Thursday’s Preseason EssentialsPhiladelphia at New England (-3.5, 42.5), 7:30 p.m. ET: Carson Wentz declared that “it’s gonna be close” as to whether he’ll be able to participate in this season opener, which increases the likelihood we won’t see him participate this preseason. Nick Foles has been getting starter’s reps in practice and will take the field for the first time in a game since his MVP performance in Super Bowl LII. He’ll likely play the opening quarter before giving way to Nate Sudfeld and Joe Callahan, who struggled against Pittsburgh in a 31-14 loss at the Linc. The offense was able to generate a few big plays in the passing game via second-year WR Shelton Gibson and rookie tight end Dallas Goedert but needs to see more out of other receivers looking to make an impression since Alshon Jeffery may not be ready for the opener. Mike Wallace has an opportunity to impress immediately with Foles back.
Tom Brady was picked off by Philly corner Jalen Mills in Wednesday’s scrimmage, so since he’s expected to participate despite talk of a back issue opening the week, it will be interesting to see how he fares in what will be his only action in Foxboro until Sept. 9 against Houston. Julian Edelman, Eric Decker and Rob Gronkowski have all participated in workouts against Philly this week, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Bill Belichick pull them back here. Brian Hoyer and Danny Etling will again take the bulk of the snaps, so the post Brady-portion of action in this one should feature an increased emphasis on a running game that thrived in the second half against Washington. Jeremy Hill, Ralph Webb and Mike Gillislee combined for 140 yards and three touchdowns on 39 carries against the ‘Skins last week.
Pittsburgh at Green Bay (-5.5/43), 8 p.m. ET: Ben Roethlisberger suffered what appeared to be a head injury in practice, so the Steelers won’t expose him in this game and are going to take a long look at their projected backups and roster hopefuls on the heels of an impressive performance against Philly. RB Le’Veon Bell still hasn’t reported and Antonio Brown and Cam Heyward have already been ruled out. Landry Jones and JuJu Smith-Schuster hooked up for a 71-yard score and will presumably be out there to start this one before giving way to rookie Mason Rudolph and young Josh Dobbs. The Steelers have won four of their last five exhibition contests and do have the ammunition to hang around here since they’ve got a stable of running backs looking to impress in order to preserve their spot when Bell does return. Fitz Toussaint, James Conner, Stevan Ridley and rookie Jaylen Samuels will all get work. Thus far, Conner has been the standout.
While we won’t see Big Ben, you future Hall-of-Fame QB itch should be scratched by Aaron Rodgers’ likely appearance. Although it will likely be a cameo, he told reporters that he wants to take a few snaps with some of his new guys, which ramps up the sense of urgency for the drives he’ll participate in. Brett Hundley has a ton of experience, while newcomer DeShone Kizer and fourth-stringer Tim Boyle were both productive in last week’s impressive romp over Tennessee. Green Bay ended up with 31 first downs last week and will likely want to put on a good show for fans that won’t see the team take the field again until the Sept. 9 season opener against the Bears.
N.Y. Jets at Washington (-1.5/38.5), 8 p.m. ET: Sam Darnold’s debut has Jets nation excited. He completed 13 of 18 passes for 96 yards and a score against Atlanta, following it up by continuing to excel in practice. If he’s going to be out there for the opening snap inside Detroit’s Ford Field when the Jets’ offense takes the field, he’ll need to avoid major missteps over the next two preseason games. In joint practices against Washington this week, he dropped a few jaws and impressed ‘Skins star corner Josh Norman, who praised his poise and accuracy. “It’s crazy to see that at an early age,” said Norman.
Darnold has gotten the bulk of the reps against Washington’s first-team defense, so the presumption is that he’ll get the nod at FedEx Field with new offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates continuing to test his limits. Teddy Bridgewater was impressive enough that he’s now potentially trade bait considering how effectively he managed to move the Jets in his first action since late November and first truly significant work since the 2016 preseason. New York scored 10 points on two 10-play drives before giving way to the rookie. Since the team knows exactly what they have in veteran Josh McCown, it is likely to be the Darnold/Bridgewater show again WR Terrelle Pryor still won’t make it back but there are plenty of options who have looked sharp thus far.
Washington lost at New England after surrendering 26 unanswered points but led 17-0 with Colt McCoy at the controls. Although Brady didn’t play, the defense excelled before giving way to backups that are unlikely to stick on the final 53-man roster, so they should be up for the challenge of trying to quiet the Jets. Offensively, Alex Smith has shined against New York’s secondary in workouts this week and will be making his first appearance after sitting against the Patriots. McCoy, who went 13-for-18 with two TD passes at Foxboro, should against see extensive action before giving way to Kevin Hogan. The former Stanford standout couldn’t get the ‘Skins offense moving at all in a scoreless second half and fumbled after being sacked with just over 4:00 minutes remaining to cement his team’s fate in the preseason opener.
These teams let some bad blood spill over in their practice sessions, so there should be a healthy spirit of competition with the stakes a little higher in this second dress rehearsal.
Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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