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NFC West Lookaround: Updates on 49ers, Cardinals & Seahawks

How the division foes look after their first preseason games

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Las Vegas Raiders Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

On Saturday night, the LA Rams lost a 13-6 heartbreaker in their preseason opener to the Los Angeles Chargers. Remember what I said about the winner getting to keep SoFi Stadium all to themselves? Do the Rams have gotten evicted ... from their own house?

Luckily not, because this is merely preseason and this result would be different in the regular season. Aside from the Arizona Cardinals, the rest of the division got off to a rocky start during their first exhibition games.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at San Francisco 49ers Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

49ers’ Lance rocky, but shows promise during first NFL action

In what is practically becoming a weekly occurrence, this week’s Trey Lance Watch brings us into the rookie’s much-anticipated debut. Aside from a breathtaking 80-yard touchdown pass to Trent Sherfield, it’s clear that Lance has a lot of work to do before becoming the starter.

While quite the spectacular throw, it was one of only five passes he completed on the day. Lance was 5-of-14 for 128 yards but was sacked four times behind the Niners’ second-team offensive line. Most surprisingly is that he never used his mobile abilities to broke out of the pocket to scramble for yardage. However, he’s a rookie and this is the perfect learning experience for him in transitioning to the pros. San Francisco Head Coach Kyle Shanahan is hopeful Lance can improve as he continues working through the typical rookie jitters.

“There was some good and some bad. By no means was it perfect,” said Shanahan. “There were a couple of spots that you’d like him to go to different places. Sometimes, a couple of balls that sailed on him that I think he’d like to have back. But he also came out pretty good too, making the right plays, getting in the right spots. We had a couple of drops there especially on a third down that he could have kept the drive going if we had caught it. But it was a good first day. I didn’t want it to go perfect for him. I’d like some things that he could learn from. And there will be a lot of things that we can go over tomorrow.”

You have no need to panic at the moment Niners fans, everything is going to be just fine. If he shows few signs of improvement, then feel free to hit the panic button. Lance is in good hands with Shanahan so I don’t believe he’ll ruin him like the Chicago Bears have ruined all of their quarterbacks over the decades. (Justin Fields, you’ve been spared so far but Chicago always finds a way to make any signal caller Bear Down.)

Besides the Lance mania sweeping throughout the Bay Area, the 49ers-Chiefs game showed the impact of a new NFL rule. This offseason, the league widely expanded the rule against blocks in the back and 49ers offensive lineman Corbin Kaufusi and Chiefs safety Will Parks received a first glimpse at the headaches it’ll cause defensive players.

On the play in question, Kaufusi was attempted to block Chiefs safety Parks on an outside run. Parks went low in an attempt to avoid Kaufusi and make the tackle but due to Parks low hit, he was flagged for an illegal low block, creating a 15-yard penalty. This rule will make it very difficult for smaller defensive backs to take on a bigger defensive linemen.

“This is gonna change the perimeter run game and the screen game,” said former NFL player Tim Ryan while calling the broadcast. “Last year that wasn’t a penalty. This year it is. . . . Get out of the way or get knocked out.”

In other news, San Francisco added to their linebacking corps by signing a former Super Bowl champion. Linebacker Mychal Kendricks represents emergency depth for the team who’s seen an injury to projected outside starter Azeez Al-Shaair. The 10-year veteran won Super Bowl LII with the Philadelphia Eagles and should be much needed assistance to a team that’s been among the most injury-prone in the league. Kendricks was sentenced to one day in jail and three years of probation for his 2018 guilty plea on insider trading charges and played only one game in 2020 with Washington.

Youngsters lead way in strong showing for Cardinals

The Cardinals sat Kyler Murray, DeAndre Hopkins, Budda Baker and Chandler Jones among others as a couple rookies stole the spotlight. On Friday night, the Redbirds handed Dallas a 19-16 loss which already placed the Cowboys in midseason form.

During his first defensive series, rookie linebacker Zaven Collins displayed his keen playmaking abilities by shooting through the gap en route to a two-yard tackle for loss.

Collins looked like a seasoned vet while calling out all the defensive signals. Him and second-year linebacker Isaiah Simmons played into the fourth quarter, showcasing their athleticism and putting their unique skillsets to work. Another player who showed off their diverse skills was receiver Rondale Moore, who should give a jolt to Arizona’s offense and everyone’s fantasy team this season.

Cardinals Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury made sure to break out several plays which set players like Rondale into motion. The first play of the game was a swing pass to Moore for seven yards. Kingsbury can barely contain himself given all the ways he can utilize the rookie in his passing attack.

“We see it when he goes against our first defense,” Kingsbury said. “We had a feeling he was going to be hard to cover at times. He’s an elusive, dynamic player and that’s what he’s been. Hopefully that continues.”

Collins and Moore weren’t selfish enough to hog the spotlight all the themselves. Running back Eno Benjamin, a 2020 seventh-round pick played his first football game since Arizona State in 2019. Last season, due to the cancellation of preseason, Benjamin was inactive for all of 2020. Now, he’s making his mark in scooping up his roster spot as RB3.

Benjamin has shown his strong vision as evidenced by the play above and in his six-yard touchdown run. Overall, Kingsbury was proud of the way his young guys just went out and competed. With the performances of those young studs, who could honestly blame him?

“I thought it wasn’t too big for them,” Kingsbury said of his young players . “I know it’s just a preseason game, but there are fans in the stands and it’s NFL football and it’s the Dallas Cowboys.”

Robinson, Dallas star in Seahawks dud

The Seahawks didn’t have much going for them in Saturday’s 20-7 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders. With a whopping 31 players sitting out, including all 11 starters on offense, it’s no wonder the game was so painful to watch, even more so than the decision to throw at the one-yard line. That’s right Hawks, I’ll never let you live that one down.

There were very few players that actually stuck out in this stinker. One who did was second-year defensive end Alton Robinson, who was stout against the run and used his knowledge gained from Cliff Avril, whom he’s worked with this offseason. During Seattle’s peak defensive run from 2013-17, Avril logged 34.5 sacks. That pass-rushing prowess must’ve rubbed off on Robinson, seen here pressuring American folk hero Nathan Peterman into an interception:

Another second-year player left probably the only lasting impression on an offense that gained less than 200 yards. Running back DeeJay Dallas has looked exceptional during training camp and that performance followed him into Vegas, where he hopes it doesn’t stay. As a jack-of-all-trades, he had only five carries on the night, finished with 24 yards and nearly a five-yard average while returning two kicks for 55 yards, including a 34-yarder before halftime. Dallas also snagging a fourth down dump off pass against broken coverage, broke a tackle along the sideline and then raced to the end zone for a 43-yard touchdown.

Seattle might be in the market for a little pass rushing assistance after releasing defensive end Aldon Smith. It was obvious from the beginning that this experiment wasn’t going to pan out given how much baggage Smith had in his personal carry-on. Pete Carroll tried to make it work but eventually somethings got to give when someone like Smith refuses to learn from his past mistakes.

Next Week:

Broncos @ Seahawks, 7 PM, SAT

49ers @ Chargers, 4:30 PM, SUN

Chiefs @ Cardinals, 5 PM, FRI

Raiders @ Rams, 7 PM, SAT