Reading that title I am sure every reader is going to assume that I will go on a long rant about how terrible the Raiders looked and how with this incompetent group we will all suffer another poor season. Well, if you think that you need to read more of my writings. I am already upset of some segments of Raider Nation. I have no problem with the dissatisfied and/or frustrated fans, I deal with them all the time and I enjoy trying to lift their spirits. However what I cannot stomach are the irrational demands or the irrational assumptions and the anger some fans display when that does not occur. To be specific, I cannot tell you how many tweets I saw or were mentioned in which in some way shape or form asked the question, “What is this? Why is this team struggling?” and then added, “Well, here we go again, another terrible season”.
How many times do I need to preach patience? Seriously. It is an honest question. Like I said, I understand those who are just certain it is going to be a disaster, as long as you do not troll me I am fine with honest conversation. My issue is, why did other Raiders fans think this team was magically going to look like a perfect mid season form machine? We are talking about a team with 15 or so new starters on both sides of the ball, a new quarterback, and an almost entirely new offensive line, and that is just the offensive side of the ball. On defense there are three new defensive lineman starters, two new starters in the linebacker corps (Sio Moore is in a different position than last year), a new right corner along with a new slot corner, and a strong safety that only played two games last season. My point is the same now as it was in my last column. Observe the team, see where it was in game one, and look for progress in game two. The key here is not where this team starts, but where it ends with training camp.
The first preseason game may not have been a work of art, but we can make some key observations about what we saw:
Starting Defense Was Bland
Watching the starting defense was tough not because they were terrible, but terribly unimaginative. Of course that comes down to defensive coordinator Jason Tarver. What is annoying for Raiders fans is hearing all the talk of how complex and creative the defense is and the first look they get is seeing a defense that is extremely bland. I was hoping to see some flashes of what we think this defense could be from a schematic standpoint, but it is clear Tarver does not want to show much. Instead he is letting his players make plays and see who wins one on one battles. One starter that flashed to me was Lamarr Woodley. He seems to be a nice fit as a defensive end. His motor and skills make him an ideal guy to fly downhill at the ball, but was most impressive was his smarts. He made some solid reads and flashed some solid instincts which this defense has lacked for a long time. If you need proof of that, just rewatch the Chief’s home game from last year. I also loved what I saw from Pat Sims. As a rotational defensive tackle with a mixed skill set and a nice combo of explosiveness and size, he can be a much bigger piece of the puzzle this season. He will be a big benefactor from having more talented defensive ends around him.
There were three corners that showed me some good things in the first preseason game. I know that Brown gave up two catches to Patterson; however, I did like seeing how well he broke on the ball while in off coverage, and seeing him in Patterson’s back pocket on the second catch, which was a great play by Patterson was reassuring. The two who really blew me away were TJ Carrie and Chimdi Chekwa. I have been talking about Carrie since the Raiders drafted him. Once I saw his tape I thought he had a serious chance to challenge for considerate snaps and after the last preseason game, I would have cut Carlos Rogers (who was an absolute disaster), and make TJ Carrie my starting nickel cornerback. Chekwa has improved by leaps and bounds. Frankly, I was stunned. I have never seen this from Chekwa whom is now in his fourth season. Maybe the four year starter from Ohio State is simply a late bloomer. Whatever the case, I loved seeing it from him and I would love nothing more than to see him play very well for this team to help redeem Al’s faith in him. I want to see more of Chance Casey who had a mixed bag of results against the Vikings, and also Keith McGill who will be more of a long term developmental prospect.
Depth Along the Defensive Line?
I thoroughly enjoyed watching the backup defensive lineman who produced an immense amount of pressure and wreaked havoc in the second half. Jelly Ellis on a couple of plays was making a nice mark, but he left early due to a concussion on a hustle play chasing down a fumble. CJ Wilson showed some flashes as an edge setting defensive lineman and worked his way through the muck. A guy I stepped for early and often once I researched him was Shelby Harris. the seventh round pick did not play football last season, but he stepped up in this game blowing by the left tackle and recording a sack. In direct competition with Harris is Ryan Robinson the undrafted free agent from last season who made the practice squad over Bass last season. He also played a solid game and produced quality pressure along with defensive tackles Terrell Troup and Ricky Lumpkin. These may be some of the most entertaining position battles for the Raiders this preseason and we could see some very difficult cuts be made.
We did not see much from Schaub against the Vikings, but the little we did see I thought was overall positive. His first throw to Holmes along the sideline was a nice throw, nice idea, and nicely placed. Of course on third down that same drive, he and Holmes were not on the same page and the ball was incomplete. That of course requires chemistry and timing that only builds with time. I am a Derek Carr skeptic, but I was impressed with him against the Vikings. His feet were much more stable, his mechanics much more on point, and his eyes stayed downfield. He had a gorgeous deep throw to Rivera which was dropped, but on that throw you could see the difference in his mechanics. It is clear offensive coordinator Greg Olson broke down every aspect of his throwing motion and Carr has been exactly what we know he is, a tremendous student. It was very nice to see a young quarterback make such tremendous mechanical progress so fast. Or course he was not perfect. On a handful of throws his mechanics broke down and we saw some poor throws, but overall it was better than I expected and was a solid start for the rookie. The third quarterback Matt McGloin looked much more confident to me and I thought he handled the offense very well.
The Running Game
This was perhaps the biggest bright spot for me in this game. The Raiders were absolutely mashing the defense in the run game and had they avoided some poor penalties and stayed on schedule we may have seen more of it. On one 23 yard run by McFadden, the combo of Penn and Barnes absolutely dominated with massive push and created a huge crease. Austin Howard who is a natural offensive tackle seemed right at home at right guard. His feet were smooth and he was moving to the second level very well. Watson whom missed most of last year started with a false start penalty, but as the game went on he showed his physical dominance as a size-athlete combo prospect. Overall the offensive line including the backups lead by third round pick Gabe Jackson, were absolutely mashing and moving the line of scrimmage. This is great news for Raiders fans, because if the Raiders can establish the run game early, then they can ease themselves into the passing game and be more stable offensively early on.
Other Random Flashes
Watching Kaelin Burnett fly all around the defense in the second half, proved exactly why the Raiders cut his bigger brother Kevin Burnett. Another backup linebacker Miles Burris looked fantastic manning the Mike linebacker position as a backup to Roach. It is great to see him back playing at a high level for this team. His skills including special teams prowess will make him a considerable contributor this season. Another linebacker that I saw flying around was Carlos Fields. Although I did not see much of him, I want to see more. Sadly, Nick Kasa who flashed some decent hands and run after the catch blew his knee out in practice this week in Oxnard, CA. He will miss the season and this puts the Raiders in a tough spot with their tight end group.
For me what I want to see from the Raiders against the Lions in week two of the preseason is growth. This team came out and treated last week like a business trip, and although it was not pretty, they showed some talented depth. As usual I am not worried about a win or whatever the result is, but I want to see more chemistry in the passing game, and even more explosive plays in the running game. What I need to see most though, is a serious decrease in the amount of penalties. That was a disgusting display and although several of them were poor referring calls from a crew that missed about five penalties from Minnesota including a blatant pick play, this team can not afford these setback. If the Raiders cut the penalties in half and have around six of them, I will consider that a success and a realistic expectation met. All in all, the Raiders looked like a football team that went through massive turnover in the offseason playing it’s first game. Reports are the Raiders had some very good practices with the Cowboys in Oxnard and were feeding off the energy from the fans. Luckily for the fans, this team has a significant veteran presence that will help drag it to consistency and togetherness. I do not expect this game to be perfect or beautiful, just demonstrably better. I urge Raiders fans to continue to keep a level head and take the preseason for what it is, a time for a team to come together.