NFL Nation: 081812 preseason obs

Observation deck: Cowboys-Chargers

August, 19, 2012
The Dallas Cowboys' second preseason game was a 28-20 exhibition loss to the San Diego Chargers. Yet it gave Cowboys fans more reason to feel good then did their 3-0 preseason victory over the Raiders on Monday night. Such is life in the preseason, where everything seems much bigger and realer than it actually is.

But what we saw from the Cowboys on Saturday, when the first-teamers were in the game, was pretty good. For instance, Tony Romo had much more time to throw in this game than he did in the first one, and he completed 9 of 13 passes for 75 yards. Nothing too special, but (a) Miles Austin and Jason Witten were out with injuries and (b) the most important thing was that the line held up well enough this time for the Cowboys to actually operate their offense. On the first drive, that meant a lot of running back DeMarco Murray, who was the focal point of five of the first six plays -- three carries and two receptions. The protection and the reliance on Murray might have been the result of the Chargers devoting more of their energy to coverage than to getting into the backfield, but again, the result was that the Cowboys got to run plays this time. And I don't think it's fluky that they went to Murray a lot on that first drive. Even when everyone's healthy, I get the sense they're going to lean hard on Murray as their featured back this year. And the fact that he didn't return after that first drive is most likely because they want to keep him healthy.

Here's what else I noticed:

1. Brandon Carr looked big-time. The Cowboys' prized free-agent acquisition had two interceptions, and he flat-out worked it. On the first one, he let the receiver get past him and baited Philip Rivers into throwing the ball, then closed quickly and made the leaping interception. His play on the second one was also smart and athletic, and he showed good skills staying with the ball in spite of bobbling it a few times before securing it in his hands. Carr has been a star in offseason workouts and in training camp, and so far has done nothing to make the Cowboys question their investment.

2. Kevin Ogletree is staking his claim to the No. 3 receiver spot. Again, you can't assume that a guy will play well in the regular season because he does so in the preseason. So there's no way to know what Ogletree would do if given the role. But what we see is a guy on the verge of winning the role. He's also looked good in practice, and the performance in Saturday's game only underlines what the coaches already like about him. He caught four passes for 60 yards, including a very tough one from Kyle Orton in double coverage, and seems to be a guy to whom Romo isn't afraid to throw the ball. Cole Beasley was also a standout in this game, and he caught one from Romo as well. Most of his damage was done late, against backup defenders, but Beasley ended with 104 yards on seven catches, was targeted a team-high nine times and left it all out on the field. Literally. Worked so hard, cameras caught him throwing up on the sideline just before the end of the game. I also thought Dwayne Harris looked good as a receiver and a punt returner, and rookie James Hanna looks like a very strong pass-catching tight end. Assuming Austin comes back soon and Witten doesn't have to miss too much time, Romo should have plenty of guys to whom to throw. We haven't even mentioned Dez Bryant, who had a quiet night but still dazzled with an athletic near-catch just out of the back of the end zone. I believe he should emerge as Romo's red-zone favorite.

3. The line did play better, but David Arkin continues to have a tough preseason. Kept getting caught downfield illegally, and he's committed too many penalties in these first couple of games. The team wants Arkin to develop as a backup center, at least, but he's struggling.

4. Morris Claiborne's debut was fine, but uneventful. The rookie first-round pick made a couple of tackles and looked fine in coverage. For some reason, the Chargers seemed to want to throw in Carr's direction more than they did in Claiborne's. If Carr keeps picking off two passes a game, I have to imagine that will change. But it was good for Claiborne to get his feet wet against NFL competition.

5. Sean Lee looked like a playmaking monster, again, but I would think Bruce Carter is currently ahead of Dan Connor in the competition at the other inside linebacker spot. Connor had trouble in coverage on tight end Randy McMichael, and Carter seems like the more athletic option at this point. This is a Cowboys defense that wants to prioritize an ability to make plays on the ball, and an inside linebacker who can't cover a tight end is not likely to find himself with much of a role in that kind of a defense.

6. The Butlers did it. Linebacker Victor Butler and defensive back Mario Butler both showed good things. Victor had an early sack and pressured Rivers a couple of times. Mario looked good in coverage but missed a big tackle that led to a touchdown. Victor Butler is a guy who should be able to emerge as a helpful pass-rusher if the coaches can find snaps for him.
A look at the Chargers’ 28-20 home victory over Dallas on Saturday night:

First, some bad, bad news:

Second-year receiver Vincent Brown suffered a broken left ankle. U-T San Diego reports that he will have surgery and will miss at least eight weeks. I wouldn’t be surprised if the injury takes even more time to heal. What a shame.

Brown looked great this summer and was going to be the Chargers’ No. 3 receiver. This injury means Eddie Royal, who has been hurt during camp, must step up to help this receiving crew.

OK, I know you will ask: Does Brown's injury mean the Chargers could be in on Plaxico Burress or Chad Johnson? Well, it would be unlike San Diego general manager A.J. Smith to add either player, but there is a hole at the position.

This is truly a bad loss for San Diego, which is without starting running back Ryan Mathews for a month or so after he suffered a shoulder injury last week. The Chargers have been ravaged by injuries the past three years and the 2012 season hasn’t started any differently.

The Chargers worked on building depth this offseason; it is paying off in the preseason. The Chargers’ backups led a comeback Saturday night and have looked good in both preseason games.

That is all well and fine, but San Diego’s first-team offense was sloppy again. All 15 of Philip Rivers’ passes were caught Saturday night. But two of them were caught by Cowboys.

Rivers has thrown three interceptions in two preseason games. He was picked off 20 times last season. Rivers has looked really good in the preseason, but interceptions just can’t happen -- he must improve in this area.

Rookie defenders Melvin Ingram and Kendall Reyes continued to make an impact. These guys are going to be fun to watch.

Backup cornerback Shareece Wright had an interception with a long return. He has looked good this summer.

Observation deck: Redskins-Bears

August, 19, 2012
As much as everybody tries to read meaning into the on-field results of preseason games, the only thing that truly matters to the teams is getting through them healthy. For that reason, the Washington Redskins' 33-31 exhibition loss to the Bears in Chicago on Saturday night was a painful one. Outside linebacker Brian Orakpo and strong safety Brandon Meriweather both left the game in the first quarter with injuries -- Meriweather to his knee, Orakpo to the same pectoral muscle he tore last year. Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said after the game that both would have MRIs on Sunday, and obviously when you lose two defensive starters you have to be concerned. Inside linebacker London Fletcher also was a late scratch from the starting lineup Saturday, and Shanahan didn't say much about Fletcher when asked postgame.

So it was a troubling night for the Redskins because of what was happening on the trainer's table, not so much because of what was happening on the field. Remember, we absolutely cannot make long-term predictions based on these games. We don't know what we're watching. Some teams game-plan for opponents in preseason, other teams don't. Much of the decisive action comes against third-teamers that won't see the field all year. All we can do is evaluate one night's performance for what it is, and to that end ...

1. Robert Griffin III is still learning. And this is fine, of course. It is to be expected. The hype around the Redskins' rookie quarterback has been intense and exciting, but on occasion it can seem to ignore the important fact that Griffin is a rookie who must learn and get used to the challenges of the NFL game. In the preseason opener last week in Buffalo, the Redskins worked hard to protect Griffin, limiting his throws and his reads to the quickest possible, and he looked very good. He makes smart decisions and displays the kind of poise and leadership you want to see from your franchise quarterback. But the Bears' Cover 2 made things more challenging for Griffin on Saturday, as did Chicago's Julius Peppers-led pass rush, and Griffin looked shakier in Game 2. He was 5-for-8 for 49 yards, was sacked three times and fumbled on one of those sacks. Fred Davis missed a block on the fumble snap, and rookie running back Alfred Morris admitted to reporters after the game that he'd failed to pick up the blitz, but Griffin also needed to protect the ball better while running from the pressure. In general, he looked like a rookie who needs to show more composure against the rush. And again, at this stage in his career, there's nothing wrong with that at all.

2. The secondary looked like a mess. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler had a field day from the start. He found big Brandon Marshall up the right sideline for 41 yards after Marshall blew past Cedric Griffin. It looked as though cornerback DeAngelo Hall was playing free safety on that play, perhaps as part of this weird plan to convince Hall he can be used the way Green Bay uses Charles Woodson. It didn't work. Later, Marshall caught a 20-yarder on Josh Wilson. This time, Meriweather was providing the safety help but overshot the tackle. Orakpo got hurt in coverage on Devin Hester, and I still can't figure out what he was doing so deep. Alshon Jeffery had a big catch a little bit later on, and it looked like he had linebackers in coverage as well. I understand the safeties are new and they're moving the cornerbacks around a lot, but the Redskins' coverages Saturday did not look cohesive while the first-teamers were on the field. I thought Madieu Williams showed some good things, including an open-field tackle of Earl Bennett.

3. Brandon Banks showed something as a returner, with a 91-yard punt return, and Aldrick Robinson flashed his incredible speed as a receiver, bursting into another gear on his 49-yard catch-and-run touchdown. Weird thing is, Robinson doesn't show much as a returner and Banks hasn't shown enough as a receiver. If you could combine them, you'd have something. But the Redskins might not be able to keep both.

4. Morris got the start at running back over Evan Royster with Tim Hightower and Roy Helu hurt. Early on, Morris showed why Shanahan likes him. He makes one cut and then gets upfield quickly, which is essential for success in Shanahan's zone-blocking run game. He also has that good forward body lean, which helps him pick up yards after contact. The sixth-round pick from Florida Atlantic had 34 yards on 10 carries. Royster was the third-down back even when Morris was in the game, and he had 20 yards on two carries. Tristan Davis had 10 carries late but did little with them and isn't likely to be a factor when this running back mess gets sorted out. Morris is a factor, right now.

5. Kirk Cousins. Yes, he looked great. He was a stunning 18-for-23 for 264 yards and three fourth-quarter touchdowns, including one to newly converted tight end Niles Paul, the one to Robinson and one to Dezmon Briscoe. The Redskins like Cousins a lot. But no, as anyone who's really paying attention knows, there's no quarterback controversy in Washington and there's not about to be one. The Redskins traded three first-round picks and a second-rounder to get Griffin. They did not do that for Cousins. Their plan for Cousins is to develop him as a backup and, ideally, trade him for something of value down the road the way Andy Reid and the Eagles did with Kevin Kolb. Preseason performances like this one can only help with that latter goal. But remember, the performance was against backup defensive players. Cousins never saw Peppers.
A look at Denver's 30-10 home loss against Seattle on Saturday night:

For Peyton Manning, statistics really don’t matter this summer.

It’s all about getting ready for the regular season and shaking off the rust.

Sure, the quarterback threw two interceptions Saturday against the Seahawks. He has three interceptions in about three quarters this summer.

I’m sure Manning will take throwing three interceptions in a game that doesn't matter after enduring multiple neck surgeries last year.

As a whole, Manning looked sharp and showed good arm strength as he played the entire first half and completed 16 of 23 passes for 177 yards. He even took his first hit since his injury. He quickly got up.

Manning will likely play well into the third quarter next week against San Francisco in what should be his final preseason tune-up. Again, Manning is making great progress as he continues to pass tests on his way back from his devastating injury.

Through the first half Saturday, the Broncos defense had held opponents to 2 of 19 on third-down conversations. That’s a trend you want to see.

Defensive lineman Derek Wolfe, a second-round draft pick, had another strong performance.

Running back Lance Ball continued to make a push for a roster spot.

Rookie Brock Osweiler replaced Manning. His first two series were three-and-outs, but it is a sign that Denver could be looking to Osweiler over Caleb Hanie as Manning's backup.

Safety David Bruton was a beast on special teams, which will help make a roster claim.
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.

Observation deck: Chiefs-Rams

August, 18, 2012
A look at the Chiefs’ 31-17 loss at St. Louis on Saturday night:

This performance wasn’t as smooth as the preseason opener for the Chiefs.

The biggest issue was that the first-team defense allowed two touchdowns in the first quarter.

Offensively, starting quarterback Matt Cassel put together his second strong preseason performance, completing 13 of 18 passes for 142 yards.

Here’s the deal, folks: Preseason games don’t matter much, but Cassel is looking good and that’s paramount for the Chiefs. Cassel engineered his second long scoring drive of the preseason. A good Cassel in the regular season will mean a good season for the Chiefs.

The Kansas City Star reported that starting safety Kendrick Lewis had his arm in the sling and suffered a shoulder injury on the same arm that shelved him for a time last season. Lewis is an up-and-comer. It would hurt if he misses time.

Kansas City had four turnovers in the game, including three lost fumbles.

Brady Quinn was more effective than Ricky Stanzi, who replaced Cassel. Quinn likely took another step toward securing the backup job.

Thoughts on Texans 20, 49ers 9

August, 18, 2012
Some brief, quick thoughts on the Texans following their 20-9 preseason win over the 49ers on Saturday night.

  • While we always do our best to emphasize how little we should read into what plays out in the preseason, the Texans hosted a talented team and had to like what they did. Houston looked like we now expect Houston to look. The Texans swarmed the quarterback, hitting Alex Smith far more than the 49ers would have liked. They stuffed a Kendall Hunter run on a fourth-and-1 that might have got the 49ers going. And the offense provided more than enough to make it feel like the result was never going to be in question. The three key players on offense all made nice contributions, as Matt Schaub hit on 11 of 14 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown, Andre Johnson caught a 43-yard pass from Schaub and Arian Foster made a very nice 24-yard run that showed his vision and skill.
  • We’re all going to start to run out of new ways to describe the Texans' pass rush, which was very good again while the top players on defense were in the game. They had first-half sacks by Tim Jamison and a Connor Barwin/Antonio Smith combo deal. But they did far more than that in terms of making Alex Smith aware of their presence and uncomfortable. One example: Antonio Smith beat quality guard Mike Iupati with a super-quick swim move inside and was up the middle on Alex Smith in no time. Antonio Smith was flagged for roughing -- and appeared to hit the quarterback in the head. Antonio Smith will surely seek to do the same thing in the future, just with a lower target.
  • The 49ers, meanwhile, were without two of their best pass-rushers, Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks. And a share of Schaub’s good play came with San Francisco’s backups in the game.
  • Johnson made a nice play on his deep reception. Schaub rolled right and threw back to the left where Johnson was with defenders Tramaine Brock and Trenton Robinson. Brock wasn’t badly positioned, but Johnson had a far better feel for what was unfolding, and crossed under the cornerback to haul in the reception.
  • Fullback James Casey did well on a short pass from Schaub on a third down. Casey had to come back to the ball and go to the ground. But no defender was in range, and he got up and scrambled for a conversion.
  • I wrote last week about Lestar Jean practice drops that concerned me. But he showed why the Texans remain high on him with a team-high four catches for 42 yards including a 9-yard TD on a shallow crossing route where he was granted far too much space by the defense.
  • Trindon Holliday didn’t have to do much but get to the right sideline and go for his 87-yard punt return touchdown. And it came against low-ranking 49ers who might not be in the league come opening day. But it’s the second return TD for Holliday in two weeks and certainly adds to his chances to make the team as a blazing return specialist.

Observation deck: Giants-Jets

August, 18, 2012

The good postgame news for the New York Giants following their 26-3 preseason victory over the Jets is that starting running back Ahmad Bradshaw's hand seems OK. The Giants took X-rays that came back negative, and Bradshaw told reporters after the game that he had a cyst on his hand that burst when he hit it on someone's helmet. I do not know why a cyst bursting would require an X-ray, but I am not a doctor. Upshot appears to be that Bradshaw will be fine, which is significant for a Giants team whose running game still needs work.

The Giants finished 32nd in the league in rush offense in the regular season last year, mainly because of a line that couldn't get any push forward in the run game. That was on display again Saturday night, as neither Bradshaw nor D.J. Ware nor Andre Brown nor David Wilson could find a hole all night. The Giants finished with 58 yards on 32 carries, which is dreadful. Now, rush defense appears to be one of the few things the Jets do well, so that might have had something to do with it. But the concern with the Giants when they struggle is that they get physically handled in the trenches. The offensive line struggled with that last year and has so far in this preseason.

Now, that intro breaks my general rule about trying to open with a positive in these preseason game reviews. But I thought Bradshaw was the biggest news of the night, and in fairness it is a positive that his hand is not broken. And there are a ton of Giants positives in the remainder of my review of what I saw Saturday night:

1. The defensive line looks as though it will be just fine. Even with Justin Tuck leaving early with a neck injury (he also said he was fine), the Giants' pass rush completely abused Wayne Hunter and an overmatched Jets offensive line. Jason Pierre-Paul and reserve defensive end Adewale Ojomo each had two sacks and the Giants had seven as a team to go with their nine quarterback hits and nine tackles for loss. But what I thought was most impressive while the first-team defense was in there was the performance of starting defensive tackles Linval Joseph and Rocky Bernard, who forced the issue in the middle of the line and limited the Jets on the ground as well. The Giants are banged up at defensive tackle with Chris Canty and Marvin Austin on the shelf, but Bernard and Joseph played as though they didn't want anyone to worry.

2. Eli Manning likes throwing to Victor Cruz. Manning didn't do a lot to help the Giants find their No. 3 wide receiver. Five of his seven completions were caught by Cruz, and while that was fun for Giants fans to watch, everybody already knew that hookup worked. Ramses Barden did drop one Manning pass early on, which didn't help his case. Overall, Manning had a poor night, completing 7 of 14 for 62 yards and an ugly overthrow interception. But he's obviously the least of their worries.

3. As for those No. 3 receiver candidates ... Rookie Rueben Randle made the best catch of the night, a leaping 49-yarder from David Carr. But it was his only catch of the game. Jerrel Jernigan caught two passes for 26 yards, Domenik Hixon one for four yards and Barden was shut out. The buzz during the week was about a Manning quote that said they could rotate guys into that role and into situations that maximize their different strengths, and that's a reasonable way to handle the situation. But I still think Barden's going to have to grab that role if he wants to make the team. The other guys help on special teams.

4. Chase Blackburn's probably safe for a while. Blackburn and Kenny Phillips combined to fill a gap and make a nice stop on Shonn Greene on a second-down run. Later in the game, Mark Herzlich suffered a hip pointer. Blackburn's the starting middle linebacker for now, and Herzlich's going to have to come and take the job from him. Blackburn hasn't done anything to lose it, and now Herzlich's hurt. Keith Rivers, by the way, looked active on the outside, starting in place of an injured Michael Boley.

5. Got to like Jayron Hosley. The rookie cornerback was a star of the game on defense and on special teams, where he returned an interception 77 yards for a touchdown. Reports from the postgame locker room say Hosley had his foot in a walking boot, so it seems as though he got injured, too. Would be a shame if he had to miss time. It looks as though the Giants want to use him a lot, and other than last week's muffed punt, everything he's done on the field has made him look like a very useful guy.

6. Wilson does show something. The rookie running back out of Virginia Tech was a first-round pick for a reason. You can see, when he gets room to run, what he brings in terms of explosiveness. I believe he'll be a good player for the Giants. He even looked good in blitz pickup once he got into the game. But this national perception that he's the sure-thing backup or some sort of threat to take carries away from Bradshaw has gotten out of hand. He's clearly fourth on the running-back depth chart right now, and Ware has earned that No. 2 spot. Wilson will develop, maybe quickly, and likely be an asset for the Giants down the road. But he has developing to do, and there's nothing wrong with that. It's kind of how the Giants roll.

7. Will Hill. He's getting to be a fun story, playing well at safety and coming up with a sack of Tim Tebow. Could be a nice latent-talent find by the Giants' front office, a la Herzlich and of course Cruz.

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.

Rapid Reaction: Giants 26, Jets 3

August, 18, 2012
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –- The Jets have made all the preseason noise in New York, but the Giants reminded Rex Ryan who the defending champs are with a 26-3 victory on Saturday night.

What it means: It’s just the preseason, but Victor Cruz and the Giants' pass rush look like they are in midseason form. Cruz repeatedly got open, and Jason Pierre-Paul looked awesome with two sacks. The Giants took advantage of Wayne Hunter, and Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck each added half a sack to JPP’s total.

The Giants had to settle for four field goals from Lawrence Tynes, so Tom Coughlin will want to see his offense execute better going forward. But the defending champs are just fine-tuning things right now and trying to stay healthy.

Bradshaw injured: Ahmad Bradshaw left the game in the first quarter to undergo an X-ray on his right hand -- the result was negative.

Bradshaw played for one offensive series and gained 2 yards on three carries. He had his hand iced on the sideline upon returning from the locker room and did not return to the game.

The running game: With Bradshaw out, D.J. Ware got more work but was able to gain only 15 yards on 11 carries. The blocking wasn’t that great, as often there was no room to run.

Andre Brown started the third quarter and had 5 yards on two carries. Rookie David Wilson came in and then gave way to Da'Rel Scott before coming back into the game in the fourth quarter. Wilson finished with 26 yards on eight carries. Rookie RB/FB Joe Martinek caught a 14-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Perrilloux in the fourth quarter.

Rookie report: While Wilson looked speedy and shifty again, fellow Virginia Tech product Jayron Hosley stole the show with a 77-yard interception return for a touchdown off Mark Sanchez.

Sanchez was looking for Patrick Turner, and Hosley stepped in front and had a clear path down the left sideline for the touchdown. Hosley has impressed Coughlin in the preseason. The third-round pick, who also was the main punt returner, looks more and more like a playmaker.

Second-round pick Rueben Randle also made an impressive catch when he snatched a deep pass over the middle from David Carr. Randle timed his leap perfectly and displayed great hands on the 49-yard gain.

Cruz control: Cruz didn’t have a 99-yard touchdown catch this time, but he just missed out on catching a bomb on Darrelle Revis on the Giants’ first offensive play of the game. It was one of the few times Eli Manning wasn’t able to connect with Cruz.

Cruz, who also took a big shot from LaRon Landry but held on for the catch and got right up to signal first down, was targeted often and had five receptions for 51 yards.

Manning and Cruz’s chemistry continues to get better, and the time the two had with Hakeem Nicks on the sideline during camp has definitely helped. Nicks is expected to resume practicing this coming week.

Other injuries: Backup middle linebacker Mark Herzlich was in the game for only a few snaps before suffering a hip pointer. He left the game in the third quarter.

Backup defensive end Adrian Tracy also had to leave the game in the third quarter with a hamstring injury. Both players have looked good in the preseason.

Giants bits: Tuck had his neck/shoulder area checked out on the sideline but came back in and had a sack that was nullified by penalty. ... Steve Weatherford was able to draw a roughing the kicker penalty when Joe McKnight ran into him on the Giants’ first punt of the game. But Weatherford had a punt blocked when Aaron Maybin got a piece of the ball for a partial block in the second quarter. ... Manning threw an interception when he tried to throw the ball away but was picked by Landry.

What’s next: The Giants play the Bears next Friday night at home in their third preseason game.