NFC West: 2014 NFL Preseason Week 4 W2W4
1. The grass: It's a, ahem, sod story that's taken on a life of its own this week. The $1.3 billion Levi's Stadium needed new grass after just one 49ers exhibition game, a San Jose Earthquakes soccer match, a John Legend concert and two and a half public practices by the 49ers. The original Bandera Bermuda blend did not take root properly, and as a result, coach Jim Harbaugh took his team off the field during Wednesday's practice after determining the field was hazardous to his players following several slips and divots. So a new lawn was rolled out Friday -- a deeper cut than the original -- and everyone insists it will hold up Sunday and no players will admit they will be extra careful on it. Stay tuned. How the field holds up in the all-important third preseason game could determine how long the 49ers starters play.
2. Scoring: The 49ers kicked a field goal on their first offensive possession of the preseason and have been shut out since, a stretch of 20 possessions. Sure, starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been under center for only three of those drives, including the first, but being outscored by a combined 57-3 should be cause for concern, right? Well, to a man, the 49ers regulars insist all is well, that they just need to get a rhythm going offensively. How long the starters play will go a long way toward establishing said rhythm and determining if there is cause for deeper concern.
3. Who's the backup QB? Blaine Gabbert has left much to be desired in his two appearances as Kaepernick's primary backup, completing 11 of 25 passes for 60 yards and two interceptions with no touchdowns. But it's not as if Josh Johnson or McLeod Bethel-Thompson has lit things up either, the former losing a pair of fumbles and the latter getting picked off twice. Still, Harbaugh said there was no change in the order of the backup quarterbacks, giving the sense that the No. 2 job is truly Gabbert's to lose -- even if that's exactly how he has performed thus far.
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams and Cleveland Browns meet in Week 3 of the preseason Saturday night at FirstEnergy Stadium. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. ET. Here are three things to watch for from the Rams' end:
1. Returning starters: Last week it was quarterback Sam Bradford making his 2014 preseason debut, but five other important Rams are working their way back onto the field and could do so as early as this week. Left tackle Jake Long is expected to play for the first time since suffering a torn MCL and ACL in December 2013. Defensive tackle Michael Brockers also looks on course to bounce back from an ankle injury after doing most everything in practice this week. Cornerback Janoris Jenkins should also be back on the field after a short hiatus because of a hamstring issue. Linebacker James Laurinaitis (ankle) and guard Rodger Saffold (stinger) are less certain. Saffold has done limited work in team drills during practice but is hopeful that he'll get to play. Laurinaitis is in a similar boat but may not be pushed. We won't know who will and won't play until the game starts, but all five are worth watching either way.
2. A better idea: Rams coach Jeff Fisher has indicated his team will be a bit more active in game planning and preparation this week after an extremely vanilla approach the first two weeks. That could mean more time for the starters than either of the first two games. But just because there will be more scheming doesn't mean there will be a lot. A blitz here and there might be in the offing, but coming away with any sweeping generalizations from any preseason game (or practice, for that matter) is still not recommended. Still, the more time the starters play, the more chances we'll have to see what kind of shape the top group is in.
3. Running revival: Through the first two games, there has been plenty of caterwauling about the Rams' inability to run the ball on offense and stop the run on defense, particularly with the starting groups. While there hasn't been much game planning going on, the run game often comes down to the basics of blocking and tackling. Those two things should always be a priority and so far the Rams have struggled in those areas. Of course, plenty of teams around the league can say the same thing. On defense, the return of Laurinaitis and Brockers would go a long way toward helping stop the run. Saffold would have a similar effect on the run game. Again, there's little reason to panic about either area at this point in the preseason, but it's worth continuing to monitor as the regular season draws near.
Three things to watch:
- The starters: Typically, the third preseason game is the one where the starters see significant playing time. “I’m expecting to play all the first half and probably into the third quarter,” quarterback Russell Wilson said. In the case for the Seahawks, it comes against a team that should provide a good test in the Bears, and give a good indication where both teams stand heading into regular season. Each team has one more preseason game next week, but starters play sparingly in that one while guys on the bubble have one last chance to show they belong on the roster.
- Christine Michael: Starting running back Marshawn Lynch will get a few carries Friday for the first time in the preseason, but the man who has something to prove is Michael. He has been viewed as the heir-apparent to Lynch, but hasn’t helped himself in the preseason with a fumble in each of the first two games. Meanwhile, backup running back Robert Turbin was sensational last week with 81 yards on 12 first-half carries against San Diego. However, coach Pete Carroll had high praise for Michael on Thursday. “I think’s he the most improved player on our team,'' Carroll said. "He’s come a long way in so many ways. He just needs to keep showing he’s growing as a football player. He’s explosive and he mind is in it. He’s really been busting his tail.” Michael has run pretty well, but it won’t matter it he puts the ball on the turf again.
- The Bennett brothers: Seattle defensive end Michael Bennett (28) is looking forward to facing his brother, Chicago tight end Martellus Bennett (27), Friday night. “It’s interesting to see how it plays out going against my brother,” Michael Bennett said. “Every year you get to play against some guys you know, but this time it’s my brother.” The Bennetts grew up in Houston and played for Texas A&M. The Bears also are the team that tried to sign Michael as a free agent five months ago, but he took a little less money ($28.5 million over four years) to stay in Seattle. “It’s was weird, but it’s just part of the business,” Michael Bennett said.