The third and final week of the 2023 NFL preseason is here, and there were two games Thursday night with some fascinating storylines. The Pittsburgh Steelers dominated the Falcons in Atlanta, while rookie QB Anthony Richardson got the start for the Indianapolis Colts against the Philadelphia Eagles.
4 Significant Thursday Night Takeaways
Colts Made Right Call Naming Richardson Week 1 Starter
Thursday was our second chance to see Richardson play in a Colts preseason game, and he looked dramatically improved compared with what he showed in Week 1 against the Buffalo Bills. While Richardson made a few inaccurate throws to open the game, he settled down in the first quarter and went on to lead back-to-back touchdown drives.
The Colts used a ton of play-action and RPOs with Richardson, making his job a little simpler. We should expect coach Shane Steichen to keep up the quick reads and throws for Richardson early in the season to get him more comfortable in the offense.
Richardson’s legs will be his biggest asset early in the year, and that was on full display against the Eagles. On a third-and-15, Richardson got out of the pocket and scrambled for a first down (it was eventually called back due to a holding penalty). On another third-and-long, Richardson escaped the pocket and picked up 12 yards to keep the chains moving.
— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) August 25, 2023
His legs will allow him to succeed right away while he continues to learn how to beat NFL defenses with his arm. Where Richardson needs to improve is making simple throws.
Richardson tends to try to show off his arm talent too much and needs to do a better job of taking the layup throws. This isn’t uncommon for quarterbacks with his skillset. Josh Allen struggled with this same issue as a rookie (52.8 completion percentage). Once Richardson starts to make simple throws more routine, he will be nearly impossible to stop.
Richardson is raw; there is no doubt about that. But the Colts made the right decision to name him the Week 1 starter. He needs to play, but he also gives them the best chance to win immediately. We saw that Thursday, as his legs will help keep the offense afloat early on.
Pittsburgh’s Offense Poised to Make a Leap
Let’s start with the obvious — it’s only the preseason. The Steelers put their first-string offense on the field against the No. 2s and 3s of the Atlanta Falcons. And it wasn’t much of a fair fight as the Steelers dominated on both sides of the ball.
The Steelers have been flawless on offense this preseason. Kenny Pickett finished the preseason with a perfect passer rating (158.3) and led the offense to a touchdown on all five drives he played through three games. Against the Falcons, the Steelers scored on their first four drives, two of which were led by Pickett and the rest of the starting offense.
The Steelers will face a much more challenging task in Week 1, taking on the San Francisco 49ers at home. But from everything Pittsburgh has shown in the preseason, it appears ready to make a leap. That’s primarily due to the development and poise of Pickett. He looks more comfortable in the offense, and the Steelers seem to be opening up the playbook for their young quarterback.
Steelers’ George Pickens Could Score Double-Digit TDs
Speaking of the Steelers, WR George Pickens continues to have a lot of hype surrounding him going into the season, and his performance against the Falcons certainly helped. Pickens saw just one target on the opening drive, but it was on a ridiculous catch down the right sideline to beat single coverage. At this point, it’s almost a shock if Pickens doesn’t come down with a 50-50 ball because he might be the best contested-catch receiver in the league.
Kenny Pickett to George Pickens: pic.twitter.com/nilLmwVp4n
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) August 24, 2023
Pittsburgh’s offense should be more pass-happy in 2023, leading to more downfield targets for Pickens. What’s more exciting is the possibility of the Steelers using Pickens more in the red zone because he has shown the potential to be a double-digit touchdown receiver with his 6-foot-3 frame and ball skills.
At this point, a second-year breakout for Pickens is basically a given. But how special can the former Georgia receiver be in Pittsburgh? The sky is the limit; he has the potential to be a 1,200-yard, 12-touchdown receiver this year for the Steelers.
Eagles Might Regret Losing QB Gardner Minshew
One of the biggest takeaways from the preseason for the Eagles has been the disappointing play of Marcus Mariota. He was signed to be the team’s No. 2 quarterback this offseason and hasn’t played particularly well at any point.
The quarterback Mariota is trying to replace is Gardner Minshew, who signed a free agent deal with the Colts. Minshew is a backup again but has had a fantastic training camp.
Minshew was lights out against his former team Thursday, completing nine of 11 passes for 102 yards and a touchdown. While none of his throws were overly impressive, he was accurate and had complete control of the Colts’ offense. You couldn’t have asked for a better performance from a backup quarterback.
In three preseason games, Minshew completed 28 of 32 passes for 281 yards and two touchdowns. While he didn’t win the starting job in Indianapolis, it wasn’t because he struggled in the preseason. The Colts decided to go with the younger player (Richardson) who has a much higher ceiling due to his imposing size (6-4, 245 pounds) and mobility. That shouldn’t be taken as a disrespect to Minshew in any capacity.
Is Minshew a high-level starting quarterback in the NFL? No. But he is one of the league’s best backups, and we saw his value last year with the Eagles. Philadelphia is in a Super Bowl window and has one of the best rosters in the league. But it already appears as if the Eagles mishandled the backup quarterback situation heading into the 2023 season.