Our offseason Four Downs series ends with a look at the NFC West's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. The Rams and 49ers have to kick-start their passing games, Arizona's offense lacks a big dimension, and the Seahawks continue to rely on Russell Wilson's magic tricks.
30 Aug 2005
By Michael David Smith, with notes from the FO staff
Chester Taylor is looking really good. With Jamal Lewis coming off a rough off-season, the Ravens would be making a wise move if they give Taylor more playing time, even at the expense of Lewis.
Is it time for the Bills to be worried about J.P. Losman? He had nine completions in 18 attempts against the Bears, but the truly worrisome number is his 82 yards. Four and a half yards per throw just isn't going to get the job done. The Bills have too much talent elsewhere on the field to sacrifice the season to the development of Losman, so they have to think seriously about getting Kelly Holcomb in there if Losman continues to struggle.
Constantin Ritzmann never got in a game last year for the Bills, but the second-year defensive end has looked good with four preseason sacks. He could be a good situational pass rusher for Buffalo.
The Bills used reserve tackle Jason Peters as an extra tight end frequently in their third preseason game. He lined up on the left side of the formation in a two-TE, two-back package. And while his primary job was to block for Willis McGahee, the 320-pounder ran some pass patterns, too. Peters played tight end at Arkansas, catching 21 passes for the Hogs in 2003.
The Eagles absolutely destroyed the Bengals in every respect in their meeting. About the only good news for Cincinnati is that first-round pick David Pollack, still trying to learn the Marvin Lewis defense, had a sack.
Charlie Frye shows good presence, like knowing when to throw the ball away. You don't always see that from a rookie QB, especially one trying to make an impression with his few red zone snaps in the preseason.
Mike Shanahan made it very clear he was planning to cut Maurice Clarett, saying, "He has no idea what hard work means." Could a coach say anything more damning about a rookie's chances to make a team? With Mike Anderson clearly established as the starter, Tatum Bell proving last year he deserves to get carries, and Ron Dayne playing well in the preseason, Shanahan needs Clarett like he needs an invitation to Al Davis's birthday party.
Outside linebacker Antwan Peek has a very fast first step. He sacked Drew Bledsoe in one of the rare sacks that wasn't Bledsoe's fault -- Peek blew past Flozell Adams and got to Bledsoe almost instantly after the snap.
Reggie Wayne needs to learn to protect the ball better. He was holding it in the wrong hand when the Broncos' Lenny Walls caught him from behind and knocked it loose.
Chad Owens is tiny, but may have played his way onto the team as a return man. Also made some plays in the open field.
Eddie Kennison is 32, but he's as fast as ever. He's still a respectable No. 1 receiver, but the Chiefs don't have a No. 2.
New defensive end Carlos Hall pushed Walter Jones back into Shaun Alexander. That's an incredible feat, as Jones has one of the strongest drives in football.
Ronnie Brown did everything at Auburn -- he played fullback and slot receiver in addition to tailback â€“ and it looks like Scott Linehan will use him that way as well in Miami. Ricky Williams is actually ahead of him on the depth chart right now, but he'll have the first four games of the regular season to prove that he should be the Dolphins' primary ballcarrier.
Stockar McDougle is struggling. He blamed the Lions' coaches for badmouthing him when few teams showed interest in him this off-season, but it now looks like he won't even start on the Dolphins' line, which could be one of the worst in football.
The Pats just manhandled the Packers with a two-tight end set, running the ball left with some serious pull blocks from Ben Watson. That's a bit of a surprise, since Daniel Graham is considered a blocker while Watson is supposed to be more of a Dallas Clark-type.
Shaun Ellis has played surprisingly well this preseason for the Jets, and they very much need the help on their defensive line with Jason Ferguson in Dallas, John Abraham unsigned, and DeWayne Robertson hurting.
Marques Tuiasosopo hasn't looked good. Kerry Collins is the unquestioned starter, but if he goes down the Raiders will have serious trouble getting the ball to Randy Moss and company. Third-round rookie Andrew Walter has missed time with an injured groin, but he still might end up becoming the No. 2 quarterback.
For the third consecutive preseason game, the Steelers first team offense couldn't muster a touchdown. Ben Roethlisberger has continued to struggle throwing accurately down the field, but this seems to be more a function of poor decision making than faulty mechanics. The only bright spots on this unit have been the solid play of a revamped offensive line and the emergence of second year running back Willie Parker. And Pittsburgh will need both to stay healthy and continue to contribute now that Jerome Bettis has added his name to the list of players not likely to see the field in the Week 1 opener.
Memo to Philip Rivers: If Drew Brees stays healthy, the preseason is your only chance to show anyone that you deserve to be a starting quarterback somewhere. Going 4-for-11 for 15 yards isn't the way to accomplish that.
The Titans offensive line is porous, and the receivers who have been starting in preseason (rookies Courtney Roby and Brandon Jones, along with top target Drew Bennett) aren't getting open downfield. Good luck, Steve McNair. McNair subsisted on a diet of screens and dump-offs against the Niners. The linemen don't sustain blocks in the passing game. Rookie Michael Roos doesn't appear to be ready, but the team has few other options at right tackle.
Rookie running back J.J. Arrington had a 20-yard run that showed off his excellent speed, but overall he's done very little to suggest he deserves to be the Cardinals' starting running back. And he struggles at picking up the blitz, which is not a good thing when Kurt Warner is the quarterback he's protecting.
Michael Jenkins is looking good. The first-round receiver contributed on special teams but not on offense last year, but in this preseason he looks like he's ready to take the next step.
Brad Hoover has never been much of a receiving threat, but he had five catches for 60 yards against the Browns. If Hoover becomes yet another weapon for the Panthers, that's yet another reason that the Panthers might be the biggest threat to the Eagles for NFC supremacy.
If Kyle Orton can recognize blitzes at all, he's clearly the right choice as the starting quarterback. Chad Hutchinson has been nothing short of awful in the preseason. Orton lasted into the fourth round for a reason, and Bears fans shouldn't get their hopes up too much, but he's at least looked competent. Hutchinson has been a disaster.
Both Thomas Jones and Adrian Peterson have looked good at running back, which makes it seem unlikely that Cedric Benson will make much of a contribution, at least early in the season. You don't take a guy fourth overall if you don't plan to get him some carries, but right now he doesn't look like he'll be playing a lot.
Terrence Newman has always been a superb athlete. Now he seems to be improving his tackling and reading of quarterbacks. The Dallas defense has a lot of good young talent.
A lot of media types have raved this off-season about what a bunch of talented players Matt Millen has brought together in Detroit. Where have they been in the preseason? Boss Bailey is supposed to be one of the fastest linebackers in the NFL. So how did the lumbering Brandon Manumaleuna run right past him on Monday night?
When the Packers had the ball, the Patriots constantly pressured Brett Favre, while Ahman Green went nowhere. The Pats even stopped Green for a three-yard loss when the Packers were in their six-linemen package, which worked very well for them the past two years when the Packers had six good linemen to put on the field at once. If this is the game where the starters play like it means something, Green Bay is in trouble.
The loss of C Matt Birk for much of the season hurts, but veteran Cory Withrow will be an adequate replacement. Withrow has started several games in the past and can make all of the line calls. Against the Chargers, he got adequate drive in the running game and didn't make any mistakes when pass blocking. Withrow's weaknesses are his size (he's only about 285 pounds) and his quickness when teams blitz up the middle. But teams are reluctant to blitz up the gut against Daunte Culpepper, who can easily escape the pressure.
Johnathan Sullivan had a sack against the Ravens and might finally be demonstrating that he's going to make a contribution to the Saints. When they drafted him they thought he was going to be the focal point of their entire defense. He's nothing close to that, but his play in the preseason so far has at least been competent.
Corey Webster really attacks the football. Stole a touchdown pass for an interception vs. the Jets.
In case anyone forgot while we talked about all the other stuff, Terrell Owens is an incredible football player. He might pout and get teammates, coaches, and fans angry several times this season, but that's just something the Eagles will have to get used to. He's just too good not to keep around.
Steven Jackson is a stud. It's hard to understand how he fell to the 24th pick of last year's draft. What did Ronnie Brown, Cedric Benson, and Cadillac Williams do a year later that made them Top 5 picks?
Many draft observers thought the 49ers had a potential steal in running back Frank Gore. It sure doesn't look that way so far, though. When you give a guy three straight carries from the 1-yard line, and after that the ball is on the 5-yard line, you know you're having some problems.
Marcus Tubbs was disappointing as a rookie but looked good last weekend. Seattle needs an infusion of fresh blood on defense and Tubbs could be a big part of that.
Tampa Bay looked very vulnerable against the run vs. Miami, although Booger McFarland was out following a death in the family. They got pushed back at the point of attack, time and time again. Jermaine Phillips was the reason the Bucs released John Lynch last season, but had an uneven year. He has looked very solid this preseason. Like most Buc defenders, he's a sure tackler, and created a turnover with a thundering hit on Ronnie Brown.
Bob Griese is the local color commentator for Dolphins preseason games, which means he was calling a game that involved his own son when Tampa played Miami. He has always done a very evenhanded job in that capacity, going back to his days as the No. 1 analyst at ABC the year his son's Michigan team won the national championship.
Santana Moss had two long catches against the Steelers. The Redskins have to do something to stretch the field and let Clinton Portis face something other than eight-man fronts, and Moss is giving them some hope that they'll be able to.
Patrick Ramsey had another slow start to the preseason when he tossed an interception on the second series of the game against the Steelers. But this time, he rebounded, and ended the half with a 10-play, 55-yard drive that resulted in a touchdown pass to Chris Cooley. Clinton Portis also saw extended action for the first time this preseason and ran roughshod over a Steelers unit that finished fourth in total defense, according to DVOA. And when Portis tired, the Redskins ran Ladell Betts with just as much success. This game is a huge relief for Joe Gibbs, but now the question is can Washington consistently give this type of effort during the regular season?
This is supposed to be the week that matters, the week where all the starters play most of the game and we really see how teams are going to play in the upcoming season. But are this week's blowouts really strong indicators of how the 2005 season will play out? If the following three games are any evidence, Packer and Lion fans shouldn't panic quite yet.
53 comments, Last at 04 Sep 2005, 11:29pm by Dcalla