NFC West: 09 preseason week 2 observations

Posted by's Mike Sando

Thoughts and observations from the 49ers' exhibition game Saturday night against the Raiders:

  • How to evaluate Alex Smith. Yes, he was a bit high with the throw that bounced off Josh Morgan for an interception, but Morgan also short-armed the ball as if to protect himself from a looming collision with Raiders cornerback Chris Johnson. Some of Smith's passes appeared difficult to catch, though, and this was one of them. When plays break down, Shaun Hill is more effective at moving and finding a receiver, even though Smith is more athletic.
  • Morgan still made an impact. The second-year receiver caught only one pass for 7 yards, but did you see him sealing Raiders linebacker Jon Alston to help spring Glen Coffee for 16 yards on the 49ers' second possession? Bet the 49ers' coaches saw it.
  • Coffee does more than run the ball. He picked up blitzing Raiders linebacker Ricky Brown early in the game. Brown recovered and eventually hit Smith, but Coffee's willingness and ability to pick up the blitz makes it easier for coaches to trust him in game situations. I think the 49ers could win with Coffee.
  • The 49ers love to run block. Tight end Vernon Davis and left tackle Joe Staley form a powerful combination. Davis can often block defensive ends one-on-one. Case in point: the last play of the first quarter. It was second-and-10 from the San Francisco 16. Coffee was alone in the backfield. The 49ers had three wide receivers on the field. Davis drove defensive end Trevor Scott across the formation. Staley did the same with defensive tackle Gerard Warren, finishing the 330-pounder with a violent blow that twisted Warren's upper body. Coffee shot through behind Davis and Staley for an 18-yard gain.
  • They really love to run block. Davis and Staley sealed the left edge on Coffee's 35-yard run midway through the second quarter. Left guard Tony Wragge and center Eric Heitmann pulled left and delivered decisive blocks. It's refreshing to watch the 49ers play to their strengths.
  • Pass rush, anyone? The 49ers are not winning one-on-one pass rush battles on the outside. They rushed four and got no pressure on the Raiders' third-and-21 touchdown pass. Manny Lawson rushed against the left tackle, got nowhere, then peeled off into coverage when tight end Zach Miller released from the other side.
  • Jimmy Raye found a rhythm. The successful run call on third-and-7 was a nice touch. Play calling becomes easier when the run game is working.
  • Adam Snyder could have been hurt worse. The 49ers' right tackle was about to get up after making a block when Coffee was tackled hard on the back of Snyder's right leg. Snyder was kneeling and had his back to Coffee. His right foot was turned outward and pressed into the grass. Snyder walked off the field, but he was obviously hurting. The 49ers hope to know more about the injury Monday.
Those are among the things I saw during the first half. About to watch the second half.

Posted by's Mike Sando

Thoughts and observations from the Cardinals' game against the Chargers on Saturday night:

  • Tim Hightower looked good. He carried nine times for 42 yards and broke one for a 19-yard gain. Beanie Wells appeared to be favoring his injured ankle during warm-ups. He did not play. Hightower is getting a better feel for the offense. He effectively chipped Chargers linebacker Shaun Phillips deep in Arizona territory to help the Cardinals pick up a first down. Backup running back Jason Wright missed Shawne Merriman in protection. It's looking like Arizona can trust Hightower.
  • Calais Campbell is sustaining it. The second-year defensive end held up against the Chargers' Pro Bowl left guard, Kris Dielman. Campbell beat Dielman one-on-one for a sack. Dielman later cleared out Campbell effectively on a running play, but Campbell answered by shedding Dielman to deck LaDainian Tomlinson.
  • The offense was out of sync. Kurt Warner and Brian St. Pierre both threw interceptions in the red zone, curious for a team that fared so well inside the 20 last season. Arizona used an unusual mix of personnel -- two running backs and three wide receivers -- on the play ending with Warner's interception. Arizona used that general grouping five times in the red zone last season and 39 times overall, including 17 times against Carolina and Washington. It's not a group I expect to see much this season unless the Cardinals suffer injuries at receiver and/or tight end. Injuries to Steve Breaston and Early Doucet have limited the Cardinals' four-receiver options this summer.
  • The starting tight end must block. As much as the Cardinals would like to have a versatile tight end, their strength at receiver means they do not need lots of receptions from the position. The tight end must block in this offense. That's why I think Stephen Spach has the edge if he's healthy. Arizona used Spach and Ben Patrick effectively in clearing out defenders for an 8-yard gain on the ground, with Patrick leading.
  • The sideline featured intensity. Todd Haley's offseason departure deprived the Cardinals of a passionate and sometimes combative presence. Haley's style worked well in challenging some of the Cardinals' best players, including Larry Fitzgerald. Cameras showed an animated Warner explaining something to receiver Anquan Boldin after they combined on a pass play that failed to gain first-down yardage.
  • The pass rush was effective. Darnell Dockett, Bryan Robinson, Karlos Dansby and Campbell each had sacks against the Chargers' first-team offense.
I previously noted LaRod Stephens-Howling's excellent performance. I'm now watching the second half of the game on replay. Rookie linebacker Will Davis made a positive impact. He had a quarterback hurry after quickly sniffing out a play. Rookie right tackle Herman Johnson still looks good from what I am seeing. He has made significant improvement since minicamps, more evidence of Russ Grimm's impact as line coach.

Posted by's Mike Sando

SEATTLE -- Thoughts and observations at halftime of the Seahawks' exhibition game against the Broncos on Saturday night:

  • Matt Hasselbeck survived his first hit. And a few more after that. Seattle's quarterback hadn't taken punishment since suffering back trouble last season. The Broncos hit him in the back more than once. Hasselbeck appeared to be OK and he finished the half with a 120.0 rating despite three sacks.
  • Walter Jones is badly missed. The Broncos aren't the most dynamic pass rushing team around, but they're getting to Hasselbeck. Left tackle Sean Locklear, subbing for the injured Jones, has had significant problems so far. Kenny Peterson drove Locklear into Hasselbeck for one sack. Locklear has a penalty for a false start. He got away with holding on a screen pass. Elvis Dumervil also got pressure on Hasselbeck through Locklear.
  • Deon Butler looks good. There has never been doubt about the rookie's status as one of the Seahawks' top four receivers this season. The team thinks the third-round choice from Penn State can provide a speed element that has been lacking on the outside. Butler showed that speed on the Seahawks' first drive, catching a 34-yard touchdown pass from Hasselbeck. Butler made another catch over the middle to convert on third down.
  • Hasselbeck, 'Housh' warming up: Hasselbeck just missed connecting with T.J. Houshmandzadeh in the end zone on a long pass. He found Houshmandzadeh for a short touchdown pass right before halftime. Houshmandzadeh averaged only 8.2 yards per catch in the half, but his catches were important ones.
  • Screen game revived. The Seahawks' long-lost screen game is showing signs of life. Hasselbeck found running back Justin Forsett for a 30-yard gain on a screen.
  • Chris Spencer still is not durable. The Seahawks' center left the game after suffering an injury to his left quadriceps. No word yet on severity, but Spencer's health remains a big question mark. With Max Unger and Steve Vallos around, the Seahawks have other options at the position.
  • Pass rush non-existent. Denver's Kyle Orton dropped back 23 times without taking a sack against the Seahawks' first-team defense. Patrick Kerney had no tackles and his name did not appear on the defensive stat sheet.
I'll be watching the Chargers-Cardinals and Raiders-49ers games on NFL Network replays. Might also file more notes from this Broncos-Seahawks game, as warranted.

Posted by's Mike Sando

Things I noticed watching the first half of the Rams' game against the Falcons in St. Louis' second exhibition game under coach Steve Spagnuolo:

  • Jason Smith is not ready. I've wondered why the Rams have withheld the No. 2 overall draft choice from the starting lineup. I've wondered why they've put him on the right side instead of the left, where a high pick should play. The way Smith played against the Falcons validated the conservative approach. Smith played too high in pass protection. His footwork was shaky. He spent too much time on the ground. He did not appear athletic enough to recover from his mistakes (could be thinking more than he will be once he gets up to speed). He appeared eager. He tried to hunt down a defensive back on one run. But it's clear the Rams cannot trust him yet. Defensive end Chauncey Davis pancaked Smith while rushing the passer. Defensive end Jamaal Anderson beat Smith to the outside before drilling Kyle Boller. On the next play, a run, Smith whiffed on Anderson, then held him, drawing a penalty.
  • So much for live tackling. The Rams' training camp featured live tackling, unusual for NFL practices. There wasn't enough live tackling against the Falcons. The Rams were sloppy on defense. Leonard Little and James Laurinaitis missed tackles, as did Oshiomogho Atogwe. Tye Hill missed a couple. The Falcons ran the ball effectively in the red zone against eight in the box when defensive end Chris Long couldn't get away from Falcons tight end Justin Peelle in time to make a play. Long did make a couple of plays at the snap with his quickness.
  • Robinson looks good at receiver. Laurent Robinson has shown in practice an ability to beat smaller corners on quick slants. He did it again against the Falcons. Robinson, who had a 50-yard reception in the exhibition opener, again showed an ability to get deep. He badly beat Falcons cornerback Brent Grimes off the line and was wide open in the end zone, only to have Boller miss the throw.
  • Ahman Green looked good. The Rams worked out Green during the week and added the veteran runner to their list of potential players to sign if none of the current backups seizes the job behind Steven Jackson. Samkon Gado, who played well for the Rams in the exhibition opener, hurt his chances at earning a roster spot. He dropped a screen pass early in the game. He lost a fumble right before halftime.
I'll take a look at the rest of the game as time permits. The first half wasn't all bad for the Rams. Laurinaitis did pick off a pass. Robinson, as noted, made a positive impression at receiver. Overall, though, the first-team offense and defense struggled.