The new era of the Oakland Raiders got off to a slow start this preseason. The Raiders dropped their first two preseason games and looked like a team in the midst of a major transition. That all changed in the third preseason game—often considered a regular season tune-up.
The Raiders offense and defense looked competent with explosive possibilities in a 31-20 win over the visiting Detroit Lions.
Particularly important was the play of Oakland's defense because it was the defense that cost the team games last year. You can point to games against Buffalo, Detroit and San Diego last year and easily proportion the blame on an undisciplined defense that was using antiquated schemes.
This year, the schemes are different and there has also been a change at cornerback and linebacker. As demonstrated by the third preseason game, things are progressing positively for the revamped defense.
Even without Jacoby Ford and Denarius Moore, the Raiders offense was able to move the ball against the Lions. Darren McFadden continues to be the key to offensive success, and the Raiders have developed and added a few contributors like Owen Schmitt and rookie Rod Streater.
Carson Palmer has emerged as the biggest question mark on offense because of inconsistency. Palmer will make an amazing throw on one play and come back and make a bad decision. If the Raiders have legitimate playoff hopes, Palmer has to avoid many of the mistakes he has made this preseason.
It's easier to make a better decision if you have a complete understanding of the offense and defense. The Raiders and offensive coordinator Greg Knapp will just continue to coach Palmer on how the offensive scheme is designed to beat certain defensive schemes. There's really not much else you can do.
A big story line from the game was the emergence of Terrelle Pryor. Pryor finally got the opportunity to showcase his ability to run and didn't disappoint. Pryor also connected on two long scores to rookie Juron Criner and proved that the Raiders need to put in a special package of plays for him. There was nothing on film that Pryor did that you didn’t already see if you watched the game or the highlights. Amazing athleticism.
Pryor is not a good pocket passer yet, but a special package of plays where he is lined up in the backfield with Marcel Reece and McFadden is sure to give the defense a lot to think about.
In this breakdown, the focus is on the defense, the zone-blocking scheme and Palmer's decision making because they remain some of the biggest concerns for the Raiders headed into the regular season.
It's 3rd-and-2 for the Lions, and the Raiders are using the nickel defense. Brandon Pettigrew (87) will run a deep route here to try to soften the defense for Titus Young (16), who will be dragging across the field. This is a very hard play for a cornerback, and it's Shawntae Spencer's job to make sure Young can't make the catch.
What you can't see here is Tyvon Branch covering Pettigrew, which was Mathew Stafford's (9) first read. Spencer puts his foot in the ground and quickly makes up for the buffer he gave Young. Dave Tollefson (58) sheds the block of the running back and will force Stafford to make a quick throw.
Tollefson gets the hit on Stafford and forces him to throw the ball a little early. Spencer has caught up with Young coming across the field.
An inaccurate throw because of good pressure combined with tight coverage results in an incomplete pass. The Raiders force a punt. I don't recall the Raiders getting off the field on 3rd-and-short much last season.
The Lions have 1st-and-goal from the seven-yard line and come out in a shotgun formation. The Raiders counter with their nickel defense. Philip Wheeler (52) is going to make this play. It's a run designed to get the defense thinking pass.
The left guard is going to pull to try to deliver a block that will open a lane for the running back. Dave Tollefson fights through the block of Gosder Cherilus (77). Wheeler quickly diagnoses the play as a run.
The left guard delivers his block on Tollefson instead of coming around to block outside. It's possible that was his assignment, but the result is still Wheeler flying into the running lane. Wheeler takes away the outside shoulder and forces the running back toward a crowded line of scrimmage.
Wheeler makes the tackle for no gain, and the defense is one down closer to stopping the Lions from scoring a touchdown.
Play No. 1
This is a good example of the zone-blocking scheme. Jones will be looking to run to the left where his blocking is trying to open a running lane. Right guard Mike Brisiel will try to get to the second level to block a linebacker.
Fullback Owen Schmitt (44) is going to block the first would-be tackler between the left tackle and left guard. The running lane will materialize up the middle.
The running lane opens up the middle, and Jones takes one cut and used his speed to burst up the middle through traffic.
Brisiel can't engage the linebacker, but if he had made the block, there would have been a lot of space for Jones to run.
The tackle is made on Jones by the linebacker that Brisiel was supposed to block. Not everything went right, but the Raiders were still able to get a good gain on the play. The key here was Jones recognizing the running lane before it developed, planting his foot and make one cut and getting up the field quickly.
Play No. 2
Intelligence is often cited as the most important quality in a running back in the zone-blocking system. Speed is also an underrated quality in this scheme because the running lanes are sometimes small and close quickly. Speed also enables a zone-blocking running back to turn a play that the defense has bottled up into a big gain.
Reserve center Colin Miller allowed the defensive lineman to get deep into the backfield, and Jones has to spin off the defender to extend the run.
After the spin move, Jones will not be able to make one cut and run through the hole his offensive line has opened for him. By the time he gets there—even with his speed—the defense will have clamped down on him.
The Lions had to cheat because of the speed of Jones, and he changes directions and leaves the defensive end stuck in the mud.
This is where the speed of Jones really makes him dangerous because he changes tackling angles. Jones runs laterally and around the linebacker.
Another linebacker takes a bad angle to Jones and is able to get past him as well.
The safety, Amari Spievey, is going to have to take a wide angle to make the take tackle on Jones.
Spievey likely saved a touchdown because had Spievey taken a bad angle like the two linebackers, Jones have no one in his path on the way to the end zone.
Palmer's first interception was simply an instance where the inside screen was a busted play and he made a poor decision. Too many things went wrong for the play to work, and Palmer should have thrown the ball at the feet of the running back and moved on to the next play.
Not every interception Palmer threw was a poor decision. Sometimes an interception is a collection of small errors rather than one big one. Take Palmer's second interception against the Lions. Three wide receivers are lined up to the left. McGee will run a post pattern.
The pass was a little high. It wasn't the perfect throw by Palmer, but the coverage was soft and he made the correct read.
When McGee gets his hands on the ball, Stephen Tulloch is not in position to make a play.
McGee gets hit by free safety John Wendling as he attempts to tuck the ball. McGee is not totally to blame because it's not easy to tuck a football in the air when one of your arms is hit by a defender.
The momentum of McGee pops the ball in the air where it is easily intercepted by Tulloch. If Palmer's pass isn't a little high or if the safety arrived a split-second later, McGee likely secures the catch. It's an unfortunate interception, but it's not one the coaches will lose sleep over.
The Raiders aren't a finished product, but based on their play against Lions, they might be further along than many thought they would be after so much change this offseason.