We all know that preseason W/L record doesn't matter, but that doesn't mean we can't take anything away from the game. Sometime this weekend I'll go back and review the game film for a more detailed assessment, but until then here are three early takeaways from our first preseason game.
1. The Offense Looks...Okay.
There wasn't anything that took your breath away, but the offense looked methodical and crisp for the majority of the game, especially with Brandon Weeden under center. We've been told that Weeden has a strong arm but struggles with accuracy, but neither of those where on display this game. Weeden had plenty of time under center but never really went deep, and seemed content to work the short and intermediate routes. He was accurate, but I wish he had shown quicker decision making. Caleb Hanie looked like a third-string QB. The pleasant surprise was Dustin Vaughan, who showed some Romoesque traits, making defenders miss while keeping his eyes downfield. He also showed some rookie traits, letting the clock run down to the two-minute warning without snapping the ball, and taking a sack on fourth down.
The running backs were a bright spot, as both Joseph Randle and Ryan Williams looked good running the football. Randle showed some burst he didn't have last year, and Williams did a really good job catching the ball. If I had to give one of these two the edge it would be Randle; he showed good pass protection, especially on our only touchdown, while Williams got beat too many times.
The receivers were what we thought they would be. Dwayne Harris had a drop that he probably wishes he could have back. Cole Beasley is still money on third downs. The only receiver who looked bad was Tim Benford, who is making a case to play his way off the team.
2. The Defense Doesn't
The big story tomorrow (if the announcers are any indication), is the fact that the Chargers didn't have an incomplete pass until the fourth quarter. And while that's bad, I don't think it's that big of a concern. By and large the secondary was playing very short-handed. The one player who looked totally lost out there was #41...and he had just been signed two days prior and hadn't even practiced with the team.
No, the real area of concern was the run defense. While most will probably blame the run defense on the defensive line, I thought the problem was with our linebackers. In this defense, the defensive line is going to overrun the ball. It's going to happen. That's what happened on the Chargers first touchdown; the Chargers ran a draw and the linemen rushed right by the running back. DeVonte Holloman was actually in perfect position to make the stop on the play and did a really good job stepping up and filling the whole. Unfortunately he allowed the Chargers offensive lineman to "get his hat inside". Instead of taking the block and shedding it, he "cheated" to the outside of the blocking lineman, allowing the running back to cut inside and score. That was a problem with the linebackers all game. I saw Holloman do it twice, and noticed it happen to Anthony Hitchens a few times as well. Bruce Carter played fairly well in run support, but seemed hesitant in pass coverage which is a bad sign. The run defense stiffened up in the second half, but whether that was better play from our defense or just a result of playing against weak competition is anyone's guess.
3. Our 7th rounders are legit
I was really impressed by a number of our seventh-round draft picks. Ken Bishop showed good strength at the 1-tech spot. On one play he effectively stood the guard up and shed him to make a tackle on the running back. And then there was the sight of him running down San Diego's scat back from behind. He drew a penalty for the horse collar tackle, but that was an impressive display of quickness and hustle from the big fella.
I thought that Anthony Hitchens played well also. He struggled early in run support, but as the game wore on he seemed to find his groove and made a number of impressive plays, punctuated by a TFL where he knifed into the backfield and dropped the running back during a goal line stand. Hitchens needs to improve his coverage but all in all played a good game (I know Hitchens isn't a seventh-rounder but I need to put a good word in for him!).
I thought Terrance Mitchell played well for his first game. He had one penalty early, but had really good defense on a play where Jeff Heath drew a flag and he also recovered a fumble. He made some mistakes but never backed down and the game didn't seem too big for him which is huge for a rookie. In that he was joined by his compatriot Ahmad Dixon, who was the most impressive defensive player on the field. Dixon led the team in tackles before leaving with a possible concussion. He had several impressive open field tackles, and plenty of "whoa" hits, where he lived up to his reputation as a player that lays the wood. Someone on Twitter called him a poor man's Roy Williams, and he lived up to that billing tonight.
What it Means
Eh, I'll tell you in few weeks. All in all this game just reinforced things we already knew. The offense is in good shape, the defense not so much. None of our players really looked overwhelmed, except for Caleb Hanie, so that's a positive. The defense got overwhelmed in the running game, but it didn't look like they were physically outgunned. It looked like they were playing with bad technique, and while that's bad, it's also something that's correctable. Right now we don't know much more about the team than we did yesterday; hopefully we'll see a little more of our starters in the Baltimore game and can get a better handle on where our team is at.