Category Archives: preseason

Post-Preseason Roundup

Preseason is and always has been useless, as far as gauging the progress of any team with any accuracy. And unfortunately there are always a few teams whose outlooks change drastically from sheer bad luck.

While the Raiders managed to get through the preseason without any catastrophic injuries, there are still some serious questions on both sides of the ball. The Arizona game (the third game of the preseason generally being the only one worth checking out) is an indicator of both the best and worst aspects of the team.

On one hand, the defense was excellent, intercepting and sacking Carson Palmer almost at will; on the other hand, the offense petered out time after time, having to settle for field goals, and Derek Carr finally throwing a pick-six as the offense was showing a chance to punch it in the end zone.

Some of the roster moves were interesting as well — while neither Trent Richardson nor Christian Ponder were surprise cuts, both had guaranteed money. So the Raiders are out $2.1M between those two. Players that had shown solid play during preseason, such as DTs Shelby Harris and Ricky Lumpkin, and RB Michael Dyer, were more of a surprise. But there are always a few of those as teams are forced to get down to the final 53.

The trade of Sio Moore was also something of a surprise, as was Jack Del Rio’s assertion afterward that Moore wasn’t going to make the team anyway. Despite missing five games, Moore was third in tackles last season, and had been one of the few bright spots in what is turning out to be a lousy 2013 draft class for Reggie McKenzie. First-round pick DJ Hayden continues to struggle, and second-rounder Menelik Watson is out for the year already (and it’s entirely likely that Austin Howard will perform better at RT than Watson would have anyway). Only 6th-rounders Latavius Murray and Mychal Rivera still seem capable of meeting or exceeding their draft potential.

The 2014 and 2015 drafts have certainly been better so far. Khalil Mack, Derek Carr, and Gabe Jackson all look to be key players for years to come, and later-round picks such as Justin Ellis, TJ Carrie, and Keith McGill all show potential. The Raiders first five draft picks for 2015 all show real potential as well, with Amari Cooper and Ben Heeney standing out with their preseason play.

While Moore’s trade still is a bit surprising, at this point it seems reasonable to take it on faith that former LBs Jack Del Rio and Ken Norton, Jr. know the position inside out, felt good with the current roster depth, and felt that Moore was either too injured still, or had an attitude problem.

The biggest question on offense is whether the run game can get going enough to open up the passing game, and make use of Cooper and Crabtree. That seems to have been the main struggle throughout the preseason, and the o-line needs to solidify and get some push for the running backs to be effective.

On defense, while the line appears to be more solid with the addition of Dan Williams, the secondary still appears to be the most vulnerable area. This is definitely the season for Hayden to prove himself, and Carrie has an opportunity to improve on his performance last season. Both of them — as well as all the other CBs — need to be picking Charles Woodson’s brain every waking moment.

Preseason, Week 4: Raiders 41, Seahawks 31

Solid performance all the way around, even for preseason. Carr executed well against Seattle’s starting D, not only leading the team on a full TD drive, but capitalizing on the opportunities given by special teams (forced fumble/recovery and punt return), with two consecutive single-play TDs on short fields. As Schaub was completely unable in last week’s Packers game to make anything out of several great field position opportunities early on, this has to factor into what fans and even the coaches are thinking right now.

I’m still inclined to think that the starting job is Schaub’s to lose, because he has far more experience, but also because this management regime has proven itself remarkably inept at managing and developing the quarterback position for the team all along, and dumping Schaub for Carr to open the season would be admitting yet another high-dollar, high-profile whiff.

That said, Carr made a hell of a case for himself, while McGloin mostly face-planted against the Seahawks aggressive D. It’s hard to say no to four touchdown drives, including three TD passes to three different receivers, and a nearly perfect QB rating. But you also want to give him a fair chance to develop, and not just throw him in the deep end.

In the end the decision may be made for them, sooner rather than later. Schaub has shown little arm strength or zip on his throws, and if his elbow is already bothering him that much after only 47 pass attempts in three preseason games, how is he going to last an entire regular season?

Lot of good things from tonight’s game for the team to build on — the o-line is starting to jell, Murray had some nice carries, as did Atkinson, and both Atkinson and TJ Carrie had nice returns.

And, of course, Derek Carr. Already the Nation seems ready to throw him in against the Jets, and as long as they’re willing to commit to him for at least those first four games, what have they got to lose? Hang on, Nation, it’s going to be a wild ride this season!

Preseason Week 4, Halftime: Raiders 35, Seahawks 21

Wow, so did Derek Carr light it up or what? Really, after letting Russell Wilson march down for a TD in just 4 plays to start the game, the Raiders jumped in on all phases, making big plays, creating turnovers, getting great field position and capitalizing on it. McGloin managed to redeem a pick-six with yet another TD hookup with Brice Butler. Some rough spots offensively since Carr was pulled for McGloin, but overall a really nice effort so far against the reigning league champs.

Of course, between now and the Week 1 start in New York against the Jets on Sept. 7, the entire conversation will revolve around who should start. For now, let’s just enjoy the most complete effort of the preseason so far.

Roster Transactions

The Raiders needed to get the roster trimmed down to 75 players by 1:00 this afternoon, and they have. Here’s the list of players waived or moved to the PUP list:

rostermoves082614

No real surprises here, unfortunately. I would have liked to see Juron Criner squeak by, if only because he has a knack for making the difficult catches. But he also has a knack for missing the routine ones, running poor routes, and seems to have lost some of his speed.

DJ Hayden has to be a much bigger concern, and factor much more into this management team’s ability to identify and develop talent. Hayden’s history so far has been one of being injury-prone, punctuated by episodes of ineffectiveness when he actually makes it on the field (his game-saving INT at Houston being the lone exception).

Every draft, and every player in it, is a roll of the dice, no doubt. Nobody bats 1.000, we all know it. But after a decade of losing, with (at the time) another year of “deconstruction” and cap purges to come, it was vital that their top picks be solid, reliable, predictable. Safe.

It was clear that the Raiders’ #3 pick would be used defensively, and while the secondary was the most glaring need on defense, really there were holes everywhere to be filled. They could have held the pick and grabbed Barkevious Mingo or Dion Jordan. They could have traded down a few spots and still gotten Sheldon Richardson or Dee Milliner. Jarvis Jones. Hell, they could have traded way down in the first round, grabbed an offensive weapon like Cordarelle Patterson, and gotten even more 2nd and 3rd round picks to use on defense.

Instead, they took a huge gamble, when they weren’t in a position to do so. Good teams can afford to whiff on a first-round pick; if the Patriots or Packers get a bust, oh well. They might finish with one or two fewer wins than they would have otherwise.

But teams that are rebuilding need their main picks to become key contributors, and right away. They can’t afford to take risks with a #3 pick, or really the first three or four rounds.

Here’s what last year’s draft looked like:
2013draft

Of the first four rounds, Hayden has been injured more often than not, Watson has been injured and may or may not be the starting RT this season, and Tyler Wilson was released twice by the team, the second time going to the Titans, who have since released him as well. (He is now with the Bengals.) Only 3rd-rounder Sio Moore has lived up to his potential so far. All four 6th-rounders, and 7th-rounder Brice Butler, show some potential here and there, but none of them are game-changers, and Nick Kasa is out for the season with an ACL injury. Injuries aren’t anyone’s fault, but again, in a draft of 10 players, you need more than one of them to contribute significantly, when your team is on a decade-plus losing streak.

There are some improvements — even the mediocre-armed Schaub is still an upgrade over any QB they’ve had since Palmer, and both lines look improved somewhat. If MJD can stay healthy and Latavius Murray finds a role, they might have enough of a running game to take some of the heat off the passing game. If the receivers can cure their drops and run their routes, if the QB (regardless of whom) doesn’t hang them out). If, if, if.

The final roster has to be down to 53 by August 30, and based on how the team fares against Seattle this Thursday, it would not be surprising to see at least one more high-profile name miss the cut. Let’s hope they can start pulling this together.

Quarterback Dilemma?

Interesting conversation over at Raider Take on the rapidly brewing Schaub vs. McGloin controversy among the fan base. Plenty of good points to be made on either side, but there are a few worth considering before we lose too much perspective:

  • McGloin performed as the starting QB for six of the final seven games last season, winning his first one at Houston (ironically), but dropping the next five, including the 56-31 blowout at home against the Chefs, where McGloin turned the ball over 5 times (4 INT, 1 fumble). The Raiders’ O-line appears to be an upgrade from last season, but the fact is that McGloin has started a few games already. He’s looked great the last couple weeks against second- and third-string defenders, but may just as easily revert to last year’s form against starters.
  • While Schaub’s performance after three preseason games has been underwhelming, there has been no real chance to get in much of a rhythm with the full offensive team and playbook. Jones-Drew and McFadden play only the first few series, as has Schaub himself until last night in Green Bay. He’s had some bad and questionable throws, but multiple receivers, including Jones, Holmes, Little, and Reece have had multiple drops of catchable balls. There’s enough blame to spread around.

One of the biggest concerns with the McKenzie/Allen management/coaching regime is the handling of the quarterback position overall, right from the very start. They let Carson Palmer go, rather than pay him more money, and then brought in Matt Flynn, for way too much money, based on Flynn’s record. They failed to bring in a true #1 wide receiver to complement their choice at quarterback. When Flynn couldn’t get healthy in camp, and couldn’t get it done in preseason, they started Pryor. When Pryor got hurt, they finally started Flynn, and gave up on him — and the $6.5M and draft pick he cost — after a single game, against a Washington team that ultimately went 3-13 and fired their coach.

So they go back to Pryor for the next five games, winning just one game — and that one only because the Steelers somehow managed to miss two easy field goals — before giving McGloin his shot. Then, only after the season is long-lost and they feel the need to see if they have anything in Pryor, they start him for the final game against Denver, which of course wasn’t nearly as close as the 34-14 score indicated.

We’ve all heard the old saw about how when you have two (or more) quarterbacks, you have no quarterbacks. Nowhere has this been more true than the last couple seasons for the Raiders. They could have found out whether they wanted to keep Pryor by letting him start the final three games of the lost 2012 campaign, instead of waiting until just the very last game. They could have done a better scouting job on Flynn before throwing money at him, then cutting bait after just one game.

Panic and chaos seem to be the prime factors in identifying, developing, and managing QB talent in Oakland these days, and it’s hard to understand exactly how this keeps happening. But one sure way is to insist on switching from one QB to another after a couple of preseason games, which by definition are not very useful in analyzing the entire team picture. Schaub has to push the ball downfield with more decisiveness and fire, yes, but his receivers also have to run their routes and hang on to the ball. And if they can’t, then the management team needs to have more to show for its $65M of cap money in the receiving corps.

It’s not time to panic yet. It won’t even be time to panic if they lose to the Jets in Week 1, unless it’s a blowout and Schaub has a case of the pick-sixes again. In fact, Schaub — or any quarterback — needs to know that he has more than one chance to do the job. The bye week (Week 5) is early this season, probably too early for a team with some key veteran players that need to stay healthy later in the season, but in this case it’s an opportunity to get an honest look at their 17th QB to start since Rich Gannon.

This season’s schedule is notoriously tough, and particularly the first four games — at the Jets, home against Houston, at the Patriots, and against Miami in London (considered a “home” game). If Schaub can’t beat his former team for the home opener, and at least the Jets or the Dolphins, then you have an argument for changing horses and using that early bye week to give either McGloin or Carr a chance. Pushing the panic button right now would just continue the ongoing problem.

No matter who is starting at QB, the regrouped linemen are learning to work together, and the receivers need to do their part as well and seriously improve their end of the game. This falls as much on the coaching and management as it does on who’s actually throwing the ball.

Preseason Week 3: Packers 31, Raiders 21

There were some glimmers of hope on Lambeau Field, but also the promise of yet another long season if some fundamental issues aren’t addressed, and quickly. Will this be the season of Matty Iced (Schaub) or Matty Nice (McGloin)? As if the saga of yet another Matt (Flynn) wasn’t enough last season, this season seems primed to become the Tale of Two Matts.

To be fair, the Packers are a solid team and a sure playoff contender, always tough at home, Aaron Rodgers is still at the top of his game, and the Packers’ D has been rejuvenated with the addition of Julius Peppers. Green Bay will compete at an elite level this season, and so the game was sure to be a good barometer of where the Raiders had actually improved.

And they at least have not regressed, but the actual improvements are scarce so far. The speculation has been on whether Matt Schaub would return to 2012 form, or revert to last year’s abysmal performance — and after three games, it’s been somewhere in between. Nothing terrible, but nothing particularly good, either. For every catch there’s a drop, which falls mostly on the receiver (case in point — Marcel Reece in the end zone), but also suggests that Schaub and his receiving corps are not entirely in sync.

There is no true #1 WR on this team, true, but James Jones has been solid in his career with the Packers, and Rod Streater and Denarius Moore each have valuable skill sets that that make this team a contender. McGloin showed the potential to be that field general the Raiders need, and managed to make a 31-7 rout more respectable at the end. But one of the Matts — or Derek Carr — needs to prove capable of that against defensive starters.

Some positives:

  • Khalil Mack had a nice heads-up INT of Matt Flynn, and earlier applied some nice pressure that LaMarr Woodley capitalized on to sack Rodgers.
  • TJ Carrie continues to show promise, with a nice breakup of a 3rd-down pass to Jordy Nelson in the end zone. Unfortunately, Rodgers went right back at Carrie on 4th down and got it to Nelson for the TD.
  • James Jones’ overturned TD catch — I’m telling you right now, if Jones makes that catch last season in a Packers uniform, it stands. Packers WR Alex Gillett made almost the same catch, in the same spot, with the same amount (very little) of “bobbling” and the play stood. Funny how that happens.
  • Maurice Jones-Drew continues to grind yards, and make the most of every carry. Latavius Murray had several decent runs.
  • Gabe Jackson looks like a potential beast at left guard.

On the other hand, there is zero depth at left tackle beyond Donald Penn (though if need be, Khalif Barnes could start at LT and Jackson could start at LG), Menelik Watson continues to struggle at times at starting right tackle, and again, receivers need to get open quickly for Schaub to find them. This o-line is clearly stronger at run blocking, but teams will quickly stack eight or nine in the box if they don’t respect the passing game. Too many stupid penalties, personal fouls and unsportsmanlike conduct calls. Too many missed opportunities — the starting offense had excellent field position several times after their first touchdown, and failed to capitalize on any of them.

The final preseason game next week against Seattle won’t mean much, aside from Terrelle Pryor coming back to Oakland to start, but the Raiders have some time to address these issues. The team that shows up against the Jets for the first regular season game will set the tone for the season. They need to set the tempo, be fast and aggressive, and push people around on both sides of the ball. It can be done.

Again, the Packers are a good team, playing at home, so it’s important to keep things in perspective. The areas of concern can realistically be addressed, but there’s not much room for error at this point. Fans are frustrated after over a decade of losing and false promise, and the prospect of having to change coaching and management regimes yet again is too frustrating to contemplate. The team has the tools to win at least 7-8 games, maybe more, which would be something to build on, but execution is critical.

Preseason Week 2: Raiders 27, Lions 26

An ugly win is still a win, even in preseason, even against the backups. Expectations have to be kept in check, the playbooks are toned way down, preseason doesn’t really mean anything, and all that.

But the team is still not looking all that sharp in some critical areas. First-team D is still porous, getting picked apart even without Megatron or Reggie Bush on the field. Greg Little and Andre Holmes still keep dropping catchable passes. One of them will miss the cut at this rate.

Hopefully they keep Schaub and the first-team offense in a little longer than normal for the final two preseason matchups, in Green Bay next Friday and then home against the Seahawks on the 28th, just to see what they really have. Derek Carr and especially Matt McGloin have stepped up really nicely, playing with a sense of urgency. Not that Schaub isn’t doing those things necessarily, but maybe a little more time for the offensive starters to get in sync with each other would pay off.

And the defensive secondary needs to tighten up as well. Some of the creative blitzes that they got burned on looked somewhat experimental, and this is definitely the time to try those things out, when they don’t really count. But Tarell Brown keeps getting burned in coverage, and DJ Hayden seems to be in PUP limbo.

These preseason games are going to be a good test of whether the team is really rebuilt and cohesive, as they get progressively more challenging. First the resurgent Vikings, and last night against a Detroit team loaded with talent (though again Johnson and Bush didn’t play). The Raiders’ D will have to pull it together to face Aaron Rodgers in Lambeau, and the Seahawks’ killer D will test the rebuilt offense in a major way.