Just finished the first half; I'm getting a lot faster at charting the games and hopefully by regular season, aided by less substitutions, I'll be able to do these in one day. This was a good half of football. I'm going to try a different format this time, starting with the three pregame questions I asked and then listing the five plays that defined the half. Okay, let's roll.
- 1. Is Locklear worth the bucks? Short answer: Yes. Longer Answer: Probably. Long Answer: Lock had a very strong showing. I know that I reside in the minority, but I think Kenechi Udeze has 5-10 sack potential--this year. Lock put the lockdown on him and made a number of good run-blocks as well. As best as I could tell, the holding call against him was completely bogus. It was a scrum so I could be wrong, but what I saw was a Viking defender turned around after attempting a spin move and then Lock just destroying him, shoving him to ground. The play that really opened my eyes to Lock's left tackle potential was the Hawks wide receiver screen that preceded Alexander's touchdown. More on that in a second.
- 2. Can the Hawks Generate Pass Rush Without Muscely Arm? Not really. First though, mad props to Tavaris Jackson who absolutely defied my expectations. I'm very interested to see how he reacts after some team is able to land some hits on him, but for this game he looked sharp, savvy and most importantly, calm. Back to the pass rush. Kerney looks a lot like Grant Wistrom and I don't mean that as a compliment. Both are super-high effort, zoom around the field, get into the backfield (Kerney recorded 3 penetrations) but neither could convert the sack. Kerney is clearly a few steps faster than Wistrom, but like the former Hawk, age is on his heels.
Darryl Tapp got the start against 6-8 Bryant McKinnie and completely disappeared. Despite a number of blitzes, the Hawks never seemed to rattle Jackson, a testament in small part to Jackson's poise, but moreover and indication that the Hawks' pressure lacked teeth. Here's why this won't carry over to the regular season. Leroy Hill will play more, Julian Peterson will play and, hopefully, Tapp will sub where his versatility is an asset and his size is not a liability.
- 3. Is Alabama Cooked? No, with a but. Shaun Alexander's best skills, the ability to read his blockers as well as opposing defenses, are much less inclined to decline with age (if they decline at all). The best example of this was his 11 yard cutback to the right in the second quarter. Alexander saw that the Vikings had pulled powerfully to the left, leaving a lot of room on the right. When he cutback he had a lot of open field to work with. However, with a lot of open ground ahead of him, Alexander converted roughly the minimum yards that could be expected. I mentioned in the prior post that it wasn't as important how many holes Shaun saw (he didn't see many) but what he did with them. On this play he gets a little credit for creating his own hole, but loses some for really doing nothing special in the open field. And to reiterate a tired point, Shaun is an awful pass blocker. His preferred blocking technique? The belly flop.