The Oakland Raiders turned another page in 2014 after visiting the lovely vacation home of Jerry Jones’ team in southern California. As I pulled into Cowboy camp early Tuesday afternoon, I caught myself having déjà vu of Raiders “home” games down the road at Qualcomm stadium. The amazement never leaves me as it’s truly a Raider Nation Celebration wherever Oakland performs. Win, lose or tie, The Only Nation is “All-in” during the 2014 season as well
As Dallas fans entered the generic Black Hole on the North field’s sideline, they quickly regretted their decision to bring picnic baskets, blankets, and sun hats. As everyone knows, The Only Nation was deep in Oxnard, CA as many didn’t need to travel far for the free show. The law and military enforcement there was ridiculous even though I didn’t see one act of misconduct from both fan bases.
The biggest “slap yo momma” moment of the week goes to the Dallas booster club for ripping off thousands of Raider fans by telling them they needed to pay $20 to stand on the field. An hour long line and $80 later, I realized the aforementioned sideline was $Free.99 and now at capacity. No refunds, and no respect. After reading headlines of violence and gang activity, I left Oxnard with a bad taste in my mouth. The good news is, so did the 2014 Oakland Raiders.
As I discuss the conclusion of Raider’s training camp, I plan on highlighting the trip to Southern California in 3 separate posts. Although the drive itself could be transcribed into a novel, this article will focus on the response of a team that hasn’t responded to adversity very well the past decade. The dirty thugs and criminals reference is getting old in my opinion and I didn’t leave California with this in mind. I saw a different team take another team’s field, then leave with that other team’s ego. And whether they want to admit it or not, everyone in attendance knows that’s exactly what took place.
Going into the 2014 NFL season, this is the first year I’m able to remember where Dallas isn’t considered a Superbowl contender. Every offseason, there is a lot of hype surrounding the Cowboys, but lately, their defense is beginning to make spectators yawn. This was on display Tuesday and Wednesday as the Dallas defensive unit struggled to cover Oakland’s multiple moving pieces. Although every level of the depth chart saw success, Dallas’ last place defense is nothing to hang a Raider helmet on. I expected Oakland to dominate the line of scrimmage while taking advantage of a weak secondary that became very frustrated by the end of the first practice. (Ask Mychal Rivera or Morris Claiborne.)
Raider’s players and staff should have anticipated the same type of result as the Cowboy’s secondary was embarrassing last season and didn’t seem to improve. The Raiders need to understand that offensive success vs. teams like Dallas and Detroit (assuming a positive Friday performance) need to be treated as momentum builders instead of confidence boosters. If players and coaches become complacent, it can translate into a sluggish start to the season for Oakland.
The offensive line was a force from where I was sitting, and the offense moved the ball efficiently; but not effortlessly. It seems as though the Raiders continue to soul search for their passing game while a lot of their pass yards are coming from dump-offs to check down receivers. Although I won’t downplay our aerial attack, there is a lot of work to be done and you can tell Matt Schuab and Dennis Allen are fully aware.
A lot of the Cowboy’s defensive frustration came from simply being out-physicaled, which was good to see. Scuffles weren’t caused by Oakland’s dirty or unnecessary play, the Cowboys just didn’t enjoy being pushed around. The offensive highlight for me was our ability to control the line of scrimmage, even though scripted plays, Cowboy’s defensive holding, and Raider drops left me feeling dissatisfied.
Dez Bryant was very vocal on day 1 as the crowd got to him early. His passionate personality is great for the game but his chatter during warm-ups was strictly entertainment for Raider fans. He didn’t disappoint his team during 7-on-7 and 1-on-1 drills. His elite ability to escape the line of scrimmage, stem his routes, and stack the receiver was impressive in person.
It was good for Oakland’s defense to face a Bryant-Witten combo during these two days as they’re atop the rankings at their positions, and rightfully so. Jason Witten got the best of safety Charles Woodson on consecutive 1-on-1 plays; but later on, Tyvon Branch proved to be a better cover option on the tight end. I was very impressed with rookie corner T.J. Carrie. Bryant ran a reno-route (one step up the field and across at 3-7 yards) to Romo’s left and Carrie went stride for stride with the Dez, knocking the ball down before the receiver was able to secure it.
Lance Dunbar seemed to catch the Raider’s defense off guard during the first day as well. Apparently, he is becoming more immersed in the Cowboy’s offensive game plan and his day 1 performance had me oddly sifting through Dallas’ depth chart instead of enjoying Ventura beach Tuesday evening. Demarco Murray was his normal self as his explosiveness is just as impressive as his determination with the ball in his hands. These two runners not only rattled nerves within The Only Nation, but they woke up of Raiders defensive players as well.
The Dallas offense has had the advantage of playing together for a few years and you could feel the chemistry between Tony Romo and his receivers. Early success by Dallas was anticipated, but the pride of Oakland’s defense overshadowed their success in front of thousands of people shortly after. Not only did the Raiders defense step up their level of play, but they matched Dez Bryant’s level of arrogance and punched Dallas in the mouth.
Once nerves settled, the Raider’s defense was able to relax into position. In all, the Dallas offense showed spectators why they’re an elite offensive team in this league and the Raiders showed the ability to adjust and compete. Even though they aren’t being considered a Superbowl contender in 2014, Dallas still has enough offensive firepower to hang around with the great teams in this league. The good news is, our defense provided noticeable resilience by responding to Dallas early. Oakland didn’t hold anything back while going toe-to-toe with one of the better scoring teams in the NFL.
During the 2 days in Oxnard, the offense became more cohesive, while the defense fired back at adversity. The 2014 Oakland Raiders became a better team this week and need to continue to build on the positives while eliminating mental mistakes and drops. Everybody is talking about Schaub getting his “mojo” back, but it seems as though the defensive side of the ball is developing their own strand of DNA, and we’re yet to see Jason Tarver’s defense fully unleashed.
Not only was it unique to watch a fan base unite within feet of the team they bleed for, but to also witness what the term “Nation” really means. Was it worth $80 to immerse myself in a subtle Dallas fan base in order to watch my team begin rising again? Absolutely. The best part about both days was the ability to show my family what The Only Nation is all about. It’s not about trash talking, violence, arrogance, and dirty play; it’s about tradition, commitment, passion, and pride. Thousands of people and new faces within the Raider’s organization realized that this week, and there should be legitimate buzz in the Bay Area moving forward.
Forget the stereotypes that came and went with the Oakland Raiders this week because the real silver and back are back!
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Look for new posts: Offensive Players That Were Offensive [in Oxnard] and Defensive Players On Da Fence.