AFC West: NFL preseason 2012

Three things: Broncos vs. 49ers

August, 26, 2012
Three things to watch in the Denver Broncos’ preseason game against visiting San Francisco on Sunday. Kickoff is set for 4 p.m. ET.

1. Peyton Manning: This will surely be Manning’s last preseason tune-up and the quarterback should get his most extensive playing time of the preseason. He has worked out the kinks well and needs to make continued progress in this game.

2. Third-down defense: Denver’s third-down defense has been strong this preseason. Another good outing would bode well heading into the regular season.

3. Run defense: Denver’s run defense wasn’t sharp last week. It must show progress.

Three things: Raiders vs. Lions

August, 25, 2012
The following is three things to watch in Oakland’s home preseason game against Detroit on Saturday. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. ET:

1. Find an offensive rhythm: The Raiders’ offense has been slow to develop in the first half of the preseason. With the starters slated to play more than half of this game, it’s time for Oakland to start clicking. Quarterback Carson Palmer needs to play better.

2. Contain Lions’ strong offense: Oakland’s defense has looked good in several aspects of the game so far; it will get quite a test against the Lions. If Oakland passes this challenge, it should head to the regular season feeling pretty good about itself.

3. Continue to play with discipline: Oakland has committed just nine penalties in the preseason -- let’s see the improvement continues. If the Raiders, who set an NFL record for penalties and penalty yardage in 2011, improve in this area, it could welll result in a couple of more victories.
Norv Turner made the right call.

Yes, Philip Rivers needs the work to prepare for the regular season but, most importantly, Rivers needs to be upright when the Chargers visit Oakland on Sept. 10 for ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.”

Turner changed course and decided that backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst will start Friday night against Minnesota. This is the pivotal third preseason game. Starters usually play up to three quarters.

However, the Chargers are without starting offensive linemen Nick Hardwick, Jared Gaither and Tyronne Green because of injuries. Having their star quarterback play in a preseason game with 60 percent of his offensive line missing proved to be too risky.

Again, bravo, Norv.

Yes, Rivers will miss the valuable action. Maybe he can play a quarter or so in the preseason finale next Thursday. Early in the regular season, Rivers will find his groove despite missing Friday night’s game. And he will be healthy. His health wasn’t guaranteed if he was thrown into Friday night’s game.

Star San Diego tight end Antonio Gates is also a healthy scratch. Gates has dealt with injuries for the past four years. He looks great this summer. There is no need risking injury now.

In other AFC West news:

Oakland coach Dennis Allen said receiver Jacoby Ford does not have structural damage in his sprained left foot. That is good news for Ford, who missed several games last season due to a similar injury on the same foot.

Chicago reportedly cut backup running back Kahlil Bell. He could perhaps interest the Chargers and Raiders. Both teams have a need at the position.
Three things to watch in the San Diego Chargers’ preseason game at Minnesota on Friday night. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. ET:

1. Philip Rivers: Rivers has looked sharp in the preseason, but he has been intercepted three times. He threw 20 interceptions last season. He needs to cut down on the picks starting right now. His health is key, too, since Rivers will be playing without starting offensive linemen, Nick Hardwick, Tyronne Green and Jared Gaither.

UPDATE: The Rivers dilemma has been resolved. San Diego coach Norv Turner has decided to sit Rivers because of all of the offensive line injuries. Backup Charlie Whitehurst will play instead of Rivers.

2. Play clean on offense: The Chargers’ entire offense was sloppy last week. It needs to make strides in the most important preseason game.

3. Production by receivers: This is likely the last tune-up for Rivers with his receivers. With Vincent Brown out for about half the season, the rest of the corps needs to step up. Rivers must have good rhythm with his receivers in this game.
A look at three things to watch in the Kansas City Chiefs’ home preseason game against Seattle on Friday. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. ET:

1. Matt Cassel: Cassel has played very well in the preseason, and this will likely be his last tune-up. He can head to the regular season with a lot of confidence if he performs well.

2. First-team defense: The Chiefs’ first unit gave up two touchdowns against the Rams in the second preseason game. It needs to tighten up in this one.

3. Stay healthy on defense: Injuries are piling up for the Chiefs on defense. They need to get out of this game unscathed.
A look at the Chargers’ 28-20 home victory over Dallas on Saturday night:

First, some bad, bad news:

Second-year receiver Vincent Brown suffered a broken left ankle. U-T San Diego reports that he will have surgery and will miss at least eight weeks. I wouldn’t be surprised if the injury takes even more time to heal. What a shame.

Brown looked great this summer and was going to be the Chargers’ No. 3 receiver. This injury means Eddie Royal, who has been hurt during camp, must step up to help this receiving crew.

OK, I know you will ask: Does Brown's injury mean the Chargers could be in on Plaxico Burress or Chad Johnson? Well, it would be unlike San Diego general manager A.J. Smith to add either player, but there is a hole at the position.

This is truly a bad loss for San Diego, which is without starting running back Ryan Mathews for a month or so after he suffered a shoulder injury last week. The Chargers have been ravaged by injuries the past three years and the 2012 season hasn’t started any differently.

The Chargers worked on building depth this offseason; it is paying off in the preseason. The Chargers’ backups led a comeback Saturday night and have looked good in both preseason games.

That is all well and fine, but San Diego’s first-team offense was sloppy again. All 15 of Philip Rivers’ passes were caught Saturday night. But two of them were caught by Cowboys.

Rivers has thrown three interceptions in two preseason games. He was picked off 20 times last season. Rivers has looked really good in the preseason, but interceptions just can’t happen -- he must improve in this area.

Rookie defenders Melvin Ingram and Kendall Reyes continued to make an impact. These guys are going to be fun to watch.

Backup cornerback Shareece Wright had an interception with a long return. He has looked good this summer.
A look at Denver's 30-10 home loss against Seattle on Saturday night:

For Peyton Manning, statistics really don’t matter this summer.

It’s all about getting ready for the regular season and shaking off the rust.

Sure, the quarterback threw two interceptions Saturday against the Seahawks. He has three interceptions in about three quarters this summer.

I’m sure Manning will take throwing three interceptions in a game that doesn't matter after enduring multiple neck surgeries last year.

As a whole, Manning looked sharp and showed good arm strength as he played the entire first half and completed 16 of 23 passes for 177 yards. He even took his first hit since his injury. He quickly got up.

Manning will likely play well into the third quarter next week against San Francisco in what should be his final preseason tune-up. Again, Manning is making great progress as he continues to pass tests on his way back from his devastating injury.

Through the first half Saturday, the Broncos defense had held opponents to 2 of 19 on third-down conversations. That’s a trend you want to see.

Defensive lineman Derek Wolfe, a second-round draft pick, had another strong performance.

Running back Lance Ball continued to make a push for a roster spot.

Rookie Brock Osweiler replaced Manning. His first two series were three-and-outs, but it is a sign that Denver could be looking to Osweiler over Caleb Hanie as Manning's backup.

Safety David Bruton was a beast on special teams, which will help make a roster claim.

Observation deck: Chiefs-Rams

August, 18, 2012
A look at the Chiefs’ 31-17 loss at St. Louis on Saturday night:

This performance wasn’t as smooth as the preseason opener for the Chiefs.

The biggest issue was that the first-team defense allowed two touchdowns in the first quarter.

Offensively, starting quarterback Matt Cassel put together his second strong preseason performance, completing 13 of 18 passes for 142 yards.

Here’s the deal, folks: Preseason games don’t matter much, but Cassel is looking good and that’s paramount for the Chiefs. Cassel engineered his second long scoring drive of the preseason. A good Cassel in the regular season will mean a good season for the Chiefs.

The Kansas City Star reported that starting safety Kendrick Lewis had his arm in the sling and suffered a shoulder injury on the same arm that shelved him for a time last season. Lewis is an up-and-comer. It would hurt if he misses time.

Kansas City had four turnovers in the game, including three lost fumbles.

Brady Quinn was more effective than Ricky Stanzi, who replaced Cassel. Quinn likely took another step toward securing the backup job.
Here are three things to watch for in the San Diego Chargers' preseason game against visiting Dallas on Saturday. Kickoff is set for 9 p.m. ET:

1. More accuracy for Philip Rivers: It wasn’t the end of the world that Philip Rivers threw a red zone interception last week against Green Bay. Rivers looked good prior to the pick. But he threw 20 interceptions last season, so it is an area he needs to work on.

2. Third-down defense: San Diego’s defense was terrific last week. But the first unit did allow Green Bay to convert on third down on its first two attempts. It needs to continue to work in that area. The Chargers were last in the NFL on third-down defense last season.

3. Running back health: Starter Ryan Mathews went down with a broken clavicle and he will miss three to five more weeks. The Chargers can’t afford to lose any more tailbacks in the preseason.
The following are three things to watch for in the Denver Broncos’ preseason game against visiting Seattle on Saturday. Kickoff is set for 9 p.m. ET:

1. Continued success for Manning: Quarterback Peyton Manning looked good against Chicago last week. He threw with good accuracy and had a good pace to the offense. It will be interesting to see him work on passes to his right. It looked as if he has more success throwing to his left side and the middle of the field than the right side. Denver's preseason is all about Manning's recovery from a neck injury that cost him all of last season.

2. Continued excellence on defense: The Seahawks’ first-team offense will be on the field more than Chicago’s last week. Denver’s defense dominated the Bears throughout the game. Let’s see if it can continue to dominate.

3. Better connection between Demaryius Thomas and Manning: Thomas failed to catch a touchdown pass from Manning last week. Manning’s relationship with his receivers is a work in progress and these two need to continue to work on their timing.

Three things: Chiefs vs. Rams

August, 18, 2012
The following are three things to watch during Kansas City's game at St. Louis on Saturday night. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. ET.

1. Brian Daboll’s momentum: It was a great start for the new offensive coordinator of the Chiefs. Kansas City’s first-team offense scored touchdowns on both of its series in the preseason opener against Arizona last week. The unit was clicking on all cylinders, and players gave much credit to Daboll. Let’s see it continue.

2. Jon Baldwin: The promising receiver didn’t have any catches last week. It’s not a big deal. Baldwin has been a training camp star, but it would be nice to see him make an impact in a preseason game.

3. Dontari Poe: The rookie received some praise from coach Romeo Crennel. Poe, the No. 11 overall pick, is going to be a work in progress, and needs to make some noise in the preseason.

Observation deck: Raiders-Cowboys

August, 13, 2012
A look at the Oakland Raiders’ 3-0 home loss against the Dallas Cowboys on Monday night:

It was uglier than Russell Brand’s performance at the Olympic closing ceremonies.

Both the Raiders' and Cowboys’ first-team offenses were awful. Dallas' was probably more awful, but the Raiders’ first-team offense (sans running back Darren McFadden, who was his explosive self in a cameo appearance) shouldn’t take solace in not being as sloppy.

Oakland quarterback Carson Palmer was on the field for 10 plays. He threw an ill-advised interception and the Raiders struggled to move the ball. I wouldn’t worry too much about Palmer based on this performance, but interceptions were a problem for him last season and remain something he needs to address.

Oakland receiver Jacoby Ford had a terrible night, for what it’s worth. He dropped two passes from Palmer, ran out of bounds on a punt return and looked pretty disinterested during his outing. I’m a big Ford fan, but he has to shake off this performance. With rookie Rod Streater the flavor of the month in Oakland’s receiver’s room, Ford could be pressed for playing time.

There are no doubt the Raiders wanted to showcase Streater. Backup quarterback Matt Leinart, who looked good at times, often went to him. The undrafted free agent from Temple had six catches in the first half. At this point, I’d think Streater is a lock to make the 53-man roster. Fifth-round pick Juron Criner, also a camp star, had a bad drop and did not shine like Streater did. Still, Criner will have a place on this team.

In his first NFL preseason action, Oakland third-string quarterback Terrelle Pryor brought some late-game excitement with several exciting runs. That is Pryor’s game. But the truth is, Oakland wants to see him develop as a pocket quarterback. Perhaps the team will draw up some packages for Pryor, but he is still a work in progress. Running for his life won’t always work against first-team NFL defenses.

ESPN's Herm Edwards just said on "SportsCenter" that he'd move Pryor to tight end. It could be tempting because of his size and speed -- and because of Oakland's need there -- but I'd think Pyror will still get more time at quarterback. Plus, I think he would be reluctant to make that switch at this point.

Oakland had just three penalties in the first half, which is a good sign for a team that set NFL records for penalties and penalty yardage last season.

Backup safety Mike Mitchell made a nice interception for Oakland near the end of the first half. Mitchell is not a star, but he makes enough plays to keep him in business.

Is Oakland’s sloppy game a worry, particularly because Denver, Kansas City and San Diego were all impressive in their preseason debuts? No. I wouldn’t worry about that. But it is clear first-year coach Dennis Allen still has to get this team in shape as the season opener against San Diego looms in four weeks.

Cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke, who looked good in training camp, struggled some Monday night. The second-year player will get a shot at playing extensively.

One of the most impressive Raiders on Monday was a player who will not be on the 53-man roster -- punter Marquette King. The rookie, who is playing for injured star Shane Lechler, has a huge leg. But he isn't beating out Lechler. Perhaps Oakland will try to stash King of the practice squad as insurance for Lechler, who is entering the final season of his contract. But with the film King is putting out there, there is a chance a team in this punter-hungry league could snap him up.

Rookie linebacker Chad Kilgore was very active and physical. He could be practice squad bound.

Great scene to see former Oakland coach Jon Gruden, now an analyst on ESPN's "Monday Night Football," hug fans prior to the game. They still live and breathe Gruden in the Black Hole.

Three things: Raiders vs. Cowboys

August, 13, 2012
Here are three things to watch in Oakland’s preseason opener against visiting Dallas on Monday night. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. ET. The game will be broadcast on ESPN:

1. The quarterbacks: This is a big season for Carson Palmer in Oakland. He must shine in his first full season with the Raiders. He won’t play much, but he needs to be sharp. Backup Matt Leinart has looked good this camp. Let’s see whether he can keep that up. This likely will be Terrelle Pryor’s first extensive preseason action as an NFL player. He is far behind Leinart, but the Raiders would like to see Pryor produce.

2. Discipline: The Raiders have to cut down on penalties, and it must start now. They set NFL records for penalties and penalty yardage last season. New coach Dennis Allen has been preaching discipline. The improvement has to begin against Dallas.

3. Receivers: The Raiders have a promising group of receivers, but it skews young. Oakland wants to see production from all layers at this position. Expect rookies Juron Criner and Rod Streater -- offseason and early-camp stars -- to produce in a game setting.
So far, so good for the AFC West.

Now, it’s up to the Oakland Raiders to finish strong. The first three teams in the division to play in the preseason have all been extremely impressive.

San Diego outplayed Green Bay and looked much improved on defense in a 21-13 win over the Packers. Every Denver unit dominated in a 31-3 win at Chicago. Kansas City’s first-team offense was spectacular and its defense shut down the Cardinals in a 27-17 win.

Oakland hosts Dallas on Monday night in a game broadcast on ESPN.

If Oakland isn’t as sharp as the other three teams were in Week 1 of the preseason, I wouldn’t think the Raiders should be alarmed. I’ve been on record many times saying that I don’t think the preseason means much. Just because Denver, Kansas City and San Diego were all impressive in Week 1 doesn’t guarantee anything.

But all three teams looked to have made improvements in the offseason, so the quality of play does give each organization confidence moving forward.

Now, it’s the Raiders’ turn.
Here are three things to watch in Kansas City’s preseason opener against visiting Arizona on Friday. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. ET.

1. The ACL Club: Safety Eric Berry, running back Jamaal Charles and tight end Tony Moeaki will all play. They all suffered torn ACLs in their knees last September. Don’t expect any of them to play extensively in this game, but it will be interesting to see them in action.

2. The quarterbacks: Starter Matt Cassel is under a lot of scrutiny. Every outing is important, no matter if he just plays a series or two against the Cardinals. Also, Brady Quinn and Ricky Stanzi are in a battle to be the backup, so this is a critical game for both.

3. The past two first-round picks: Receiver Jon Baldwin, the No. 26 overall pick in 2011, and nose tackle Dontari Poe, the No. 1 pick in 2012, have been closely watched in camp. Baldwin has been terrific and a lot in expected from him. Also, this is Poe’s first game action. The Chiefs are going to want to see him show he belongs.