Last Thursday night’s domination of the Arizona Cardinals for the majority of the first half was as equally exciting as it was a glimpse of a potential future. It is common knowledge that the Cardinals are a team rebuilding and due for some tough ballgames but the Oakland Raiders dominated them in the minutes that mattered.
I want better f****ing execution! -Jon Gruden
One of the first things we remember from Hard Knocks Episode 2 was Jon Gruden demanding better execution and declaring turnovers are not going to be tolerated.
The starters led by Derek Carr, without Antonio Brown, opened the game with a six-play 75-yard drive ending in a touchdown. Most impressive was the fact that the Raiders marched down the field without encountering a single negative play. The back-up units also executed near flawlessly, in fact all three quarterbacks combined to go 21/24 for 250 yards with three touchdowns.
The Raiders’ pass protection was nearly flawless through three different levels of the depth chart. Jordan Devey appears tasked with manning down the right guard position for the duration of Gabe Jackson’s injury recovery. Devey performed admirably in run blocking and helped the untrained eye forget that the Raiders didn’t have their top guy in.
The Key to the Rush
The Raiders defense shut out Kliff Kingsbury and number 1 overall pick Kyler Murray for nearly the entire first half. Murray would complete 3/8 passes for 12 yards and be sacked twice, once for a safety. The Cardinals had no answer for the tenacious blitz of Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther’s scheme.
Arden Key was all over the place and nearly unblockable coming off the edge. Key may not have succeeded in getting all the way home, but he had several near sacks with his quarterback pressures. A lot of commotion has been made about the weight and strength of Key. There was no indication of him not being strong enough and he was plenty quick enough coming off the edge. Key dominated the tackles in both the run and pass game, fighting through blocks as well as running around them. Giving the Raiders another option at the edge.
Clelin Ferrell was also a menace on the opposite edge and looks to be improving with every showing. The first three plays of the game featured him getting nasty and flagged for two hands to the face penalties, as well as a solid run stuff. Ferrell was a force in containment, relentless in his pursuit of the quarterback. Too often we have seen Raiders defensive ends who couldn’t keep the quarterback in the pocket. Ferrell has some big shoes to fill on the strong side, but as long as he keeps doing the right things he will grow into the role.
Nick Nelson did not have a good game at all. One could make the argument that the game flipped in the direction of the Cardinals once Nelson entered it. Constantly picked on in zone coverage, Nelson proved to be unable to stick to whomever entered his zone. He surrendered multiple catches and was directly responsible for losing the shut out the starters had kept up.
The second level of the Raiders pass defense continues to be a source of concern. Aided by a decent rush, the starting unit is serviceable in zone coverage, but when asked to man up, it will present an issue.
More Bright Spots
After all the drama that has been surrounding Antonio Brown, his feet and the tom-foolery which was helmet-gate, Brown was suited up on the Raiders sideline and even participated in warm-ups. Brown was running at very near full speed and looked fluid in his movements. Cutting and sharp stops appear to cause him a small bit of discomfort but Brown appears on schedule to return to practice within the next week.
Backup quarterback Mike Glennon is in a dogfight for his position with Nathan Peterman, an unlikely challenger. Glennon shined today and his 11/14 175 yards and 2 TDS will go a long way towards helping his cause. Glennon redeemed himself after turning the ball over twice last week against the Los Angeles Rams.
DeAndre Washington continues to have a strong preseason. While only averaging 2.7 ypc in this contest, Washington continues to run strong between the tackles. His first touch was a 35-yard catch on a check down from Glennon.
Alec Ingold is now in a fight for his NFL life as incumbent fullback Keith Smith has been medically cleared to return to practice. He caught a one yard pass. In run blocking he gets his body in between the defender and the ball carrier, but needs to work on continuing to drive the defender out of the hole. He made a nice tackle on kickoff as well.
The Raiders ran away with this one early. As they were shredding the Cardinals through the air and the pass protection was holding up magnificently, one couldn’t help but think that AB isn’t even on the field. The Raiders have been disrespected by such low expectations and they are getting sick of it. Attention to detail has been much better from the upper tier roster guys and Gruden demands everyone do their damn job.
The defense looks better and better every time they put something on tape. The rookies and second year players may not be ideal in terms of experience but they are making plays and causing excitement. It is going to be a work in progress all season long but it appears as though this defense won’t be historically bad at anything.