After a long week of practice with the Kansas City Chiefs at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph, the Arizona Cardinals came out of Friday’s preseason game with more positional battle questions than answers.
We won’t discuss the overall play of the starting defense, and before you jump down my throat for me not doing so (yes, they struggled), safety Kerry Rhodes said it best in a post-game interview with Darren Urban of the Cards’ official website: “It can look a certain way right now. There will be a difference when we game plan.”
He’s right. Ray Horton will not implement a defensive game plan at all during the preseason. There’s no time—or need—for the extra work.
I did highlight two position battles on defense for you to watch, so we will recap them. Other than that, there will be no talk of the defense.
On offense, we were left with a mixed bag of results from our two position battles. Let’s go through and find out how each battle shaped up against the Chiefs.
John Skelton vs. Kevin Kolb, QB
Coach Ken Whisenhunt planned on rotating starts for the two quarterbacks this preseason, and as Kevin Kolb received the start for the Hall of Fame game, John Skelton took the first snap in KC.
He looked sharp on the first drive, connecting on his first two throws—both to Andre Roberts—for 18 yards. His final two possessions, though, were not as productive. He went 1-of-4 the rest of the way, completing a pass to Larry Fitzgerald for 17 yards on the first play of the second quarter.
Skelton’s final line in three possessions was 3-of-6 for 35 yards, one sack and one interception (thrown on his final attempt). It could have been 4-of-7 for 46 yards and the pick, but for some reason Whisenhunt accepted a defensive pass-interference penalty after a completion to Fitz from Skelton just a few minutes earlier.
Kolb entered for Skelton following the interception and was allotted two drives to work with, and he was no better. He began his first drive by throwing a back-shoulder fade to second-year receiver DeMarco Sampson. Although Sampson made a nice diving attempt at the catch, the ball hit the turf and was ruled incomplete.
His one, and only, completion came just two plays later on the same throw. It was a better throw this time, and Sampson made the grab for 21 yards and a first down.
It was all bad after that.
Kolb closed off the left side of the field, looking exclusively down the middle and to his right. Had he looked left at any point during two plays in particular, he would have noticed tight end Rob Housler wide-open on one and fullback Anthony Sherman on the other.
Housler ran a simple out route, and no one followed him, while Sherman was the checkdown on what equated to a swing route. He rolled to his right more than he should have once again and did not look comfortable within the pocket—again.
Kolb’s final line was 1-of-5 for 21 yards with one sack.
Moving forward, despite Skelton’s less-than-stellar performance, there appears to be no way Kolb can win this battle. Unless he can brave it out in the pocket and go through his entire progression, Skelton may be the last man standing by Week 1.
Notes: Both quarterbacks played with the starting offensive line, but Kolb was given the second-tier receivers while Skelton had Fitzgerald and company. Both men had a pass attempt dropped. Tight end Todd Heap was well covered and couldn’t hang on to a Skelton pass, and Sampson dropped Kolb’s first toss.
Michael Floyd vs. Andre Roberts, WR
As mentioned, Roberts caught Skelton’s first two pass attempts for 18 yards, and that was the extent of his statistical output. He was not noticeable on any run-blocking attempts, but his limited play was productive. His routes were crisp, he created separation from defenders and he did not drop any passes intended for him.
Floyd received much more playing time this week than last, and though he caught only one pass for three yards (from rookie Ryan Lindley), he was a factor in run protection more than once.
One play especially stood out.
On the second play of the second half, Floyd lined up to the outside on the right. As the ball was snapped, Lindley turned and handed the ball to running back William Powell on a draw, and Floyd was out of the picture and out of the play.
Powell was stopped by the KC defense up the middle but found a lane to the left, so he bounced outside and headed for the sideline.
He then turned the corner and ran down the field in a foot race with the secondary.
Now 40 yards downfield, Floyd showed up in the picture seemingly out of nowhere ready to help out any way he can. Then, Chiefs cornerback Jacques Reeves entered the screen in an attempt to stop Powell.
Floyd approached Reeves and tossed him to the ground like a ragdoll, then had the wherewithal to maneuver out of Powell's way to allow him more yards.
Floyd brings that kind of effort on every play. Plays like that during the regular season with Beanie Wells or Ryan Williams running could result in a touchdown. He truly had no business being on that side of the field. But in order to stand out, sometimes players have to do extraordinary things.
Michael Floyd is standing out.
Paris Lenon vs. Stewart Bradley, ILB
With Paris Lenon being held out of game action while he recovers from the sprained ankle he suffered against the Saints, it is impossible to compare the battle at this point. We can, however, still look at how Stewart Bradley performed with the extra playing time he received because of it.
His presence wasn’t as obvious on the field against Kansas City, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. He didn’t make any glaring mistakes that left coaches throwing clipboards or bursting blood vessels in their heads.
Bradley’s performance was sound.
Early in the game, he had a one-on-one opportunity to stop running back Peyton Hillis for a minimal gain and did so.
He finished with three total tackles, including one for loss. That brings his preseason total to 10 tackles, two for loss and one sack.
As of now, he hasn’t done enough to supplant Lenon on the depth chart. But, that all could hinge on the status of Lenon’s ankle. I will keep you updated on the injury situation as news rolls in, and it will be included in my preview of the preseason home opener against the Oakland Raiders.
Jamell Fleming vs. Michael Adams (vs. Justin Bethel), Nickel CB (Special Teams)
This is the only position battle I’m sure will turn out how I expect. Michael Adams has to go. As much as his teammates like him and all the coaches and fans like him, he has been the glaring weakness in the defense for two consecutive weeks.
He’s been repeatedly called a solid tackler for years, and in Kansas City, that was for once not the issue. He led the defense with four tackles in Friday’s loss. But in leading the team in tackles, he revealed something else about his game that is troubling.
He can’t cover.
Kansas City offensive do-it-all Dexter McCluster made minced meat of Adams the entire first quarter, burning him to the tune of three catches for 44 yards within the first 16 plays of the game.
One of those times, he bit hard on a play-action fake from quarterback Matt Cassel. You have to like the aggressiveness, but he’s got to trust his front-seven in that situation and believe they can make a play.
Jamell Fleming notched three total tackles, including a tackle for loss. On the latter tackle, he made a nice play, pushing through an offensive lineman to get to running back Shaun Draughn for a two-yard loss.
He has been good in coverage and run defense so far, and as a third-round pick, it’s a near guarantee he will make the roster.
With that assumption, the fact that Adams has been terrible on defense and with the play of rookie safety/special teams ace Justin Bethel (who made another great stop on punt coverage), the six-year veteran should be looking for work sooner rather than later.
Rookie to Watch: Blake Gideon, S
The rookie safety out of Texas was better than advertised once again. He didn’t make any exceptional plays like his interception last week, but he provided solid run defense and recorded three total tackles.
Again, the chances he makes the roster are slim right now. But anything is possible, and we’ve seen it in the past.
Rookie to Watch This Week: LaRon Byrd, WR
From the post-game press conference, via AZCardinals.com:
"You see the big plays and you think he has a good game but one of the small things happens and the quarterback keeps the ball in his hand because he’s looking to throw and LaRon isn't there," Whisenhunt said.
The head coach was referring to a wrong route that Byrd ran during the game that caused a play to break down. While it’s unknown who the quarterback was, when it occurred and why the quarterback couldn’t have looked elsewhere when his receiver wasn’t in the right spot, it’s one bad play—a “rookie mistake,” if you will—in two games of brilliance for Byrd.
He leads the team, so far, with seven catches for 77 yards, and his knack for looking like Larry Fitzgerald is uncanny. More than once, I’ve caught myself thinking, “Nice catch from Fitz there.”
In two games, he’s shown the toughness required to make it in the NFL.
He has a great chance to make the team, and he would make a great addition to the receiving corps.