Ballers & Busters: Preseason week 2

Raider defensive lineman

I wonder if it strikes Al Davis, Tom Cable and the other Raider coaches as odd that this team has no semblance of a run defense. Did they think that by simply getting rid of Rob Ryan that would solve this problem? Well, at this moment, it looks like this team has not changed a bit. In fact, this is one of the worst performances I have seen from this team in trying to defend the run. Having great corners means very little when the opposing team can simply march down the field and eat up clock on their way to score.

That practice this week in which the Niners were whooping it up and celebrating a few interceptions meant nothing. The real test was Saturdays game. And despite the Raiders putting themselves in a position to take the game to overtime,(had it been a regular season game) this was a loss of greater proportion. Simply because, if the Niners had even a decent passing game, this would have been a blow out.

Sure, the Raiders were ahead 14-3 at one point. But put Philip Rivers back there instead of Alex Smith. Or Antonio Gates instead of Vernon Davis. Or Vincent Jackson, and Chris Chambers instead of that bunch of scrubs the Niners call receivers. Tack their numbers onto the kind of numbers that the Niners racked up on the ground on Saturday and the Raiders are looking at a serious debacle come opening night.

Don’t get me wrong here. I am not screaming that the sky is falling. I am simply taking the game on Saturday and looking at the big picture. That is what preseason games are for. The score is almost inconsequential, whether it be first team, second team, scout team or end result. In the preseason, it’s about the journey.

That journey had many guides. Some good and some not so good. The good ones may have paved their way to guide the Raiders into the regular season. The bad ones may not make it that far or be relegated to the bench.

Ballers:

Greg Ellis:

There were times at which it looked like he was the only guy on the defense who was really trying. He certainly had the best instincts of anyone else on the line. He played very few plays last week and looked great. This week he played more and just continued to look dominant. On the Raiders first play on defense, he pressured the quarterback, causing him to throw poorly into coverage for an incompletion. The drive ended just a few plays later. The next Niner posession, he got in the quarterback’s face again to pressure him into an incompletion. The next drive he had a run stuff and two plays later pressured the quarterback to throw the ball away. All of those drives ended without the Niners scoring. On his last series of the game, he pressured the Niner quarterback to throw into coverage for another incompletion on third down to force a field goal attempt. He is the best news on this Raiders defensive line this season. I look forward to having him on the field the entire game during the season.

Brandon Myers:

What is it with the Raiders leading receiver being tight end most of the time? Usually it is Zach Miller but now it looks like the Raiders have quite a capable backup to go along with Tony Stewart. When the Raiders chose Myers in the sixth round out of Iowa, it was supposed to be for his blocking ability. Suddenly he is flashing some damn fine hands as well. The first series for the Raider offense in the second half belonged to Brandon Myers. He and Bruce Gradkowski must be developing quite a rapport in practice because the last four plays of the drive went like this: 36 yard pass to Myers, 9 yard pass to Myers, one yard QB keeper, touchdown pass to Myers. And if that wasn’t enough, in the fourth quarter he reached up and pulled down a Charlie Frye pass away from two defenders for a 30 yard catch to put the Raiders in scoring position. Looks like the Raiders have found another sixth round gem. And no I am not talking about Stryker Sulak.

Gerard Warren:

Yes, it is rather surprising to see a defensive tackle on the Baller list after the run defense was so terrible. Well, from what I could tell, it was not for lack of effort on Warren’s part. He came out of the gates on a tear just like Greg Ellis did. He almost single handedly stopped the Niners first drive. Literally, his first nice play was a tipped pass with a single hand. Then the next play he stopped Frank Gore in his tracks at the line. The Niners’ drive ended two plays later. Their next posession would start the same way; with Warren stuffing another run attempt at the line. Then a couple plays later, he teamed up with Ellis on a QB pressure for an incompletion. He had one more run stuff a while later before he was done for the game. If only he always played with that kind of effort. Imagine what kind of player he would be?

Hiram Eugene:

It may get redundant to hear but, yet again whenever a run or a short pass got past the linebackers he was almost always the one there to stop it. And his open field tackling is superb. I am not sure I have ever seen him whiff on an open field tackle. Oh and that is to say nothing of his great special teams work. Speaking of which; he had the first tackle of the day for the Raiders when he was first down the field to tackle Allen Rossum before he could go anywhere on a punt return. The rest of his tackles were at the end of big runs by the Niners of 18, 18, 18, and 35 yards. Most of which, he probably saved a touchdown. So he gets it done whether he is the first line of defense (gunner) or the last. That is why for the second week in a row, he is a baller.

Tyvon Branch:

Also making his second straight appearance on the Baller list is Tyvon Branch. I can’t tell you how exciting it is to have Raider safeties making the Baller list each week. Although, the down side is that they make so many tackles because the line backers are not doing their jobs. But one thing you know about Branch is he brings a beating. Not only does he tackle, but he puts some pop into it and that has been a long time coming for the Raiders. The last two Niner drives just before the half belonged to Branch. On the first one, after Glenn Coffee got around the edge for eight yards, Branch came up and nailed him good. A couple plays later, he stuffed Coffee at the line. Then he ended the drive by batting down a pass in the end zone intended for Vernon Davis (FYI: This was a play that the Niners were celebrating the success of in practice this week. So much for that). Then after an interception gave the Niners the ball back Branch ended their hopes of scoring with a solid tackle in the open field to send them to the locker room down 7-3.

Desmond Bryant:

This guy is giving the coaches a little something to scratch their chins about. He was a UDFA out of Harvard this year and is looking like he might beat out some of the veterans for a roster spot. He came in the game for the final Niner drive just before the half and on his first play he teamed up with William Joseph for a sack. The Niners had the ball to start the second half and Bryant pressured the quarterback into an incompletion. Two plays later the drive ended in a long field goal attempt that fell short. Two posessions later, after an interception gave the Niners a short field, Bryant ended that drive on a quarterback pressure for an incompletion and to force another field goal attempt. He ended the game with two more run stuffs to add to an overall nice day for him.

Ricky Brown:

Kirk Morrison started the game and was playing well, but went out after the first series with a dislocated shoulder. And while the news that the injury could keep Morrison out until possibly game two of the season, the Raiders seem to have a more than capable starter in Ricky Brown. In his first series, Brown came out with his hair on fire. He had a run stuff, a nice tackle on a short catch and then intercepted the ball off of a deflection and ran it back to the Niner 8 yard line. Next drive he had a QB pressure. Next drive, with the Niners at the four yard line, he stayed in his lane and forced the running back right into the waiting arms of Tyvon Branch. The Niners would get no closer to the end zone and settled for a field goal. On the first series of the second half and his final series of the game, he had a run stuff tackle for no gain. OH…so THAT’s what Brown can do for you. Now if we can figure out who let the dogs out, all of life’s secrets will be revealed.

Chris Johnson:

The 49ers were not offering much in the form of a passing threat. Nnamdi was lights out in very limited action, and Routt did a nice job as well. Chris Johnson was just making plays. Three times the Niner QB threw incomplete with him in tight coverage. One of those times, he hit the receiver right as the ball arrived and it bounced off of the receiver’s hands and into the arms of Ricky Brown for an interception. He also had a really nice tackle when he sniffed out a pass into the flat to Vernon Davis that went no where. He seems to be good for at least one of those in each game. And yet the opposing team continues to attempt it against him. But I suppose when usually the only other option for a pass into the flat is the guy being covered by Nnamdi, there really is no choice to be made.

Bruce Gradkowski:

He opened the second half for the Raiders offense. His first play, he ran for a nine yard gain. Then he began his direct connection with rookie Brandon Myers which started with a perfectly thrown 36 yarder and ended in him throwing a ball right in Myers’ gut for a touchdown. The next Raider posession ended quickly when a Niner defensive lineman hit his arm as he threw and it resulted in an interception which wasn’t his fault. So, for that nice scoring drive to open the second half, Gradkowski makes the list again. I am liking this kid more and more every day.

Busters:

Trevor Scott:

After being a common site on the Baller list last season, Scott has been a Buster through both of the first two preseason games. He was handed the keys to the starting defensive end job when Derrick Burgess didn’t show up for camp and was later traded. This promotion is something that most Raider fans welcomed after his five sacks last season in limited playing time. But it is clear that his run defense leaves much to be desired. And that is putting it lightly. It got very tiresome seeing him get pushed around so easily by 49er blockers. He recorded exactly ONE tackle on the day. The first time I saw him, he was missing a tackle on a run which resulted in an 18 yard gain. Then a bit later he was being blocked easily on a 35 yard run. A few plays later he was blocked on an 8 yard run and the very next play after that he was blocked for a 5 yard run. All the while, he never got anywhere near the quarterback at any point. He may end up losing his starting job before he ever actually officially has it.

Slade Norris:

There were a lot of people telling me last week that Norris deserved to be on the Baller list. I didn’t put him there because despite the good plays he had in last week’s game, he had an equal number of miscues. This game, however, he didn’t have the good plays to offset the bad. On his first series of the game- which was the first Niner posession of the second half- he was blocked for a nine yard gain and he missed a tackle on an 8 yard run that put the Niners in field goal range. The next drive, he was blocked on a 22 yard run that put the 49ers on the 5 yard line and resulted in a touchdown.

Sam Williams:

His election to this list came almost exclusively from one drive. One in which his man caught a 27 yard catch and then two plays later his man caught a touchdown. This was immediately followed by a two point conversion in which he was lost in space in the vicinity of the guy who caught the ball. That eight points was on you Sam. He was also handled on the block on the Niners final first down run which sealed the game.

Greyson Gunheim:

Like most backups in this game, his first series was right after halftime. And he was welcomed by being pushed aside on a 9 yard run. Then on the next Niner drive, he was blocked again for a 22 yard run. Next drive, he was blocked for a 5 yard run to set the Niners up at the five yard line. They would score on the next play. He too was being tossed aside on the final first down run that clinched a Niner win.

Terdell Sands:

I know he was in the game. But only because one time I saw a Niner back run past him as Terd wandered aimlessly by. He watched the guy run by without so much as an attempt to slow him down. And then was like “What just happened?” Outside of that, he was invisible. And usually when you become invisible in the second preseason game, your days are numbered.

Jay Richardson:

He had an inconsistent game. Just when he would make a nice quarterback pressure or run stop, he would turn around and give up a pivotal play. Richardson had about 60% bad and 40% good play in this game. And since the offense has three or four tries to get it right, he has to do better than that. Especially being that he is a former starter and he was lining up against the Niner second team. He had three quarterback pressures and one run stuff but he also had four big runs go right through him for a total of 43 yards and a touchdown. It looks like Richardson can be added to the list of third down and/or passing down defensive ends on this team. I don’t think any other team in the NFL has more problems finding a defensive end that can stop the run than the Raiders.

John Marshall, Mike Haluchak, Dwaine Board:

I had to group these three together on this one because this was an overall collapse. I have looked at the numbers and tried to narrow down the blame for the run defense problems. But I just became more troubled because the 49ers didn’t single out one side or one player to run against. They ran it through every position in the middle, right and left of the Raider defense and had success with every back they put in the game. Glenn Coffee put up 129 yards rushing in the first half and Michael Robinson had 97 yards in the second half. Yup, the Niners almost had two backup 100 yard rushers. Hell, Kory Sheets, who probably won’t even make the team, gained 51 yards on the ground while averaging almost five yards a carry. The Raiders defense gave up a total of 275 yards rushing. Of which, Frank Gore only 7 yards . From what I could tell, the players who are least to blame for the run problems (besides the secondary) are the Raider defensive tackles, oddly enough. The fault lies with the defensive ends who were getting pushed around and not shedding blocks, and the linebackers who were not filling their gaps and not shedding blocks. This has to be fixed post haste or next week we will all learn the names of the Saints’ running back bubble players while the Raiders are focusing on stopping the number one passing offense in the NFL.

Also See:

Preseason Game 2 Wrap up

Training Camp Day 23: Tom Cable Q&A

About Levi Damien, Senior Writer

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