Mike Roemer/Associated Press
Super Bowl winners and perennial powerhouses have nothing to prove in the preseason: Go out there and goof off with your ninth-stringers, oh Eagles, Patriots and Steelers.
Terrible teams can only prove so much in the preseason. Promising starts are, well, promising, and we’ll fawn over the rookie quarterbacks in this edition of Digest soon enough. But one preseason game can’t erase years of ineptitude.
It’s all of those teams in between the great and the terrible who need the preseason to prove that their starters look sharp, the newcomers are ready to contribute, the new systems have been installed and everyone is on schedule for a hot start come September.
And frankly, some of those teams—some of the ones with the highest expectations—flunked their preseason debuts.
The following five teams need to show fans, their coaches and themselves a lot more over the next few weeks than they showed us this weekend:
5) The Packers
Yes, the final score (31-17) looked great. And no, we don’t need to see much of Aaron Rodgers. But the starting Packers defense allowed an easy Titans touchdown drive, Packers running backs carried just eight times for 25 yards in the first half and the backup offensive tackles (who usually end up starting at some point) are as weak as ever, because it’s the same bunch of guys.
This year’s Packers are supposed to be about new schemes and new solutions. They need to prove that their plans run deeper than Rodgers will return and make everything OK. We saw very little of that Thursday.
4) The Chargers
Like the Packers, the Chargers must use the preseason to prove that they solved last year’s problems. They missed the playoffs in 2017 because their defense got gouged up the middle and they couldn’t handle the special teams basics. The Cardinals started Saturday night’s game with a long punt return and two David Johnson runs straight up the gut for 14 yards each. New kicker Caleb Sturgis also shanked an easy field goal, but don’t worry, his challenger is…oh dear…Roberto Aguayo.
3) The 49ers
The 49ers appeared to treat the first preseason game like they were a 12-4 team with a five-time Pro Bowler at quarterback, not the rebuilding team that’s still in need of step-up players that they really are. The Cowboys offense marched through the 49ers defense on the opening drive, and in his one series, starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo didn’t look much like the MVP candidate we keep hearing he is.
The 49ers need to display a better pass rush, greater skill-position depth and quality, and more of a spark over the next few weeks.
2) The Rams
They looked so bad they have their own segment a little later in Digest.
1) The Broncos
With the starters getting a good chunk of the early playing time—and yes, those were the starters, give or take a Von Miller—the Broncos fell behind the Vikings 17-0.
Quarterback Case Keenum isn’t some Drew Brees who can go 1-of-4 for five yards and grab a baseball cap; he’s a guy who was playing preseason fourth quarters not too long ago, and he needs to establish that he can move the ball for his new team. The Paxton Lynch experiment must be abandoned, because the Broncos need to evaluate young players on both sides of the ball, and prolonged stretches of Lynch jitters make that almost impossible.
The Broncos just looked unready on both sides of the ball until late-game silly time arrived. That’s a bad look for a team that bills itself as a bunch of Super Bowl-tested veterans who finally found their quarterback.