Oakland Raiders vs. Detroit Lions Preseason Week 3 - Time to Show and Prove

Justin Smith – Aug 22, 2012

The Oakland Raiders have struggled on offense thus far this preseason, but as it is preseason, you usually can’t get too high or too low about anything. Often, there are reasons for the struggles beyond what we see on the field, as teams are essentially live practicing for the most part and mistakes are made that wouldn’t happen in the regular season.

Or so you would hope.

Things have changed this week, as the Raiders are taking this game more seriously than either of their first two preseason games combined. Coach Dennis Allen has installed a game week type atmosphere around the team, running meetings and planning sessions to mock up what the run up to a regular season will look like.

The Raiders, having admittedly not game planned at all for Dallas or Arizona, will actually have a bit of a script for this game. There will be packages installed, plays mapped out and much more of a sense of what this Raider team will actually look like come September.

As such, they’d better be sure they bring a far more polished and ready effort, especially on offense, than they have thus far this preseason. Not only because they have yet to really click as a cohesive team – the starting defense has been solid but the offense and special teams lacking – but also because the Detroit Lions are a young, talented, and difficult team to match up against due to their speed and athleticism.

The Lions have been great under Schwartz in his stint as coach, going 10-2 over his first three preseasons and sitting at 1-1 thus far this preseason, losing to Cleveland to open but bouncing back with a very strong road effort in Baltimore last weekend, where the starting offense looked absolutely stellar.

Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson have looked in mid-season form, and the Lions' starting defense has been excellent at getting pressure on the quarterback in games against the Browns and the Ravens.

The Raiders will play their starters on both sides of the ball into the third quarter – as will the Lions - and the starting defense will get a sterling test against the explosive playmaking of the Lions offense.

The Raiders defensive line has been a monster thus far this preseason, stuffing the run and getting huge push into the backfield on a regular basis. Starting DT Tommy Kelly already has two sacks – including one of “scared” Kevin Kolb for a safety in the Arizona game – and Matt Shaughnessy, Kelly, Lamarr Houston and Desmond Bryant have lived in the Dallas and Arizona backfields against both the run and the pass.

Houston, especially, has been special this preseason and you can expect the Raiders to get good pressure on Stafford as the Lions LT Jeff Backus and RT Gosder Cherilus aren’t exactly Art Shell. That’s why the Lions drafted Riley Reiff, but he has yet to wrestle the starting tackle job away from Backus as they’d hoped.

Detroit doesn’t have much of a running game to speak of, with Mikael Lashoure recovering from injury and a few too many bong hits, and Jahvid Best unfortunately still sidelined with post-concussion syndrome. Stefan Logan has some big-play ability, but he was last seen on a John Deere Gator leaving the field in Baltimore with an ankle injury; x-rays were negative. 

So it’s left to Kevin Smith, the old fallback, but he’s never been much of a threat to consistently rip off yardage and he too is injury prone. The Raiders should be able to hold the line and stuff the Lions’ run game, making them one dimensional.

That should be just fine with the Lions. Their passing offense hummed along last weekend against a Baltimore defense with a stellar reputation, and with Megatron, Brandon Pettigrew, Titus Young, and Ryan Broyles they have weapons all over the field and the arm of Stafford to get the ball to them with ease.

/articleimages/bartell-away.jpgMeanwhile, the Raiders defense has been stout up front but questionable on the back end. Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer are both coming off of injuries and have yet to be really, truly tested this preseason – in large part due to the pass rush up front – but that will change on Saturday as the Lions like to throw the football as much as possible, and the Raiders have thus far been vulnerable on the outside.

Expect Stafford to launch more bombs than a Kardashian with a movie contract.

Behind Bartell and Spencer are Pat Lee, who has yet to really play much this preseason due to personal reasons and injuries; DeMarcus Van Dyke, who has been roasted in two appearances thus far this preseason but has the measurables if he can just learn the game; and Chimdi Chekwa, a second-year player who has shown promise in coverage and had an interception in the Arizona game, but that was against their third-string offense.

All this spells the potential for big yardage through the air for the Lions. The Raiders secondary – especially cornerback – is one of the question marks on this team and there are few stiffer tests than the aerial assault of the Detroit Lions. This matchup should tell us a little something about where the Raiders pass coverage will be come opening night.

The Lions defense has also played well this preseason, as their first and second units have yet to give up a touchdown. Ndamukong Suh, Cliff Avril and the boys are steadily pressuring the pocket, and teams have found little room to run on the first and second units. Their backups have struggled, but that’s not really pertinent; they are marginal players clinging to roster spots and some will be gone after this game.

The Raiders offense has not played well this preaseason, with the exception of Darren McFadden. McFadden has been solid, decisive, and explosive when running or catching the ball – though he needs work on his sideline toe-taps – and it’s only health that will stop him from dominating this season.

Carson Palmer, on the other hand, is clearly struggling with the new offense. Though Palmer shrugged his performance off as basically the cost of doing business in the preseason – intentionally throwing into tight windows, testing receivers repeatedly, doing things you wouldn’t in the regular season – his track record of throwing interceptions the last two regular seasons says otherwise.

The Raiders are installing a skeletal game plan this weekend with the goal of mocking a regular season week as best as possible without giving away too much too soon. As such, Palmer will be leading what will resemble, as closely as possible in the preseason, the real Raider starting offense – less a couple of receivers in Jacoby Ford and Denarius Moore and a center in Stefan Wisniewski who are all injured – against a bona fide NFL defense.

This performance, more than anything else since the end of last season, will speak to Palmer’s readiness to lead this team going forward, and if it’s anything resembling his first two without some significant improvement, then it will be time to worry in Oakland.

He’s had viable explanations for his struggles, but frankly talk is cheap and Palmer has to produce this weekend or the concerns that can be sloughed off as preseason bugs and acclimating to new coaching and terminology will begin to become very much reality. No more will claims of learning the offense or testing things in the preseason be tolerated; Palmer simply must produce this game or lose the confidence of those in Raider Nation not already there, and possibly his teammates as well.

If Palmer struggles and Matt Leinart - who has a sliced up right (non-throwing hand) index finger but will play just the same against Detroit - lights it up, especially this being the third preseason game and the biggest indicator of potential regular season success, then the cries for Leinart to start that are currently just whispers in the wind, will grow cacophonous, and begin to gain very real traction amongst fans.

Dennis Allen is insistent that he’s not worried about Palmer and makes the same “it’s preseason, he’s trying things, blah blah” statements when asked about the struggles of his quarterback. But the bottom line is that Allen has also emphasized that this week is paramount in determining where they are at as a team, and that his very real want is for them to acclimate to a regular season atmosphere and carry that over onto the field.

That being the case, struggles from Palmer will have to become a real concern.

The Raiders will also be looking to suss out a backup for McFadden. Mike Goodson, acquired from the Panthers for combine star Bruce Campbell, looked good in camp and awful when the lights came on. He fumbled twice, and when he didn’t fumble he looked tentative and didn’t gain much traction at all.

/articleimages/taiwan-jones-2.jpgTaiwan Jones, he of the blazing speed akin to the Loch Ness monster, (nobody’s actually seen it, they just hear it whispered in legends) has yet to find the field as he has had hamstring issues. He’s healthy, and should return this weekend to hopefully give a sense of what the Raiders can do when McFadden sits down. Because as of right now, it’s not very much.

This is the third preseason game, traditionally the game in which every team puts forth their most regular-season like lineup, gameplan, and effort before shutting it down for the last game. The Raiders are no different, and the way they play, especially in the passing game – both in defensive coverage and on the offensive side of the ball – will go a long way to either causing or alleviating some major concerns about this team.

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