First Down/Fourth Down: Cleveland’s offense is humming, and San Diego’s is not
If Norv Turner was engaging in a bit of schadenfreude after Thursday’s preseason results were in, few could blame him. Turner was the head coach of the San Diego Chargers from 2007 through 2012, and while he wasn’t generally great in that role, he was also hamstrung by former general manager A.J. Smith’s increasingly curious and erratic personnel decisions. After his Chargers tenure came to an end, Turner headed to Cleveland to do what he does best — devise offensive game plans and develop quarterbacks as the Browns’ offensive coordinator. In two preseason games, Turner’s latest project — second-year quarterback Brandon Weeden — has looked like the evolutionary version of the player we saw in 2012.
Meanwhile, the Chargers team that left Turner behind look like anything but a powerhouse.
First Down: Cleveland’s passing offense.
We knew that Weeden had a deep ball, but it was iffy at best in his rookie campaign. Not anymore. Through two preseason games against the first-team defenses of the St. Louis Rams and Detroit Lions, he’s completed 18 passes in 25 attempts for 229 yards, three touchdowns, and no picks. He went 8-of-12 for 117 yards and two touchdowns in Cleveland’s 24-6 win over Detroit.
There are some who still believe that Weeden is in a fight with backup Jason Campbell for the starting job, and Campbell has played well, but Cleveland’s 2013 offense looks like it’s very much under Weeden’s command so far.
“Competition sells newspapers, I understand that,” Weeden said after the game. “All I can control is going out and playing well. Try to play mistake-free football, do the things that I can control and that’s being accurate and managing this offense. And for the most part, I think I’ve done that through the first two games.”
The bad news for the Browns? All the injuries. First-round pick Barkevious Mingo had to be hospitalized with a bruised lung, running back Dion Lewis suffered a fractured fibula, guard Jason Pinkston was in a walking boot after an ankle injury, and tight end Gary Barnidge had a shoulder injury.
Fourth Down: San Diego’s offense in general.
In the Chargers’ 33-28 loss to the Chicago Bears, Philip Rivers made it through the start of the first quarter, but not with much distinction — he completed five of nine passes for 50 yards, and lost 25 yards on three sacks. San Diego’s starting offensive line could be described as no better than porous — though rookie right tackle D.J. Fluker showed some things — and new head coach Mike McCoy has a lot of things to fix after two preseason contests.
Rivers, for his part, remains unconcerned.
“I have seen some bad play and non-rhythmic offenses in the preseason, then they have great years, and I have seen some great drives in the preseason and they all go for nothing in the regular season,” he said. That may be true, but Rivers has been off his game too often over the last couple of seasons, and a shaky preseason doesn’t help the Chargers’ chances.
First Down: Philly’s QB battle.
First-year Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly has a pleasant problem on his hands — two quarterbacks ready, willing and able to look good in his offense. Michael Vick and Nick Foles each performed well in the team’s 14-9 win over the Carolina Panthers, though it should be said that based on pure performance, Vick has the edge in a QB battle Kelly doesn’t want to call just yet. One thing’s for sure — everyone in this offense is having a lot of fun. Kelly’s speed no-huddle concepts and flexible option looks kept Carolina’s defense on edge all evening.
“I’m having fun playing football, and I fell in love with the game again and I am thankful for that,” said Vick, who went 9-of-10 for 105 yards and an interception that was basically a punt at the end of his time in the offense, said after the game. “You’ve got to play this game with intense passion and purpose and I thank Coach Kelly for what he has done for me — that’s just giving me that confidence that I felt like I was losing at some point in my career. You just have to keep working hard and when you do that, you get the results that you want.
“But [we] can’t be satisfied with this performance tonight. It’s a long season, and we have a lot of work to do, and I understand that and I can’t lose sight of that.”
Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said that there were times when his defense lost sight of the goal when defending what Kelly drew up.
“One of the things that you can’t do is you can’t allow that play-action to stymie you doing your assignment, and we started watching the mesh point a little bit too much in my opinion,” Rivera said. “I’ll get an opportunity to see it on tape, but I really thought that we were letting it freeze us a little too much and they did some really nice things. I thought Nick Foles did a nice job for them. I think what we have to do again is we have to do our assignments. This is assignment football when you play a team like this.”
Fourth Down: Baltimore’s first-team offense.
Meanwhile, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh was not at all happy with his starters on the offensive side of the ball. Joe Flacco hit Torrey Smith for a 77-yard touchdown in the first quarter, but outside of that play, Baltimore gained just 54 yards on 18 plays in the first half.
“That first half was about as poorly as we can play,” Harbaugh said. “I can’t remember us playing worse since we came here.”
The Ravens bounced back from a 20-7 halftime deficit on the arm of backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who threw two touchdown passes. Rookie receiver Aaron Mellette from Elon brought in a 40-yard score, and he could be a sleeper. The 27-23 win was nice, but Harbaugh left the field with a lot of concerns.
“When you play, you try to win. That’s why they keep score. So I’m happy about that. I told the team in there, ‘The ones [starters] give the twos and the threes [backups] a slap on the back and a hand because our guys, they came out and found a way to win the game.”