First Impressions – Chargers @ Cardinals

| August 29, 2011

Don’t look now, but Arizona actually looked pretty good in this game. Their new players contributed some big plays and they generated some excitement out of Cardinals fans.
.
Not only were they able to score, but their defense held Philip Rivers and the Chargers’ offense to 17 points. That isn’t great, but considering their starters scored 24 points, the battle of the first teamers was won by the Cardinals. San Diego’s backups outperformed the Arizona second team to secure victory in the end, but it was still good to see the Cardinals show something. They could win a few more games this year and that could be enough to be competitive in the NFC West.
.

.

San Diego Chargers– Three Things of Note
.

●  While most things are set in San Diego, trying to figure out how the Chargers plan on using their running backs is still a question. Mike Tolbert and Ryan Mathews split the runs fairly evenly against Arizona first-string defense, with Tolbert getting six carries for 23 yards and Mathews totalling eight carries for 16. Later in the game, Mathews broke a 48 yard run. Tolbert was in for 21 pass plays compared to Mathews’ six, and Jacob Hester saw action on another six. While Mathews’ name is known because of how he was drafted, it looks like it could be Tolbert who’ll have the bigger impact again.
.
● With Legedu Naanee now in Carolina, there is question as to who will be the Chargers’ third receiver. In this game it was Bryan Walters, an undrafted free agent who was added by San Diego right after the 2010 draft, and then spent the end of the season on the Chargers’ practice squad. When the first teams were in the game, he saw 17 snaps. Typically lining up in the slot, he had catches of 8 and 5 yards. In addition, he was the intended target of a screen that was tipped at the line, and he also dropped an easy pass with Darnell Dockett in coverage. When facing Arizona’s backups, he saw three more catches and a touchdown, but he’s got a way to go to earn Rivers’ trust as their other receivers have.
.
● With only a few changes made to the defense, I again kept an eye on rookie defensive end Corey Liuget. He played the majority of the first team snaps, just sitting out a few plays here and there. On pass plays, he was often double teamed or wasn’t allotted time to get upfield thanks to quick passes. Against the runs, he had two stops with the first team. On the first, Cam Thomas stopped Wells momentum in the backfield, and Liuget finished the tackle for a loss. On the other, the run was in his gap, and he was able to make the play for just a short gain. His development will be interesting to watch, as I believe he will become a very productive rookie.
.

Arizona Cardinals– Three Things of Note
.

● Its surprising how an 80-yard touchdown pass can make everything better. Prior to the bomb to Larry Fitzgerald in the first quarter, Kevin Kolb looked like his typical self, throwing passes behind receivers, right at their backs, too high and too far. Then he made the touchdown play with a spot-on throw, and from that point forward he was much more accurate with his passes when not under pressure. He did this without relying on Fitzgerald, which is what it looked like he would do in past preseason games. The problem is when he was under pressure; he took a few sacks and threw one ball away on the field rather than to the sideline. You would like to see him perform better when the pressure is on, but his improvement in general in this game was promising.
.
● Last year, the tight end position wasn’t a focal point of the offense. On 24% of plays they used two tight end sets, just one tight end on 39%, and on 37% none. The Cardinals made an effort to improve on this with the additions of Todd Heap and Jeff King who are now the top two on the depth chart. In this game, Arizona showed more of an affinity for tight end usage as they lined up  two tight ends with the starters on 29%, used one tight end 53% of the time, and went with no tight ends on just 18% of plays. It looked like Heap will be one of Kolb’s favorite targets and his night included catches of 15 and 12 yards.
.
● Due to an injury to Greg Toler midway through the first quarter, we got to see a bit of first round pick Patrick Peterson against the first team offense. In one of the first few plays he was in for, he intercepted a ball by jumping in front of the intended receiver and returned it for a touchdown. While that is the play that will stick in Cardinals fans memories, he didn’t stand out in a positive way from that point on. The Chargers didn’t make a major effort to challenge Peterson as some teams might do to a rookie, but he allowed three completions on outs or comebacks and played with a lot of cushion. He also gave up a quick slant to Malcom Floyd. It was exciting to see him play and get his interception, but he’s still working in.
.

The Cardinals impressed in this one and the game might have raised some questions for the Chargers.
.
.

Follow Nathan on Twitter: @PFF_NateJahnke and check out our main Twitter feed too: @ProFootbalFocus
.
.

.
.
.

  • uppercut

    note – Antonio Garay didn’t play. That was 2nd year back-up NT Cam Thomas

  • http://www.profootballfocus.com Khaled Elsayed

    Correct – I’ll amend that. Freudian slip?