Oakland Raiders Position-by-Position Preview vs. the Arizona Cardinals
A typical game preview would examine how the each team compares to another, but preseason is a different animal. The starters will only play in the first half and the teams don’t scheme against each other during the preseason to the same extent as the regular season.
Instead of individual matchups and scheme comparisons, coaches and fans are looking more generally at how the starters play, what reserves might challenge for more playing time and what depth players might make the 53-man roster. That’s what this preview will be about.
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When Carson Palmer got his first preseason action last week in Oakland, his third throw was into tight coverage deep to Jacoby Ford. The pass was intercepted by the free safety, and since then, placing blame for that single mistake has been widely discussed because of Palmer’s past issues with interceptions.
What appeared to be double coverage was in fact single coverage with a safety playing deep middle. Palmer made the correct read, according to Dennis Allen, and Ford could have done a better job trying to break it up. The pass appeared to sail between the hands of Ford and, coupled with his two other drops, has made him a convenient scapegoat.
Ford could have done a better job, and Palmer could have done a better job. The safety was playing deep middle, but he was cheating to Ford’s side. Palmer’s read of the play was correct, but he needs to manipulate the safety instead of throwing it to the side of the field he is cheating toward.
Palmer took the blame (via Steve Corkran, Bay Area News Group), as the quarterback should as a leader of the team, but he must do a better job of limiting turnovers and making smart decisions. The throw came on a first down and is not nearly as bad of a decision if it had come on third down.
Palmer has the arm and accuracy to be very productive, but he needs to do a better job of making smart decisions on Friday night in Arizona. The Raiders need him to make smarter decisions to be a winning football team.
Matt Leinart took over for Palmer and was very smart with the football and efficient with his passes. Leinart was routinely checking down to make safer completions, and that might work with a good running game, but the Raiders had Lonyae Miller running with the No. 2 offense.
Leinart will have Mike Goodson on Friday, but he needs to show that he can make throws down the field as well to stretch the defense and keep the safety from crashing the box against the run.
Terrelle Pryor’s much-anticipated 2012 debut was a dud. Pryor was inaccurate and unorganized in his debut. The game looking too fast for him, and he was playing against the No. 3 defense, most of which will be on the street in a couple weeks.
Pryor needs to show better command on of the offense and to make more accurate throws of Friday. On Monday, Pryor blamed himself for his poor performance (via Steve Corkran, Bay Area News Group), but there is a fine line between taking responsibility and saying you played like "dog crap."
Pryor clearly has great athleticism, and the Raiders should put him on the move and simplify his reads to build his confidence. So far, the Raiders have been hesitant to develop Pryor as anything but a pocket passer, and it’s not helping him.
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The Raiders' most important player is Darren McFadden, and the only thing he needs to prove is that he can stay healthy. Dennis Allen insists that McFadden get carries in the preseason so he is ready to go for the regular season (via Steve Corkran, Bay Area News Group), but he should get him a few carries and get him out before risking an injury to the Raiders’ star running back.
Mike Goodson missed over a week of training camp with a sore neck, but will return to face the Cardinals on Friday. He’s been listed as the No. 3 running back behind Taiwan Jones, but Jones is out with a sore hamstring, and Goodson has a chance to show that he deserves to be McFadden’s primary backup.
Goodson has been a pleasant surprise during training camp and should impress fans with his production against the Cardinals No. 2 defense.
Lonyae Miller will get the bulk of the carries after Goodson gets a rest, but his chances of making the roster are slim. When he’s running, you should be watching the offensive line to see which players the Raiders will keep for depth.
The Raiders are already pretty set at fullback with Marcel Reece and Owen Schmitt. They will both get a little action in the preseason game. Reece could even get a few carries at tailback.
Manase Tonga is auditioning as a blocking fullback, but they are a bit of a dying breed in the NFL.
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Jacoby Ford dropped two passes on Monday and muffed a punt. Ford desperately needs a bounce-back game against the Cardinals. Ford will have the opportunity because he remains the starter at flanker with Denarius Moore still nursing a sore hamstring. Ford has speed that can kill, and don’t be surprised if the Raiders go to him early for a chance at redemption.
Darrius Heyward-Bey didn’t get very involved on offense on Monday, and it would be nice if he got more involved. Half of Palmer’s passes were directed at Ford, with Heyward-Bey getting have just one catch. Heyward-Bey had a breakout season last year and need to give the fans an indicator that he can be the No. 1 receiver for this offense.
Juron Criner has been quiet for most of training camp after being impressive during the offseason program and could use a good game on Friday. Criner might have to do it with Terrelle Pryor at quarterback instead of Matt Leinart because Eddie McGee has returned from a hamstring injury and could regain his spot with the No. 2 offense.
Criner had a drop on Monday and needs to figure out how to find the production he had early in the offseason.
Rod Streater—unlike Criner—has continued to improve and has had an impressive training camp. He performed well on Monday and will look to continue producing against the Cardinals. Streater is making a push for serious playing time if he continues to play like he has and continues to improve.
Eddie McGee has missed some time with a hamstring injury, and he didn’t play in Monday’s preseason game, but will get his first action on Friday. McGee was an offseason favorite to make the roster until the emergence of Criner, but things change quickly and McGee still has a good chance to make the roster with a couple good preseason performances.
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The starting offensive line is basically set. Jared Veldheer, Cooper Carlisle, Stefen Wisniewski, Mike Brisiel and Khalif Barnes have been surprisingly solid throughout training camp.
The Raiders are trying to figure out which guys will be good to keep around as depth. Alex Parsons will start for Wisniewski on Friday and has a very good chance of making the roster, as he can play center and guard. Wisniewski hurt his calf in Monday’s game.
Coming into training camp, Tony Bergstrom, Reggie McKenzie’s first draft pick, and Joseph Barksdale were expected to be the primary reserves. Bergstom is safe, but he hasn’t pushed Cooper Carlisle for the starting job like many expected. Pay close attention to how Bergstrom performs with the No. 2 offense and if the line is allowing pressure up the middle or from the outside.
Barksdale has not looked good in training camp and didn’t perform well in Monday’s preseason game either. Pay close attention to his play at right tackle with the No. 2 offense to see if Barksdale can rebound. The Raiders need to get more out of the talented offensive lineman, and he is at serious risk of not making the roster if he doesn’t pick up his level of play.
Kevin Haslem and Ed Wang are two players that could be in play for a roster spot if Barksdale’s play continues to be an issue.
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Brandon Myers remains out with a sore shoulder, giving Richard Gordon and David Ausberry another opportunity to impress the coaching staff in game action.
Almost immediately after Myers was given a significant lead in the camp competition, he got hurt. Gordon has been the most impressive with Myers out, having developed as a receiver and already a good blocker.
Gordon needs to continue to become a weapon in the passing game to push Myers for a starting job. Pay close attention when Gordon runs a pass pattern to see if he can beat a linebacker and if he can find the soft spots in zone coverage. Gordon should see plenty of snaps as a blocking tight end, even if his receiving skills aren’t fully developed.
Ausberry is a former receiver, and you would expect him to be a good receiver. Ausberry’s strength is indeed in the passing game, but he’s also had inconsistent hands throughout training camp. Ausberry really need to work on his blocking, so watch him when he stays in to pass protect and when he’s blocking for the running game.
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The Raiders are looking for a fourth defensive tackle to pair with Richard Seymour, Tommy Kelly and Desmond Bryant. The primary candidates are rookie Christo Bilukidi and Dominque Hamilton.
Both Bilukidi and Hamilton have shown the ability to be decent pass-rushers from the interior, but they have had gap integrity issues at times against the run. Considering the Raiders released John Henderson and Travis Ivey, the Raiders really need a player to step up against the run. Pass close attention to Hamilton and Bilukidi when the No. 2 defense comes in to see if the two are holding up against the run.
At defensive end, the Raiders are probably set, and so, there is nothing to pay extra close attention to during Friday’s preseason game. Lamarr Houston, Matt Shaughnessy, Dave Tollefson and rookie Jack Crawford should all make the 53-man roster.
If watching defensive ends is something you like to do, watch a slimmed-down Lamarr Houston pass-rush and the rookie Crawford against the No. 2 offense.
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Probably one of the most interesting position groups in Oakland is the linebackers. There is the free-agent addition Philip Wheeler, the embattled Rolando McClain and the rookie Miles Burris playing for a former first-round pick on the PUP list.
Not only are the players interesting, but the new defensive scheme in Oakland means one of them will probably be blitzing on just about every play.
Keep an eye on how Miles Burris performs in coverage, as that’s not something he did a lot in college and is an area of the game he is still developing.
The No. 2 defense is almost as interesting with Chad Kilgore, Travis Goethel and Carl Ihenacho. All of them have a chance to make the roster, but are very different players than the starters at the same positions.
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The starters at cornerback are pretty solid at the moment with the veterans Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer. Much like last year, the Raiders have been utilizing Michael Huff as the slot cornerback, with Matt Giordano taking his spot at free safety.
Huff will not play on Friday to attend the birth of his first child, the team announced (via CSN Bay Area), meaning the nickel cornerback will likely be DeMarcus Van Dyke.
Larry Fitzgerald is one of the hardest receivers to cover in the league, and it will be interesting to see how effective the Raiders are at covering him. Last preseason, Van Dyke did a decent job against Fitzgerald, but obviously, the veteran got the best of him a few times.
Van Dyke and Chmidi Chekwa will come in with the No. 2 defense, meaning Van Dyke could be in for extra work on Friday. Van Dyke had a good start to camp, but his performance didn’t translate to the game on Monday night.
Chekwa has been very inconsistent and briefly lost his spot to the veteran Pat Lee. Chekwa could use a good performance after letting a punt roll into the end zone on Monday.
The Raiders will almost assuredly need more than Bartell and Spencer at cornerback, so pay special attention to the secondary when the No. 2 and No. 3 defenses come into the game to see which players are performing and which players are putting themselves at risk.
At free safety, the Raiders have Huff and Giordano that appear solidly on the roster. Brandon Underwood has a good preseason game, but hasn’t stood out in practices. Underwood might get extra work with Huff out.
At strong safety, Curtis Taylor is trying to push Mike Mitchell for the backup job, but so far, Mitchell appears to have a firm grasp of the position behind Tyvon Branch.