Oakland Raiders Preseason Complete: High Hopes and Real Concerns Heading into 2012
John Doublin – Aug 31, 2012
The Oakland Raiders traveled to Seattle, Washington to play their final preseason game of 2012 against the Seahawks. Coming off a dominating performance against the 2011 playoff-participants, Detroit Lions, many thought the Raiders could merely cruise over the Seahawks.
Many were wrong.
Several genuine concerns came to fruition on Thursday night at CenturyLink field. Some were predicted, others were surprises. However, there are still a lot of things that Raider Nation can be excited and hopeful about for a brighter Silver & Black future.
With the final cut coming no later than 6:00 p.m. Pacific time today, there were a lot of players going all-out to make the team.
First things first: Those fans who are freaking out that the Raiders lost this game so lopsidedly need to remember a few things:
- The Seahawks left their first team offense and defense in the game until deep into the first quarter. The runningback they started was still playing in the fourth quarter. That means it was their first team versus our second and third team for a lot of the game.
- These same Seahawks spanked the Raiders' rivals, the Denver Broncos 30-10 and the Kansas City Chiefs 44-14.
- Tom Cable knows the Raiders and he is now coaching for the Seahawks—the Seahawks were prepared for the Raiders.
- Dennis Allen was not trying to win this game. He was trying to evaluate players on the proverbial roster bubble, nothing more. Had he been actually trying to win this game, Richard Seymour, Tommy Kelly, Darren McFadden and many others would have started and played most of the game.
Now, for the good news.
The Raiders' first-team defense continued its solid preseason. The Seahawk rushing attack was held in check, and aside from one 22-yard pass to Sidney Rice, the pass coverage was good as well.
Perhaps the most improved aspect of the 2012 Raiders is tackling. The story of the 2011 Raiders' defense was missed tackles and penalties. Both appear to be vastly improved as the Raiders look much better when tackling in the open field and have averaged just six penalties for 43.25 yards this preseason.
Veteran starters Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly were replaced by 4th-year player Desmond Bryant and rookie Christo Bilukidi. Both played very well, anchoring the line of scrimmage and soaking up the blocks of the Seahawks' starting offensive line, allowing the linebackers to remain free to fly to the ball and make plays.
Bilukidi played almost every defensive down and showed great determination and grit by being the only player to do so. There is little question that the 6th-round rookie from Georgia State solidified his place on the 53-man roster.
Pat Lee was more than adequate in coverage as well as run support. He provided little room for Seattle receivers to get open, make a catch and turn up field. Lee did a nice job reading, reacting and making tackles against the run too. However, Lee made his biggest impact on special teams, routinely being the first player to the returner and making some good tackles. With the Raiders a bit thin at cornerback, Lee is going to make it tough to cut him.
Newly acquired Coye Francies did fairly well in coverage, but didn't perform as a returner—which would have made him even more valuable to the team. His only kick return went for 24 yards, but he promptly fumbled the ball upon first contact. This will not endear him to the coaching staff.
Brandon Underwood also played pretty well. He was solid in coverage and made some nice tackles in run support. However, the Raiders' are pretty stacked at the safety position and if Underwood is going to make the team, he'll have to do it as a cornerback or on special teams.
After struggling in the first two games against the Cowboys and Cardinals, rookie linebacker Miles Burris came on strong against the Lions and his improvement continued against the Seahawks. Burris is a tackling machine that is excellent in the open field and is starting to read and diagnose plays very well.
Offensively, the Raiders have added a few potential stars to the roster.
Rod Streater only played the one series with the starters, and since the first-team ran just six run plays, it appears that Streater has earned a spot on the roster.
The same goes for Juron Criner. He didn't get to run any routes or catch any passes, so it's clear the coaching staff has seen enough of Criner to ink him to the final roster.
Receivers like Eddie McGee, Derek Carrier, Trevionte Session and Brandon Carswell did get a chance to play. McGee didn't do much to improve his dismal showing against the Lions, but he didn't do anything to damage it further either. Carrier, Carswell and Session also had chances and put in some decent work.
With the top five spots of the wide receiver depth chart already set, it's up to the coaches to review tape and decide which of the bottom three receivers did enough to make the team.
Rookie offensive linemen Tony Bergstrom and Lucas Nix have been improving each week. There are still some recognition and technique issues for them to work on, but the potential and promise are there.
Overall, there is hope for the Raiders to have a good season. The defense is vastly improved, the offense is young and unproven, but has plenty of potential.
Now, on to the bad news.
Kick and punt returns have been an issue all preseason long, which is odd considering the Raiders were among the league leaders in average field position and productivity in the return game last season.
With relatively minor injuries to Jacoby Ford and Denarius Moore, general manager Reggie McKenzie and head coach Dennis Allen brought in some players to bolster the return game.
It didn't work.
Return specialist Roscoe Parrish, signed just a few days before Thursday's game had two return attempts, both resulting in fumbles. One fumble was lost, the other was luckily pushed out of bounds before the Seahawks could recover it. Any time your return man is still buckling his chin strap while the punt is in the air, you're just asking for trouble.
One fan even remarked, "it's like showing up drunk to a job interview!" It seems Parrish played himself out of another job this preseason.
The aforementioned Coye Francies didn't fair much better in the return game, fumbling his only opportunity to make the team as a returner. Luckily for Francies, he didn't play that poorly on defense. He has a better shot at this team than Parrish does.
Bryan McCann had to come on to save the day for the Raiders' return game. McCann returned one punt and one kick for a total of 44 yards—but he held onto the ball. He also showed good decision making skills by calling for a fair catch twice. Combine his decent showing on defense, and McCann may have made the team.
Whether or not the Raiders keep any of these players remains to be seen, but the bottom line is that the return game needs to improve drastically. Special teams coordinator Steve Hoffman's job may depend on it.
With that said, the biggest concern for coach Allen, general manager McKenzie and especially Raider Nation has to be offensive play calling.
Greg Knapp is in his second stint as offensive coordinator with the Raiders. His first attempt at running the Raiders' offense was an unmitigated disaster, resulting in him having his play calling duties turned over to then head coach, Tom Cable.
Some have attributed Knapp's failures the first time around to poor quarterback play from "that purple drank drinking dude." That certainly accounted for the lack of execution, but not the bad play calling.
Nothing on that front seems to have changed.
Knapp appears to be not just married to the zone blocking scheme, (ZBS), but pathologically incapable of calling anything else—even in the Red Zone where the ZBS is notoriously ineffective.
The ZBS relies on a strong passing game and forcing opponents' safeties and linebackers to play off the line and respect the pass. In the Red Zone, that isn't possible as the field of operation is so small. Defenders have nowhere else to be other than right near the line of scrimmage.
This doesn't appear to affect Knapp's play calling whatsoever. Last week, Knapp called three straight "zone stretch" plays inside the Lions' 10 yard line. The last one was successful, not because of play design or execution, but because of Darren McFadden's strong will to get into the end zone.
This week against the Seahawks, Knapp called six consecutive run plays, (all zone stretch plays) with the first team offense. Perhaps he was merely attempting to get starting quarterback Carson Palmer and back up runningback Taiwan Jones comfortable with each other, but it seems silly to put your starters in a game that doesn't matter to risk injury for the sake of accomplishing something that can be done in practice.
The fact remains that Oakland ran the power blocking scheme under Hue Jackson and Al Saunders last year—and ran it extremely well. Even after McFadden missed most of the season to a Lisfranc injury, the Raiders still finished as the 7th ranked rushing attack in the league under the old system.
Most Raider fans understand the need to change with the times and move on to new frontiers. What they don't understand is trying to "fix" what isn't broken.
It's time for Knapp to realize that the ZBS is a failure inside the 20 yard line and call something else. If he is unable to make that adjustment, maybe it's time for McKenzie and Allen to re-evaluate his role on the team.
The goal for an offense is to put points on the board, regardless of how. The Raiders did that pretty well last year employing a power scheme. If the new scheme works well between the 20s, great, use it. But, when it fails time and time again inside the red zone, it's time to swallow your pride and call something that works—whether you created it or not.
Another area Knapp needs to improve upon is personnel usage. Why design plays that put the run blocking beast of a fullback, Owen Schmitt into the pass pattern, while the most explosive fullback in the league, Marcel Reece is asked to do nothing but block? Shouldn't that be the other way around?
Another good personnel grouping would be Schmitt at fullback, Reece at tailback and an extra offensive linemen at tight end. This seems only logical as a good goal line formation, but apparently, Knapp has failed to realize it.
Many are speculating that much like Chuck Bresnahan's poor defensive play calling cost the Raiders the playoffs last year, Greg Knapp's offensive play calling could cost Oakland a post season berth in 2012.
"There is no "I' in team." If things continue on their current trajectory with regard to the offensive woes in the Red Zone, there shouldn't be any "G.K." in "Raiders" either.
The only hope that can be found in Knapp's play calling is that maybe, just maybe, he's holding back as to not show what the Raiders really have on offense. Perhaps he's doing nothing more than putting specific players into specific plays to see them do specific things.
If this is the case, there is still hope. If not, there is good reason to be concerned.
All things considered, the Raiders had an okay preseason. We've seen the defense improve dramatically, the offense is moving the ball, Darren McFadden looks strong and we've found some future stars in Streater, Criner, Bilukidi and Burris. That should give fans hope.
However, with the offense struggling in the red zone as it has been, and the special teams turning the ball over, Raider Nation could see a scenario in which the offense puts up points only three at a time, placing the burden of winning games on a very young and unproven defense. This should cause fans some concern.
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