National Football League

NFL Preseason Week 3 Observations


+ For the first time this preseason, Rams fans had an opportunity to see why the team invested a first-round pick in linebacker Alec Ogletree. Still timid in the first three series of the game, the rookie seemingly had a moment early in the second quarter when things clicked. From his strip/recovery/touchdown of Ronnie Hillman to his interception of Peyton Manning three series later, Ogletree flashed his ability as a playmaker. What didn’t show up on the stat sheet was how his play recognition improved dramatically in a matter of weeks. He got great depth when covering the seam on his interception, and he also flashed great awareness when he nearly picked off Manning in the end zone. It unequivocally was his best performance as a pro…

+ …that’s not to suggest that Ogletree had a perfect game, however. He continues to struggle shedding blocks and, at one point, he looked like he filled the wrong gap in run support, which led to a big gain for Denver. Just as we did when he struggled the first two weeks, it’s important to understand that Ogletree will suffer his ups and downs throughout the season. But at least he made several impact plays this time around.

+ There were times when Manning made Peyton-like throws to beat the Rams defense, but as a whole the unit performed significantly better than last week vs. Green Bay. James Laurinaitis made several instinctive plays when running through gaps to make plays on the ball carrier, and veteran Will Witherspoon made a nice play to break up a pass in the first half. The tackling was also much better than it was the first two weeks.

+ From the first day of training camp through Saturday night, T.J. McDonald continues to play like a veteran. He’s an aggressive player who flies to the football, especially in run defense. Like Ogletree, he also flashed his playmaking ability by blocking Matt Prater’s field-goal attempt in the first half.

+ Preseason or not, 11 penalties is way too many.

+ The pass protection was decent in the first half, but the run-blocking remains an issue. Too many backs are being met in the backfield directly after receiving the handoff. This line still has a long way to go to achieve cohesion.

Sam Bradford was more impressive in his first two preseason games than he was against Denver, but the touch pass he threw to Jared Cook for the first-quarter touchdown was picture perfect. He and Cook continue to display great chemistry, and there were times on Saturday night when you got the sense of how Brian Schottenheimer’s offense will operate (quick passes, one-on-one mismatches with players like Cook and getting the ball to Tavon Austin in open space.)

+ Speaking of Tavon Austin: WOW. Give him a seam, and he’ll take it to the house. If it weren’t for Ogletree getting in his way, Austin would have scored easily on that 81-yard punt return in the first quarter.

+ Brian Quick has to come down with that two-point conversation. Up until that point, he had corralled a couple of passes and was making an impact in the second half. Inconsistency continues to plague him.

Janoris Jenkins had a rough night, although Peyton Manning will have that kind of an affect on defensive backs. Manning took advantage of Jenkins’ coverage of Andre Caldwell on that perfectly timed back-shoulder pass, and the corner was also fortunate he didn’t give up a long touchdown to Demaryius Thomas on the first possession of the game. Jenkins got caught fixing his belt before the snap, and Thomas flew past him but was overthrown by Manning. It’s fair to note that the Broncos were also called for an illegal shift on the play, but the point is that can’t happen.

+ When Isaiah Pead gets to the edge and finds a seam, he looks like a different runner than when he’s trying to find running room between the tackles. But he still tries to bounce too many runs outside, as evidenced by his 1-yard run early in the second half when he nearly ran right into his right tackle instead of cutting inside. He continues to be way too inconsistent when it comes to his reads.

Darren Woodard didn’t have a particularly strong camp, especially compared to some of the other undrafted rookies like Ray-Ray Armstrong and the recently cut Andrew Helmick. But he did make the most with his opportunities on Saturday, finishing with a nice interception as well as a pass breakup in the second half. With how thin the depth is at cornerback, maybe Woodard is making a late run at a roster spot.

Matt Daniels was another player who had a solid showing in the second half. On a night when the Rams’ defense made several big plays, Daniels quietly finished with four tackles and was constantly around the ball carrier all night.

+ Don’t be surprised if the two safeties who started Saturday night wind up starting Week 1. Darian Stewart simply can’t be trusted to stay healthy, and Rodney McLeod continues to shine during practices and games (save for his missed tackle early in the contest when Hillman hit a cutback lane for 8 yards).

Around the NFL:

+ At this point, it would be an upset if Rex Ryan wasn’t handed his pink slip before the end of the regular season. What he did Saturday night in New York was a joke, inserting his starting quarterback Mark Sanchez into a game that didn’t matter and watching him get planted by Marvin Austin. The result was rather Jets-like: Sanchez was injured, and now Ryan will likely be forced to play rookie Geno Smith Week 1. (And that isn’t a good thing, as Smith looked completely overwhelmed in a disastrous performance on Saturday.) What was it all for? Apparently the annual “Snoopy Trophy,” which is handed to the winner of the Jets-Giants preseason game. Ryan and the Jets have progressively gotten worse every year he’s been head coach. He doesn’t have a handle on how to manage quarterbacks, he hires overmatched assistants, and no offensive player has shown improvement under his guidance. He should go back to doing what he does best: Coordinate defenses.

+ Don’t fall asleep on the Lions this year. The interior of their defensive line is going to cause headaches for opposing quarterbacks, and Jason Jones might turn out to be one of the more underrated signings of the offseason. He had his way with New England right tackle Sebastian Vollmer on multiple plays last Thursday.

+ Speaking of the Lions, they’ve been searching for years for a complementary piece for Calvin Johnson, and they may have finally found that weapon in Reggie Bush. He remains a home run threat when he gets the ball in his hands, which Detroit plans on doing plenty of this season. While he still tries to bounce too many runs outside at times, he’s difficult to tackle in open space and the guy has the ability to take a screen pass 60-plus yards in the blink of an eye. He provides the Lions’ offense with an element they haven’t had since they drafted Johnson in 2007.

+ The Patriots’ passing game will be fine as long as Tom Brady is still under center. He has the rare ability to put the ball in places only his receivers can catch it, including when said wideout is otherwise blanketed in coverage. That said, it’ll be interesting to see how much growing pains Brady’s new weapons will go through this season. Kenbrell Thompkins scorched Detroit for eight catches and 116 yards, but he also dropped a pass on a potential first down in the first half. Fellow rookie Aaron Dobson also needs to play with more physicality. While they should win the AFC East with relative ease, it’s fair to wonder whether or not this new receiving corps will hold the Patriots back this season.

+ Halfway through the first quarter of the Falcons-Titans game, I was ready to write about how Atlanta’s reshaped offensive line won’t be as big of a problem as some believe. Then came Tennessee’s five sacks and the police report that Matt Ryan filed on RT Lamar Holmes for the abuse he suffered in the second quarter. The run-blocking was good for a second consecutive week, but pass protection could be a recurring issue for a team that has Super Bowl aspirations heading into Week 1.

+ While new OC Dowell Loggains would be wise to lean on Chris Johnson this season, Jake Locker has improved as a pocket passer. He threw a couple of frozen ropes in his 133-yard, one-touchdown performance on Saturday night vs. the Falcons. He remains most effective when he can use play-action, deception and mobility to free up receivers, but his confidence is growing in the pocket. He specifically looked good during a second-quarter drive that resulted in him completing all three of his pass attempts for 41 yards and a touchdown strike to Nate Washington off a play-action fake.

+ Opponents will find it difficult to run against the likes of Haloti Ngata, Arthur Jones and Terrence Cody in Baltimore. Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil will also continue to be headaches for opposing quarterbacks from a pass-rush standpoint, and getting cornerback Lardarius Webb back from injury will benefit the secondary greatly. The Ravens lost a ton of leadership and experience when Ray Lewis retired and Ed Reed left for Houston via free agency. But from an overall talent perspective, they didn’t suffer much of a drop-off, and this idea that Baltimore will ultimately sink to the bottom of the AFC North is an overreaction to the losses they experienced this offseason.

Luke Kuechly is going to keep plenty of offensive coordinators up at night. Last Thursday he forced a fumble on a perfectly timed read in Baltimore’s backfield, intercepted Joe Flacco in the red zone, and damn near decapitated Aaron Mellette when the receiver went over the middle (which led to a penalty). He plays like a man possessed, and he’s seemingly involved in every defensive play Carolina makes. He’s the exception to the current notion that teams should wait to draft linebackers in the middle rounds.

+ The biggest reason the Seahawks will survive Percy Harvin’s injury is because they have a fantastic stable of backs, led by Marshawn Lynch. The trio of Lynch, Robert Turbin and Christine Michael is the best in the NFL, and each runner brings something different to the table. Lynch is a bruiser, but he’s also versatile in that he can change directions quickly and explode through open lanes. Turbin is more of a plodder, but like Lynch, it’s difficult to bring him down on first contact. Michael’s speed and quickness complements the other backs’ styles. Toss in Russell Wilson’s running ability, and Seattle’s backfield will once again be a headache for opposing defenses.

+ While nobody will argue that the Cardinals are an improved team, they’re still going to struggle offensively this year. Carson Palmer is a significant upgrade over the signal-callers that Arizona trotted out last year, but he’ll have no running game to lean on and he’s likely to face as much pressure as Kevin Kolb and Co. did a year ago. Losing Jonathan Cooper to a potentially season-ending fibula injury was a crushing blow.

+ Some are expecting a massive rebound from the Saints this year, and given how much explosion they have offensively, it wouldn’t be shocking to see them atop the NFC South again. That said, they better average 30-plus points a game because the defense is liable to give up 40 on a given Sunday. Former first-round pick Cameron Jordan is emerging as a stud, but the Saints are going to need more than him and newly acquired Parys Haralson to drum up a pass rush. Matt Schaub did a nice job of getting the ball out of his hand quickly on Sunday, but there were a handful of times when he had all day to allow his receivers to find openings in the Saints’ zone. The first string wasn’t much better on run defense for New Orleans, which allowed Ben Tate to gash them for 6.7 yards per carry. Rob Ryan is a creative playcaller, but he simply doesn’t have the manpower to keep top offenses in check.

+ There’s little to suggest that Christian Ponder will start all 16 games for the Vikings this season. Thus far, he’s completed 62.2 percent of his passes, but his 4.97 YPA average paints a much clearer picture of his abilities. While his mobility is a plus, his slightly above-average arm will continue to hold Minnesota’s offense back. If Adrian Peterson doesn’t rush for another 2,000-plus yards, the Vikings are a horrible bet to make back-to-back playoff appearances.

+ The Bills need to resist the temptation of rushing E.J. Manuel back to the field. He’s their franchise signal-caller and while Week 1 will be an ass-kicking that Jeff Tuel has yet to endure, Doug Marrone and his coaching staff need to keep their eyes on the future. Heading into a season in which Buffalo will be fortunate to win four games, it makes no sense risking further injury to Manuel in hopes of receiving less of a beatdown from New England in the opening week.