ReFo: CHI @ CAR, Preseason Wk 1
Perhaps we’re running out of ways to assure you that the preseason does matter — certainly not on the scoreboard, but most definitely to the players involved — but the point is an important one. Hundreds of players will be sent home in the coming weeks, all holding out hope that another team will call for one more opportunity. For many, career aspirations lie in the hands of warm August evenings, long after the average fans, and some of the league’s biggest stars, have retired for the night. We’re on the lookout for these hidden gems and that’s why we’ve taken to grading and analyzing every preseason snap here at PFF.
Here are the notable performances from Friday night’s game between the Chicago Bears and Carolina Panthers.
Chicago – Three Performances of Note
Getting a Long Look
My apologies for the questionable headline, but when Josh Norris of Rotoworld pointed out that Kyle Long spent much of his night trying to block Kawann Short, it ruled out “the Long and the Short of it” as a potential opening. All puns aside, Long looked quite good as he tied for the team lead with 53 offensive snaps, all with the second-team offensive line. He may not be with the second team for much longer as he graded at +2.3 including +2.0 in pass protection. His lone blip was a bull rush from defensive tackle Sione Fua in the third quarter. Some of Long’s best work came in space as he did a nice job of locking onto defenders at the second level when asked to pull and picked up a nice block on a screen at the 7:02 mark of the fourth quarter.
The right guard spot in Chicago is still up for grabs as second-year guard James Brown got the start but graded at -3.0 after posting a -6.4 in five games last season. It seems like only a matter of time before Long takes over and Friday night’s game was a step in the right direction.
Poor Blocking at Tight End
It’s an entirely new tight end group in Chicago as the Bears have moved on from both Kellen Davis and Matt Spaeth with Martellus Bennett coming to town to take over starting duties. The backup role is still wide open with a number of players vying for the spot. Spaeth did a really nice job as the backup last season pulling a league-best +10.6 run blocking grade, but this group of replacements was lacking in this area on Friday night.
After Bennett played 10 snaps, four more tight ends saw action: Leonard Pope (16 snaps), Steve Maneri (16 snaps), Gabe Miller (31 snaps), and Fredi Onobun (19 snaps). No one in the quartet did anything to separate himself as they combined for a -4.0 run block grade. Maneri may be the favorite for the backup role, and he did a nice job in the running game at +3.4 last season, but he graded at -2.0 after finding himself either stood up at the line of scrimmage by defensive end Mario Addison or on the losing end of his battles on the edge with linebacker A.J. Klein. Onobun had his own issues with both Addison and Klein while Pope let DE Craig Roh get inside him a couple times as well. Miller is the only tight end to grade positive in the game at +0.7, but he’s already the facing an uphill battle as he’s yet to take an NFL snap and is facing a four-game suspension if he does indeed find himself on a roster. This will be a position battle to watch throughout the preseason.
Undrafted Free Agent Defense
The Bears had a number of strong contributions from undrafted rookie free agents on the defensive side of the ball, starting up front with DT Zach Minter (+1.2) and DE Josh Williams (+1.7). They set the tone for the second- and third-string defenses as Minter picked up and hit and a hurry on his 12 pass rushes while Williams made the most of his eight snaps by notching a stop and an assist in the run game. Undrafted cornerback Damontre Hurst got into the act as well, playing tight coverage and picking up a tackle for loss to stall a Panthers drive on 3rd-and-1 to start the fourth quarter. Hurst looks like he has a cleaner path to the roster than the two defensive linemen, but it was a good start for the undrafted trio.
Carolina – Three Performances of Note
After grading 77th out of the 81 top guards in his rookie season, Amini Silatolu continued his struggles in the preseason opener. He surrendered a hit and three hurries on his 24 pass block attempts, graded at -1.4 in the running game, and even whiffed on a screen block in the open field. Bears defensive tackles consistently got inside Silatolu on running plays with a good example being DT Nate Collins beating him for a tackle at the 12:50 mark of the first quarter. Just a few plays later, pass protection issues crept up as DT Stephen Paea snuck past Silatolu and put a big hit on quarterback Cam Newton on his 3-yard touchdown pass. As always, one preseason game does not a season (or preseason) make, but Silatolu has some work to do if he’s going to move on from a subpar rookie season in 2012.
For the second time in three years, the Panthers have doubled up in the draft at the defensive tackle position with the additions of Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short. The strategy did not work well when Terrell McClain and Sione Fua were drafted in 2011 and graded as our 84th and 75th–ranked defensive tackles that year, respectively. McClain has already moved on, while Fua is currently battling for a reserve role on the roster.
For Lotulelei, it was a rather uneventful evening as he played only 13 snaps, 11 of which came against the pass. He was shut out as a rusher and was easily sealed out of the action by LT Eben Britton on one of his two running plays. Short was quite impressive in his extended action as he picked up a hit and two hurries on his 18 pass rushes to post a +2.6 pass-rushing grade that matched his overall mark for the game. If he continues to get after the quarterback, Short may steal some snaps from starter Dwan Edwards and join Lotulelei as the Panthers may be headed for another season playing rookies up front.
Bears QBs Find Norman
Both teams showed plenty of early-season rust as the entire game felt littered with miscommunications between quarterbacks and receivers. Panthers QB Derek Anderson and WR Ted Ginn looked as if they were reading completely different books at times, never mind not being on the same page, while Bears quarterbacks likely had a few words for their receivers after two passes ended up right in CB Josh Norman’s hands after questionable routes were run. The first was a slant attempt from QB Jay Cutler to WR Alshon Jeffery, but Jeffery spotted up instead while Cutler looked to hit him in stride. Norman was the beneficiary, though he made a nifty play to reach back and make the catch. The second, an out route from QB Matt Blanchard to Onubun, was thrown to a decent spot, but Onubun’s gator arms allowed the ball to sail over his head and into Norman’s waiting hands. One cutback later, Norman was in the end zone. While they weren’t the hardest interceptions in the world, Norman took advantage and was otherwise stellar in coverage on his way to a +3.0 grade.
– Bears rookie linebackers Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene played 27 and 29 snaps, respectively, and there were some positives and negatives in their first action. Both rookies had moments where they overran gaps against the run, but they combined for three stops and Bostic made one of the plays of the game when he read Newton’s eyes, jumped the route, and took an interception back for the Bears’ first score.
– Panthers second-year linebacker Luke Kuechly only played 10 snaps, but still managed a +1.2 grade to go with four tackles and three stops.
– CB James Dockery led the Panthers’ defense with 42 snaps while the Bears’ defensive leader was CB Sherrick McManis with 38.
PFF Game Ball
In a game lacking big time performances, Bears DT Nate Collins get nod for his +2.8 grade on 35 snaps. His two pressures, including a sack, were merely icing on the cake to a dominant performance against the run that included two stops and a +2.7 grade.
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