Hello fellow 12s,
FOOTBALL IS BACK! YEAH BOYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY! Ahem, sorry but it's been a long wait.
So, this article is a bit of a breakdown of what some of our regular season opponents did in their first pre-season game. As with everything I write, there are a few caveats:
1) It's week 1 of pre-season and so we can only glean so much from the limited time and play-calling, not to mention resting key starters etc.
2) I only watched first-team offenses and defenses, simply because I don't have time to watch 15 hours of football then write up the analysis.
3) I'm still pretty new to this whole gig and so I'll probably make some mistakes. When you spot them, let me know but please be nice about it, I'm a sensitive soul.
Without further ado, LET THERE BE WORDS!
Thursday night saw a lot of our regular season opponents kicking off their season, and I thought I’d give a real quick breakdown of what I saw from the starters for each team, starting with BAL@TB.
As part of our NFC South slate, we’ll be facing off against the Tampa Bay Bucaneers. I’m not worried about this game and, based on the Bucs’ first game of the pre-season, there’s not much reason to be.
TB Offense: The Bucs offense looked a little lost to be completely honest, not surprising given the potency of the defense they faced, the fact its the first game of the pre-season and that they were down a couple of O-linemen in Pro-Bowler Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph, as well as TE Luke Stocker and FB Erik Lorig. This really showed as the Tampa run game was uninspiring, with Doug Martin gaining 0 yds on 2 carries, though backup HB/FB Brian Leonard did make a couple of decent gains against a very strong Ravens run D. Josh Freeman was pretty erratic (surprise surprise), but did make a couple of nice throws down the field.
Vincent Jackson looked pretty sharp and embarrassed Jimmy Smith a couple of times, including a spectacular sideline grab on a go-route though he was judged not to have full possession of the ball despite getting both feet inbounds.
TB Defense: With no Darrelle Revis or Adrian Clayborn the Bucs defense was without two of it’s biggest stars, but the depth guys showed up pretty well, particularly Danny Gorrer who picked off Joe Flacco once and broke up a key pass on third down inside the numbers to stymie the Ravens first-team offense on both its drives. Unfortunately for Gorrer that second play also resulted in a groin strain and he came out at that point. Another corner who showed up was rookie Jonathon Banks, who lived up to his 2nd round pick, looking good in coverage and making a wrap-up tackle to stop Ray Rice on a swing pass for a 0 gain. The D-line looked good against both run and pass, scoring some decent penetration and limiting Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce pretty well.
Summary: It was a tale of two teams for the Bucs really; the D looked stout and held (a very vanilla) Ravens offense for 0 points and not many yards, whilst the offense was inconsistent and will be screamed at by Greg Schiano for pretty much all of this week. In other words, no surprises.
CIN @ ATL
The Falcons are going to be our toughest non-conference challenge this season, with a stacked offense and a sneaky-good defense. I expect us to meet more than once this season, so I was particularly interested in how Atlanta fared against an underrated Cincinnati Bengals team. Here’s how it went.
ATL Offense: Resting Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez, the Falcons showed some impressive depth in their receiving corps. We already know about Harry Douglas and he burned the CIN D for a 42 yard gainer on a quick screen against an overly aggressive blitz by the Bengals which left 2 receivers vs one corner in the flat. TE Chase Coffman picked up a good block on the safety and Douglas had A LOT of room to run in, breaking a tackle towards the end of the play along the sideline. Coffman also had a nice catch on an easy little in-route on a 2nd-and-6, driving forward to get over the first down marker with a Bengal on his back and another in his face.
Our old nemesis Steven Jackson was ok, didn’t look fantastic but made a couple of decent gains running off the RT on the first drive before being eaten by Geno Atkins on a 3rd-and-2 out of an I-form look, after that there wasn’t a lot going on for the ex-Ram. The Bengals D-line caused some headaches for the Falcons in the run game and 2nd year RT Lamar Holmes looked shaky, though Peter Konz made some decent adjustments and blitz pickups from the Center spot. After the first drive there wasn’t a lot to be impressed by from ATL; I noticed a lot of twin receiver I-Forms and Bunch formations with a split-end on the opposite side who appeared to be the primary receiver, but obviously it’s pre-season so you can’t read too much into that.
The big question mark for Atlanta is on the defensive side of the ball after cutting John Abrahams, replacing him with Osi Umenyora and drafting Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford to compete for a starting CB spot. Trufant got a "Welcome to the NFL" shot from Jermaine Gresham on the Bengals first play as the big TE charged up the field, ball in hand, lowered his head and knocked Trufant on his ass. He almost got burnt on a deep curl on the same drive on a 3rd-and-long but the CIN receiver flat-out dropped the pass.
Umenyora got decent pressure on Dalton a couple of times but he was really the only Falcon that did, despite quite a few blitzes and "sugar" fronts to confuse the O-line. Honestly, the pass rush didn’t look very impressive and the coverage behind it was average at best. The Falcons looked a little better on run D, only really getting gouged once as Law-Firm got some nice blocks on a run left from an 11 Shotgun formation, apart from that there was very little push from the Bengals O-line. Again, I think part of this is down to the fact that Akeem Dent seemed to be blitzing on pretty much every play.
Summary: This just looked like a pre-season game from the Falcons. I know that’s not amazing analysis but I calls ‘em like I sees ‘em. I was surprised that they tipped their hand so much with their unorthodox fronts on 3rd down situations defensively and if I were a Falcons fan I’d be a little disappointed by the run offense, but Cincinnati just looked much better at the line of scrimmage. This game really confirmed what we already knew about the Falcons: they’re going to be versatile on offense but the defense is questionable to say the least.
With the Hawks playing the Titans in Week 6, I thought I’d cast an eye over a revamped Tennessee team which looks like one of the biggest turnaround candidates this season and I believe to be a Wildcard sleeper in a weak AFC. So here’s how the Titans fared against the RGIII-less ‘Skins.
TEN Offense: The first thing that jumped out at me is just how good the Titans O-line is, particularly on the run. The group up front made Shonn Greene look good. Let that settle in for a second. They completely manhandled the ‘Skins front 7 after a shaky start and both Johnson and Greene made Bakari Rambo look very, very bad. Chance Warmack showed why he was rated as the best guard, if not the best player, in the draft, as he dominated at the point of attack and showed great agility on a couple of impressive pull-blocks. Overall, the run game looks solid as CJ2K and Shonn Greene both ran for touchdowns, Johnson on 58 yd romp that you’ve probably already seen and Greene on a Power O to the left with Warmack pulling and a decent BOB block against London Fletcher.
The passing game, though, was less impressive. Locker showed good arm strength but made some poor decisions, forcing the ball into double coverage or not seeing open guys down the field. There were no big gains through the air as TEN gained more than 10 yds passing just once on a dump-off to Greene who picked up about 10 YAC, even against a couple of 2nd stringers. More worrying was the ‘Skins’ ability to get pressure on Locker from his blindside as Michael Roos got beat a couple of times, including a Brian Orakpo sack on a 5 step drop. Warmack got a lot of flack from the mainstream pundits but, given that he joined the team late, he wasn’t too bad; he was a little shaky in pass pro but it was really just a matter of sorting his footwork. This may be partly down to play-calling as well though; a number of PA passes were very obvious before the ball was even snapped, giving the defense the uppperhand.
TEN Defense: On the opening drive Tennessee’s D looked pretty decent, filling the running lanes well on a couple of Stretch runs to the left by Roy Helu JR and getting some penetration, particularly from Sammie Hill, followed by a good piece of pass defending by Verner who broke up a catch by Leonard Hankerson, causing a 3-and-out. On the second drive, however, things were much worse. Josh Morgan caught back-to-back passes along the sideline from Kirk Cousins, there was an Inside Zone run for about 8 yd, the run game started going right on those Stretch plays and gained some decent yardage. Fred Davis made a couple of key catches, including a 3rd down conversion and a TD where he sat at the back of the endzone by himself after every single Titan bit on a PA fake.
Washington’s 3rd drive was a little more promising for the Tennessee defense, who scored a second 3-and-out started by a Derrick Morgan TFL for 3 yards on first down, but that was against Grossman and the second stringers. Given that they faced neither RGIII nor Alfred Morris, I would say that the Titans have a lot to do on the defensive side of the ball.
What stood out to me on the Titans defense was how out of position they were, how slow they looked in their zones when defending and how often they bit on the PA fake. The physicality of their hits was good but their form tackling wasn’t and there were a lot of guys struggling to get off of their blocks, particularly amongst the linebackers.
Summary: The Titans’ big moves in the off-season have paid off as far as the offensive line is concerned and the run game looks like it’s going to be formidable. The rest, however, doesn’t look so good, as the passing game lacked pop and there wasn’t a whole lot to get excited about on D either. This is a team that will improve as the season goes on, but when they meet Seattle in Week 5 they won’t pose much of a threat as long as they’re not allowed to build a double digit lead.
STL @ CLE
There has been a lot of off-season hype about the Rams and quite a few people have tipped them as a sleeper wildcard candidate. I’m not one of those people, despite a solid performance against the NFC West last season. It’s not that I don’t think Sam Bradford has what it takes, because he does, but I just don’t think St Louis’ offseason additions will make enough of an impact this season. Here’s a couple of takeaways from the Rams first pre-season game @ Cleveland.
STL Offense: The big storylines for the Rams offense have been the additions of Tavon Austin, Jared Cook and Jake Long, as well as the loss of Steven Jackson in the backfield. First, the positives. Sam Bradford (5-of-8 for 102 yards) played well, showing great zip on his throws and promising chemistry with his returning receivers, particularly Chris Givens.
Givens had 3 catches for 80+ yards including a 59 yard strike down the middle off of an embarrassingly bad play action fake that the CLE defense inexplicably bit on and a short yardage TD catch on a Y-Trail in the back of the endzone. Sophomore RB Daryl Richardson looked good, showing impressive burst and vision and also caught a couple of passes out of the backfield including a 17 yard screen pass. The Zone runs to the left of the line were effective as Richardson was given some pretty nice cutback lanes too.
There were negatives too, though. The O-line looked a little unreliable in pass pro, including big-money FA signing Jake Long who gave up inside leverage a couple of times, and RG Harvey Dahl who allowed his man to get off his block in the run game a couple of times. Roger Saffold left the game with an injury, though it doesn’t seem to be serious. Jared Cook and Tavon Austin didn’t record a reception and Austin’s route-running lacked explosiveness, which allowed a linebacker to beat him on a 3rd down pass attempt.
Finally, last year’s 2nd round pick Isaiah Pead played poorly, with minimal gains on a couple of rushes, coughing up the ball for a fumble and making some poor decisions in the return game. Some of this was due to an impressive display from the Browns’ D, but frankly I expected better.
The Rams defense was pretty much on the same level as their offense, with some promise and some cause for concern. Brandon Weedon led a Trent Richardson-less unit on two scoring drives, one field goal and one touchdown, on 10-of-13 passing for 112 yards. These numbers speak for themselves, as the Rams failed to score much pressure with their 4 man rushes and the secondary failed to wrap up and make tackles.
There was also a ridiculous Greg Little catch on a deflection where he looked like he was snaring an offensive rebound, but overall the Browns were given a lot of room to work with in the passing game. Alec Ogletree was targeted a few times and got burnt on a crossing route by TE Jordan Cameron and an out route by RB Dion Lewis on 3rd-and-Goal from the 3 yard line. He didn’t seem to know where he needed to cover or where he fitted in the coverage scheme, leaving receivers open for easy completions. And there was I, bigging up his coverage skills pre-Draft. Fellow rookie T.J. MacDonald also showed his inexperience, often making adjustments too late resulting in some easy completions.
Again, there were some positives to be taken away though. Michael Brockers batted down a pass at the line of scrimmage, Cortland Finnegan made some gutsy plays in both the run and pass game and the run D was generally good, bar a 10 yard draw play on 3rd-and-5 and a 10 yard gainer on a stretch cutback; the rest of the time Cleveland’s RBs were generally held to 1 or 2 yards.
Summary: There’s still a lot of progress to be made by this Rams team if they are going to challenge the top dogs in both their division and conference. Again, it’s Week 1 of pre-season, so I won’t go mad with my predictions. I think that the Rams’ rookies will struggle more than most of us expected, but the emergence of Daryl Richardson is promising and Bradford may be able to shred mediocre defenses with Givens and Quick.
See how I left the best one til last? This game was billed by some as a Super Bowl preview and I was a little disappointed, if completely unsurprised, that the starting units for both teams only played one series. They were fun to watch though, and whilst a lot of people focussed on the Peyton Pistol (which was pretty cool) I thought it was the defenses who tipped their hands a little more, not in terms of play-calling but in terms of overall ability. Here’s a disappointingly brief breakdown.
SF Offense: My main takeaway from the 9ers first-team was just how dominant their O-line is. Even without all the deception and decoys this group up front is going to kick the spit out of most front 7s. They created a ton of space for LaMichael James to run through, allowing him to showcase his explosiveness, agility and flat-out speed. He run the ball between the tackles fairly well against a beefy Denver front 4 and was electric around the edge; this isn’t news but it is annoying.
They also gave Kaepernick plenty of time to work as he found Anquan Boldin twice. Boldin looked like he’s going to be a problem, making a tough catch in double coverage after running a crisp zig route. He was used in all 3 receiver spots and was motioned around too. The normally nightmarish Von Miller was kept pretty quiet and only scored meaningful pressure on a 3rd-and-16.
SF Defense: So, the Peyton Pistol huh? I loved watching Manning run his no-huddle offense but I was more impressed with the 9ers D, which was without captain and All-World player (most ridiculous expression ever) Patrick Willis. They ran a nickel look against a 3 receiver set and adjusted well to the pace of the offense.
I only really spotted one mistake; Demaryius Thomas was given too much room on a 2-and-7 in route on the right hand side, allowing him to comfortably pick up a first down. The defense mixed up their play calling well against Peyton, throwing different zone and man coverages as well as 2 different blitzes. As a result the future HOFer was unable to effectively pick them apart as SF stayed disciplined and covered well. Aldon Smith pretty much bossed the Broncos’ backup LT and Tramaine Brock covered a deep shot on a PA pass attempt superbly.
Summary: You really can’t take much from a single series in the first week of pre-season against a potential Super Bowl opponent. It was interesting to see how the 9ers used Boldin and the defense played impressively without Willis. Mostly I’m really glad that the Week 2 game against San Francisco is @ the Clink, because our D-line is going to need all the help it can get with Irvin out and Clem still not at 100% against that monster O-line.
Thanks for reading, let me know what you think of my breakdown and sorry this is so late/doesn’t cover every game this week.