Saturday night was not a good one for the Arizona Cardinals. They spluttered in every phase of the game and then had to deal with the news that first-round pick Jonathan Cooper had a broken leg.
For the San Diego Chargers they found some much needed pass rush against the Cardinal starters and had Arizona on the back foot for the most part with their revamped rushing attack. Of course history is marred with teams putting forth strong (and poor) performances in preseason only to produce the opposite come the regular season, but that won’t stop us from looking at some of the most interesting performances.
San Diego – Three Performances of Note
Return of the Rush
After a disappointing 2012 where they struggled to get to the quarterback, it was encouraging to see San Diego get to work on both Levi Brown and Nate Potter. It started with Dwight Freeney (+2.2) who even brought out his old favorite spin move (Q2, 00:25) to pick up a sack.
Behind him, Thomas Keiser (+3.1) delivered even more production with three sacks and a hurry as the man who ended last year starter for the Cardinals at left tackle, Potter, was unable to contend with him. He may have been something of a long shot to make the roster, but his performance will have earned him plenty of attention.
More Snaps for Fluker
You can tell the Chargers are intent on getting D.J. Fluker (+1.6) up to speed as quickly as possible. He led the team (with Jeromey Clary and Chad Rinehart) with 46 snaps and largely delivered. He did get beat badly by fellow rookie Tyrann Mathieu with the Cardinal defensive back hitting Philip Rivers as he threw, but outside that was solid and assured in pass protection.
As you’d expect, though, it was in the run game where he made his biggest impression. He had a lot of joy down-blocking on Darnell Dockett with the Chargers intent on setting up runs off the right with a backside blocker pulling to the front. The test for him remains when he has to deal with big-time pass rushers, but it’s been a largely reassuring preseason so far.
How to Solve a Problem Like Ryan Mathews
What can you say about Ryan Mathews (-0.6) that hasn’t already been said? He rushed 14 times and earned a positive grade on half of those with his burst and sharp cutting evident for all to see. Three times he forced a defender to miss a tackle and he averaged a healthy 4.5 yards per carry.
But then he fumbled. Again. It’s where our grading really highlights the weaknesses of a running back, because for 95% of the time he can be doing everything possible right, but then on that one snap he ruins it all by turning the ball over. Maybe he’s got it out of his system but you have to think he is making every effort to hang on to the ball, but just doesn’t seem to be able to secure it.
It’s a shame because when he’s not fumbling he really is one of the most fluid running backs out there, making you understand why the Chargers invested to heavily in him.
Arizona – Three Performances of Note
Contrasting Days for Starting Linemen
It’s a shame that we may have to wait a while to see the first-string Cardinals offensive line in the regular season… at least from a rushing perspective.
Adapting to life on the right side of the line Daryn Colledge (+3.3) was the star performer. He looked extremely comfortable with Arizona getting him pulling to the next level where he demonstrated his immense talent. It wasn’t just at the second level where he was influential, though, showing his power as he took Kwame Geathers to the ground with 8:33 to go in Q2.
On the down side, it looked like the baddest tackle in all of town had returned on more than a few snaps. It’s hard to know what to expect out of Levi Brown (-2.0) after a year out injured. He’s had a disappointing career, but finally found some form in his second half of 2011. Today he “saved” his grade with some work in the run game, but he was lead-footed against Freeney who rolled back the years to beat him for three hurries and a sack. Freeney wasn’t the only one to have joy against him as Larry English also beat him for a pressure and drew an offensive holding penalty.
Hopefully he’s just shaking off the rust because with Aldon Smith and others to come his way this year, his quarterback will be eating a lot of turf if he doesn’t improve.
Missing In Action
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out who the Cardinals star inside linebacker is. That man is of course Daryl Washington (+1.7) but because of his off the field behavior he’s found himself demoted to backup during the preseason as the team gets a look at guys who could start the first four games of the year.
When Washington did get on the field he looked better than everyone else (as you’d imagine) and quickly wracked up three defensive stops. But what about the guys likely to replace him? Karlos Dansby (-2.1) struggled, caught off guard by the Chargers’ misdirection based rushing attack and sealed off at will when their linemen got to the second level.
A more assured display was from Jasper Brinkley (+0.5) who led the team in tackles (seven) and defensive stops (four). Of course he was responsible for a punt being blocked so it wasn’t entirely solid. The other contender to replace Washington is Kevin Minter (+0.3) who found himself on the field with Washington for the majority of his snaps. He had a quiet day with his most significant play being a fumble he forced on special teams.
New Boys Enjoy Mixed Fortunes
You can bet that Arizona didn’t bring in John Abraham (-2.0) to play like this. They had him rush the passer 17 times and the only thing he had to show for it was one penalty won against King Dunlap.
There was a better response from Matt Shaughnessy (+1.7) and Lorenzo Alexander (+1.3). Neither is particularly flashy, but they represent good value as guys who can come in and impact a team’s ability to run the ball well. Shaughnessy is a particularly interesting guy to watch because he comes onto the field in their early-down nickel package, and that kind of flexibility ensures they are best served to coped with the modern demands placed on NFL defenses.
- A new Philip Rivers? 15 of his 18 aimed passes were thrown under 10 yards.
- Brandon Taylor, the 2012 third-round pick, led the Chargers with six tackles.
- Andre Roberts led the Cardinals with 2.8 Yards Per Route Run.
With a three-sack display, it’s hard to look past Thomas Keiser.
Follow Khaled on Twitter: @PFF_Khaled