts ways with another first round pick
The past regime that Hue Jackson and company are trying to clean up has swept up another leftover dust ball. The Browns traded Barkevious Mingo to the Patriots for a fifth round pick. Ever wonder just how the Browns got so bad? Before this past draft, Ray Farmer had six first round picks over four years. Most franchises would build a decent team from that. Well after Mingo’s departure there is only one first round pick from that dark era in Cleveland sports history, and that pick is Justin Gilbert who isn’t exactly a lock to make the roster.
What is more disappointing is the players Cleveland could have drafted. In 2011 the Browns moved back in the first round from the sixth overall pick to the 27th. The Browns later traded up to the 26th selection to pick Phil Taylor the defensive tackle. The Browns received a first and fourth round pick in next year’s draft. The first round pick from the Falcons in 2012 became Brandon Weeden. Meanwhile, the Falcons drafted a receiver you may have heard of at six, Julio Jones.
What’s worse is they repeated this mistake in 2014. The Browns were sitting there with the fourth overall pick with players like Sammy Watkins, Khalil Mack, Odell Beckham Jr., and Aaron Donald still on the board. They made the call to move back to the 10th pick by gaining a first round pick next year from the Bills, and then the Browns moved up to the eighth pick to take Justin Gilbert with Donald and Beckham still on the board. In the same draft they also passed up on Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr to select Johnny Manziel.
Needless to say, this new regime is trying to recoup as many loses as possible.
Browns struggle against Buccaneers
Disclaimer: It is the preseason and just a dress rehearsal game. This game isn’t proof of whether the Browns will be good or bad all season long. The Bengals went through this exact thing last season.
Let’s get the good out of the way. Josh Gordon looked really good on two long receptions. One was even an impressive adjustment for a touchdown.
That is where the good ends. The offensive line couldn’t protect Robert Griffin III from a strong breeze. Cameron Erving looked especially bad, but he was up against Gerald McCoy for a lot of the game. However, even when it was someone else, or Erving had to block someone down field, he often either was blown aside or missed entirely. This isn’t saying the rest of the offensive line did well, they didn’t, but Erving was clearly the weakest link.
The Browns’ defense might be trying a new technique where you just contain the quarterback instead of trying to rush him. Maybe they think if you give the quarterback too much time he will over think the throw and make a mistake. If they are trying to do that, it is working out great, but if they aren’t.... well. The Browns finished with zero sacks, and the only time Jameis Winston was even aware the Browns were rushing him was after about seven seconds in the pocket and rolling out. Hue Jackson isn’t worried though, in typical Jackson nature.
“I never said we were going to be a juggernaut today or yesterday,” Jackson told CBS Cleveland. “We’re going to keep working at this thing, and when the games start being played here in a couple weeks, that’s when we’ve got to be at our best.”
It is a good thing this isn’t the regular season because the Browns didn’t even look close to a team ready for September on Friday night.
Pittsburgh stars light up Saints defense
The Steelers finally trotted out their triplets as Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, got some game action before the regular season. They played like you would imagine against the Saints’ awful defense. There were no surprises as Roethlisberger drove the Steelers down methodically twice for touchdowns, including one to Brown. Roethlisberger’s other touchdown toss went to Sammie Coates in case anyone was wondering who that second wide receiver may be when the regular season starts. Finally, Bell had three carries for 21 yards in likely his final game action before serving his three game suspension.
If anyone was expecting a regression from this Steelers offense when their three biggest threats are on the field, you were wrong. The problem for the Steelers seems to have been having all three healthy and active at once.
Cameron Heyward carted off with high ankle sprain
Heyward was carted off the field Friday night, but he appears to have made it out with just a minor injury. Heyward was diagnosed with a high ankle sprain, which typically requires more than two weeks to recover. But, Heyward says he won’t miss the opener against Washington in two weeks. He also sent out this tweet.
What you call a setback I call a comeback pic.twitter.com/aBCV2Iga49— Cam Heyward (@CamHeyward) August 27, 2016
It’s a high ankle sprain, Heyward. No one was criticizing you for having an injury. No need to be dramatic.