NFC West: 09 preseason week 1 observations

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Seahawks removed quite a few starters, including Matt Hasselbeck, following the first quarter of their exhibition opener against the Chargers. A few thoughts so far:

  • Matt Hasselbeck: The veteran quarterback looked about how he has looked during practice, which is good. He scrambled and threw away the ball to avoid an onrushing Shaun Phillips. He found T.J. Houshmandzadeh underneath to convert on third down. He and tight end John Carlson had a miscommunication on another third-down play, leading to an incompletion even though Carlson was open.
  • Aaron Curry: The Seahawks took him off the field on some third downs and also one time when the Chargers spread the field. Darryl Tapp replaced Curry on some of the plays when Curry came off the field. Curry played coverage quite a bit, without much action. He rushed from right defensive end against backups and didn't make an impact. The staff did leave Curry on the field for a third-and-3. Curry dropped into coverage. Safety Deon Grant broke up the pass. Curry did buckle Chargers tight end Brandon Manumaleuna on the running play Brandon Mebane blew up.
  • Mebane and Colin Cole: They definitely give Seattle some stoutness against the run.
  • Zone blocking: The offensive line was able to spring Julius Jones for a couple of effective runs early. I also noticed fullback Owen Schmitt getting to the perimeter and going low to take out a linebacker. Nice play by Schmitt.
Those are a few of the things I've noticed early. I'll follow up as warranted. Has anything jumped out to you?

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

A few thoughts and observations through the first half of the 49ers' exhibition opener against the Broncos at Candlestick Park:

  • Alex Smith has not seized the moment. Mike Singletary has given Smith most of the reps through the first half. Smith held the ball far too long in taking a sack on his first possession. He could have thrown to Arnaz Battle, but instead he froze. Smith did make a few good throws, but I thought his numbers were better than his performance through the first half. He threw into the ground when he had Glen Coffee open short against pressure.
  • Shaun Hill was sharp early. Hill appeared more confident and decisive than Smith. Yes, he also held the ball too long in taking a sack, but most of his problems stemmed from fullback Zak Keasey's troubles in pass protection (admittedly when he found himself overmatched against linemen).
  • Vernon Davis did not disappoint. The fastest tight end in the league caught two passes from Hill early in the game. He showed he can get downfield and catch the ball. The 49ers did not need him in protection all the time.
  • Adam Snyder was competent at right tackle. The offensive line generally kept the 49ers' quarterbacks clean. The sacks weren't the fault of the line, generally. Snyder cleared out his man to spring Coffee for a nice run up the middle, with Tony Wragge's trap block also playing a role in the gain.
  • Manny Lawson did not stand out. The 49ers' pass rush had problems, in part because the Broncos threw the ball quickly. Manny Lawson never seemed close to getting pressure on Kyle Orton. Ahmad Brooks came closer. He was bearing down on Orton on the pass Dre Bly picked off. Not sure if the pressure affected Orton, but this play seemed to validate what we've seen from Brooks in camp so far. Lawson did make a tackle 13 yards downfield -- after he bit on a play fake near the line of scrimmage.
  • Kentwan Balmer was in there. But the Broncos' Chris Kuper pushed Balmer aside in clearing the way for Knowshon Moreno to convert on third-and-1.
  • The 49ers' secondary is ball hawking. And that is something I haven't had to type in a long while. Nate Clements baited Orton into an end-zone interception by leaning outside, then darting back to play the ball. Bly and safety Reggie Smith also picked off passes. Exactly what the 49ers need from their secondary.
Those were some of the things I noticed. The 49ers' offensive line seemed to play well for the most part. Joe Staley (of all people) did have a problem at one point, with the Broncos' Kenny Peterson coming off Staley's block to drop Coffee for a loss. The bottom line right now is that Smith needs to show more to win this quarterback competition.

Posted by EPSN.com's Mike Sando

The Rams and Jets are deep into the third quarter of their exhibition opener. Both first-team offenses and defenses are finished for the night. A few things I've noticed so far:

  • Offensive tackle Jason Smith. The Rams' first-round draft choice is playing extensively at right tackle. I have not seen any obvious errors. Early in the game, Smith stood quite upright before some pass plays and once when he had to pull across the formation. He cleared out Vernon Gholston and nearly lifted him off the ground on one play, only to hold Gholston (without getting flagged) when Gholston recovered and tried to chase the play. The Rams successfully ran behind Smith for a short-yardage conversion late in the third quarter.
  • Wide receivers. Laurent Robinson got deep for a 50-yard reception from Marc Bulger, affirming the promise Robinson has shown in practice recently. The Rams need someone to get deep while Donnie Avery recovers from a broken foot. Nice start for Robinson.
  • Chris Long and the pass rush. Long didn't get around the corner or bother the quarterback, even against the Jets' backups. Leonard Little made the Rams' biggest play on defense, sacking Kellen Clemens and forcing a fumble. I thought Long had a chance to get pressure with an inside rush after lining up at left end, but he didn't get there. Mark Sanchez completed a 48-yard pass on the play.
  • Mark Setterstrom's run blocking. The backup center helped left guard Roger Allen III clear out Ty Steinkuhler in springing Samkon Gado for a 77-yard touchdown run. I set out to watch starting center Jason Brown, but didn't notice anything out of the ordinary. The Rams lost starting left guard Jacob Bell to a head injury early, leaving Roy Schuening to line up next to Brown. Again, I didn't notice much here.
  • Problems in blitz pickup. Neither team appeared prepared for the other's blitzes. That's no surprise during preseason. Still, the Rams' Kenneth Darby should have fared better in blitz pickup. He gave up a couple of sacks, preventing Marc Bulger from enjoying a better night. Bulger completed all four attempts, but he took three sacks, all when running backs couldn't make plays in blitz pickup.
  • Cornerback Justin King. The Jets' David Clowney beat King deep for a 48-yard gain up the offensive right sideline. Safety Todd Johnson tried to help, but he wasn't able to get to the sideline quickly enough. Hard to tell if this one was on King entirely.
  • Derek Stanley as a punt returner. He misjudged a punt and the ball struck his leg. Stanley then retreated to pick it up, losing yardage. Not what the Rams wanted to see.
  • Tight end Randy McMichael. He caught passes for 10 and 15 yards. McMichael also decked the Jets' Calvin Pace to help spring Steven Jackson. Pace quickly retaliated by beating McMichael in pass protection. Overall, though, this was a good night for McMichael in his first game back from a broken leg.
  • Linebacker Chris Chamberlain. Bet he gets fined for hitting the Jets' Wallace Wright with a helmet-to-helmet shot while Bradley Fletcher was tackling Wright.
If you watched the game, what did you see from James Laurinaitis? I watched him early in the game, but did not write down much. That's what I've seen to this point. Best thing is, we're not even halfway through this NFC West doubleheader. Niners up next.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Thoughts and observations from the Cardinals' first exhibition game of the 2009 season, against the Steelers on Thursday night:

  • Calais Campbell made a very positive first impression as he moved into the starting lineup at right defensive end, replacing Antonio Smith, who signed with Houston. Campbell made an aggressive play against the run early. He tossed aside Steelers tackle Max Starks to pressure Ben Roethlisberger near the goal line. Campbell also pressured Charlie Batch on a third-and-3 play. This seemed to be exactly what the Cardinals wanted to see from Campbell.
  • The Cardinals spread the field and then ran the ball on third-and-2, something they did only three times all last season by my count, converting none. Tim Hightower picked up the first down this time. It's premature to read anything into the decision as Ken Whisenhunt takes back play-calling duties. But it stood out to me as something the Cardinals should do more frequently. Hightower looked good.
  • The Cardinals' starting offensive tackles had some problems in pass protection, just as they did against the Steelers in the Super Bowl. Levi Brown is a powerful run-blocker, though. He cleared out the Steelers' Aaron Smith, helping Hightower gain 9 yards on a first-and-10 play. Brown sometimes seems miscast for the Cardinals' pass-oriented offense. I can see why Russ Grimm liked him coming out of college, though.
  • No one will be writing about how Brian St. Pierre turned up the pressure on Matt Leinart for the No. 2 job at quarterback. Leinart overcame a shaky start to play well. He took a brutal hit early in the game. It's tougher to envision the Cardinals handing the No. 2 job to St. Pierre after this game.
  • The Cardinals do not want LaRod Stephens-Howling standing there as the last line of defense in blitz pickup. That happened a couple times against the Steelers and it wasn't pretty. Stephens-Howling is 5-foot-7 and 180 pounds.
  • Rookie offensive lineman Herman Johnson held up effectively in pass protection, a very good sign for the 380-pounder. Johnson projected as a guard coming out of LSU, but the Cardinals are trying him at backup right tackle. They had to like what they saw from him in this game. His protection helped set up an intermediate completion to Sean Morey. Jason Wright found running room behind Johnson on another play. Later, Johnson pushed the Steelers' Keyaron Fox 10 yards downfield while Wright picked up 6 or 7 yards. Johnson even caught and tackled Steelers cornerback Anthony Madison during an interception return. Nice work, big fella.
  • Defensive lineman Kenny Iwebema showed he's coming back strong following surgery to remove a tumor from his chest. Iwebema lifted and pancaked Steelers right tackle Jason Capizzi on one play. He was a force against the run on another.
I'm filing this with about 5 minutes left in the game. Figured I could follow up with anything else that jumped out the rest of the way, such as Tyler Palko stealing the show late.

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