Despite the eternal optimism of the opening of Training Camp for almost every NFL fan the sad reality always creeps in and dampens the dreams of Super Bowl for all but a few franchises. Here are some doses of reality, as well as some causes for optimism.
SEATTLE made the long flight down to San Diego and nipped the CHARGERS 16-15. But there are some gray clouds in the SEA HAWKS dreams of a 3rd straight Super Bowl appearance, including the continued holdout of SS/KAM CHANCELLOR, with no end in sight. It would also appear that the concept that OL Coach TOM CABLE can make silk purses out of sow ears may be put to the test this year. Instead of settling into a cohesive unit, Game 3 finds bodies still being shuffled about to better protect franchise QB RUSSELL WILSON. This week the big news was the move of JUSTIN BRITT inside to OG with GARRY GILLIAM looking like an OT starter… for now.
On the bright side, even though the team is 3-deep at RB with LYNCH/TURBIN/MICHAEL, URFA THOMAS RAWLS is making his mark as another tough inside runner who plays with violence and ill-will toward defenders. Rookie TYLER LOCKETT/WR/RS is now starting to emerge as a receiving threat to go along with his return work. On the defensive side of the ball their first pick from the 2105 Draft, FRANK CLARK/ER, is wreaking havoc with his strength and quickness. He’s more than just an edge rusher, as he can play successfully inside despite weighing only 270 lbs. Look for CLARK & CASSIUS MARSH to make either MICHAEL BENNETT and/or BRUCE IRVIN expendable when their salaries go up, as early as the 2016 season, if not this September already.
The CHARGERS and their fans may be getting a bit nervous about the lack of productivity from 1st Round Pick RB/MELVIN GORDON. GORDON rushed 14 times in this game for a measly 34 yards. That’s 2.4 ypc, and very reminiscent of recently cut TRENT RICHARDSON. My eyes tell me GORDON’s biggest problem comes from running behind that massive OL at WISCONSIN, where patience to the hole was emphasized while those dancing elephants buried defenders. GORDON is too late and too slow picking his running lane and bursting through it right now. Can he adjust to the quicker decisions and cuts needed at the pro level? Time will tell, but his current style is not working right now.
The CHARGERS look overloaded with Edge-Rushers on their roster, and the best new one looks to be KYLE EMANUEL, their 5th Rounder from North Dakota State. He doesn’t fit the perfect mold of a DE or an OLB right now at 6’3/250, but his energy, and quickness get him into the pocket with regularity. I also want to mention the stellar play of CARIG MAGER/CB another Rookie who has seen a lot of playing time while JASON VERRETT is eased back onto the field from 2014 injury issues. MAGER has nice size (5’11/200) and excellent speed. No one is getting behind him, which his coaches luv at this point in time.
To put it kindly and mildly, the most spirited game of Week 3 had to be the short trip made by the RAVENS down the highway to play the team in Washington. Hard hitting, bad blood and feuding coaches led to some serious violence in this one, which the home team won 31-13. The RAVENS started strong jumping to a 13-0 lead, but then STEVE SMITH/WR got into it with LEON HALL/CB and both players were thrown out by the officials. Then once JOE FLACCO went to the sidelines the Boys from DC just shut down the RAVENS Offense under new back-up QB/MATT SCHAUB/VFA. SCHAUB looked helpless in the crowded pocket and it appears to this man than SCHAUB at 33, has taken as much abuse as an NFL QB as he can take. For his night’s work SCHAUB went 3/7, for 17 yards, and 1 INT. He was also sacked 3 times.
HC JOHN HARBAUGH has developed into as petulant and verbally combative a personality as his brother JIM was in Frisco. He had words with JAY GRUDEN (another smart talker) after the SMITH/HALL confrontation and then in a sarcastic, classless interview threw a sideline reporter under the bus during his post-1st Half TV cameo. Clearly, HARBAUGH thinks most folks are way below his level when it comes to football knowledge and expertise. It also seems clear to me that the parents of JIM & JOHN HARBAUGH forgot the lessons about respect for others in raising their competitive boys. I find HARBAUGH to be a petulant, boorish bully in recent years.
Probably the biggest news in DC was the non-clearance of RG3 to return to the football field for this game by doctors. That gave HC GRUDEN the chance to start KIRK COUSINS and as expected COUSINS showed well in leading his team from behind. COUSINS went 20/27, for 190 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT. COLT McCOY also looked good in relief of COUSINS. GRUDEN named COUSINS his starter for Week 1 of the regular season. Whither RG3 from this point on? Who knows.
The ‘SKINS Offense looked good at times especially in the running game. R/MATT JONES, ALFRED MORRIS & CHRIS THOMPSON all showed well in this game against a RAVENS D that is usually stout against the run. It must also have been pleasing for the SKINS coaching staff to see young WRs JAMISON CROWDER/R (4/41y/TD) and RASHAD ROSS (6/56y/2TD) step up and dominate the second half, as the team pulled away for the victory.
Despite the loss of VFA/BRIAN ORAKPO, the Defense got plenty of pass rush from KERRIGAN, MURPHY & PRESTON SMITH/Rookie.
After losing JORDY NELSON to a knee injury, and realizing that 3 OL starters were not going to play because of various injuries, HC MIKE MCcARHTY decided he was not sending AARON RODGERS out on the grass to rink injury behind a patch- work OL. With back-up SCOTT TOLZIEN still going through concussion protocol the dubious honor of the start went to Rookie BRETT HUNDLEY.
In what seemed like the blink of an eye the EAGLES had romped to an 18-0 lead (going 0-3 on Extra point conversions). Things settled down a bit from there with the EAGLES winning 39-26.
CHIP KELLY’s hurry-up Offense kept the PACKERS Defense in total disarray on the first two drives, and most of the 1st half. SAM BRADFORD showed us what KELLY saw in him, when healthy. BRADFORD left the game having gone 10/10 for 121 yards and 3 TD. A secret weapon for the EAGLES was TE/WR/HB/TREY BURTON who caught 4 passes on the night for only 21 yards. But they were strategically significant catches including 2 TD and a 3rd down conversion catch. The EAGLES also look to be loaded for bear in the backfield with DEMARCO MURRAY/RYAN MATHEWS/DARREN SPROLES all looking good whether rushing the ball or or catching passes.
The frustration level of HC McCARTHY on the sidelines was palpable as the camera zoomed in on him often. The most miserable work of all came from the PACK Special Teams units under new ST Coordinator RON ZOOK. ZOOK took over for his former boss SLOCUM this off-season, but the results on the field look pretty much the same. “Meet with the new boss, same as the old boss” as The WHO would rock out. Even though Rookie WR/TYRONE MONTGOMERY had several very nice returns on the night, penalties snuffed them all out. Overall, the PACK were flagged for 15 accepted penalties on the game, with 8 of them coming on Special Teams play. That volume is totally unacceptable for a Play-Off contender.
MYLES WHITE and JEFF JANIS were the two youngsters who stepped in to serve as the primary receivers after RANDALL COBB left the game in the 1st Quarter with a shoulder injury. They both had some nice grabs, but other than JANIS TD catch, their yards after catch, which is a big part of the team’s offense, was limited. Neither man is especially elusive after the catch. WHITE caught 9 balls for 89 yards on the game.
It should also be noted that under trying circumstances QB/HUNDLEY had a solid outing. He threw for 315 yards on 22/31, with 2 TD and 1 INT. THat is great experience for a not-quite-ready for prime time player like him.
The COWBOYS home loss 14-28 to the VIKINGS was pretty much what you get out of Pre-Season games. TONY ROMO, TERRENCE WILLIAMS, JASON WITTEN and DARREN McFADDEN all played in the 1st quarter-plus and had the COWBOYS leading 14-3 when they put their helmets away. THen it became the VIKES game. The Cowboys secondary left a bit to be desired without ORLANDO SCANDRICK/CB who is out for the season with a blown-out knee. Two of the VKINGS QB had 100% completion percentages. TEDDY BRIDGEWATER was 7/7 for 76 yards and Rookie TAYLOR HEINICKE went 11/11 for 83 yards. HEINICKE displayed a live arm and great mobility. He has been a very pleasant surprise as an URFA. HEINICKE was at the Shrine venue and underwhelmed with his work there. Now he looks like the real deal as an NFL prospect.
Off the arm of SHAUN HILL the VIKES vet back-up QB CB/BRANDEN CARR got the first INT of the pre-season for the COWBOYS.
It is no secret that the VIKINGS coaches are disappointed that CORDARELLE PATTERSON has not progressed much since his Rookie season as a WR. There is a good chance that the disciplined nature of a NORV TURNER offensive scheme is not ideal for the freelancing, big play PATTERSON, but there was nothing wrong with his 107-yard Kick-off return for a TD in this game.
TERRENCE WILLIAMS showed that he is ready for another step forward in his 3rd year as a COWBOY. He caught one ball on the night for a spectacular 60 yard TD reception from ROMO. DARREN McFADDEN looked fast and strong in his brief play behind ROMO. He ran the ball 4 times for 37 yards.
COWBOYS Rookie DE/RANDY GREGORY recorded his 3rd sack in 3 games in the second half, although it was negated buy a penalty. He looks like a solid fit already to replace GREG HARDY during his 4-game suspension to start the season.
The VIKINGS re still trying to piece together an OL unit after the knee injury loss of RT/PHIL LOADHOLT for the season. SO far it looks as though their initial effort to do so will revolve around Rookies T.J. CLEMMINGS and AUSTIN SHEPHERD. Another Rookie TYRUS THOMPSON could still figure in that competition as well. CLEMMINGS is by far the most talented and athletic, but SHEPHERD, a vet of SEC wars in the trenches at ‘Bama, could surprise despite physical limitations.