NFC West: Preseason 082110

A few quick thoughts after watching the San Francisco 49ers defeat the Minnesota Vikings at Candlestick Park 15-10 in the second week of the 2010 exhibition season:
  • The 49ers can feel better about their offensive line after it held up (in pass protection) against one of the NFL's deeper fronts. The St. Louis Rams' line struggled badly against the Vikings a week earlier. The 49ers had two rookies starting and a backup at center, but they helped the 49ers put together a 12-play, 70-yard touchdown drive to open the game.
  • Quarterback Alex Smith completed 9 of 13 passes for 88 yards and an 88.0 rating. That's what the 49ers wanted to see from him. They had to like the way he moved within the pocket and still found receivers. Smith had built-in excuses if he wanted them (Frank Gore, Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree did not play). No excuses necessary after this one.
  • Third-string quarterback Nate Davis will be the most popular player on the 49ers if Smith is just average or worse. Davis continued to show big-play passing potential. He completed 7 of 16 passes (44 percent) for 114 yards and a 68.2 rating.
  • Ted Ginn Jr. bought some relief for himself with that 60-yard reception from Davis. He also caught a third-down pass from Smith. Ginn missed two other opportunities. He probably should have caught the high pass from Smith. The pass from Davis that went behind him would have been tougher. It's the threat of Ginn that matters most to this offense, not whether he catches every ball thrown his way.
  • Travis LaBoy served notice he's still a factor as a pass-rush specialist. He had a sack and got pressure repeatedly. The issue for the 49ers is whether they think he can stay healthy long enough to help them during the regular season.
  • The 49ers miss rookie receiver Kyle Williams on punt returns. Williams is missing valuable opportunities to gain experience while recovering from a toe injury. Will he be ready when the games start counting? The 49ers seem to like him enough to consider him for the role despite his relative lack of experience. And it's not like the team has seen other candidates shine in the role.
  • San Francisco's physical play on defense stands out and separates the 49ers from the Seattle and St. Louis teams I watched this weekend. Patrick Willis alone separates the 49ers' defense.
  • Unsigned nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin does not seem more valuable after missing all of training camp and the first two exhibition games. The 49ers' franchise player will sign at some point, and coach Mike Singletary thinks Franklin will report in shape. Franklin's absence hasn't created any buzz. The 49ers seem to be functioning OK along their defensive front.

The NFC West's run during prime time continues with the Arizona Cardinals' appearance on "Monday Night Football" at Tennessee.

Thoughts on Sam Bradford and the Rams

August, 22, 2010
What to make of Sam Bradford and the St. Louis Rams following their 19-17 victory over the Cleveland Browns during the second week of the 2010 exhibition season:

  • Hard rains made game conditions sloppy. Both teams' offenses bogged down in the conditions. The exception was when A.J. Feeley was at quarterback for the Rams. Feeley's command of the offense separated him from the other quarterbacks in this game, particularly early. He was able to run the Rams' offense more precisely. It helped, too, that Steven Jackson was in the game for the one drive Feeley led. Quarterbacks for both teams had trouble securing the ball from center in the wet conditions, throwing off rhythm right away.
  • [+] EnlargeSam Bradford
    AP Photo/David RichardSam Bradford completed 6 of 14 passes for 24 yards in the rain against the Browns.
    Feeley's experience helped him take what the Browns' defense was giving him. That meant throwing underneath to tight ends Billy Bajema and Daniel Fells.
  • The Rams' pass protection showed improvement from last week. The Browns do not rush the passer as well as Week 1 opponent Minnesota rushes the passer. That accounted for part of the difference. The Rams' offensive tackles also showed improvement. The Browns got pressure on blitzes, which is easy to do during the exhibition season because offenses aren't game-planning nearly as much.
  • How much better was the Rams' pass protection? Bernie Kosar, providing commentary on the Browns' broadcast, at one point said, "Fantastic job of pass protection by the St. Louis Rams." There never would have been a chance to utter that sentence a week earlier.
  • The Rams got what they wanted from a couple key veterans they added in free agency. On defense, tackle Fred Robbins had a sack and a fumble recovery. On offense, Feeley ran the system effectively before -- and even immediately after -- suffering a thumb injury, but the Rams took him out of the game after the opening drive to a touchdown. Giving Feeley time to heal could work to the Rams' favor in the long term. Feeley already knows the offense. He doesn't need as much work. Starting Bradford during the third exhibition game could make it easier for the Rams to start Bradford in Week 1 of the regular season.
  • Bradford isn't yet playing fast enough. That will change as he gains more game experience. The conditions made it especially tough for Bradford to function quickly and efficiently. Bradford has yet to play a game with Jackson in the backfield. That should change next week. Jackson is the one Rams player defenses fear. Bradford needs him. Bradford could also use more help from teammates. Bajema dropped a third-down pass early in the game. I wasn't seeing many open receivers, either.
  • Mardy Gilyard made three Browns miss during a 23-yard punt return early in the game. Gilyard enjoyed a strong week of practices, easily his best as a pro.

Overall, the Rams needed to see better pass protection in this game, and they got it. They wanted to see Bradford get into a rhythm and move the offense, but it didn't really happen. That will come with experience, better conditions and a little more help. Bradford never faced a third-down distance shorter than 8 yards. His third-down distances in order: third-and-8, 9, 9, 10, 14, 17, 8 and 8. Getting Jackson onto the field would help bring down those distances for Bradford, putting him in better position to succeed.

Video: Bradford struggles but Rams win

August, 22, 2010

The St. Louis Rams lose A.J. Feeley but beat the Browns 19-17 despite Jake Delhomme's solid start.
SEATTLE -- First-half thoughts from Qwest Field while watching the Seattle Seahawks against the Green Bay Packers in the second week of the exhibition season:
  • Russell Okung's ankle injury has not hurt Seattle a great deal in this game. Mansfield Wrotto has seemed to fare well, particularly early. But losing Okung for any length of time severely depletes the depth at tackle, particularly with backup right tackle Ray Willis already needing knee surgery. Getting Chester Pitts healthy enough to factor at tackle becomes more important pending news on Okung.
  • The Seahawks' offense helps out the tackles in pass protection. Example: Hasselbeck fooled the Packers twice on one play when he ran bootleg off a play-fake. The Packers bit on the fake and they were in even worse position to deal with the boot. Hasselbeck rolled left and threw across his body to Mike Williams for a first down. A team doesn't need an elite tackle to run that type of play effectively.
  • Hasselbeck turned in the type of performance Seattle wanted to see from him, completing 11 of 15 passes for 127 yards, one touchdown and a 120.7 rating. He played the full first half.
  • Chris Clemons could become a double-digit sack threat for Seattle with a little pass-rush help from the other side. I did see Aaron Curry bring down Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers on one play, but the ball was already gone and Rodgers completed the pass. Clemons again showed he can push back tackles. He drove Chad Clifton into Rodgers' face on one play, but Rodgers got rid of the ball in time to avoid a sack. Also noted: Clemons gave good effort on the first-team punt-coverage unit. Late-half update: Packers rookie Bryan Bulaga was winning his matchup with Clemons. Clemons also gave up a reception in coverage.
  • Leon Washington excelled when working with the first-team offense early in the second quarter. Washington got the Packers' attention right away with violent pass-protection block on safety Nick Collins. Washington jacked up Collins, lifting him high into the air. Collins acknowledged Washington's effort after the play. Washington then opened up the pass to Williams with his play-fake to the inside. The drive ended with Washington quickly covering the remaining 11 yards to the end zone on an inside handoff. The touchdown meant the Seahawks matched the Packers, 14-14, when the first-team offenses were on the field (the Packers replaced Rodgers on their next drive, but Seattle left Hasselbeck and its starters in the game, with diminishing returns).
  • Rookie free safety Earl Thomas showed his range and leaping ability in breaking up a deep pass near the sideline. He also badly missed an open-field tackle and couldn't break up a spectacular deep connection between Rodgers and Greg Jennings early in the game. Jennings laid out for the ball with Thomas right behind him. This was more a great play by the Packers than a bad one by Thomas (and it wasn't even clear whether Thomas was primarily responsible for coverage on the play).
  • Mike Gibson worked some at left guard with the starting offense. Gibson might be better than veteran Ben Hamilton, but line coach Alex Gibbs likes having Hamilton around because Hamilton knows the system. Again, getting Pitts healthy would be a significant plus for Seattle.
  • Left cornerback Marcus Trufant looks better than I've seen him in a couple years, at least. He's active and playing with swagger.
  • T.J. Houshmandzadeh played extensively and justified the commitment. Hasselbeck seems to trust him more than he did a year ago. That was evident when Hasselbeck threw to Houshmandzadeh without hesitation, including when tight throws were required.
  • Julius Jones was the odd man out in the halfback rotation. Justin Forsett and Washington played extensively in the first half.

The Packers hold a 17-14 lead at halftime even though Seattle played key starters longer from what I saw.