Raider Nation! As most of you know, the third preseason game is the most important one. As far as preseason goes, what we saw on the field Saturday night against a playoff team from last year was the closest thing to a “dress rehearsal” for the regular season. Watching the defense, it’s hard to not like what we saw. The Detroit Lions are no longer the scrubs they have been for most of the last 20 years…they’ve got a legitimate team, and an exceptional offense. The Oakland Raiders held one of last year’s most explosive offenses (4rth overall, averaging almost 30 pts a game last year) to a meager 281 yards, of which only 65 yards of that on the ground. The tandem of Mathew Stafford and Calvin Johnson, who decimated the Raider defense when they met last year, was limited to one connection for seven yards. There where, however, several things on defense and especially special teams that I did not like to see in last nights game that may lead to difficulties in divisional games if they are not corrected for the regular season. Tight ends seemed to give our linebackers and safeties fits…less than ideal in a division that features some very good quarterbacks and tight ends. Special teams had yet another UGLY showing. All and all, the exhibition game did yield a win, and the defense continues to show the nation reasons to be optimistic about this year’s team.
Defensive Linemen: Our two young defensive ends, Lamarr Houston and Matt Shaughnassey, are reason to be excited. They continue to excel in run defense, holding the edge and either making the tackle or putting the linebackers or interior linemen in position to make the stop. When a defensive end leads the team in tackles, (Lamarr Houston, 6 solo, 2 assited) you know you’re getting production from that position. The front four where not able to generate as much havoc in the back field as they where against the Cardinals, but they did hold the line of scrimmage well and limited Detroit’s ground game to under 3 yards per carry (2.7 ypc). Dave Toffelson had a strong game, making several good plays in a row including a batted down pass on third down. Jamie Cumbie also made some noise, recording a sack and several batted down passes. One guy who hasn’t recorded much in the way of stats, but deserves some recognition for his solid play is Desmond Bryant. He has also been in there longer than most for almost every game, as he’s filling in for Seymour and also on the second string defense.
Overall Grade: A- They where not able to get a sack until late in the game, but where otherwise very solid. There where a few pre-snap penalty, but that is the sort of thing you expect in the preseason, especially with replacement refs. If the starters can stay healthy, and they rotate in guys like Bryant and Toffelson in, this could be one of the top five defensive lines in the league.
Linebackers: New additions to this group continue to impress me, especially Philip Wheeler. Not only is he always flying to the ball, but he is the best cover linebacker we have had since Thomas Howard left in free agency to the Bengals. McClain had a better game this week. He did whiff a tackle that would have resulted for a loss, but the play was negated with an offensive penalty and would have been stopped for a minimal gain regardless. Miles Burris, who has filled in admirably for Aaron Curry (when is he coming back? Is he coming back?) has also been solid. He’s getting a crash course in playing linebacker in the NFL and seems to be learning pretty fast. As well as Philip Wheeler is playing against the pass, this unit will still get abused by better pass catching tight ends. It’s the reality of it, but it’s hard to hold that against them. The way the game is played is evolving, the tight end is becoming the premiere offensive weapon for the best offensive teams. These guys are now as big or bigger than the guys tasked with covering them, but also in many cases possessing wide receiver speed! Linebacker on tight end is practically always a mismatch in favor of the offense, and coordinators around the NFL have realized this and exploit it.
Overall Grade: B+ Solid play from this unit. Nothing spectacular, but enough to impress me. Keep in mind this is somewhat of a patchwork unit without a whole lot of experience. If they can continue to improve, this can be a very solid linebacking corps.
Secondary: Ron Bartel and Shawtee Spencer have locked up their positions as starting cornerbacks with solid play that continued Saturday night against one of the best passing teams in the NFC. There is a lot to be said about keeping Calvin Johnson to one catch for 7 yards, even if Mathew Stafford had to leave the game prematurely with an injured hand. Shaun Hill was able to move the ball through the air, mostly due to his mobility. Mobility in the QB is one of those things that is near impossible to defend. Unfortunately, the Raider defense will see it’s share of QBs who can move. Matt Giordano had a great interception overturned with an asinine roughing the passer call, but where otherwise without any huge plays. What this years unit does right that last year solely lacked is a.) solid coverage that may not lead to turnovers as they don’t bait the QB to making mistakes, but taking away the option and b.) solid tackling. Not a whole lot of YAC because not only are the corners and safeties nearby, but they do a great job of making the tackle. Damarcus Van Dyke and Chimdi Chekwa are not as far along as I would like in terms of fundamentals, but I believe they will improve as the season goes on.
Overall Grade: B As I mentioned, there is a lack of depth past the starting corners. Expect some waiver wire activity to address that but to be fair what we have on the roster has fared fairly well thus far in the preseason. Try saying that last sentence aloud five times fast. The most impressive thing that I’ve noticed so far is the improved tackling across the board, but especially from the players in the secondary not named Tyvon Branch. Kellen Moore kinda had his way with the guys on the bottom end of the depth chart, but in the end the Raiders where able to hold the lead and secure the W.
Special Teams: Condo, Janikowski and Lechler played together for the first time this season, but I’m not sure if that’s a good enough excuse for missing a gimme 30 yard field goal. The snap and hold looked good, but Jano just couldn’t get the job done. On yet another big return yielded by the coverage unit, Jano hurt his groin. Luckily, he should be good to go for the regular season. Also, many of the players that have performed so poorly on coverage units are fringe players that may not make the team, so we can optimistically hope that the coverage teams will perform better when the season begins. Carmona did hit an impressive 56 yarder.
Overall Garde: C-It’s not time to hit the panic button yet Raider Nation, but the performance of the special teams units so far this preseason has been sub-par at best.
Please note: All images used where originally posted on the Raiders official website, www.raiders.com