Chiefs still not cutting it on offense
I spoke last week of a given team’s ability to set aside the typical preseason distractions and win on the road as an indicator of focus and mental toughness. In doing so, I praised the Week 2 efforts of Minnesota, New England and San Diego. On the flip side of that equation, there were two teams that concerned me with home losses in Week 3, possibly the most important week of the preseason.
In Kansas City, Todd Haley is investing heavily in the conditioning of his team and focusing on the season opener against Buffalo rather than the specific matchups of the preseason. This may play out as the best course of action, but the Chiefs are 0-3 and have generated little to zero offense in their three outings.
The Chiefs' league-leading rushing attack was able to muster only 58 yards in a 14-10 loss to the Rams, who gave up 113 yards per game a season ago.
The 49ers, also at home, barely gained 100 yards of total offense for the entire game and lost 30-7. This was against a Texans team whose supposed weakness is on defense. Ben Tate, not reigning NFL rushing champion Arian Foster, led the ground attack for the Texans' offense which accumulated 172 yards on the ground.
With the already unsteady nature of the quarterback position, the Niners will need their defense to be the centerpiece for their success, and this outing was a step in the wrong direction.
In a feature segment on FOXSports.com, I will be providing weekly Power Rankings, in which I will attempt to rank all 32 teams from best to worst.
The first of these will be released Sept. 6, just before the regular-season opener, but here is one spoiler alert: Sitting atop that list will be the Green Bay Packers. I have previously mentioned the idea of parity in the NFL and the league lacking any clearly defined divisional front-runners. I still stick to my word, but as my Power Rankings stand currently, the Packers have the widest margin over their second-best divisional foe.
With that said, I wouldn’t bet on the Bears hibernating for the season or for the Lions to just roll over and play dead. This should be somewhat expected from the Bears, reigning division champions who were just a win away from the Super Bowl last year, but it may come as more of a surprise from a Detroit Lions team that has recorded a dismal 8-40 record in the past three years.
I don’t care if its preseason or not, you have to be impressed with what Matthew Stafford has accomplished in these first three games, including a 34-10 shellacking of Tom Brady’s New England Patriots. Stafford completed 12 of 14 passes for 200 yards and two touchdowns against the Patriots. He has misfired on only seven of his 31 attempts, connected for five touchdown passes and boasts a near-perfect passer rating of 154.0 for the entire preseason.
Nate Burleson, entering his ninth NFL season, is looking more and more like the playmaker the Lions need to minimize defenses rolling coverage to Calvin Johnson’s side of the field. They will now have to honor the Lions' passing scheme from sideline to sideline. With young talent such as Brandon Pettigrew and Jahvid Best, the Lions are piecing together a complete offense that should have fantasy owners drooling. They are due for a huge statistical season, and the Lions may finally begin the climb out of the NFC North cellar. But they are heavily dependent on the health of Stafford.
Panthers fans got a glimpse of what this season might hold for them with an all-too-rookie performance on Thursday night. Quarterback Cam Newton completed only 6 of 19 attempts for 75 yards, predictably rushed for 49 yards, and was a disappointing 3 of 9 on third-down attempts greater than two yards (two of them on scrambles).
This is a tough pill to swallow for a team that was 30th in the league on third-down conversions, and dead last in total offense a season ago.
I can provide you Panthers faithful with some good news, albeit minimal. Newton has the elite athleticism to entertain you with spectacular plays and breathtaking moments that will elevate you from last in the league in the explosive plays category, as you were last season.
He even has the mental toughness and attitude to endure a long, heavily criticized season or seasons as he attempts to develop into an NFL quarterback, but the real question is, do you fans have the patience to wait for something or someone who will most likely never pan out?
Observations from around the league
• With all the negative attention the Redskins have received surrounding their quarterback situation, the zone-running attack is working out quite nicely for Tim Hightower. He was able to gain 56 yards on only nine carries against the always-stingy Ravens rush defense. In the first three games in the Mike Shanahan system, he has rushed for 170 yards on 25 attempts, good for 6.8 yards per carry.
• Although Michael Vick is light-years ahead of where he was in Atlanta, his progression as a passer is still a long way from complete. He continues to struggle reading coverage and often threw into triple coverage against the Browns. Although he didn’t actually throw an interception, I can think of at least one that was dropped by the defender and another that was picked off but called back because of a penalty away from the ball. This needs to be fixed before the Eagles start making Super Bowl reservations.
• With the early struggles of the Eagles' offensive linemen in pass protection, they seem to be making up for it with their run blocking. Both LeSean McCoy and Ronnie Brown are having impressive campaigns thus far, and the addition of rookie Dion Lewis could provide a change-of-pace back on third downs. This trio of backs provides the Eagles' offense something similar to that of the Saints backfield.
• Chicago's Phil Taylor was something to see on Thursday night. He was a monster up the middle and consistently pushed blockers back into the pocket. At one point, he completely engulfed Vick with a bone-crushing sack. This is exactly what the Bears need out of their retooled defensive line. I just hope Taylor has the stamina to keep it up for an entire game/season. His conditioning and shape has been his biggest criticism.
• In addition to Taylor, there was another rookie interior lineman who had a coming-out of sorts this weekend. The Chargers' Corey Liuget consistently collapsed the interior line of the Cardinals and forced Kolb to roll to either side. While Taylor utilizes his brute strength, Liuget relies on his superior footwork and quick hand placement to beat his opponent. Marcell Dareus and Nick Fairley were all the buzz at the NFL draft, but Taylor and Liuget are staying their ground.
• It was nice to see the rookie combination of A.J. Green and Andy Dalton hook up on a 40-yard touchdown against the Panthers, but the winning formula in Cincinnati is a physical ground attack coupled with an opportunistic defense. Asking Dalton to throw more than 20-25 times a game is asking for trouble.
• It may not be by much, but the Arizona Cardinals are the lead dog in the dreadful NFC West. Kevin Kolb and Larry Fitzgerald seem to have early chemistry, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Fitzgerald is targeted 15 times or more per game. Their chemistry was on display early and often on Saturday, and I’m not just talking about the 80-yard touchdown bomb late in the first quarter.
With the loss of the aforementioned Hightower and the ensuing season-ending injury to rookie Ryan Williams, the Cardinals will be asking a lot of a running back who has had only two career starts and a long history of injuries. Beanie Wells has all the tools to be a great back, but he has been thrown into the workhorse role, and I’m not sure he can handle it, physically.
• The new kickoff rule could possibly impact the Chargers just as much as the Bears this season. The Bears rely heavily on the playmaking ability of Devin Hester and Johnny Knox, and therefore may miss out on explosive, momentum-shifting plays in the return game. Conversely, the Chargers will actually see the benefit of the new rule. The Chargers boasted both the best offense and defense in the NFL last season, missing the playoffs solely because of their special teams. One game in particular was costly, as the Chargers gave up two kickoff-return touchdowns to Leon Washington in a loss to the Seattle Seahawks. While the rule was intended for player safety, it may have inadvertently pushed the Chargers to the top of the AFC.
• I am shocked the Ravens have let offensive lineman Oniel Cousins go. I understand they really like Jah Reid, their third-round pick from Central Florida. But with the Ravens having just signed Bryant McKinnie and not knowing exactly what they are getting, I am surprised Ozzie Newsome would give up on one of his higher draft picks this way. If Matt Birk, Marshal Yanda and McKinnie aren’t available at full strength for the opener against Pittsburgh, the Ravens will be in a world of hurt.