After Fridays’ 10-6 loss to the Minnesota Vikings, Raiders head coach Dennis Allen started his press conference talking about how disappointed he was – and rightfully so: the game played by the Raiders was sloppy (13 penalties for 94 yards) and offensively ineffectual (Oakland didn’t score until only a minute twenty-five remained in the 4th quarter when the 3rd string offense, led by Matt McGloin, was able to get into the endzone).
But this is preseason, after all, and while the sloppiness is a mild concern it is not a reason for panic to ensue – Oakland has 3 more weeks to work out their kinks and figure out the strengths and weaknesses of their players before the games start counting.
There were positives and negatives that came from the game. The biggest positives were the running game and the defenses pass rush, both areas where the team wanted big improvement this season.
On offense, coordinator Greg Olson would like to lean heavily on the run to free up the receivers better. Towards this end, Olson and Allen were likely pleased to see the top 3 running backs on the team, Maurice Jones-Drew, Darren McFadden, and Latavius Murray combine for 61 yards on 10 carries, a 6.1 yard rushing average.
On the defensive side, the team achieved 6 sacks, although only one of those sacks was the Raiders first team defense versus the Minnesota first team offense. Still, there was some indication that the Raiders previously stagnant pass rush defense has a little life to it this season.
Of primary concern, Allen said, was the penalties. The offense, in particular, struggled with multiple false starts and holding penalties, which they will need to get cleaned up if they are to succeed this year. In fact, the Raiders sustained costly offensive penalties in each of their first 3 drives – all of the drives that Schaub was played.
The first play of the game, in fact, was a penalty by right tackle Menelik Watson, which set up a long set of downs to start the game. The second Raiders offensive series featured a rare offensive face mask penalty on tight end Brian Leonhardt. The third offensive series featured a 16 yard pass from Schaub to Holmes negated due to a holding penalty on left tackle Donald Penn.
In fact, in the first 3 series, the Raiders achieved 44 yards offensively but also accumulated 30 yards in penalties over the three, netting a dismal 14 yards or an average of only 4.6 yards per series.
While Schaub failed to impress in his limited time, he also had field position against him. In his three series, Schaub faced 2nd and 15, 2nd and 14 and 2nd and 13.
The hope of the organization is that some of the penalties were simply first-game jitters from a team that wants to prove itself and that these will work themselves out as the pre-season continues.
Outside of penalties, the biggest concern may well be the secondary which was torched for 62 passing yards by Matt Cassel, who went 5 for 6 on the opening drive, his only drive of the game.
Dennis Allen said, on Saturday, that he felt the passes were all well contested by the DBs and were simply good throws. This may well be the case but the fact that the Minnesota first-team offense was able to go 5 of 6 and score a TD on the drive means that the secondary bears a lot of scrutiny.
The two starters, both former San Francisco 49ers, Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers each had their issues in coverage but both are still likely to factor heavily in the rotation come the regular season. Backups Chimdi Chekwa and rookie TJ Carrie both fared decently and may be in line for increased playing time.
Also on the secondary front, last year’s twelfth overall selection, DJ Hayden, was running on a side field during Sunday’s practice, a good sign for him to return prior to the start of the regular season, which is when Allen had tabbed him as a good possibility to return.
Finally, the offensive line bears some additional scrutiny after an ignominious start last Friday, but I’m not overly concerned about unit. The offensive line, more than any other unit, requires it’s players to be comfortable playing next to each other and familiar with each other’s strengths, weaknesses and quirks.
There was a lot of change on the offensive line from last year to this and the players are likely still getting to know each other and getting to know how Schaub operates under center. The next 3 weeks should begin to iron out the issues they have had and there is substantially more talent on this line than from last year, across the board – I believe they will improve dramatically over the next few games.
The Raiders play again this Friday, at home in O.Co Coliseum versus the Detroit Lions at 7pm Pacific. The starters will likely play a more extended amount of time and we will have a better look at this year’s Raiders squad at that time.