Remember when the battle of Jay Cutler vs. Philip Rivers was an encounter between two of the best young quarterbacks in football? I do, but watching them engage in dueling turnovers in this game made it seem like a distant memory trapped in the fog.
Thankfully there were other things to capture the attention in this preseason game and it wasn’t all about the quarterbacks, or the turnovers. So what did we see? Who stood out? Take a little read to find out.
San Diego — Three Performances of Note
Singing the Praises of Fluker
The Monday Night Football broadcast (on a Thursday…) had clearly come ready prepared to talk about a few players. One of them earned the segment (as we’ll see later on), but the other, San Diego right tackle D.J. Fluker, was a little more inconsistent. The booth rightfully highlighted some dominant work in the run game, but Fluker was also leaden-footed at times and slow to react to pass rush moves from Bears defenders, beaten inside most notably by Corey Wooton for a sack. To his credit, that was the only bit of pressure he gave up in 18 snaps pass blocking, so we can’t go too overboard with his struggles. He’s going to be an interesting player to watch this season because he has the kind of power to turn off the lights for any defender that allows him to get his hands locked on.
The Rest of the Line
While Fluker may well prove to be a notable upgrade on the O-line for the Chargers, the rest of the line looked to have as many problems as we all remember. Of the five starters, only left guard Chad Rinehart graded positively (+0.4), and Antonio Gates chipped in with his customary terrible run blocking. The starting unit for San Diego was out there for 32 snaps, so it’s not like we’re condemning them with minimal tape to work from either. All of that makes the performance of Ryan Mathews (+0.8) all the more impressive. Mathews finished up with 45 yards on nine carries.
Donald Butler is entrenched at one inside linebacker spot, and with no Manti Te’o in the game Bront Byrd (+0.6) got a shot to show what he could do beside him. Byrd had an up-and-down day, but what was perhaps more interesting is the performance of D.J. Smith who had to wait until late in the game to get in on defense, but still ended up with a +1.7 grade overall. Smith is a talented player who had issues causing him to get cut loose in the first place, but if he is healthy he’s a legitimate option.
Chicago — Three Performances of Note
Kyle Long Dominates
The other player that the TV broadcast was clearly just waiting to run a segment on was Kyle Long, and he justified it and then some, a rarity for those pre-planned player review times. Long dominated from start to finish, earning a +5.7 grade for the game on just 33 snaps, a ludicrously good performance from a guard. He was quick, mobile, strong at the point of attack, playing with good leverage and when he combined with fellow rookie RT Jordan Mills, formed a double team the Chargers’ defensive line couldn’t deal with. It’s only preseason, so I don’t want to get carried away, but he reminded me a lot of Evan Mathis in this game, the player we think has been the best guard in football for a couple of seasons now.
Bostic’s Night was More Than a Highlight Hit
I’m sure most of you have seen the big hit that Jon Bostic laid on a Chargers receiver to knock the ball loose, and impressive as that was, sadly it wasn’t a fair reflection of his night overall. He graded negatively (-2.3) against the run, routinely failing to shed blocks that came his way at the second level and struggling badly to disengage when larger offensive linemen got hold of him. The Bears want to see their linebackers play with the kind of aggression he showed with that big hit against everybody, not just players that he outweighs.
Signs of Life from McClellin
Last season Shea McClellin only played 368 snaps and didn’t grade well (-2.9), failing to show much in terms of pass rush as a rookie. This game we saw him flash a lot more, getting a sack and two hurries from his 10 snaps rushing the passer. He looked far more quick and dangerous as a rush threat than he ever did as a rookie, and also demonstrated more than one move, a vital arrow to have in his quiver at this level. The Bears didn’t get much from their top pick last year, but they’ll consider it a welcome addition if they see the player they thought they had drafted come through this year.
– Corey Luiget earned a +1.9 grade and a sack from just three snaps in the game.
– The best hustle play you’ll see all week came on Matt Forte’s 58-yard run. Wide receiver Devin Aromashadu sprinted all the way to the end zone, walling off the corner from that side of the field and preventing him from ever getting close to the play.
– San Diego tight end Ladarius Green led the game with 42 snaps of action. He finished with a +1.8 grade after catching all five balls thrown his way.
PFF Game Ball
This one had written itself after a few minutes, but Kyle Long put together a pretty flawless performance to walk away with the game ball.
Follow Sam on Twitter: @PFF_Sam