Here are five top lessons learned from the Chargers' 24-17 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.
1. The Battle to Backup Philip Rivers – Philip Rivers won't make his preseason debut until this Saturday night when the Bolts host the Seattle Seahawks. Thus, Cardale Jones and Geno Smith got the chance to pull ahead in the battle to back up the future Hall of Famer. Jones got the start, completing six of 12 attempts for 40 yards while also running for 15 yards on three carries. Smith took over midway through the second quarter, and the veteran was 14 for 23 for 218 yards, one touchdown and one interception. It was an impressive performance by the former Jet and Giant as his 218 yards are the second-most of any QB thus far this preseason. After the game, Head Coach Anthony Lynn explained his decision to give Jones and Smith extensive playing time:
"I wanted to see those two backup quarterbacks, Geno and Cardale. At some point I want to know what we have in Cardale Jones. He came into this league and he's never really been given a legitimate opportunity in my opinion. I want to give him that opportunity. I had to see him play tonight. That's why he started and Geno came in second."
Lynn also weighed in on how each QB fared:
"I thought (Jones) missed some throws, but I also thought he made some plays. I have to go back and watch the tape before I make an evaluation on him and see how he played…. I thought Geno (Smith) played decent when he was in the game. I thought he moved around and made some plays and escaped. He kept us in the game."
2. Areas for Improvement – It doesn't matter that it was only the preseason; Lynn was pretty ticked off after the game. The head coach has high expectations each time the Bolts line up, regardless whether the starters or backups are in the game. Lynn was particularly peeved by the number of penalties and turnovers the team committed as they were flagged 15 times while coughing up the ball four times:
"You could tell that it was definitely preseason week one. It was too sloppy. You look at the time of possession and we had the ball two minutes longer and we had twice as many yards. Penalties and turnovers will get you, beat you every time. It doesn't matter who's on the field. It was just sloppy football. We'll go back watch the tape and we'll learn from this. We'll figure out where we're at, where we need to go and that's what we'll work on and all the things in between….That's something we improved on last year was the penalties and the turnovers. Like I just told the guys, it doesn't matter how much you dominate a team. If you lose in those two ways, it's going to be a long night. And it was long. Those penalties were spread through the locker room. It wasn't just one position, it was special teams, it was offense, it was defense. We had an opportunity to get some turnovers and we did not take advantage of those. I would probably say the penalties pissed me off the most."
3. Rookies a Step Ahead – It's understandable for rookies to feel a bit lost in the preseason opener as it's their first taste of the NFL. Most say it takes a couple games to adjust to the speed of the game, but that wasn't the case for the Bolts' rookies. Derwin James, Uchenna Nwosu and Kyzir White were among those to note how comfortable they felt on the field. It certainly showed as the trio made several standout plays throughout the course of the game. James best summed up how the rookies felt in their debut:
"I was surprised a little bit because it was a bit slower than I thought it would be. But that's good coaching coming from my coaches getting me prepared. (White) and I were on the field talking about it. It went much slower than what you'd expect, but I guess it came from our preparation and our coaches getting us ready."
4. Backup RBs Make Presence Felt – Little is known about the Chargers' running back corps outside of Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler. The team's preseason opener helped shed some light on the battle to back up the dynamic duo. With Justin Jackson not playing, Russell Hansbrough and Detrez Newsome made the most of their opportunity. Hansbrough carried the ball three times for 21 yards, averaging 7.0 yards per carry. He also impressed in pass protection on Smith's long touchdown to Geremy Davis, keeping the QB clean while isolated one-on-one with the pass rusher. Meanwhile, Newsome showed off his wheels on several occasions. The first was on a 37-yard run off left end for a touchdown that was called back by penalty. However, Newsome managed to find paydirt in the fourth quarter as he burst up the middle for a six-yard TD. The undrafted free agent out of Western Carolina also flashed as a receiver, catching four passes for 34 yards. After the game, Lynn was quick to bring up Newsome as someone who caught his eye:
"I thought Newsome ran well. He's been showing good vision and instincts the whole camp and I thought it showed up in this preseason game."
5. Unscathed – The most important thing to come out of the loss to Arizona was that the Bolts came out relatively unscathed. That wasn't the case a year ago when Denzel Perryman suffered an ankle injury that cost him the first eight weeks of the season. Left tackle Sam Tevi did get attended to by trainers late in the fourth quarter, but he was able to walk off the field under his own power.
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