NFC West: 2013 preseason reax Week 1

Looking back on three things discussed here before the Arizona Cardinals' 2013 exhibition opener, which they led 17-0 when I filed this late in the fourth quarter:

1. Palmer's debut: New quarterback Carson Palmer completed four of six passes for 77 yards with one touchdown, zero interceptions and a 149.3 passer rating. He certainly looked like the upgrade Arizona sought from its previous quarterbacks. Both incomplete passes were deeper attempts on third down. Palmer found Andre Roberts for a 38-yard touchdown against the Green Bay Packers' starting defense (Arizona was tied for last in the NFL with three passes of 38-plus yards last season). Palmer also found Larry Fitzgerald for a 21-yard gain and Michael Floyd for an 18-yard gain. When backup Drew Stanton threw a touchdown pass to Jaron Brown, the Cardinals had as many scoring passes as the 2012 team managed through two-plus preseason games. Nearly 12 minutes remained in the second quarter.

2. Mathieu and the DBs: The Cardinals are building their secondary around young defensive backs Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu. Both made impact plays in this game. Peterson, the fifth player selected in the 2011 draft, picked off Green Bay backup quarterback Graham Harrell. Mathieu, a third-round choice this year, broke up a pass with a hard hit early in the game. He later collected a 12-yard sack on a blitz from the slot. Mathieu also provided a 23-yard punt return in the fourth quarter. He and Peterson could be good together for a long time.

3. Running back picture: Rashard Mendenhall, Ryan Williams and Andre Ellington did not play. Alfonso Smith carried 10 times for 21 yards and didn't appear to have much room for running. Rookie Stepfan Taylor looked good picking up 14 yards on one of his carries. However, the Cardinals did not run the ball well in this game. They did not find out much about their running backs.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- A few leftover thoughts from the St. Louis Rams' 27-19 loss to the Cleveland Browns in the preseason opener Thursday night.
  • Quarterback Sam Bradford played the offense’s first three series and looked sharp, completing 5-of-8 for 102 yards with a touchdown. He could have completed all eight attempts with a little help from his pass catchers, as at least two of his incompletions would be counted as drops.
  • Former Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar, who was broadcasting the game for Cleveland, offered plenty of praise for Bradford but was critical of the Rams receivers early, including the pass that rookie Tavon Austin failed to bring down. Of course, he changed his opinion moments later.
  • While tight end Jared Cook and receiver Austin have been the talk of training camp, receiver Chris Givens has quietly staked his claim to the role of No. 1 receiver. His three catches were varied and while the 59-yard strike to setup his touchdown catch garnered the most oohs and aahs, the best route he ran came on a 20-yard deep out he grabbed on the opening drive. Givens has proven he can get deep and is a better catch and run player than he gets credit for but his intermediate routes have been a focus for him. The deep out was a positive sign of progress in that regard last night.
  • The first-team offensive line did a nice job in pass protection; even after losing right tackle Rodger Saffold to a left shoulder injury two plays into the game. Left tackle Jake Long, in particular, looked stout. I’ll have more on Saffold after coach Jeff Fisher’s news conference today but it was noticeable how Fisher’s tone changed from “he’s OK” to “he’s going to miss some time” in the final two quarters. Injuries have been a consistent issue for Saffold in his three-plus years in the league.
  • Joe Barksdale, who replaced Saffold at right tackle, was solid. He struggled a bit when he moved over to the left side, though.
  • Kicker Greg Zuerlein looks every bit as strong as he did last year at this time. He converted field goals from 54 and 55 yards out and made it look easy. His biggest test will be maintaining that throughout the season.
  • The first-team defense played very basic schematically but they still had trouble with some of the simple things like tackling and assignments. Rookies Alec Ogletree and T.J. McDonald looked the part of the inexperienced starters amongst a veteran defense.
  • Receiver Brian Quick carried his two strong practices from Monday and Tuesday into the game and came down with a pair of nice catches plus a third that was brought back because of holding. The physical approach that former Ram Torry Holt has been drilling into Quick’s head was more apparent for Quick, who needs to keep up the consistency.
  • Some off-the-radar guys who caught my eye:

    Receiver Raymond Radwayhad three catches for 78 yards including a 53-yard touchdown but missed a golden opportunity to really make an impression when he couldn’t come up with a deep ball down the left sideline.

    Running back Benny Cunningham showed a nice combination of burst and toughness, gaining 20 yards on five carries, but his 36-yard kickoff return was even better. In what figures to be a battle for a potential fourth running back roster spot, special teams value can be a deciding factor.

    Defensive tackle Matt Conrath and end Mason Brodine flashed some potential with the backup defense. Both are tall and have the wingspan to be a nuisance for quarterbacks. They combined for seven tackles.
Looking back on three things discussed here before the Seattle Seahawks' 2013 exhibition opener, a 31-10 victory over the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium:

1. Return specialists. The Chargers didn't do much to help the Seahawks identify their next kickoff returner. Seattle returned only one kickoff all evening, with cornerback Jeremy Lane gaining 21 yards on that play. Not much to go on there. Cornerback Walter Thurmond nearly scored on a punt return that gained 46 yards. Receiver Perez Ashford had a 27-yard punt return. Corner Will Blackmon had a 19-yarder. Seattle was set in the return game with Leon Washington last season, but the team released him after acquiring Percy Harvin, who subsequently underwent hip surgery and is out indefinitely.

2. Backup QBs and a guy taking their handoffs. Brady Quinn and Tarvaris Jackson both outplayed Chargers backup and former Seahawks starter Charlie Whitehurst. Jackson was especially impressive, completing all but one of his nine attempts for 128 yards and two touchdowns, including a 42-yarder to Stephen Williams. Jackson was accurate on that deep pass and on a separate 41-yarder to Williams. Quinn nearly took a safety early in the game before rebounding to find Jermaine Kearse for an 11-yard touchdown. Quinn completed 6 of 11 passes for 59 yards and a touchdown. The No. 2 job behind Russell Wilson is Jackson's to lose, in my view. He only strengthened his position with this performance. In the backfield, rookie second-round choice Christine Michael carried 16 times for 89 yards, breaking free for a 24-yard gain in the fourth quarter. He looked good.

3. Rookie TE Willson. The Seahawks are looking for rookie fifth-round pick Luke Willson to develop into a solid second tight end to pair with starter Zach Miller. Willson could not come down with an early third-down pass from Wilson. He did catch another pass for a 15-yard gain and third-down conversion, this one from Quinn. Cooper Helfet made the most impressive reception by a Seattle tight end, diving to make a 23-yard reception.

Three things revisited: Broncos-49ers

August, 9, 2013

Looking back on three things discussed here before the San Francisco 49ers' 2013 exhibition opener, a 10-6 defeat to the Denver Broncos at Candlestick Park:

1. Young receivers. The 49ers would like 2012 first-round pick A.J. Jenkins to seize the starting job opposite Anquan Boldin. But Jenkins did not make a strong positive statement in this game. "Uh, could have been better," said coach Jim Harbaugh afterward. Overall, the 49ers targeted Jenkins three times and got two turnovers on those plays: Jenkins lost a fumble following his lone reception, and Colt McCoy overthrew him on a deep route, resulting in an interception. Marlon Moore adjusted to the ball nicely and made a low grab on an across-the-body throw from starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The Broncos tackled Moore short of the first down, but this was still an impressive reception. Ricardo Lockette drew a penalty on the perimeter. He also contributed with a special-teams tackle deep in Denver territory. Rookie second-round choice Vance McDonald is a tight end, but he factored in the receiving game and certainly looked the part while catching four passes for 66 yards.

2. Secondary dynamics. Tramaine Brock, in the lead for the No. 3 corner role over Nnamdi Asomugha while the team prepares to welcome newly-signed Eric Wright, had tight coverage on an incomplete sideline pass from Peyton Manning to Demaryius Thomas. Asomugha made a sure tackle in zone coverage to stop the Broncos on third down. At safety, C.J. Spillman made a tackle for loss. First-round pick Eric Reid delivered a couple of forceful hits. It will be helpful to get an update from defensive coordinator Vic Fangio as the 49ers look to identify their third corner and starting free safety for Week 1.

3. Backup QBs. Grading backup quarterbacks behind backup offensive lines can be tricky. McCoy looked good infinding McDonald in stride for a 19-yard gain early, but he attempted only seven passes overall and was picked off once. McCoy apparently suffered a shoulder stinger, Harbaugh told reporters after the game. Scott Tolzien completed 15 of 26 passes for 158 yards and a pick. His quick strike to Austin Collie on a late fourth-down play sustained a drive. To be continued.
A look at how the St. Louis Rams fared in five areas worth watching in Thursday night’s 27-19 loss at the Cleveland Browns in the preseason opener.

Running back breakdown

As expected, Daryl Richardson got the start and did nothing to jeopardize his chances to get the next one. He carried four times for 24 yards, helping set up the only touchdown scored by the first-team offense before calling it a night.

[+] EnlargeDaryl Richardson
Rick Osentoski/USA Today SportsDaryl Richardson is expected to get the bulk of carries this season for St. Louis.
Isaiah Pead also got work with the first team but got off to a rough start when he coughed up a fumble to kill the offense’s first drive. Ball security was an issue for Pead in limited opportunities in 2012 when he fumbled twice at San Francisco, losing one. He showed some resiliency by posting 16 yards on his next two carries to finish with 18 yards on three chances.

Rookie Zac Stacy, who didn’t practice on Monday or Tuesday, did play and had an up-and-down start before getting it going in the second half. His first three snaps consisted of a catch for 6 yards, a drop and a stout blitz pickup.

Stacy looked more comfortable in the second half though he wasn’t at full speed and finished with 23 yards on seven carries.

Benjamin Cunningham and Chase Reynolds came in for mop-up duty late. Cunningham showed some juice with a late 6-yard run that drew praise from Rams analyst Marshall Faulk and later tacked on a 36-yard kick return to set up the Rams’ final touchdown.

Terrance Ganaway, who appeared to tweak his leg near the end of Tuesday’s practice, was a pregame scratch.

Backing up Bradford

After spending the first couple weeks of camp rotating with Kellen Clemens, Austin Davis got the first opportunity behind starter Sam Bradford.

Davis struggled to gain traction before connecting with receiver Brian Quick for a 16-yard gain to set up a field goal. He was up and down the rest of the way behind spotty protection, finishing 9-of-16 for 96 yards.

Clemens entered with around seven minutes to go and the Rams backed up to their 1-yard line. After he completed his first attempt for a first down, Browns defensive lineman Justin Staples intercepted Clemens to set up the Browns’ final points.

Clemens got those points right back with a 53-yard touchdown pass to receiver Raymond Radway after escaping the pocket and dropping it off to Radway. He finished 6-of-13 for 116 yards with the touchdown and two interceptions.

All told, Clemens looked sharper than Davis as he nearly engineered a rally from down two scores to give the Rams a chance to tie. This battle is far from over, though.

First look at Austin

Rookie receiver Tavon Austin was probably the player everyone was most excited to see debut in the opener. The wait will have to last longer for those hoping to see him with the ball in his hands.

Bradford targeted Austin once and the rookie wideout couldn’t corral a seemingly catchable ball to convert on third down. It was the only time Austin had the ball thrown his way on the evening.

Austin also dropped back to return a punt but the kick came up well short of him and he didn’t get the chance to catch it.

Left guard looks

Chris Williams got the start at left guard over Shelley Smith, though both got their opportunities. Williams was on the field for the first-team offense’s touchdown drive and helped open holes for Richardson to gain 18 yards on two carries to set up the score.

Smith played the majority of the snaps in the second half.

Rookie defenders

The Rams' first-team defense struggled to get off the field, allowing the Browns to convert three third downs on their opening drive and once more for a touchdown on their second.

At the heart of those struggles were the Rams’ two rookie starters. Linebacker Alec Ogletree scuffled in coverage as Browns tight end Jordan Cameron and running back Dion Lewis beat him for big plays. He finished with two tackles in unofficial statistics.

Safety T.J. McDonald got off to a difficult start when he whiffed on a tackle to allow Cleveland’s first drive to continue. He did bounce back to post five tackles, according to unofficial statistics.