Week 1 showed the NFL preseason is broken, and there may not be a solution

The first Sunday of the NFL season ended with a final flourish of wan incompetence. Eli Manning tossed a useless throw in the direction of Brandon Marshall to the left flat, time running out as the ball bounced near the 30-yard line as the New York Giants trailed, 19-3. Even if Marshall had caught the pointless pass, it would not have counted, because the Giants had not lined up properly and drew a flag.

It marked both a nadir in quality and a fitting cap to Sunday’s offensive ineptitude. All day, teams flailed in attempts to form an offense, and not just those with unproven quarterbacks. Six teams — the Giants, Bengals, Seahawks, Texans, 49ers and Colts — failed to crack double digits in points. It would be fair to give partial credit to good defense. But when teams fail to reach 10 points in fully half of Sunday’s games, it represents an epidemic.

How to explain the terrible offense out of the gate? The concern entering Week 1 centered on a quarterback shortage, and teams that started Scott Tolzien, Tom Savage and Brian Hoyer counted among the offenses unable to manage even a touchdown, extra point and a field goal. But then so did Eli Manning, Russell Wilson and Andy Dalton, two Super Bowl champions and an established starter.

The proper explanation is an intractable issue: NFL football is too dangerous to responsibly prepare for, and the preseason is broken because of it.

Offenses require more full-speed repetition than defenses. Wide receivers and quarterbacks need to hone precision and timing, and offensive lines require cohesion and coordination. Despite an industrial complex of OTAs and minicamps throughout the offseason, the risk of injury and collectively bargained practice constraints deter teams from full-speed, full-contact practices. Preseason games have become a joke, with entire first units playing together for scant reps or not at all.

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