It is no surprise that an NFL preseason game turned out to be a snooze fest, but the Raiders added sloppy to their list of adjectives for this game. Before preseason game week two kicked off, the Raiders announced they would not be playing any of their starters. Not only that, the game plan on offense was going to be simplified and watered down to prevent the Rams from having any quality tape going into their regular season week one match-up. As bland as the game was there were some important takeaways.
The Kids Really Are Alright
Much was made of the Raiders doing their free agent shopping at the old folks home, but they have a considerable amount of youth on this roster. A good amount of that youth was on display in this game including Chris Warren, Antonio Hamilton, James Cowser, and Maurice Hurst in particular. There were several others who had decent games, but for players who have a shot at making the team, those were the guys to make note of.
The talk around Warren has been intense but today Austin Gayle of Pro Football Focus poured some water on the fire. According to Gayle, Warren has averaged 3.32 yards before contact in his two preseason games which is by far the most in the NFL. Of course the Raiders offensive line is to be credited, however what we cannot account for is the vision by Warren. What has been so impressive with him has been his ability to read that first cut then hit it. If he had not been reading the creases correctly, there would not be any way for him to avoid contact that well. The run game is a complex dance.
Antonio Hamilton has also played well, but recent events have certainly brought a bit of a storm cloud to his party. Wednesday night the Raiders signed free agent cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Debate has raged about his exact role, but combining this event with the confirmation from beat writer Vic Tafur that Leon Hall is a “lock” to make this team, we must assume there is no room for Hamilton.
The final two of Cowser and Hurst have been playing well and making plays. Cowser has gotten after the quarterback in a significant way in both games and also recorded an interception against the Rams. Rookie defensive tackle Maurice Hurst recorded a sack against the Rams and is a lock to make the final roster. Cowser, on the other hand, will have a hard time making it. All of that said, what is important is that the young players are turning up and showing their talents. The question is, will this coaching staff allow for those talents to be developed or will older vets end up crowding out the final 53-man roster?
Offensive Simplicity Bested By Blitzes
From the first snap, the Raiders offense was simply off. Before this game, head coach Jon Gruden made it clear that the offense would put nothing important on tape. Connor Cook was highly ineffective against a robust blitz and fairly complex look from the Rams. There were poor snaps, poor passes, and a complete breakdown in communication. That being said, Connor Cook did seem to step up into the pocket well and continued to build up his footwork.
Third string quarterback EJ Manuel also struggled. Although he was able to elude pressure more effectively at times than Cook, he consistently failed to move off of his first read and ultimately failed to make anything happen. The running game was fairly consistent all afternoon, allowing Chris Warren to have quite a day.
It is very difficult in instances like these to draw any real conclusions. Some fans were ready to scramble and trade for someone like Teddy Bridgewater regardless of how illogical that idea actually is. To blame the quarterbacks for every poor outcome in the game is to ignore how important preparation of plays designed to counter specific defensive concepts is. The reality is preseason game three against the Packers will be a much better gauge of where players are since the team will be treating that game normally.
3rd Down Success….. On Defense at Least
While the Raiders offense struggled to convert third downs time and time again, the Raiders defense continued to force the Rams to punt and kick field goals. Overall the Raiders forced the Rams to go 2-14 on third down conversions. On the flip side, the Raiders went 1-10 on third down. What is important here is the consistency with which the Raiders defense has been willing to get off the field on third downs.
The last decade of Raider football has been marred by mistakes of all kinds, especially mental mistakes. This was made apparent year after year as the defense struggled to get off the field on third downs. Time and time again the defense would force a third and long and then commit defensive holding. Or maybe they would commit pass interference. Other times they would get a stop in a short run defense and have a late hit.
All of this said, the Raiders have still had their fair share of penalties but so far in this preseason they have still produced stops when they needed them. After two preseason games what is unmistakable is the simple fact that the Raider defense has looked prepared and competent. When players like Shilique Calhoun start making plays and look like they will be a contributor for another team, you as a fan begin to appreciate the practice of putting a player in a position he understands.
Week Three Prediction
Opportunity abounds for many players this week, but the focus of most fans should be on the starting offensive line. With Donald Penn making the switch to right tackle and Kolton Miller holding down the left tackle spot, the Raiders will show off their best offensive line group since Derek Carr became the starting quarterback.
Offensively the Raiders will definitely use a decent amount of six man protections to assist Miller at times, but when it is all said and done, Miller will have held his own. There is a significant amount of skepticism in Raiders fans regarding Miller, which is warranted. What we have seen so far, is a guy who has worked his tail off and has flashed some incredible athleticism. After this game I think we will see some confidence begin to rise among Raiders fans.
Follow me on twitter @holistic_pickle