Chiefs QB Cassel hurried, out of sorts behind porous line


The third weekend of preseason games represents a chance for starters to get off the sidelines and put on a show. These games provide a deeper look at how teams plan to use their stars and newly-signed veterans. 

Three games in, one thing is for sure: Some teams are meshing better than others.

Here are my thoughts from watching Friday night's preseason games:

» Matt Cassel is struggling behind the Chiefs' leaky offensive line. The Chiefs' franchise quarterback has looked nothing like the efficient playmaker who guided Kansas City to a division title last season. He's completed only 12 of 27 passes for 182 yards in two preseason games, and failed to find a rhythm.

Part of his struggles can be attributed to the Chiefs' offensive line woes. The unit has failed to protect Cassel, whose accuracy has suffered amid constant harassment. Cassel completed only two passes to receivers in the loss to the Rams, resorting to a host of dump-off  passes as defenders clamped down on deeper targets all night.

The offensive line's struggles have also limited the impact of the Chiefs' running game. Without a punishing ground attack to set up the timing of the play-action passing game, Cassel has been unable to push the ball downfield to Tony Moeaki and especially Dwayne Bowe. The duo made a living off deep throws executed off run-action last season, but those opportunities have been relatively nonexistent during the preseason.

» Aaron Rodgers hasn't skipped a beat. That's a scary thought when considering the Super Bowl MVP's sensational postseason run. Rodgers was absolutely on fire in the 24-21 win over the Colts, finishing 19-of-23 passing for 204 yards and a touchdown. 

While those numbers reflect his sharp execution of the offense, it was Rodgers' efficiency that caught my attention. He distributed the ball to six different receivers and his pinpoint passes were routinely released before the intended receiver came out of his break. Rodgers' awareness, anticipation and timing are exceptional. Few quarterbacks can match his effectiveness from the pocket.

Rodgers' sharpness can be attributed, in part, to coach Mike McCarthy's utilization of spread formations while operating at a no-huddle pace. The Packers frequently aligned in open sets out of their "11" personnel package (one back, one tight end and three wideouts) with three receivers flushed to one side. This allowed Rodgers to identify blitz and coverage combinations, and he delivered a host of quick-rhythm throws before the pocket collapsed. The Colts sacked Rodgers three times, but he remained calm and moved the ball with little difficulty.

» Jermichael Finley could be Green Bay's most important weapon. The fourth-year tight end's dynamic skill set makes him nearly indefensible. His speed and athleticism overwhelm linebackers, while his exceptional size makes him a difficult matchup for safeties and nickel corners. If opponents double team Finley, the Packers can use him as a decoy to take advantage of isolated coverage on receivers Greg Jennings, Donald Driver and Jordy Nelson. If opponents roll coverage in Jennings' direction, Finley can punish opponents over the middle of the field.

McCarthy used this tactic to create big plays against the Colts -- even without Jennings in the lineup. On their first touchdown, the Packers used an empty formation with Finley at tight end. The spread set forced the Colts to adjust to a two-deep coverage to protect the corners on the outside, which left Finley in single coverage against a linebacker on a vertical route. Without a safety hovering in the middle of the field, Rodgers connected with Finley for the touchdown.

» Curtis Painter isn't a starter, but is a viable prospect. The third-year pro finally displayed the talent and potential to be an effective NFL-caliber quarterback in his two-plus quarters of play against the Packers. Painter played with poise and confidence in the pocket and made a handful of big-time throws that revealed his arm strength. Although he missed a few open throws, his accuracy issues were mostly related to his inconsistent footwork. Painter falls off his throws occasionally, and the lack of a consistent follow-through leads to errant passes. However, when he sets up with a wide base and incorporates his legs into his throws, Painter can deliver pinpoint passes with velocity.

Painter made that correction during the second quarter and his performance improved. He connected on 10 of his final 16 throws for 164 yards with two scores and got the Colts' offense into a rhythm. 

Painter's performance might not be enough to convince the Colts to rely on him as a starter on opening day -- especially with Kerry Collins now signed -- but his potential could keep him in their long-term plans.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks



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