National Football League

NFL Preseason Week 2 Observations


+ From missed tackles to poor play-recognition, the Rams’ first-team defense struggled on Saturday night. The game started with Darian Stewart failing to wrap up Jermichael Finley on an 11-yard pass play and continued with Michael Brockers allowing Eddie Lacy to shake loose for a seven-yard gain on the very next snap. Throughout the first half, the linebackers were tentative when blitzing and lost sight of Finely on multiple first-down plays. Aaron Rodgers has a habit of making most defenses look bad, but imagine how poorly the Rams may have played had Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb been in uniform. Both drives ended without the opposition scoring touchdowns, but this was the second straight week that an opponent has marched into the red zone against the Rams’ starters on the first possession of the game.

+ Rookie Alec Ogletree struggled for the second straight week. While he wasn’t in the spotlight as much Saturday as he was last week in Cleveland, he failed to cut through trash, struggled getting off blocks, and played tentatively as a whole. He was also slow to read plays and at times he didn’t drop deep enough into coverage, which gave Rodgers clear passing windows over the middle. The athleticism is there, but Ogletree seems to be thinking through the game right now, which is understandable given how this was just his second professional game. At least the coaching staff kept him on the field when the second-string entered the game, because he can use all the reps he can get.

+ Isaiah Pead’s night was largely a wash. On his first carry of the game, he got to the edge with purpose while picking up 9 yards. Later in the first half, he caught a dump-off pass from Sam Bradford, made a nice move to shake a defender on the sidelines, and picked up 10 yards in the process. But on the very next play, he chose to bounce a run outside instead of following his guard through the hole, which resulted in a loss of a yard instead of a potential gain. Despite starting and playing the majority of the first half, he converted his 12 touches into just 29 total yards while failing to make much of an impact. And while some of that can be blamed on the Rams’ shoddy run-blocking, Daryl Richardson continues to run with more decisiveness.

That said, there was one takeaway from Pead’s night that you won’t find on the stat sheet. He did a great job picking up the blitz on two separate pass plays in the first half, including on Bradford’s 57-yard completion to Chris Givens in the first quarter. Seeing as how blitz pickup has been a problem for Pead this offseason, at least he shined in that area on Saturday night.

+ Bradford largely played well, completing 8-of-12 passes for 156 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. His YPA of 13.0 was also solid and he completed yet another 50-plus yard pass to Givens, his second in as many weeks. But the two plays at the goal line in which he missed Tavon Austin for a surefire touchdown and fumbled the snap on a fourth-down opportunity stand out the most. It was only one series in one preseason game, but Bradford needs to be at his best in the red zone and on third down if this team has any chance of making noise in the NFC West.

+ That 24-yard pass completion by Bradford to Richardson is a nicely designed play by Brian Schottenheimer. The Packers play a lot of man coverage, so on the play, Givens runs a 5-yard stop route and pulls the cornerback inside with him. The linebacker is responsible for the running back on the play, but he has trouble fighting through Givens and the cornerback in order to cover Richardson on a wheel route down the sidelines. On that specific play, A.J. Hawk was the linebacker and he essentially becomes picked by Givens and the corner, which resulted in Richardson streaking down the sideline untouched. The Rams practiced that play on Thursday and, ironically, it should have been Pead that executed it on Saturday night, but he had a problem with his helmet the play before and had to come off the field.

+ It’ll be fun watching Schottenheimer get Austin the ball in open space. But let’s hope that the rookie receiver stops dancing when he does get the ball in his hands. He wound up going backwards on a punt return near the Packers’ end zone on one play and was engulfed by Green Bay defenders following one reception in which he tried to shimmy for extra yards. He’s already finding out that NFL defenses are too fast for him not to get the ball and go.

+ Fans who haven’t been down to Rams Park finally found out what all the hype has been about surrounding Jared Cook. He was only targeted once on the night, but the tight end found a soft spot in the zone, created a passing window for Bradford and then took the pass 37 yards while flashing his speed. He’s going to be a weapon down the seam of the defense.

+ Rodgers did a great job of getting the ball out of his hand quickly throughout the night, which negated any pressure the Rams brought up front. But it was good to see Robert Quinn abuse rookie David Bakhtiari on an inside move for a sack in the first half.

+ There’s really no way to sugarcoat the situation: The Rams’ backup quarterback situation is a pressing concern. Neither Kellen Clemens nor Austin Davis have looked sharp during practices, and their poor play has transferred over into games. If Bradford were to miss significant time, the Rams will struggle to win games.

Around the NFL:

+ The transition from Rob Chudzinksi to Mike Shula in Carolina hasn’t been seamless for Cam Newton. On Thursday night in Philadelphia, Newton struggled with errant passes, throwing receivers open and hitting targets in stride. Most of his completions came with receivers coming back to the ball, which is fine if a quarterback is accurate. But Newton completed 57.7 percent of his passes a year ago, and thus far in preseason he’s 11-for-23 (47 percent). Shula figured to rely heavily on DeAngelo Williams and the running game, and it’s unlikely that that plan has changed.

+ Nick Foles was 6-for-8 for 53 yards and a rushing touchdown on Thursday night against Carolina, but Michael Vick was clearly the more efficient quarterback. He was poised and confident in the pocket, displayed good mobility while extending plays with his feet, and got the ball out of his hand quickly (a requisite in Chip Kelly’s offense). While Kelly has avoided naming a starter for Week 1, it’s safe to assume Vick is the current frontrunner…

+ …Now, whether or not Kelly can keep Vick healthy is a different subject altogether. Kelly’s offense will be predicated on short-to-intermediate passing out of multiple personnel groupings and formations. The read option also appears to be a key feature, which suits Vick’s skill set but also puts him at risk for injury. Even if Foles doesn’t win the starting job out of camp, history tells us that Vick’s backup needs to be ready at a moment’s notice. It’s only a matter of time before the veteran suffers some sort of aliment.

+ We’ll see what happens when opponents start game planning to beat them on Sundays, but thus far the Browns have been intriguing. Brandon Weeden looks comfortable and confident running Norv Turner’s offense and a star is rising in tight end Jordan Cameron, who made an incredible catch for a touchdown vs. the Lions on Thursday night (one of his two scoring receptions in the game). Save for guard John Greco (who was manhandled by Nick Fairley on consecutive plays in the first half), the offensive line has also performed well, and the defense might turn out to be the most underrated unit in the NFL by season’s end. Usually it takes about 10 games before Ray Horton’s system takes hold, but his players in Cleveland have taken to it like a fish to water.

+ Dirk Koetter finally has his power running game to complement his vertical passing attack in Atlanta. The Falcons ran Steven Jackson out of the “11” and “12” personnel groupings on Thursday night in Baltimore, trying to match hat-for-hat and allowing him to do what he does best: Run downhill. Thanks to Matt Ryan and his assortment of weapons in the passing game, that offense was already difficult to stop. If they can build a lead and then run clock in the second half of games, they’ll avoid having what happened in the NFC title game when they allowed the 49ers to erase a 17-point deficit.

+ It’s becoming evident that the Ravens will be held back by their lack of weapons in the passing game. Torrey Smith took a simple slant for a touchdown against the Falcons on Thursday but William Moore also took a horrible angle on the play and turned a 7-yard gain into a 77-yard score. Without Dennis Pitta and Anquan Boldin drawing attention in the short-to-intermediate game, opponents will likely bracket Smith in coverage and force somebody else to beat them. Visanthe Shiancoe won’t be that somebody else.

+ The run-blocking units for San Diego and Chicago had good nights on Thursday. Matt Forte finished with a 9.2 average and Ryan Mathews rushed for 5.0 yards per clip, as both running backs flashed burst and acceleration through open lanes. Rookie Kyle Long stood out for Chicago, as he consistently was stout at the point of attack and finished blocks in the running game. Sadly, though, Philip Rivers was often on his back and Jay Cutler had pass rushers around his feet throughout the first quarter. Pass protection will be a major question mark for both teams all season.

+ There’s no player that excites me more than C.J. Spiller heading into the 2013 season. He’s going to be the focal point of Doug Marrone and Nathaniel Hackett’s up-tempo, run-heavy offense in Buffalo. He flashed his speed and strength against Minnesota on Saturday, knifing through the defense while displaying quick feet. It’s just too bad that he’ll face 8-man fronts all season.

+ Speaking of the Bills, their pass rush looked good against the Vikings. There were times when Jerry Hughes ran himself out of plays, but he has great acceleration off the snap. He, Manny Lawson and Marcell Dareus stood out, but the entire starting front seven for Buffalo had a solid night.

+ Alex Smith completed 7-of-8 passes last week against a Saints team that played a soft zone, but he struggled against a more aggressive 49er defense on Saturday. He’ll be able to dink and dunk past lesser opponents, but what happens when the Chiefs are trailing and he has to beat opponents vertically in the fourth quarter? There’s no question he’s an upgrade over Matt Cassel, and Kansas City is going to win a few contests on Andy Reid’s game-planning alone. But Smith remains limited as a passer and, thus, it’s hard envisioning the Chiefs beating teams like Denver or New England if they’re able to make it to the postseason.