AFC North: 2013 preseason reaction Week 3

Observation deck: Steelers-Chiefs

August, 25, 2013

The Pittsburgh Steelers easily played their best game of the preseason in a 26-20 overtime loss to the Kansas City Chiefs Saturday night at Heinz Field, but it was hardly a Picasso.

  • The Steelers committed nine penalties for 98 yards, allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown as well as a blocked field goal and let the Chiefs go right down the field at the end of the first half and score a game-tying touchdown. Strong safety Troy Polamalu was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct on Kansas City’s 72-yard drive at the end of the first half for launching himself at Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith. “We were penalized on drives that they scored on, and if we remain penalty-free defensively we’re a tough team to drive the ball on,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “We’ve got to be cleaner.”
  • The Steelers’ biggest scare of the evening came late in the fourth quarter when rookie outside linebacker Jarvis Jones stayed down after returning an interception 22 yards. (The pick was negated by a pass-interference call.) Jones, who made his presence felt at outside linebacker and on special teams against the Chiefs, sustained what Tomlin called an upper-body injury. But, as the coach pointed out, Jones trotted off the field under his own power, so the injury doesn’t appear to be serious. Jones is seriously pushing Jason Worilds for the starting job at right outside linebacker.
  • Worilds started against the Chiefs but Jones replaced him for the Chiefs’ second possession of the game. Worilds returned to the game for Kansas City’s third offensive series, but to spell left outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley as Jones stayed in the game.
  • Tomlin wasn’t pleased with some of the penalties called against his team, including a chop block on running back Jonathan Dwyer, Dwyer said after the game that the Steelers' coaches told him it was a clean play. With Isaac Redman (stinger) and LaRod Stephens-Howling (knee) sidelined, Dwyer started Saturday night and rarely came off the field in the first half. He rushed for 25 yards on eight carries. Felix Jones actually led the Steelers in rushing as he gained 29 yards on eight carries despite joining the team Friday via a trade with the Eagles. The Steelers have a week to take a good look at Jones and see if he can help them, particularly with depth an issue at running back.
  • If I am Tomlin there is no way I let Ben Roethlisberger do anything but hand off in the Steelers’ final preseason game Thursday at Carolina. Roethlisberger is ready for the regular season. Against the Chiefs he completed 13 of 19 passes for 166 yards and a touchdown before giving way to Bruce Gradkowski after halftime. Roethlisberger’s best throw of the night actually came on one of his six incompletions. He showed exquisite touch on a pass down the right sideline to Emmanuel Sanders. The play would have gone for a 34-yard touchdown but the ball squirted out of Sanders’ arms after he landed in the end zone. With the final preseason game a throwaway for starters anyway, there is no use in risking anything when it comes to Roethlisberger at Carolina.
  • The same goes for Polamalu. The oft-injured safety is healthy and has been active as ever this preseason. There is no need to allow him anywhere near the field on Thursday night. Polamalu was all over the field against the Chiefs, making four tackles and recovering a fumble in two-plus quarters of work. Polamalu disrupted a fourth-and-1 run by Jamaal Charles in the first quarter after perfectly timing the snap, and the Chiefs' Pro Bowl running back was stuffed for no gain. Even on the unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty, Polamalu showed impressive closing speed in nearly chasing down Smith. He appeared to hit Smith above the shoulders before the latter threw a pass, and Polamalu said he understood why the play drew a flag. “Obviously if Ben was in that position I’d want them to make that same call,” Polamalu said.
  • Starting cornerback Cortez Allen missed an open-field tackle on the second play of the game and was later penalized for a late hit out of bounds. (Another penalty against him, for illegal contact, was declined.) He still played a terrific game, especially since Allen has practiced sparingly this preseason after having knee surgery at the beginning of August. The Chiefs threw at Allen early and often, and the 6-foot-1, 196-pounder more than stood his ground. Allen led the Steelers with six tackles and was also credited with one pass defended. Barring a setback with his knee Allen looks ready to build on the season he had in 2012, when he showed immense promise after injuries thrust the Citadel product into the starting lineup.
  • A handful of cornerbacks are vying for roster spots and at least one of them didn’t help himself against the Chiefs. Journeyman Josh Victorian missed an open-field tackle that allowed Knile Davis to return a kickoff 109 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter. A pass-interference call against Victorian in the fourth quarter wiped out the interception by Jones. Victorian played well enough last season when injuries decimated the Steelers’ secondary, but missing a tackle he was in position to make on special teams isn’t something that Tomlin easily forgets. “Obviously we can’t give up kickoff returns for touchdowns,” Tomlin said.

Observation deck: Bengals-Cowboys

August, 24, 2013

In the Cincinnati Bengals' sloppy 24-18 preseason loss at Dallas, the mistakes made by cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick stand out the most. Here's the nightmarish performance by Kirkpatrick: one touchdown allowed in coverage, two pass-interference penalties and three missed tackles.

A first-round pick from a year ago, Kirkpatrick had a strong start to training camp. But he was physically overmatched at times versus Dallas.

In the second quarter, he was in position to make a play in the end zone, but he lost the fight for the ball against wide receiver Dez Bryant, who scored a 5-yard touchdown. Kirkpatrick was also flagged twice for pass interference, both of which converted third downs and totaled 28 penalty yards. Then, in the third quarter, he had the first of three missed tackles by the Bengals on running back DeMarco Murray, who caught a short pass in the flat and ran into the end zone for a 7-yard touchdown.

The Bengals are starting Leon Hall and Terence Newman at cornerback for a second consecutive season. With Adam Jones injured, the Bengals are looking at Kirkpatrick to step up in nickel defense. The Bengals can't have a lot of confidence in Kirkpatrick after this rocky effort, but it should make for an interesting episode of "Hard Knocks."

Here are some other thoughts on the Bengals' third preseason game:
  • The Bengals' starting offense wasn't sharp in the first half. Wide receiver Marvin Jones fumbled at the Cowboys' 4-yard line to end the first drive, and quarterback Andy Dalton threw an interception down the middle of the field (where it was Mohamed Sanu and three Dallas defenders) on third-and-15 to end the second drive. Dalton finished 12-of-16 for 113 yards.
  • There are no concerns about A.J. Green's health after watching him play 2½ quarters. He looked smooth in making three catches for 42 yards. Green, who missed the first two preseason games with a knee injury, nearly had a touchdown in the right corner of the end zone, but it was ruled that one foot went out of bounds.
  • I've always thought Adam Jones was the most dangerous returner on the team, but Brandon Tate made his case to keep the job by running a punt back 75 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter. The score came after Cowboys punter Chris Jones hit the scoreboard and had to kick again.
  • Right tackle Andre Smith tweaked his left knee and didn't return after playing two drives. He was replaced by Dennis Roland. The Bengals were already playing without left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who hasn't played this preseason after having offseason knee surgery.
  • Rookie sixth-round pick Cobi Hamilton fumbled on an end around, but he vindicated himself later. He converted a fourth down in the red zone on a pass from Josh Johnson and then finished off that drive with a 4-yard touchdown on which he had to stretch the ball into the end zone.
  • Some numbers that aren't going to make defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer happy: The Cowboys were 9-for-16 on third downs, 3-for-4 in the red zone, totaled 358 yards and controlled the clock for 39 minutes, 31 seconds.
  • In the battle for the backup quarterback job, Johnson was 6-of-13 for 35 yards. He was picked off on the Bengals' final drive, which ended any chances of a comeback. John Skelton didn't play.

Observation deck: Browns-Colts

August, 24, 2013

The Cleveland Browns offense delivered its worst output of the preseason just four days after Brandon Weeden was officially named the starting quarterback.

In a 27-6 preseason loss at Indianapolis, the Browns failed to score on their six drives against the Colts' starting defense and the first-team offense produced its only points -- a 50-yard field goal by Shayne Graham -- against the Colts' backups.

Weeden, who entered this game with the second-best passer rating of the preseason, finished 12-of-25 for 105 yards. He nearly saw two passes picked off, including a third-down one during a two-minute drill, and missed a wide-open Kellen Davis in Indianapolis territory. Weeden threw six consecutive incompletions during one stretch.

There are others to share the blame in the woeful performance. Wide receiver Greg Little fumbled after picking up a first down, and wide receiver Josh Gordon and running back Brandon Jackson both dropped passes. Little and Gordon combined for five catches on 11 targets.

This was a Browns offense that had scored points on five of six possessions in its first two preseason games. Cleveland had trouble extending drives Saturday night, going 1-of-6 on third downs against the Colts' starting defense.

Here are some other thoughts on the Browns' third preseason game:

  • [+] EnlargeTrent Richardson
    AP Photo/Jeff RobersonThe Browns made a stunning move Wednesday, trading running back Trent Richardson to the Colts.
    Running back Trent Richardson had a solid outing and looked to be at full strength. He touched the ball on the first four plays of the game and totaled 32 yards. On his 10-yard catch, he had a nice move in the flat to fake out a defender and pick up extra yards. There were times when Richardson didn't have any running lane and powered his way for a couple of yards. Richardson had 31 yards on seven carries.

  • The Browns defense came with a lot of blitzes against Andrew Luck, with not much success. Cleveland got pressure with Paul Kruger and Quentin Groves, but Luck either found the open receiver or scrambled for yards (which isn't a smart decision by Luck in the preseason). After not allowing a touchdown in the first two games, the Browns' first-team defense gave up two touchdowns, both of which came on pass plays in the flat.

  • Rookie third-round pick Leon McFadden was picked on repeatedly, with the cornerback giving up six completions in the first half (at least by my count). With Chris Owens out with a foot injury, McFadden played in nickel defense in his preseason debut. He made one nice breakup.

  • In the same week he was named the starting free safety, Tashaun Gipson made a big interception deep in Browns territory. He pulled in a deflected pass from Luck, who was hurried on the play by Kruger.

  • A couple of mistakes by the Browns' offensive tackles: Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz was flagged for unnecessary roughness following Little's fumble, and left tackle Joe Thomas had an uncharacteristic holding penalty.

  • Spencer Lanning, the only punter on the team after the Browns cut T.J. Conley, had punts of 31 and 29 yards on his first two attempts. He then booted punts of 65 and 50 yards to finish the first half.

Observation deck: Ravens-Panthers

August, 22, 2013

BALTIMORE -- The Baltimore Ravens' starting offense began with a crisp touchdown drive and finished its night with another touchdown. It was what happened in between where things went terribly wrong for quarterback Joe Flacco & Co.

Three turnovers, including two critical interceptions by Flacco, were the lowlights in another sloppy preseason effort by the Ravens, who lost to the Carolina Panthers 34-27 on Thursday night at M&T Bank Stadium.

You can argue the Ravens were running a watered-down version of their offense. But there's no excuse for the continued lack of execution of it in the preseason. The Ravens have some work to do before kicking off the season at Denver in 14 days.

"We obviously turned the ball over, and you lose more games than you win in this league when you do that," Flacco said. "With what we did tonight, we're not going to win a lot of football games doing that."

Here's the good: Flacco was 8-of-8 for 82 yards on the two touchdown drives. Here's the bad: The Super Bowl MVP was 10-of-16 for 87 yards and two interceptions on the six other drives.

Flacco can't shoulder all the blame, especially with an offensive line that struggled to protect him. His first interception, which was returned 71 yards for a touchdown, was the result of Tandon Doss running the wrong route. A visibly upset Flacco yelled at Doss after the turnover.

The second interception was Flacco's fault. After Bernard Pierce's fumble led to another Carolina touchdown, Flacco drove the Ravens down the field before throwing a pass that was picked off by middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, who watched Flacco's eyes and jumped on the route over the middle. It was a bad decision and bad read by Flacco.

"It was just a lot of miscommunication, and I felt like we did a lot of good things, too," Flacco said. "In the regular season, we're not going to be able to say that. We'll have to come out here and continue to get back in games. Tonight was one of those games that we did a lot of good things, but we had some miscommunication and turned the ball over too much."

The Ravens got some of the bad taste out on the first-team offense's final drive. Flacco completed all three of his throws and finished it off with a 24-yard touchdown to Marlon Brown.

Here are some other thoughts on the Ravens' third preseason game:
  • Nearly every year, the Ravens uncover an undrafted rookie gem. This year, that would be Brown. He has too good of a timing with Flacco to be a rookie. He looks too polished to be an undrafted rookie. Here's the most remarkable part: Brown is eight months removed from knee surgery at Georgia. Now, after catching four passes for 59 yards and one touchdown from Flacco on Thursday night, Brown has to be a favorite to land either the No. 2 or No. 3 receiver jobs.
  • The Ravens got their first extensive look at wide receiver Brandon Stokley and tight end Dallas Clark this preseason. Even though they have had nearly the same amount of practice time, Stokley looked much more comfortable in the offense than Clark. Stokley picked up a couple of third downs, which is why the Ravens signed him. Clark, on the other hand, didn't extend for one pass over the middle and dropped another pass, which was negated by a penalty.
  • One of the bright spots for the Ravens was the return of guard Marshal Yanda (shoulder) and cornerback Lardarius Webb (knee). The Ravens' offensive line looked dominant with Yanda and awful without him. It shows how valuable a Pro Bowl guard can be. Webb made three tackles and dove to break up a pass. Not sure if he's ready to handle a starting job right now, but he will make an impact on the team's nickel defense at the start of the season. Asked if he feels ready for the regular season, Webb said, "I'm just going to leave it up to the coaches. I'll be ready for his decision and do whatever the coaches want."
  • As for the other receivers battling for a job, Doss put himself on the bubble after another disappointing effort. When the Ravens asked Flacco what receiver he wanted in the 2011 draft, he selected Doss. But they have no connection on the field. Rookie seventh-round pick Aaron Mellette had one catch from Flacco but couldn't convert a third-and-2. He needs to have more strength to push upfield to convert in that situation.
  • In one of the more bizarre preseason games of the year, the Ravens allowed 34 points but only six were scored on the defense. All four touchdowns for Carolina were scored off returns: two interceptions (off Flacco and Tyrod Taylor), one fumble and one punt return. The defense held the Panthers' starting offense to 104 yards through three quarters. Defensive tackle Marcus Spears blew up a third-and-short early in the game, and nose tackle Terrence Cody made a nice stop as well. Middle linebacker Daryl Smith continues to be the Ravens' preseason defensive MVP, recording three tackles and a third-down sack of Cam Newton.