Thursday, December 16, 2010
Under the microscope: 15 little things
By Mike Sando
Fifteen little things I noticed while watching NFC West teams play in Week 14:
- Referee Jerome Boger suffered two replay reversals during the Arizona game. I thought his crew should have flagged Denver Broncos tight end Daniel Graham for a facemask penalty to end Michael Adams' interception return. Speaking of Adams, he's all over the place, including on special teams.
- Cardinals rookie linebackers Daryl Washington and O'Brien Schofield caught my attention. Washington had close to a breakout game. He hit hard on defense, picked off a pass and downed a punt at the Denver 3.
- What's with all the dropped passes, Arizona? The Cardinals are strong at receiver, but that group is failing to make the routine plays, let alone the big ones Arizona needs to spark its offense. Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston and Early Doucet dropped passes early in the game Sunday. Fullback Jason Wright dropped one, too.
- Quarterbacks sometimes look silly trying to make blocks. Arizona's John Skelton looked good cracking back on Broncos linebacker Jason Hunter during Breaston's reverse. Separately, Skelton showed good athleticism for a big quarterback when he avoided the initial rush, stayed on his feet by touching one hand to the ground, escaped outside and cut up the sideline for extra yardage. Skelton wasn't particularly fluid, but he moved effectively.
- Darnell Dockett can't get a break on the health front. He tried to pummel Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno on one play, only to miss high and suffer a head-on collision with 330-pound teammate Dan Williams. Dockett, slowed by shoulder issues this season, including stinger issues, was clearly hurting after this play.
- Fitzgerald and Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey went after one another with vigor. Bailey drew offensive interference against Fitzgerald on one play. Fitzgerald drove Bailey 13 yards downfield while blocking for Tim Hightower's 11-yard run on third-and-5.
- St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford took a beating against New Orleans. His offensive line held up OK for the most part, however. The Saints got pressure by freeing defenders via effective blitz calls. Linebacker Jonathan Vilma sneaked around the outside on a delayed blitz and hit Bradford's arm hard just as the quarterback was throwing. Bradford easily could have been injured here.
- Along the same lines, a well-conceived Saints blitz forced Bradford into intentional grounding.
- Rams left tackle Rodger Saffold shows good athleticism. He pulled across the formation and picked off a linebacker on the other side while springing Steven Jackson for a 10-yard gain in the second quarter.
- Bradford wasn't solely to blame for the costly interception he threw right before halftime. Saffold set to the outside in pass protection and quickly lost inside leverage against defensive end Will Smith. Smith got immediate pressure on Bradford, affecting the throw. Malcolm Jenkins' 96-yard interception return for a touchdown changed the game.
- Rams safety Oshiomogho Atogwe is playing aggressively. He'll probably get fined for delivering a clothesline-type hit against the Saints' Reggie Bush. Those types of hits can make offensive players wary.
- There's still a place for San Francisco 49ers fullback Moran Norris in the 49ers' offense even though quarterback Alex Smith sometimes plays his best without a fullback on the field. Norris dominated individual matchups against Seattle linebackers in the running game. I saw him flatten Lofa Tatupu, drive back David Hawthorne and move out Aaron Curry.
- 49ers right guard Chilo Rachal still has some troubles, as when Curry beat him for a shot on the quarterback. Rachal did some good things in this game, too. Tatupu got too high on one play and Rachal made the linebacker pay. Rachal lifted Tatupu, drove him onto his back and flopped on him.
- The Seahawks' injury-induced personnel changes on offense cost the team sometimes. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck spent extra time getting players lined up right before taking a third-and-2 sack in the second quarter.
- The rushing numbers weren't there for Seattle's Marshawn Lynch -- he's not going to make big plays on his own when the holes aren't there -- but there's a lot to like about how he plays. I saw him make positive contributions in pass protection, as a receiver and as a tone-setter with stiff-arms and high-impact collisions. Not many players at any position can say they dropped the 49ers' Patrick Willis in a collision both players saw coming. Lynch made it happen in the second quarter.
We're at 15 already. Thanks for the positive feedback on the inaugural "15 little things" item, which ran last week. I'll keep these coming.