NFC West: 2012 NFL preseason Week 2

Looking back on three things discussed here before Seattle's 30-10 preseason victory at Denver on Saturday night:

1. QB competition continued. Matt Flynn did not appear to play his way out of the starting job, but another impressive showing from rookie Russell Wilson should give the Seahawks something to think about.

Penalties and pressure were problems early. Flynn held the ball too long another time. He overthrew Braylon Edwards in the end zone (not sure if that was a throwaway). Flynn was on target other times, including when he found Kellen Winslow. He scrambled effectively on a bootleg. Flynn and Terrell Owens weren't on the same page. They had multiple opportunities to make positive plays, both long and short. It never happened. Flynn completed 6 of 13 passes for 31 yards overall.

Wilson started the second half and made an impact initially with his ability to avoid the rush. He showed good timing and touch on a pass over the middle to Sean McGrath. Phil Bates was open deep for what should have been a touchdown, but the ball sailed long (Bates appeared to lose his stride at one point, a potential factor). Wilson completed 10 of 17 passes for 155 yards and two scores with no interceptions.

Wilson showed ample arm strength and poise in making a desperation pass appear routine. The Broncos were knocking him to the ground when Wilson, his body at roughly a 45-degree angle to the ground, threw a laser of a pass from his own 45-yard line to Lavasier Tuinei at the Denver 34. That's a pass traveling 21 yards through a defense to its target while the quarterback was getting drilled. How many guys can do that?

2. Terrell Owens’ debut. This was a step backward for Owens after the free-agent addition seemed to be making progress in practices. Flynn force-fed the ball to Owens early in the game, but the two weren't in sync. Owens' negative body language following one of the miscues stood out. That sort of stuff doesn't go over well. Owens won't be on the team for the long haul if that continues, in my view.

When Owens got deep down the middle, he dropped Flynn's perfectly thrown pass for what should have been a touchdown. Another time, Flynn threw shorter when Owens took off for the end zone. One pass from Flynn fell incomplete behind Owens.

3. That other QB. The Seahawks hoped to sign Peyton Manning this offseason, but Manning ignored their advances. Manning completed 16 of 23 passes for 177 yards against the Seahawks, often moving the ball effectively. But Seattle picked him off twice, once on a tipped pass deep in Seahawks territory.

Three things revisited: 49ers-Texans

August, 18, 2012
Looking back on three things discussed here before San Francisco’s 20-9 preseason road defeat Saturday night against Houston:

1. Receiver mix. A crisp week of practices for the 49ers’ offense didn’t translate into the game. Quarterback Alex Smith too frequently faced pressure and/or couldn’t find open receivers. Tight end Vernon Davis dropped a short pass when Randy Moss appeared open down the field. The Texans nearly picked off a deeper pass for Mario Manningham on a pass Smith likely threw only because there appeared to be pass interference on the play. Officials didn’t throw a flag. It was that kind of night for the first-team offense. Later, Moss got open deep, showing good speed, but he couldn't snare a pass from backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Rookie first-round pick A.J. Jenkins made a positive impact with the backups. A well-run route gave him room to make an overhead catch for a 32-yard reception from Josh Johnson.

2. Backup QB race. Kaepernick completed 4 of 8 passes for 19 yards. He also gained 12 yards on a scramble. Johnson was next off the bench, completing 4 of 6 attempts for 64 yards. His connection with Jenkins was a highlight for the 49ers’ passing game. The quarterback competitions became a footnote as the 49ers dealt with attrition at running back. Brandon Jacobs left the game on a cart with an apparent knee injury. Rookie second-round choice LaMichael James left on a cart with what appeared to be an injury to his ankle or foot. Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter are the running backs most important to the 49ers, but Jacobs and James are supposed to provide depth. No word yet on the severity of those injuries.

3. Perrish's push. This was one of the all-time worst notes I’ve ever included in a preview package. Perrish Cox, battling Chris Culliver for the nickel corner role, didn’t even make the trip to Houston. That made it pretty tough for him to make a “push” of any kind. Worse, I previously looked forward to Cox facing his former team, but the 49ers do not play Denver until next week. Culliver did play, at least. I noticed him ceding a reception to Keshawn Martin over the middle. Culliver also missed what would have been a tough open-field tackle in run support. He was covering Kevin Walter closely on an incomplete pass from Matt Schaub over the middle. To be continued.

Three things revisited: Chiefs-Rams

August, 18, 2012
Looking back on three things discussed here before St. Louis' preseason home opener Saturday night against Kansas City, a game the Rams led 31-10 as I filed this in the fourth quarter and ended up winning 31-17:

1. First-team execution. The Rams scored touchdowns on their first two drives, marked improvement from their performance against Indianapolis last week. Sam Bradford found his favorite receiver, Danny Amendola, for a 35-yard gain off play-action on the first play. Steven Jackson powered through a huge hole for an 18-yard gain on the next play. Bradford soon found Lance Kendricks over the middle for a 23-yard touchdown. Bradford and Amendola connected for a touchdown on the Rams’ second drive. Bradford beat pressure and Amendola made an impressive adjustment on the ball. The Rams’ first-team offense accomplished its goals in this game.

2. Rookie RB rebound. Rookie running back Isaiah Pead was looking to bounce back from a couple miscues suffered in the opener. He scored a touchdown with a high leap over the Chiefs’ defense at the goal line. Pead also lost nine yards with an ill-advised reversal of course. Pead probably should have cut his losses on that run. He carried six times for minus-5 yards.

3. Pass defense. The Rams made progress in this area after a rough game against Andrew Luck. Chris Long batted down a pass early. Craig Dahl quickly brought down the elusive Dexter McCluster after a short gain. The Rams made Matt Cassel and McCluster work for a short completion on third-and-5. Cornerback Janoris Jenkins was right there. Later, rookie corner Trumaine Johnson broke up a pass, leading to an interception for defensive lineman Matt Conrath.

Three things: Seahawks-Broncos

August, 18, 2012
Three things to watch for Saturday night in the Seattle Seahawks' second exhibition game, this one at Denver (9 p.m. ET):

1. QB competition continued. Matt Flynn makes his second start in as many exhibition games for Seattle, an opportunity to build on a mostly efficient performance against Tennessee last week. The question is really if rookie Russell Wilson can upstage Flynn for the second week in a row. Wilson appears more dynamic in every way, but he’s also less experienced. I tend to think Wilson needs Flynn to stumble some for coach Pete Carroll to go with Wilson as the Week 1 starter. But few coaches appear as comfortable going young as Carroll has proven to be. Speaking of Carroll, he maintains that Tarvaris Jackson remains a candidate to start. That is a tough sell.

2. Terrell Owens’ debut. Carroll has said Owens will get into the game early. Owens has been gaining momentum in practice. He’s competing primarily with Braylon Edwards, who is coming off an impressive showing against the Titans. The Broncos counter with Champ Bailey and Tracy Porter at cornerback. Owens beat Bailey for a 91-yard touchdown in their most recent regular-season meeting. That was way back in 2005, when Owens was with the Philadelphia Eagles. Owens had three receptions for 154 yards in that game. He hasn’t played in an NFL game of any kind since 2010, however.

3. That other QB. The Seahawks practically begged Peyton Manning to consider Seattle as a free-agent destination this offseason. Manning showed no interest, even when the Seahawks’ leadership flew to Denver for a potential meeting. As a result, Seattle’s aggressive cornerbacks get a chance to measure themselves against an all-time great.

Three things: Cardinals-Raiders

August, 17, 2012
Three things to watch for Friday night in the Arizona Cardinals' third exhibition game, this one against Oakland at University of Phoenix Stadium (10 p.m. ET kickoff):

1. Ticking QB clock. Kevin Kolb and John Skelton have another opportunity to provide evidence of their worthiness as starting quarterbacks. Kolb in particular needs a boost after two forgettable performances in the preseason. Kolb appears to be suffering from the same problems that held him back last season: pressing too hard, bailing from the pocket too quickly, getting off rhythm, not trusting his secondary receivers. Kolb in June: "Sometimes when you want something really bad, you press a little bit too hard. I'm trying to make sure that doesn't happen. I'm trying to make sure I stay relaxed, stay calm, because when I play like that, I usually play pretty good football. ... Hopefully try to make that last for 16 weeks."

2. RB health. Second-year running back Ryan Williams could make his 2012 preseason debut 364 days after tearing a patella. Getting Williams through the game healthy is a top priority. Any sort of setback would raise fears for the Cardinals, who are counting on Williams and starter Beanie Wells to bounce back from knee surgeries. Neither played in the first two exhibition games. LaRod Stephens-Howling has missed practices recently with a groin injury, further depleting the ranks at running back. Williams carried four times for 21 yards against Oakland in the Cardinals' 2011 exhibition opener. He suffered the knee injury on his first carry the following week.

3. Outside pass-rush. Outside linebacker Quentin Groves has a chance to emerge as a contributor in Arizona after unproductive stops in Jacksonville and Oakland. Groves, 28, has generally outpaced modest expectations recently. He had four tackles, including two for losses, during the exhibition opener. He made a special-teams tackle at Kansas City last week. There could be earlier opportunities to rush the passer against the Raiders if a knee injury keeps out starter O'Brien Schofield. Groves, a second-round choice in 2008, was a rookie when he brought down Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers for an 11-yard sack on a third-and-8 play. That was the last time Groves sacked a quarterback during a regular-season game.

Looking back upon three things discussed here before the Arizona Cardinals' exhibition game Friday at Kansas City, a game the Cardinals lost 27-17:

1. QB competition. John Skelton started and generally looked better than Kevin Kolb, in my view, except for an across-the-body pass into coverage for an interception on third-and-14. Neither quarterback made a clear positive statement. Skelton completed 3 of 6 passes. Kolb completed 1-of-5. Skelton appeared unfazed by the rush, at one point coolly sidestepping a charging defender to find Andre Roberts. The running game struggled early, however, and the Cardinals found themselves in third-and-long situations too frequently. Kolb appeared sharp and accurate on his first couple throws, both back-shoulder types. He held onto the ball too long a couple times, including once when the Chiefs sacked him. "Five hitches, you gotta get rid of the ball," former NFL quarterback Trent Green said during the Chiefs' broadcast of the game. Ryan Lindley, the likely third quarterback, completed all four attempts working behind the first-team line late in the first half. He drove the Cardinals to a field goal after the team fell behind 17-0.

2. Stewart Bradley's progress. The Chiefs blocked Bradley (and quite a few of his teammates) effectively while driving to touchdowns on their first two possessions. Bradley did stop Peyton Hillis for a 1-yard gain early, but he appeared unaware as Hillis rumbled through the line for a sizable gain to the Arizona 13-yard line. Hillis gained 41 yards on his first four carries and also had a 11-yard touchdown reception. One of the Chiefs' tight ends blocked Bradley to spring Shaun Draughn for a 4-yard touchdown. The entire defense had problems stopping Kansas City early. Bradley was in the spotlight here because he played well in the exhibition opener while trying to bounce back from a rough first season with Arizona.

3. Pass protection. There were issues in protection, but these were not just protection issues. They were situational issues. The Cardinals, playing without their top running backs, struggled to run the ball early. The run blocking itself wasn't very good. Arizona found itself in third-and-long situations too many times. Offensive linemen have a hard enough time holding up in protection without trying to keep their quarterbacks upright on third-and-long. And when a quarterback holds onto the ball an extra second or two, the job becomes even tougher. An improved ground game would have helped the protection.