Upon Further Review: Preseason week 2, Special Teams & Defense

After reviewing the game footage for the pre-season week 2 game against Arizona, here are some additional thoughts.  As always, for live-tweets during the game follow me on Twitter @AsherMathews

This post will cover Special Teams and Defense and a seperate post will cover the Offense in much more detail.

Special Teams:

Just like a game, I’m going to start with the opening kickoff.  KO returns have been handled by Jacoby Ford and he’s struggled in this regard.  Part of that is the blocking in front of him which has been poor at times.  Part is that he hasn’t shown the skills that made him so dangerous in this area in past years.  I’d say that Ford’s injury hurts the Raiders much more in passing game than returns.

However, with Ford out indefinitely at this time with a foot injury it calls into question who will be returning punts and kicks.  On player who has prior experience at kickoff returns is DB Bryan McCann.  I don’t know if Bryan McCann can make the final roster because his DB skills are not as good as others but the team may keep him as a dime DB and use him as their KR specialist.

The team is also unsettled at punt returner with Ford’s absence and it’s not entirely clear who will be taking his place.  McCann could be an option as well as Taiwan Jones who has had some time back there.  The team keeps trying Juron Criner at PR in camp but he’s not practiced enough to catch it cleanly, consistently, with a number of drops when fielding kicks.

Unfortunately, only Ford has shown the ability to cleanly field punts in camp and therefore Special Teams is shaping up to be a team weakness thus far for this season.  The team still has two weeks or so to get things together and the special teams may improve when the final roster is put together.

One player who is not expected to make the final roster, P Marquette King, got some great distance punts in the game but the key to a great punt isn’t distance – it’s height and distance.   Height on a kick gives the kicking team two advantages. First and most importantly, it gives time for the punt coverage units to get down field and make a tackle. Second, a punt with good height on it keeps the returner’s head up, not looking for running lanes.

Perennial Pro-Bowler Shane Lechler is back practicing and is one of the – if not the – best in the NFL at getting height and length on kicks.  That will help the punt coverage teams dramatically moving forward.

Defense:

I spent less time watching the defense on this tape, focusing more on the offense, below.  However one of the things that really jumped out when watching the Cardinal’s defensive unit was their gap discipline.  This has been an Achilles heal to the Raiders front 7 for some time with teams gashing the D for big runs because defenders are drawn out of their gaps.  When this happens a skillful running back can make a cutback into an open lane and gouge the defense for large chunks.

The Raiders D would be well served to match discipline the AZ D showed in their gap discipline. An undisciplined team can be badly burned by a zone blocking offensive line scheme (ZBS) like the Raiders use.  The ZBS is predicated on getting defenders moving in one direction and out of their lanes and allowing a running back to make a cut up the field for bit yards.  The AZ defense, for the most part, did a great job staying in their lanes and stopping the run.

The Raiders defense has also shown the ability to be more disciplined in their play so far this season but the real test will come later in games when the defenders are tired.

I did want to watch the Chimdi Chekwa INT at the very beginning of the third quarter. Chekwa had help over top from a safety but was trailing his man and if the pass had been thrown perfectly it’s likely the safety wouldn’t have made it over in time to break up the pass although he probably could have made it in time to tackle the receiver.  However, the QB made a bad pass with not enough height and velocity on it and Chekwa was able to come down with it.

Many people have written off the interception as just a bad pass but I think it’s a mistake to overlook the play that Chekwa made on it.  When the pass was thrown, his back was to the pass but he was able to recognize the pass coming, close on the receiver and leap to make the interception.  So often defenders are unable to simply capitalize on the mistakes of the offense and sometimes that’s all that it takes.

Asher Mathews

About Asher Mathews

Head writer for TFDS Sports, covering the Oakland Raiders and NFL at large. Proud Purdue alum. Follow me on Twitter!

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