Oakland Raiders vs. Detroit Lions: Report Card Grades for Each Raiders Unit
Most early reports indicated that the Oakland Raiders were having a very good training camp, which is why the team's subpar performance in the preseason opener was so disappointing. The second preseason game was supposed to provide a clearer indication of just how much this team has improved.
But after the team's second preseason game, against the Detroit Lions, it now seems like this really is the state of the 2014 Raiders.
Matt Schaub played better, but he still didn't live up to the expectations that were set when he arrived in Oakland. This was reflected by the offense as a whole, which had two consecutive three-and-outs after the interception and came away with only seven points with Schaub under center.
While the starting offense disappointed again, the starting defense was even worse. The unit put up no real resistance, and the secondary was once again dismantled by the opposing offense. The real cause for concern is that the defense as a whole showed no real improvement since the last game.
There were some positives. Oakland's special teams provided a huge boost to the team's performance. In his first action of the preseason, Sebastian Janikowski showed both power and accuracy, while the Raiders' kick and punt returners gave the offense good field position throughout the game.
The offense also got contributions from some surprise sources. As the Raiders made a push in the second half, Brice Butler and Greg Little stepped up and made some big catches that helped Oakland get back into the game.
The Raiders did play better as the game continued, but this just means that the team played better against the Detroit reserves after the starters left the game. When it was first unit against first unit, Oakland once again looked outclassed and ineffective.
Oakland did end up winning the game 27-26 in thrilling fashion. That's a boost of confidence this Raiders team can really use, and it gives the team something to build on, but it's not enough to cover up the glaring flaws still present in the team's play.
It's only been two preseason games, but Schaub already finds himself in a precarious position. Against Detroit, he finished with a miserable quarterback rating of 49.2, an interception and no touchdowns. After two games, he's yet to throw a touchdown pass.
Since drafting Derek Carr, head coach Dennis Allen has been adamant about the fact that there's no quarterback controversy in Oakland. Unfortunately, the quarterbacks' performances indicate otherwise.
In his second professional game, Carr looked much better, finishing 9-of-16 for 109 yards and a touchdown pass, good enough for a quarterback rating of 98.2. The offense looked smooth, Carr looked in control and, more importantly, the offense actually looked dangerous.
Carr did go down with a reported concussion, but it doesn't appear to be too serious. On Saturday morning, he tweeted that he "will be just fine."
To put it into perspective, Schaub has even been outperformed statistically by third-stringer Matt McGloin, who produced Oakland's only touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings last week. He threw another touchdown pass against Detroit, this one with six seconds left in the game, to cap an impressive game-winning drive.
Carr and McGloin played against the backups, but the important thing is that of Oakland's three quarterbacks, Schaub is the only one who's yet to produce any real positive results.
Despite what Allen might say, there's certainly a quarterback competition in Oakland. It's still Schaub's job to lose, but the leash is getting mighty short. He needs to produce a convincing performance soon.
Until then, Carr will be right on his heels.
The Raiders' running game was not too impressive statistically, but watching the game, it was clear that it provided just what this team needs it to. Silver and Black Pride's Levi Damien notes that the combination of Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden is becoming more exciting with each game.
Oakland averaged only 3.9 yards per carry, but the Lions had to respect the running game. The running backs were also involved in the passing game, including Jones-Drew's 22-yard screen pass that eventually led to McFadden's one-yard touchdown run.
Latavius Murray looked good in limited action, and Kory Sheets once again came in and showed that the gaudy numbers he put up in the CFL aren't a fluke. He's certainly capable of succeeding in the NFL, and he's made a strong case to be the fourth, or even third, running back on this team.
It's difficult for a running back to establish a rhythm in a game with only a few carries, which is what all of these players are dealing with in the preseason as they're all seeing limited touches.
Still, the signs of success have been there. Jones-Drew is sitting atop the depth chart with McFadden right behind him. They've shown that they are capable of setting the tone, and even carrying the offense, once they begin to combine for 25-30 touches a game.
The biggest problem that the receivers exhibited last week was struggling to hold onto the ball, but they did much better in that department this week.
After a disappointing game against Minnesota, tight end Mychal Rivera showed why the coaching staff is so intrigued by his potential. He has good hands, and he exhibited the ability to make tacklers miss and to produce yards after the catch.
Starters James Jones and Rod Streater combined for only four receptions, but they showed the ability to get open. As they establish more rhythm with Schaub, they'll become even more consistent producers.
The real surprise was Brice Butler and Greg Little's performance.
Butler, who's fighting for a roster spot, has done enough over the last two games to move up the depth chart ahead of Juron Criner, who's still out with an injury. Butler was the go-to receiver late in the game as the Raiders made their comeback, ultimately catching the game-tying touchdown.
Little still seems to be struggling to hold onto the ball, but he also showed his tremendous speed and ability to get open. He still has work to do, but he's done enough for Oakland to continue to give him more opportunities.
This team doesn't have a superstar wide receiver, but there's definitely enough talent for the passing game to be effective as long as the quarterback can get them the ball. CSNBayArea.com's Scott Bair notes that as the receivers have begun to develop a rhythm with Schaub. This will only increase the productivity of the receivers as they continue to get more comfortable.
There's still work to be done, but the receivers have shown that they can at least force the defense to remain honest. And, when given the opportunity, they can make big plays.
Oakland's offensive line had an up-and-down game. While it had some success run blocking, the pass protection left a lot to be desired.
Schaub didn't impress, but that was in part due to the fact that he was never able to get comfortable. The O-line never seemed able to deal with the Lions' pressure up front. Frequently, there were pass-rushers who were unaccounted for, and the O-line at times seemed confused about blocking assignments.
Communication is an area that the unit will need to focus on heading into next week's game.
The one thing the O-line did succeed in was the running game. Once Jones-Drew and McFadden get to play a whole game and establish a rhythm, they'll be able to exploit the push this O-line gets and the holes they can open up.
The pass protection improved as the game progressed, but this was after Detroit's first-string pass-rushers had already left the game. No matter who's playing quarterback, he won't be able to succeed if the O-line doesn't give him time.
The talent is there. Now the offensive line just has to figure out how to play as a unit.
Part of succeeding as a defensive lineman has to do with blitzes, shifts and scheme. But another major part is just being able to beat the guy across from you. This is something the Raiders were hoping to get from veterans such as Justin Tuck, Antonio Smith and LaMarr Woodley, but that hasn't been the case.
Tuck was able to come up with a big tackle in the backfield, but he was unblocked on the play. Woodley finished the game with no tackles.
Overall, the Oakland front four just wasn't able to generate any pressure, a major contributing factor in Matthew Stafford looking like superstar. Stafford, who wasn't sacked a single time, finished the game 9-of-10 with two touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 142.9.
The Raiders' secondary certainly left a lot to be desired (more on that later), but it had just as much to do with the fact that Stafford had all day to throw.
Oakland has three new starters on the unit, and they're still learning to play with each other. However, what's alarming is that no single player has stood out. No one has stepped up and made a big play, which is what they were brought in for.
The backups had more success, but the Raiders need their big-name signings to start making an impact.
Oakland's linebacking corps has had some hiccups, but overall, it has been the most impressive defensive group.
Nick Roach has continued to be a steady, reliable force at middle linebacker. He provides a calming presence in the middle, directing the group as he himself continues to produce.
What has become clear is that the Raiders are currently set at the position. Sio Moore continues to play well, and Miles Burris has impressed at both weak-side linebacker and middle linebacker in relief of Nick Roach. Even Kaluka Maiava, who had been written off as a special teamer, played very well against Detroit.
The group's most disappointing member has been Khalil Mack, who's rookie season has been defined by the difference in his play between practice and games. The coaches continue to rave about his play in practice, but none of this has manifested on game day.
CSNBayArea.com's Scott Bair notes that the coaches are aware of this slow progression, but they are not worried about it for now. They'll continue to leave him on the field and let Mack gain real-game experience to aid his progress.
Too often, Mack disappears during the game as he struggles to make plays and have an impact. Fortunately, the depth is there in case Mack proves unable to handle the starting role.
The unit still needs work in the passing game, but it has shown progress in this area. It has also been effective against the run. It's still a young group and will continue to improve with experience.
Heading into the preseason, I identified the secondary as Oakland's weakest position group. With a collection of aging players past their prime, young players who can't stay healthy and unproven rookies, the Raiders were always going to struggle against the pass.
So far, they've looked as bad as anticipated, and they've done nothing to suggest it's going to get better anytime soon.
For the second week in a row, the first-team secondary—comprised of Tarell Brown, Carlos Rogers, Charles Woodson and Tyvon Branch—was completely dominated by a first-team offense.
Golden Tate completely lost Brown on a double move en route to a wide-open touchdown reception. This same type of scenario repeated itself over and over as whatever receiver Brown and Rogers were supposed to be on always seemed to be open.
The safeties weren't much better. Woodson bit hard on a run fake and allowed tight end Eric Ebron to run free right up the middle for a 23-yard reception.
As a group, the coverage was poor, as was the open-field tackling. No matter what area you look at, the entire starting unit showed nothing to be happy about.
The backups provided a slightly better performance. Training camp gem TJ Carrie was frequently in on plays, showing good aggressiveness and a willingness to make tackles. He was beaten for a touchdown on a fade route, but he was simply outjumped by 6'6" wide receiver Kris Durham. However, Carrie was in good position and made a good play on the ball.
As a rookie, he clearly still has some learning to do, but the potential is definitely there.
D.J. Hayden is still out with an injury. The hope is that his return will infuse talent into this unit, talent that it's in desperate need of it. But that's just a hope at this point, as Hayden has yet to prove he can consistently make an impact in the NFL.
The secondary is the single unit that benefited the least from the roster overhaul the Raiders went through this offseason. The unit looks slow and severely under-talented. If the Raiders don't do something about this, the secondary will get picked on all season.
The real cause for panic is that the secondary is filled with questions, but the Raiders are short on answers.
There's never been a question about Sebastian Janikowski's power. Throughout his career, he's regularly made 50-yard field goals look like chip shots. The issue has been accuracy, and against Detroit, Janikowski showed that he's taken steps to address this.
Janikowski went 2-of-2 on fields (plus a field goal negated by a penalty, which he also made) and three extra points. He clearly still has the leg strength, and he looked comfortable as he easily knocked each of his attempts through the uprights.
His success was in part due to punter/holder Marquette King's improvement. One of the most underrated elements in football is the relationship between the kicker and the holder. Last season was the first time in Janikowski's 15-year career that he was working with a holder not named Shane Lechler, and it showed.
King put in a lot work holding the football on kicks, and he and Janikowski looked more comfortable against Detroit than they did all of last season.
As far as punting itself, King continues to impress. He averaged 46 yards and consistently helped reduce the success of the Lions' return game with his always impressive hang time, allowing only one return on three punts.
The Raiders have continued to experiement in the return game, and the results have been encouraging. The team averaged 23 yards on kick returns and almost 25 yards on punt returns, including a 50-yard return by Carrie.
Kick and punt coverage were also good. The coverage units limited Detroit to an average of 20 yards on kick returns and only three yards on one punt return.
While the rest of the team has some major issues to address, Oakland at least knows that special teams is a unit ready for the start of the regular season.
When a team isn't playing well, who's responsible for the poor results? Is it the players or the coaches?
The Raiders are coming off of two consecutive 4-12 seasons, but the coaching staff was given the benefit of the doubt. When head coach Dennis Allen was hired in 2012, Oakland was just beginning the rebuilding process under Reggie McKenzie, and it was known that the team would be short on talent.
It would take a few years for the Raiders to get their house in order, and 2014 was supposed to be the year that we finally started to see some results. But after two preseason games, the results have been less than reassuring, despite the infusion of talent.
Offensively, there have been some flashes of success, but there's been nothing even resembling consistency. The same offense that drives down and scores a touchdown on one series might disappear for the rest of the quarter. This has something to do with the players, particularly the quarterback, but it also has to do with offensive coordinator Greg Olson's play-calling.
McFadden is better outside the tackles, yet he's too often been run up the middle. Marcel Reece could be one of the NFL's most dangerous weapons, but he doesn't get enough touches. Despite the fact that the Raiders have some speed and size at receiver, too often the offense settles for short passes and dump-offs.
Defensively, Oakland seems to not only be lagging behind the rest of the league, but also performing like a unit without a plan. Is this going to be a blitzing defense? Is it going to drop players into coverage and incorporate a bend-but-don't-break philosophy? That's unclear, indicating that defensive coordinator Jason Tarver's defense lacks a clear identity.
Yes, the players ultimately have to go out and perform, but they're dependent on the game plan implemented by the coaches. If this vision isn't clear, the team will seem lost on the field, and too often, this is what Oakland looks like.
The Raiders aren't the most talented team in the NFL, but they certainly have enough talent to play better than they have so far this preseason.
Ultimately, Allen is responsible because he built this coaching staff. The Raiders need to pick an identity on both sides of the ball, and they need to stick with it. Until that happens, the team will continue to underperform no matter who's on the field.
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The Raiders were never expected to compete for a championship in 2014, but they were certainly expected to show major improvement over last season. It's still only the preseason, but this is supposed to be when teams exhibit their offseason improvements.
So far, that hasn't been evident for the Raiders.
Jobs are on the line in Oakland. There are still a few weeks until the regular season, but the Raiders need to start showing some major improvement immediately.