So I've been thinking about this game Friday night, and I've finally reached the conclusion that I'm just not going to get upset about preseason football. It just defies logic. Players don't play with the effort and intensity they normally would, the playbook's closed for a series of basic runs and passes, and guys like Steven Jackson don't even play.
On a side note, read between the lines of Steven Jackson's playing time so far. It should be pretty clear that he's going to get A LOT of carries in the regular season as their saving as much wear and tear on him as they possibly can. And rightfully so. There's no need to risk asset number one putting up meaningless points in even more meaningless preseason games.
A few quick observations:
Marc Bulger had a career season last year, and threw for just 9 INTs...and that was without Pace and two rookie tight ends whose blocking skills might charitably be called lacking. Do you really think with Pace back, McMichael in the offense and added targets such as Bennett and Leonard, that Bulger will suddenly look like John Kitna with his 1:1 TD/INT ratio? Exactly. Bulger's a huge investment for this team, and Linehan's not going to put $60+ million through the ringer against the Oakland Raiders in August. Bulger threw long, he threw short (more than I think he would have thrown short in the regular season, i.e. on 2nd and 10 on the game's first drive), he handed it off, and he didn't give up an INT. He did what he needed to do.
Before you read the box score and weep again about the defense yielding 170 some yards, think about this: Oakland depth RB Echemandu had 60 yards on 14 carries, but didn't get his first carry until the fourth quarter, where he faced depth guys and players auditioning for the practice squad. Fargas had 32 yards on 7 carries. Just two of those touches came in the first half, totaling 7 yards. The first team defense limited starter LaMont Jordan to 2.27 yards per carry; that's a lot better than last year for those of you keeping score at home.
Haslett's big play/rush oriented defense is going to give up some big plays. No question about it. It's not a conservative system, and that's something we're going to have to live with. Consistently giving up big plays would make it a real problem; however, keeping opposing QBs from exploiting a weak secondary without Fakhir Brown will make the occasional big play worth it.
The pass interference penalties bother me more than anything, and I'm now more convinced that the backfield is going to be biggest weak spot on that side of the ball, at least until Brown comes back. However, committing penalties is a fundamental that can be prevented through coaching and practicing; thus, it's an area where we can see improvement. Hell, take away those deadly PI calls and the score might have been completely different.
Speaking of fundamentals, notice the turnover rate? The Rams first team offense, for all the hair pulling they caused fans this weekend, did not turn over the ball. The only Rams fumble was from the third string QB. The defense, on the other hand, caused two key turnovers. The LaMont Jordan fumble on 3rd and 1 in the first quarter was the sort of play that could change the course of a game in the regular season. McCown's fumble when he was sacked in the third quarter offers a peak at the big payout potential for plays in Haslett's agressive system. There were just two turnovers, but they were quality turnovers.
As far as special teams coverage, panic. 130 yards on 3 returns spells unacceptable. Al Roberts may be heading back to high school if this keeps up.
Alright, so are we good? Are we not going to freak out too much? Don't. The starters exectued good fundamentals all through the preseason, for proven talented guys like Bulger going through the motions of preseason play that's all you need to see, well that and staying healthy. They've proven time and again that they can execute when the games matter, and barring injury or alien invasion they'll continue to do so. The o-line kept Bulger protected, and the starters did not allow a sack. These guys can execute; we've seen it time and again and don't need three preseason games to confirm that.
As for the younger guys and the rookies, the fundamentals matter even more, and mostly they've handled that well. Oh, they'll look like rookies at times this season, count on it, and there's always reason to carry around questions about them. Let's see how they look two weeks from today, though, before we really start doubling up on the Prozac.