The preseason game tonight between the Arizona Cardinals and the San Diego Chargers is as close to a regular football game as fans can get in the preseason. Being Week 3 of the preseason, it is typically when teams play their first stringers the longest. The fourth and final game is usually dedicated to the reserves and making final roster decisions.
Such is the case tonight. Kevin Kolb and the first team offense for the Cards are expected to play into the third quarter. With John Skelton out with an ankle sprain, we will get to see Rich Bartel with the second team and the newcomer Brodie Croyle run with the thirds.
Here is what you should be watching for as the two teams play tonight:
Further improvement by Kevin Kolb and the Arizona offense
While Kolb has been okay, the offense has improved from one week to the next. The first team offense, in five series, has scored two field goals on drives over more than 10 plays and got down to the goalline in another (but was unsuccessful at punching the ball into the end zone). Watch to see if the offense can continue to maintain sustained drives. While it is not crucial in the big picture, for fans it will be very good if Kolb can get the team a touchdown or two.
Improved pass blocking from Levi Brown and Brandon Keith
The regular season game last year against the Chargers was when Brandon Keith became a turnstile for Shaun Phillips, who had three sacks in that game. Over the course of the season, it was apparent that Keith and Brown were one of the least effective tackle pairs at protecting their quarterback. Keith made improvements over the course of the season until he went down with an injury, but tonight we will see if they can keep the potent San Diego defense away from the Cardinals' new quarterback.
Focused running by Beanie Wells
With the trade that sent Tim Hightower to the Washington Redskins and the injury to rookie Ryan Williams, Beanie is now unequivocally "the guy." The success of the running game begins and ends with him, and that is what he wants. He was criticized for not lowering his shoulder pads and driving forward for tough yards in the preseason opener against the Oakland Raiders, but "ran angry" in last week's game against the Green Bay Packers. Watch to see if he will continue with that angry intensity while running, looking not only to find holes.and get through them, but also plow through defenders when the holes disappear.
Pass rushing success continued
Against the Green Bay Packers, the first team defense was able to get to Aaron Rodgers. Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell both had sacks. San Diego typically does a good job of protecting Phillip Rivers, but for the Cardinals to succeed defensively, they must get pressure. O'Brien Schofield had success as well, getting a sack and forcing a fumble as well. He needs to build on last week's success, as well.
The performance of "bubble" players on the roster
Rosters must be trimmed down to 80 players by August 30 and down to the final 53-man roster by September 3. As a result, players that are question marks need to make an impact now to either make the Cardinals squad or get noticed by other teams looking to add players to their teams late. Who will be those guys? Tune in to the game to see who.