AFC West: Three things preseason 2011

Three things: Saints vs. Raiders

August, 28, 2011
Three things to look for in Oakland’s game against visiting New Orleans on Sunday night. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. ET:

1. Work on being a bully: First-year Oakland head coach Hue Jackson often has said he wants to build a bully. Yet, the Raiders were pushed around at times against San Francisco last week. If the Raiders can rebound against one of the better teams in the league, it will be a huge confidence builder.

2. Find the end zone: The Raiders have converted five field goals in two preseason games. But they have scored just one touchdown. Oakland needs to show it can finish drives.

3. Don’t give up big plays: Allowing explosive plays has been a recent problem for an improved defense. It has continued in the preseason. New Orleans has an explosive offense. It would be a good sign if the Raiders can limit the Saints’ big plays.
Three things to look for in San Diego’s game at Arizona on Saturday night. Kickoff is set for 10 p.m. ET:

1. Ryan Mathews: The Chargers want Mathews to be their primary running back this season. Mike Tolbert will get his carries, but the Chargers want to rely on Mathews, who is entering his second season. Mathews played well last week against Dallas. He will likely get his most significant playing time of the preseason. He needs to keep the arrow pointing upward.

2. Hold onto the ball: San Diego coach Norv Turner has said not committing turnovers will be the key to his team avoiding a slow start. The Chargers didn’t turn the ball over last week. It will be a confidence builder if they can continue to show strong ball security in this game.

3. Corey Liuget and Vaughn Martin: The young defensive lineman both played well against Dallas. Let’s see what they do in this game. The Chargers’ strong defense would love to see these two become solid contributors.
Three things to look for in Denver’s home game against Seattle on Saturday night. Kickoff is set for 9 p.m. ET:

1. Strong play by Kyle Orton: The starters will likely play three quarters or so. Orton played well last week against Buffalo. Another strong effort by him will further give his teammates confidence that they can win with him under center.

2. Run the ball: Knowshon Moreno had 28 yards on six carries against the Bills, but Willis McGahee had just 6 yards on five carries. Denver wants to return to running the ball first this year. With this being the most significant action the first-team offense will see in the preseason, the running backs need to set the tone better.

3. Strong defense: This will be interesting to watch. Denver had the No. 32 ranked defense in the NFL last season. It has made strides this preseason under new coach John Fox. Let’s see how this unit does in its most significant action of the preseason. This is likely the first teamer’s last action before the light go on, so it needs to play well as a group.

Three things: Rams-Chiefs

August, 26, 2011
Three things to watch for in Kansas City’s preseason game against visiting St. Louis on Friday night. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. ET:

1. Increased production by the starters: The Chiefs’ starters made strides against Baltimore after virtually doing nothing in the preseason opener. This is their third preseason game and it is critical that the unit shows some crispness in the game.

2. The play of Tyler Palko: The backup quarterback played well against Baltimore after not playing well in the first preseason game. If he performs well in this game, it could secure his job as the backup in the regular season.

3. Better offensive line play: The Chiefs gave up five sacks against Baltimore. of course, a lot of the issues were with the backups. Still, this unit needs to play tighter against the Rams.
Three things to watch for in San Diego’s preseason game at Dallas on Sunday night. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. ET:

1. Make more plays on special teams: The Chargers' special teams looked much improved last week against Seattle. They even had a 103-yard kickoff return for by Bryan Walters. This unit needs to continue to play well to inspire confidence.

2. Continue defensive dominance: The San Diego defense was awesome against Seattle’s first-team. Seattle didn’t get past mid-field in the first half. San Diego’s defense looked nasty. Let ‘s see if it can keep it up.

3. More Darryl Gamble: The undrafted rookie from Georgia was a star in the Seattle game. He stood up in a sea of players who will likely be cut. He was moved from inside to outside linebacker last week. He showed a great pass-rush burst and could be a keeper.

Three things: Broncos vs. Bills

August, 20, 2011
Three things to watch for in Denver’s preseason game against visiting Buffalo on Saturday night. Kickoff is set for 8:30 p.m. ET:

1. Keep it up on defense: Denver’s defense got a good start last week at Dallas. The first-team played well. There are a lot of newcomers on this unit, which was last in the NFL. So, it needs to continue to work. If this unit plays well again, it should give the coaching staff needed confidence in the defense.

2. Keep it up in run game: New coach John Fox wants to run the ball a lot. So, that means a lot of work for Knowshon Moreno and newcomer Willis McGahee. They did well last week as they combined for 40 yards on six carries, and they’ve looked good in camp. They need to continue to make strides.

3. Contain Dareus: When Denver bypassed Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus to take Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller, Dareus was snapped up by the Bills. Dareus then said he would take it out against the Broncos on the field for the rest of his career. Dareus looked good in his debut last week. So, Denver’s young offensive line will have his hands full. This is a prelude to the real thing. Denver visits Buffalo on Christmas Eve.

Three things: Raiders vs. 49ers

August, 20, 2011
Three things to watch for in Oakland’s preseason game at San Francisco on Saturday night. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. ET:

1. Denarius Moore show: Let’s see more of this kid. He’s exciting. The Raiders’ receiving crew has injuries and there are opportunities here. Let’s see if the fifth-round pick from Tennessee can help when the lights turn on in September. The training-camp star had a fine game last week. Let’s see him get more chances to see what he can do.

2. Find the end zone: The Raiders’ offense moved the ball well last week against Arizona. But it scored just one touchdown and converted four field goals, including two short ones. This is the time to work on things. I’d like to see the Raiders try to punch the ball in the end zone instead of opting for field goals.

3. Cut down penalties: Oakland has long been one of the most penalized teams in the league. Preventing them has been a point of emphasis for new coach Hue Jackson. Oakland had 10 penalties against Arizona. That’s too much. I’m sure Jackson will blow a gasket if his team reaches double-digit penalties in this game.

Three things: Chiefs vs. Ravens

August, 19, 2011
Three things to watch for in Kansas City’s preseason game at Baltimore on Friday night. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. ET:

1. Play a little: The Kansas City first-team didn’t do much at all in a 25-0 loss to Tampa Bay last week. The Chiefs took a slow approach to training camp and many starters did very little in the game. Quarterback Matt Cassel didn’t throw a pass and running back Jamaal Charles didn’t have a carry. Still, it seems like coach Todd Haley is bent on taking it slow, so we may see the same, take-it-slow approach this week.

2. Play Jon Baldwin more: The rookie receiver looked decent at times when he played with the backups last week. He is expected to be a major contributor as a rookie. I’d like to see him and Cassel hook up for a few passes in this game.

UPDATE: ESPN’s Adam Schefter confirmed that Baldwin is doubtful for the rest of training camp after a locker-room fight with veteran running back Thomas Jones.

3. The backup QBs: Tyler Palko and fifth-round draft Ricky Stanzi both struggled last week. These players need to elevate their game to give the coaching staff confidence behind Cassel. If these guys continue to struggle, the Chiefs might have to consider bringing in a veteran backup. The pressure is on Palko more than Stanzi. I doubt highly the Chiefs cut Stanzi. But if Palko doesn’t prove he belongs on the team, he could be on his way out.

Three things: Chiefs-Buccaneers

August, 12, 2011
Three things to watch for in Kansas City’s preseason opener against visiting Tampa Bay on Friday night. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. ET.

Matt Cassel: The quarterback made strides last season under former offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, but he slipped badly in the final two games of the season. Let’s see how he performs under new quarterback coach Jim Zorn.

Receivers: The Chiefs addressed their need at the position by drafting Jon Baldwin in the first round and signing veteran Steve Breaston. I’m sure Cassel will be looking for them both often Thursday night.

Pass-rush: The Chiefs need to give Tamba Hali, who led the AFC with 14.5 sacks last season, some help. They added some pieces. Let’s see if they can bring the heat against Tampa Bay.

Three things: Raiders-Cardinals

August, 11, 2011
Three things to watch for in Oakland’s preseason opener against visiting Arizona on Thursday night. Kickoff is set for 10 p.m. ET.

Cornerback play: The Raiders are starting life after Nnamdi Asomugha, who signed with Philadelphia. Let’s see how their first-team cornerback play in his absence. Arizona quarterback Kevin Kolb will probably fling the ball around in his limited time so it will be interesting to see how Oakland handles it.

The offensive line: Oakland’s offensive line is still a work in progress. Let’s see how the unit plays throughout the game. A lot of players have a chance to contribute, so it’s interesting to see how everyone performs.

Jason Campbell: The quarterback’s progress is vital to this team, so he needs to perform well in his limited playing time against the Cardinals.

Three things: Broncos-Cowboys

August, 11, 2011
Three things to watch for in Denver’s preseason opener at Dallas on Thursday night. Kickoff is set for 8:30 p.m. ET.

Tim Tebow: What else? The Kyle Orton-Tim Tebow battle (or lack of) has been a top storyline in the NFL during training camp so far. It’s really not about Orton in this game. It’s all about Tebow and if he can hold off Brady Quinn for the No. 2 job. If he performs well, it could spark a push by Tebow. If he has a tough game, it would push him further from playing time.

Defensive line: The Broncos have revamped their defense line again. They didn’t get many big names, but there are some interesting players in the mix. Let’s see how they do against the Cowboys.

It’s Miller time: Linebacker Von Miller, the No. 2 overall pick, will be unleashed for the first time. Let’s see what the kid has even if it’s in a limited role.

Three things: Chargers-Seahawks

August, 11, 2011
Three things to watch for in San Diego’s preseason opener against visiting Seattle on Thursday night. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. ET. The game will be televised on ESPN.

Special teams: The San Diego special teams' cost the Chargers a playoff spot last year. The unit was a disaster. New special teams coach Rich Bisaccia has a great reputation and should be able to help this unit. It starts in this game. San Diego head coach Norv Turner raved this week about Bisaccia’s impact on the unit. He expects instant dividends. Turner also said the Chargers have improved their talent at several areas of special teams. So, it’s clear the team is ready to see what this group has to offer against the Seahawks.

Donald Butler and Jonas Mouton: The two young inside linebackers are fighting for a starting point. Butler was a third-round pick last year who missed the entire season with an injury. Mouton was a second-round pick this year. This is a big test for both players as the Chargers look for a replacement for the steady Kevin Burnett, who signed with Miami. If neither Butler nor Mouton plays well, the Chargers may have to consider outside options. But if the youngsters play well, as the team expects, their will chances of further contributions should both increase.

Bob Sanders: The new San Diego safety has played in just nine games in the past three seasons while with the Colts. He is healthy and is expected to be a difference maker for the Chargers’ defense. There was a major buzz about Sanders this week at the team’s training camp. Several people said Sanders still has blazing speed and he is flying around the field. I spoke to Sanders and he is bouncing off the walls. He is excited about being healthy again. We won’t see Sanders a lot Thursday night, but I know he is ready to play again.