Oakland Raiders Dress Rehearsal vs Detroit Lions a Huge Success at "The O!"
John Doublin – Aug 28, 2012
Coming into the all-important third preseason game, the Oakland Raiders were under the gun to show their fans something; something other than the lackluster offense and pedestrian play-calling of the first two preseason tilts. The Playoff-caliber Detroit Lions came to O.co Coliseum hoping to ruin the Raiders' homecoming, but the Raiders were not to be denied.
Until Saturday, the Raiders' offense had been, for lack of a better word, bad. The only bright spots on the offense had been Darren McFadden and Rod Streater. D-Mac looked great as usual and Streater showed that he is living up to all the training camp hype.
Some fans, (including this writer) were concerned about the inefficiency and lack of intensity from the offense. Most felt that Saturday needed to be different; that the Raiders needed to come out strong and play well to ease the mind of Raider Nation and ensure that the casual Oakland fan would be interested enough to buy tickets for the upcoming 2012 NFL Season.
Boy, did they do that!
Quarterback Carson Palmer had been under fire for the fact that he had yet to lead the Raiders' offense to a touchdown, but had turned the ball over repeatedly. Well, some of that is Palmer's fault because of bad decisions to throw into double coverage and missed throws. While that is true, the Raiders' receivers weren't exactly helping Palmer out by dropping easy passes to stall drives.
Furthermore, some of the blame should also be placed on offensive coordinator Greg Knapp for questionable play-calling. The zone blocking scheme isn't as effective as fans had hoped, but Knapp is sticking to his ideas of completely changing the Raiders over to this philosophy, much to the chagrin of fans who felt the offense was plenty good last year, (including this writer) and believed that "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."
Some of the problems described above ended on Saturday in Oakland.
Darren McFadden looked fantastic as usual, while Rod Streater once again showed that all the hype surrounding his training camp performances isn't hype at all. This kid is for real!
The Raiders' first team offense finally got its first touchdown of the preseason, leaving the N.Y. Jets alone in the category of teams that have yet to cross the goal line in preseason.
And remember: This is an offense that is playing without Denarius Moore, without Jacoby Ford, and without perhaps the most important piece of the puzzle, starting center Stefen Wisniewski. Also, this offense just got its starting tight end back, Brandon Myers.
Whew! Raider Nation is happy for this, as imagine the fuel it would give the haters if Oakland didn't score a touchdown in the preseason—not that those people need any ammunition to hate! (Of course the true haters are saying McFadden fumbled, but he clearly broke the plane before the ball came out!)
With that monkey off their collective backs, the Raiders' players could focus on perfecting their new offense and settle into a rhythm. What stood out most wasn't Palmer throwing another ill-advised pass that was picked; not that Eddie McGee let one slip through his hands and get picked; not the multiple dropped passes or failed third-down conversions.
So, what stood out? The DEFENSE!
That's right, a phrase that hasn't been uttered in Raider Nation since the early 1980's is back: "WOW! Look at that defense!"
If this had been the only game in which the Raiders' defense played well, we wouldn't be discussing it—but it isn't just one game. The defense, led by new defensive coordinator, Jason Tarver, (and certainly over-seen by defensive minded head coach, Dennis Allen) has looked fantastic all preseason long.
The defensive line seems to be living up to its stature as one of, if not the, best in football—and that's with all-world tackle Richard Seymour suffering from a case of "Veteran-itis" and not playing. Tommy Kelly is a man on fire, Matt Shaughnessy looks rusty, but is improving; Desmond Bryant is making some real noise, and perhaps the most improved player on that squad, a slimmed-down Lamarr Houston is wreaking havoc on opponents.
Running lanes are hard for opponents to find, and bouncing outside isn't much of an option either. The Raiders front four are, (to quote the classic Bachman, Turner Overdrive song) "Takin' Care of Business!"
The stellar play of the defensive line has allowed the talent at linebacker to really shine through.
Newly acquired free agent, Philip Wheeler is a super-star in the making. Not since Thomas Howard have the Raiders had a linebacker that can cover as well as Wheeler. Not to mention the fact that he is flying to the ball and making tackles at or near the line of scrimmage, (are you listening Kirk Morrison?). Anyone that tries to tell you that Oakland is going to miss Kamerion Wimbley needs to watch tape of Wheeler. Wimbley was one-dimensional—an edge pass rusher. Wheeler is the kind of player that makes coaches happy—an actual linebacker that can do everything he's asked.
An injury to Aaron Curry has forced fourth round rookie Miles Burris to be rushed into service as well. At times he looks lost in coverage and on the edge, but he makes up for his mistakes with an amazing motor and desire to make a play. Being incredibly athletic hasn't hurt either. Burris will need to improve the mental aspect of his game, but the physical part, as well as the desire are there!
Rolando McClain isn't showing up on the stat sheet or rolling off of Greg Papa's tongue as much as some would like, but he's doing what he's supposed to do. With the defensive line playing so well, McClain is no longer encumbered by offensive linemen getting to the second level to block him. This frees him up to shoot gaps, close rushing lanes, and force runners outside into the waiting arms of Houston, Shaughnessy, Wheeler and Burris. Job well done!
The secondary is improved as well. New starters Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer, (especially Spencer) have had their moments of "what the....?" but are steadily improving. The best wide receiver in the game, Calvin "Megatron" Johnson, was held to a paltry one catch, for just seven yards. Sure, that's due in part to the great pass rush provided by the front four, but seriously...Johnson wasn't open much anyway!
If you combine the great play of the Raiders' first team defense, with the first team offense finally starting to gel, you have the makings of a promising 2012 NFL Season.
But, there's even more to discuss. What, you ask?
That's right, the Raiders are finally a pretty deep team. One of the most important things new general manager Reggie McKenzie has done since taking over and beginning the "New Era of Excellence" is to end the days of clamoring for the newest, hottest free agent. McKenzie is looking for long-term success for the Raiders, and he's doing it by getting hard-working, high-character guys from the draft and the undrafted free agent pool.
The fruits of McKenzie's philosophy can be found at nearly every position and those players are making names for themselves and helping the team.
Names like Jamie Cumbie, Christo Bilukidi, Chad Kilgore, Jack Crawford, Lucas Nix, Trevionte Session, Dominique Hamilton, and oh yeah...ROD STREATER all came to the Raiders via either late-round draft picks or the undrafted free agent period and have performed far above expectations.
Cumbie in particular really shined Saturday, batting down no less than four passes, one of which led to an interception by Bilukidi. These are things that can only be coached to a point. You can tell a player, "if you can't get to the quarterback, get your hands up." But, if he can't feel it or time it right with his own, natural instincts, he can't do it. Cumbie can do it!
Chad Kilgore is a diamond in the rough to say the least. He has earned 12 tackles in limited time in just three games. It doesn't sound like much on the surface, but his tackles all seem to happen right at, or behind the line of scrimmage. It would also be a safe bet to suggest that most of Kilgore's tackles happen on third down or in critical moments. You can't coach that either!
Until Saturday, the primary backup to D-Mac was an open competition. Re-enter Taiwan Jones.
Jones saw his first action against the Lions and put to rest the battle between he and Mike Goodson. Jones exhibited the phenomenal speed he is touted for and proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that he is not only a viable option at running back, but a good one! A great documentation of this can be found by reading two articles by fellow Raider Nation Times writer, Jerry Rump. The first one describes the perceived trouble at the No. 2 runningback position, the other explains how those worries should be gone.
Who here believed that Terrelle Pryor would improve as much as he has over the last three games? He still has a long, LONG way to go, but if his learning curve remains as it is, Al Davis' last pick could turn out to be the steal of the 2011 draft—supplemental or regular!
Juron Criner is a player that the late, great Mr. Davis never would have picked. He's simply too slow for Mr. Davis to have even looked in his direction, but Mr. Davis wasn't running the 2012 NFL Draft for the Raiders, was he? Criner has some issues: He makes the spectacular look mundane, and makes the routine look impossible. He drops easy catches far too often, but when he makes plays like his first touchdown against the Lions, Raider Nation forgives his transgressions rather quickly.
Make no mistake!
There are still some holes and legitimate concerns for Raider Nation to worry about. The offense in the red-zone looks anemic at best. The zone scheme being implemented is notorious for being ineffective inside the five yard-line, yet for some unknown reason, Knapp refuses to run something else—like a power run the Raiders are so good at.
Knapp is in his second stint as offensive coordinator for the Raiders. In his first attempt, his play-calling duties were removed and given to then head coach, Tom Cable. Knapp's failure then can be largely attributed to the "quarterback" he was working with in 2008, but not much has appeared to change.
A few questions Knapp needs to be asked by Allen or McKenzie are:
- Why are you calling plays that put Owen Schmitt in the pass pattern, while the most explosive fullback the Raiders have had since Zack Crockett, Marcel Reece, sits on the sidelines?
- Why are we using David Ausberry, (a receiving tight end) as a fullback near the goal line?
- Why aren't we using Schmitt at fullback and Reece at tailback with extra tackles or tight ends near the goal line?
- What is your aversion to using the one thing the Raiders did right last year, the power blocking scheme, in addition to the zone scheme?
There are some other depth issues to consider as well. The cornerback position is one or two injuries away from being a problem. DeMarcus Van Dyke and Chimdi Chekwa are making progress, but are nowhere near ready to start should the unthinkable happen to Bartell or Spencer.
The same is true at linebacker. If McClain gets hurt, (God forbid) or is suspended, that leaves just injury-prone Travis Goethel and seventh-round pick Nathan Stupar on the inside. Neither of these players are legitimate starters.
On the weak side, Curry is already out, leaving the rookie Burris to start with only another rookie, Kilgore to back him up. If Curry doesn't return and Burris goes down, (knock on wood) that leaves virtually no one to step in and back up Kilgore. At strong side, losing Wheeler would leave the decent option of Carl Ihenacho, but again...virtually no one behind him.
The overall performance of the Raiders last Saturday gave a lot for Raider Nation to be excited about. The defense held the potent Lions' first team offense to just six points and less than 150 yards of offense. The offense looks better and scored its first, and thus far only, touchdown of the preseason.
Fans of the Silver & Black have every right to be excited about the upcoming season. However, with some holes and issues yet to solve, a better position for the fans to take is "cautiously optimistic."
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