AFC West: 2014 NFL Preseason Week 4 Observation Deck

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- In the dress rehearsal for the regular season, the San Diego Chargers played solid against one of the powerhouses of the NFC West, the San Francisco 49ers, in a 21-7 loss Sunday afternoon at Levi’s Stadium.

San Diego’s starters played into the second quarter and led 7-3 before they were taken out on both sides of the ball. Defensively, the Chargers had their best effort of the preseason, with the first unit limiting San Francisco’s offense to 69 total yards on four drives.

Here are some other thoughts on the Chargers third exhibition game of the year:
  • Chargers defensive end Corey Liuget was a one-man wrecking crew, finishing with four tackles (two tackles for a loss), a strip sack and forced fumble, two quarterback hurries and a pass deflection in just more than a quarter of work against one of the better offensive lines in the NFL. One of the more underrated defensive linemen in the league, Liuget’s performance should open some more eyes.
  • Defensively, the Chargers looked much better against the run. Coming into the contest, San Diego had given up an average of 5.58 yards per carry, worst in the NFL. But San Diego’s defensive starters held San Francisco’s potent running attack to just 22 rushing yards on four drives. The Chargers tackled and pursued the ball carrier more consistently than in previous exhibition games.
  • Quarterback Philip Rivers appears ready for the regular season. He finished 9-of-10 for 85 yards and a touchdown, posting a 135.4 passer rating. Rivers is 15-of-18 for 166 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions in exhibition play. Rivers has not been sacked, and posted a 123.6 passer rating during the preseason. It would be surprising if Rivers plays against Arizona next week in the final preseason game.
  • Cornerback Jason Verrett and outside linebacker Dwight Freeney played for the first time during the preseason. Verrett entered the game at cornerback in passing situations, with starting left cornerback Brandon Flowers sliding to slot defender. Verrett was not tested on the outside, and appeared to come away from the contest without suffering any setbacks from his surgically repaired shoulder. Freeney, playing for the first time since suffering a torn quad, had a nice tackle for a loss on running back LaMichael James.
  • The Chargers did not escape the game without injuries. Defensive tackle Kwame Geathers had to be carted off the field after suffering a left knee injury in the first half. Fellow defensive lineman Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe also was carted off the field in the second half with a knee injury. Center Nick Hardwick suffered a neck injury, and was replaced by Rich Ohrnberger. Geathers' injury is particularly concerning for the Chargers, already thin at defensive line because of injuries to Sean Lissemore and Lawrence Guy.
  • Inside linebacker Kavell Conner had some big hits playing in place of Manti Te'o, who sat out due to a foot injury. Conner finished with a combined seven tackles, leading the Chargers.

Observation Deck: Denver Broncos

August, 24, 2014

DENVER -- After a testy week with the Houston Texans when Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning went as far as to say the Broncos’ offense “stunk," the Broncos starters rebounded enough by Saturday night to show their expected quick-strike explosiveness on offense in a 18-17 preseason loss in Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

Manning threw for 243 yards in a half of work as the Broncos regulars scored their two touchdowns in the final 1:07 of the first half. Manning threw both of his scoring passes to Emmanuel Sanders, who finished with 128 yards receiving on five catches.

All in all the Broncos starters have scored on six of their 10 possessions in the preseason.

Here are some other thoughts on the Broncos’ third preseason game of the season:
  • Not sure if these two teams will be looking to hook up for preseason practice any time soon. After two days worth of pushing, shoving, and even a few punches in practice, things got testy in the game as well. Texans safety D.J. Swearinger knocked Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker out of the game with a hit to Welker’s helmet late in the first half. On the next play Manning hit Sanders for a 29-yard touchdown. After making the throw, Manning ran all the way down the field into the end zone to confront Swearinger and the quarterback was flagged for possibly his first career taunting penalty.
  • Welker left the game under his own power following Swearinger’s hit. However, he was taken immediately to the locker room and did not play for the rest of the evening. The starters likely wouldn’t have played into the second half anyway, but it’s a concern any time Welker takes any impact to his helmet. Welker, who dealt with concussions during his time with the New England Patriots, suffered two last season and missed the Broncos’ last three games of the regular season before returning to play in all three playoff games. At minimum Welker will certainly miss some practice time in the coming days. Welker’s concussion history did play at least a part in the Broncos using a second-round draft pick on Cody Latimer in this past May’s draft.
  • Anyone curious what kind of impact Sanders would have in this offense should wonder no more. Sanders had been a limited participant in practice and over the course of the first two preseason games because of a thigh injury. He did not play against the San Francisco 49ers last week and didn’t practice this past Tuesday or Wednesday. Manning said he hoped Sanders would be ready to go Saturday night -- Sanders said Manning texted him at one point last week with the hope he would be back in practice by Thursday -- and Sanders showed he was. Sanders notched his first five catches of the preseason, and his two scoring catches came just 62 seconds apart. Given Sanders has the versatility to line up on either side of the formation and in the slot, this may have been a small preview of the kind of production he could have in this offense.
  • As expected the Broncos, after three days’ worth of practice with the Texans, dialed back the usual work for the starters. Usually the Broncos will play their starters well into the third quarter of the third preseason game. However, the Broncos’ starters called it a night at halftime. Given that they won’t play Thursday night in Dallas, the regulars are done until the Sept. 7 regular-season opener against the Indianapolis Colts.
  • Running back Montee Ball, who had an appendectomy Aug. 4, got his first preseason work in the Broncos’ opening series. The Broncos wanted to get Ball some work in the game and get him out quickly. Ball had eight touches -- four rushes and four receptions -- in the Broncos’ 13 plays from scrimmage. Ball was then removed from the game. Ball looked ready to go, and it’s clear he’s going to have a role in the passing game as well.

Observation deck: Kansas City Chiefs

August, 23, 2014

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The starting offense for the Kansas City Chiefs still can't finish a drive. The starters failed to score a touchdown in eight possessions in what would become a 30-12 loss to the Minnesota Vikings at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs even had the ball inside the Minnesota 20 three times but came away with just a field goal and two Alex Smith interceptions. The starting offense hasn't scored a touchdown in 16 preseason possessions.

Here are some other thoughts on the Chiefs' third preseason game of the year:
  • The starting defense similarly doesn't look ready for the regular season. The Chiefs allowed pass plays of 31 and 53 yards on Minnesota's first possession. The Chiefs again played without safety Eric Berry, who has an injured heel. His replacement is Daniel Sorensen, an undrafted rookie. Sorensen took a bad angle on the 53-yard touchdown pass.
  • Smith threw only seven interceptions all of last season. He's built his career on being able to protect the ball. So when he throws two red zone interceptions, one on first down, it's disturbing. On the first interception, Smith tried to force a throw for Frankie Hammond Jr. On the second he stared down his intended receiver, Travis Kelce. Perhaps the pressure of a touchdown-less preseason is wearing on Smith.
  • The Chiefs are still trying to solidify their starting offensive line in wake of right tackle Donald Stephenson's season-opening suspension. Left guard Jeff Allen started in Stephenson's place. The Chiefs rotated by series Jeff Linkenbach and Ricky Henry at left guard. Allen played tackle in college at Illinois and got some work there this year in training camp. Stephenson will miss the first four games of the season because of NFL suspension for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances.
  • Quarterback Tyler Bray rebounded from a slow start to lead the Chiefs to their only touchdown. Bray's first pass was intercepted, but he completed his final seven passes, the last one going to rookie Albert Wilson for a 1-yard touchdown with 25 seconds left. Bray finished 9-of-15 for 85 yards.
  • Running back Jamaal Charles dressed for the game but -- wisely on the part of the Chiefs -- he did not play. After missing two straight games because of what the Chiefs are calling a bruised foot, Charles could play in Thursday night's final preseason game against the Packers in Green Bay.