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Rookie Bradford performs like veteran
The Thursday night schedule brought two games on the docket. Typically, the starters play quite a bit in the third week of the preseason, and that’s just what we saw.
Here are some observations on all four teams:
• St. Louis Rams QB Sam Bradford didn’t look like a rookie. In fact, you couldn’t tell that he wasn’t a veteran by the way he played — a complete departure from his first two outings. He played with tremendous poise and threw with outstanding accuracy. While his offensive line deserves a lot of credit, Bradford did a great job of throwing with timing and anticipation, two traits that even the best quarterbacks don’t display. You never want to read too much into any preseason game, but Bradford was simply terrific. You can see clearly why they drafted him. He has a great feel for the passing game. He basically defeated New England’s pass rush by getting the ball out of his hands quickly.
• For the little he played, RB Steven Jackson looked good. He moved around well and didn’t look rusty in his second game returning from offseason back surgery. St. Louis still does not have a quality second back. Undrafted free agent Keith Toston, who is actually very talented, is someone to keep an eye on. He had a TD run late in the game.
• Third-year WR Donnie Avery looked solid before he suffered a knee injury in the second quarter. His absence gave second-year WR Brandon Gibson an extended look for the coaches to evaluate him. Gibson, who was acquired in a trade from the Philadelphia Eagles last year, is a solidly built receiver who runs well for his size. Slot WR Danny Amendola was very active in this game. Not only can he return punts and kicks, he really helps the team in the short hash area. He has quick feet and is very difficult to cover when he’s moving across the middle. Not bad for a player they signed off Philadelphia’s practice squad last season.
• Rookie TE Michael Hoomanawanui continued to perform at a solid level. He has decent enough athleticism and gets open quite a bit. He seems to have a good feel of how to find room underneath in coverage. He’s flashed in each preseason game.
• Defensively, the Rams couldn’t get to New England Patriots QB Tom Brady save for a few times. Brady, as he looked through the first two games, is starting to perform like he did before he suffered his serious knee injury back in the beginning of the 2008 season. His arm looks as strong as ever.
• Veteran WR Randy Moss can still go deep. He hooked up with Brady on a 65-yard catch and run where Brady led him and Moss ran in for the extra 10 yards. Brandon Tate looks to be the outside receiver when the team is in its three-receiver set. He’s moving very well and does not look like he’s inhibited at all after last year’s knee problems — just check out his 97-yard kickoff return. WR Wes Welker had a very nice catch and run for 39 yards. Like Amendola, he’s very tough to cover when he is crossing the field.
• The Patriots have an outstanding tight end tandem in rookies Dan Gronkowski, who scored twice, and Aaron Hernandez. It will be very interesting to see how the coaches use both of them this season.
• While their offense looked stellar, the same can’t be said for New England’s defense. While Bradford made them look bad, they couldn’t get much pressure on him. Teams typically don’t disguise blitzes much in the preseason, but whatever New England tried didn’t work. New England simply does not have any proven pass rushers left on their 80-man roster other than veteran DE/OLB Derrick Burgess. Veteran OLB Tully Banta-Cain had 10 sacks last season, but those might have been the quietest 10 you’ve ever seen. He never had more than 5.5 sacks in a season before 2009.
• New England’s cornerbacks had a lot of trouble with the physical play from the St. Louis receivers. While most of the CBs have really good speed, they are going to have to find a way to stop the receivers from running over or through them.
• While he wasn’t ultra sharp against Green Bay, QB Peyton Manning was still solid. As always seems to be the case with him, he got rid of the ball quickly in order to beat the pass rush. He did miss some throws he would normally hit on, however. He did get pressured a bit as the game progressed. The absence of starting C Jeff Saturday became noticeable as time wore on.
• Fifth-year RB Joseph Addai had a nice outside zone run for 49 yards on the first offensive play of the game. It will be interesting to see if the Colts look to re-sign him, as he’s on the final year of his rookie deal. Second-year RB Donald Brown has done nothing yet to supplant him.
• Third-year WR Pierre Garcon looked sharp in his return to the starting lineup after missing the first two games. He clearly gives the team a badly needed physical presence at the position, but he also runs very well for his size. Veteran WR Reggie Wayne and Manning looked to be in sync as usual, but they missed on one play that would have been for a score.
• The Indianapolis defense seemed to rattle Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers just a tad early on, but as the game progressed, the gunslinger tore them apart. Green Bay’s depth at receiver and tight end was too much to overcome.
• Rodgers is the type of quarterback, much like Manning, that you can’t let up against. You must pressure him all game or he will tear the defense apart. Even when you think you’re beating him, he still wins because he never lets up, much like the great quarterbacks of the game.
• If you’ve followed me on Twitter for the past year or so, you probably know what I think about TE Jermichael Finley. I said last year that he could wind up being one of the top three players at his position in 2010. I think he’s there now. No linebacker can cover him, and if a team tries to double team him, they will be leaving the receivers with single coverage. Green Bay was without starting WR Greg Jennings, but fourth-year WR James Jones was solid in his stead. He’s a tough cover because he’s so physical. The bottom line is Green Bay might have perhaps the most passing options in the NFL.
• Green Bay was without some key players on the defensive side of the ball, but their pass coverage, which was shaky last season, had some leakage in this game. At some point they are going to have to find veteran CB Al Harris’ replacement. Harris is still trying to come back from last year’s ACL injury. The 35-year old defensive back might not be ready for several more weeks.