Officials show that they're serious


NFL officials are making their point. The emphasis on cutting down contact by pass defenders after 5 yards is bringing plenty of preseason penalty flags.

In the first 17 preseason games, there were 53 defensive holdings, 27 illegal contacts and 15 pass interference calls. That's almost six pass-defense penalties a game. The plan is for officials to use the preseason to call these penalties often enough to force defenders to make adjustments.

Naturally, the first week of the preseason isn't conducive to drawing conclusions about the calls' impact on scoring and offense. Starters go maybe a series or two, leaving backups in for more than three quarters. Scoring was at 37.8 points a game, compared to 48 a game last season. Those numbers should pick up slightly next week and will increase more when starters play most of the game in two weeks.

Here are five observations from the first full week of preseason games:

1. The Johnny Football hype is officially underway: Johnny Manziel labeled his debut a good start, but is he good enough to start in the regular season? Some excited people in the Browns' organization apparently think so. He thrilled the crowd with his six runs. He was efficient with his short passing game, completing seven of 11 passes for 63 yards. Basically, he's running the same type of offense Robert Griffin III ran for new Browns offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan when they were together with the Washington Redskins. Here are my concerns: Most of Manziel's 25 plays were from the pistol formation. While he is quick enough with his runs to extend possessions and get first downs, I wonder if he can generate enough big pass plays and score points. His longest completion was for 15 yards. He generated only a field goal of scoring, and that was on a drive that started on the Detroit 49-yard line. What became clear is that Manziel will be starting sooner rather than later.

2. Other rookie quarterbacks: The best-looking rookie quarterback was the one who is expected to sit for his rookie season. Blake Bortles of the Jacksonville Jaguars had the same throwing numbers as Manziel -- 7-for-11 -- but he got the ball downfield better, gaining 117 yards in the air. The Jags have yet to make any philosophical changes. Chad Henne is expected to start while Bortles sits and learns. Teddy Bridgewater of the Minnesota Vikings looked like a rookie with his 6-for-13 performance against the Oakland Raiders. He netted only 33 passing yards, thanks in part to two sacks for 16 yards. Matt Cassel moved the ball smoothly with only one incompletion, solidifying his lead for the Vikings' starting quarterback job. Oakland's Derek Carr didn't successfully get the ball downfield in his debut. Even though Matt Schaub also struggled, he appears to be a lock to start for the Raiders.

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