Raider Nation! Negatron here to give you my thoughts on where we stand after watching Saturday night’s game against the Lions. At the conclusion of the third preseason game, most teams have a solid grasp on who are going to be their front line guys. For the Raiders, the coaching staff must feel pretty confident with their starting players. The fourth preseason game is a final evaluation for those last few who hope to make the team or catch on as a practice squad player, or make a good enough impression that they may be claimed from another team that could use their services.
Offense: We haven’t seen much of Taiwan Jones, but his impressive showing Saturday night, coupled with Mike Goodson’s less than stellar showing against Arizona, have pretty much solidified his role as the number two back behind Darren McFadden. This is important, because this offense will live and die by the performance (and more importantly, the health) of Darren McFadden. It’s easy to see that this is a totally different offense without him on the field. He is such a game changer that he makes the entire offense better just by being on the field. With DMac’s history of not being able to play an entire season, the drop of from 1 to 2 is very important. He does possess great speed and elusiveness, but will take a lot of hits and isn’t nearly as powerful a runner. The tight end position is still somewhat murky, although it is believed Brandon Myers has secured a starting role. The Raiders seem to have a favorable problem with the wide receiving corps; they’ve got so much talent but only so many positions on the field at a given time. The offensive line looks pretty familiar from last year, with baby Wiz moving from guard to center and Brisel (a zone blocking specialist) coming over from Houston the only changes. They have played well with Alex Parsons filling in for Wiz, nullifying the greatest strength of the Detroit Lions, their upper echelon defensive line. If you follow me, you know that I am not a huge fan of Carson Palmer, and absolutely hated the trade. He has shown thus far to be exactly what I thought he is; a middle of the road QB who flashes brilliance mixed with baffling ineptitude. Matt Lineart just doesn’t look polished, even in a familiar system. Terrell Pryor is a long work in progress, but he has a great work ethic and hopefully a few years to develop his craft.
The good: Continuity and a strong foundation to build off of. Mostly the same starting offensive line that was a real strength of the team last year. A very deep and talented wide receiving corps; how can you get all of these impressive guys their targets while still remaining true to the strength of the offense, the running game? Speaking of which, Darren McFadden is one of, if not the best running backs in the league, injuries be damned. I think it’s time Darius Heyward-Bey starts getting some love from the Raider nation; He has improved in every way. I’ve always said, if this guy can catch, he would be a nightmare for opposing defenses. His rare size and speed make him so dangerous after the catch.
Cause for Concern: We do not have, in my opinion, a consistently productive, efficient QB on the roster. I hate to hear the whole “Quarterback Driven League” crap because while that guy gets all the credit, there is SO much more to an effective offense then the quarterback. But the truth is, without at least a consistent quarterback…it’s almost a coin toss. Depth issues are also prevalent on offense. No slight to Jones, but he is no Darren McFadden. There is a huge drop off from starter to second string practically everywhere aside from wide receivers. Another injury epidemic like last year, and we’re looking at a mediocre offense.
Defense: Injuries have kept the Raiders from fielding the projected starters so far this season, but the defense has looked so much better than last years. Pay attention to the tackling, the discipline… it’s hard to believe that a new coach and coordinator would make such a huge difference. The Raider defensive line has a bright future with emerging stars in Matt Shagnassey and Lamarr Houston holding down the defensive end positions. Seymour is on the decline, but Tommy Kelly has quietly become one of the better DTs in the game. The defensive line consists of mostly high motor players. Philip Wheeler might be the best addition to this team. Rolando McClain has been up and down, but you expect a player to finally “click” in his third year. I still don’t know what we have in McClain; he’s shown to be on the verge of being a play making force, then slow and out of position of consecutive drives. Will Aaron Curry avoid the PUP list? There is a lot of young talent in the linebacking crops. The new look secondary has looked sharp. The blown coverages and shoddy tackling of last year haven’t been seen. Personally, I would have liked to see the starters play deeper into the third quarter. It’s easier to play will speed and intensity when you know you’re only going to play limited reps. While the improvements in fundamentals have improved so much, will this years defense be able to play a complete game? Last year’s team would flash dominance for a half, only to melt down in the end.
The Good: Vast improvements across the board. Having Shaugnassey back from injury is huge, and should offset the loss of Wimbley. Improved discipline all around. Philip Wheeler will likely earn himself a big contract after this season. TACKLING hasn’t looked this good in years.
Cause for Concern: It’s only preseason…so you have to consider that when you weigh in on how optimistic we should feel about the new look defense. They’ve played well so far, but there is a glaring lack of depth and experience on the defense as well. Should a starter fall to injury, would the unit fall apart?
Special Teams: Special teams haven’t looked very special so far. There have been injuries. Players that may not make the final roster are on coverage units. Valuable special teams aces have left (Hiram Eugene, Rock Cartwright to name a few). What will the special teams look like this year?
The Good: Two of the greatest kickers to ever play the game still wear silver and black. Two time pro-bowl long snapper John Condo is still in silver and black. Jacoby Ford has shown playmaking ability in the return game in the past.
Cause for Concern: Who will feel the role of “special teams ace” vacated by the aforementioned departures? How will Lechler and Janikowski respond to recent injuries/operations?
Coaching: Coming into the season, there where all kinds of question marks about the coaching staff. Who is this Dennis Allen guy? Why Gregg Knapp again? Can Tarver bring the same success from college to the pros? How will we run multiple fronts with the players we have? SO FAR, the coaching staff has been as advertised. One thing I already love about Allen is that he has not only preached discipline; he has instilled it. Mind you, we’re talking about preseason here…but the team has played much cleaner than years past. Detroit was somewhat ugly with the pre-snap penalties, but for the most part this team has played exceptionally well in that department.
The Good: As mentioned earlier, fundamentals like discipline and tackling have already shown tremendous improvement. Many of the same players: different coaches. I think they deserve a lot of credit for that. Tarver’s defense has looked very impressive, although we haven’t seen any 3-4 (yet).
Cause for Concern: Again, we should be guardedly optimistic about the regular season. We’ve seen good things so far, but it’s a long season and the coaching staff is fairly new. Gregg Knapp’s offense has looked pitiful, but efficient from one game to the next. Why is there such a drop off in special teams play?