Oakland Raiders vs. Seattle Seahawks: Preseason Week 4 Game Preview
After missing last week's game, Derek Carr suddenly finds himself in a great position. He's healthy, he's played well, and now that Matt Schaub is dealing with an elbow injury, he has an opportunity to make a strong case for the starting job.
Head coach Dennis Allen insists there's no quarterback controversy in Oakland. The San Francisco Chronicle's Vic Tafur tweeted Allen is "not concerned" about the injury. That may be true, but Schaub doesn't seem as confident (via the Contra Costa Times' Jerry McDonald):
It's just something that's kind of come up. It's lingered a little bit. But it's come up and we're dealing with it. It's something we want to take care of and get out of the way now before we start the regular season.
Allen has staunchly opposed a change, but a strong performance by Carr combined with a slow recovery by Schaub could force his hand.
While the biggest position battle on Thursday will take place under center, there are several other position battles to be decided. The Raiders remain unsettled at wide receiver and cornerback, and players at both positions will be fighting for playing time and roster spots.
It might be the fourth game of the preseason, but the Raiders still have plenty to play for.
Oakland Raiders Week 3 Recap
After two preseason games, the Oakland Raiders had yet to show they could meet the high expectations that developed after all of the roster additions made this past offseason. The team showed some positive signs in a 31-21 loss to the Green Bay Packers, but not enough to convince that significant improvement should be expected.
Fourteen of Oakland's points came late in the game. It wasn't really that close.
The most disconcerting performance came from Matt Schaub, who once again failed to make a positive impression. He finished the game 13-for-27 for 110 yards and a passer rating of 59.2. After three games, he's yet to throw a touchdown pass, and he's shown no substantial improvement in his play this preseason.
Despite Schaub's continuing struggles, the starting offense did find a bright spot in the running game. The combination of Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden once again teased with its potential. They combined for only six carries, but Jones-Drew's 40-yard touchdown run exhibited a flash of the game-breaking ability they both possess.
The first-team defense also continued to struggle. Even though Aaron Rodgers went only 9-for-20 and was out of the game before halftime, he still threw for 139 yards and two touchdowns. Oakland's defense was also weak against the run, allowing Eddie Lacy and DuJuan Harris a combined 92 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries.
While the starting defense underperformed overall, Khalil Mack exhibited the first real signs of his potential. He finished the game with five total tackles, including two for a loss, and an interception in playing only the first two quarters. This is what Oakland will need from him this season: to be a disruptive force.
The starting units struggle, but the reserves continued to show some positive signs. Matt McGloin and Brice Butler were once again the most effective players on offense. McGloin finished 10-of-17 for 162 yards and two touchdown passes, both to Butler.
McGloin's already set as the third quarterback on the team, but Butler's playing for a job. After three games, he's not only done enough to earn a roster spot, he's made a strong case to earn playing time during the regular season.
News and Notes
Carrie and Thorpe Battle for Third Cornerback Spot
Although the Raiders' secondary has continued to struggle in pass coverage throughout the preseason, Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown will be the starters until at least Week 6 of the regular season. But the depth chart behind them remains an unsettled matter.
The top contenders for the third cornerback spot are T.J. Carrie and Neiko Thorpe, both of which have shown flashes of potential but have also been inconsistent. Thorpe has an edge in NFL experience, but Carrie has performed well enough to earn a serious look from the coaches.
Defensive coordinator Jason Tarver has been impressed with both (via NBC Bay Area):
There’ve been some players that step up like T.J. Carrie and Neiko, and that battle will still be going on this week… I’m excited to see these guys play, because they both did some good things last week and they’ve both done good things throughout camp.
Both will see extended playing time against Seattle, and their performances on Thursday will determine the winner of the competition.
Is Carr Playing For the Starting Job?
Head coach Dennis Allen has remained steadfast in his support of Schaub despite his poor play. He also claims to remain confident in Schaub's abilities as a starting quarterback. At this point, he's likely one of the last to believe that.
Not only has Schaub's play been unconvincing, NFL.com's Dan Hanzus reports he's now also dealing with a sore elbow.
Inside Bay Area's Jerry McDonald notes Schaub will sit out Thursday's game, and Derek Carr will see extended playing time against Seattle. Oakland insists this is only to get Carr more reps, but a standout performance from him will force Allen to make a critical decision regarding the starting quarterback position.
If the Carr-led offense performs significantly better than it has under Schaub so far, the Raiders will have to seriously consider making a switch at the position.
Can Butler Make a His Way Up the Depth Chart?
The Raiders' wide receiver depth chart is riddled with talent, but it has mostly exhibited inconsistency this preseason. Rod Streater and James Jones are locks to begin the season as the starters, and there's still hope Denarius Moore, Andre Holmes and Greg Little can tap into their immense potential and become consistent difference-makers.
But so far, the only reserve at the position to make a major impression has been Brice Butler. He's been on the field late in games, which means he's been up against reserves and players hoping to survive roster cuts, but he's still been Oakland's best receiver. Moore, Holmes and Little have struggled getting open and holding on to the ball. Butler has not.
While the players ahead of him have the ideal measurables for a wide receiver, Butler has proven he can provide something they haven't: results. If he has another game against Seattle like the ones he's had so far, he'll certainly be higher than sixth on the depth chart once the regular season begins.
While most of these players are listed as questionable, they won't see the field given it's the final game of the preseason. Starters are already unlikely to see the field in this game, and they surely won't now that they could risk further injury.
Brown and Roach both went down with concussions against the Packers. Brown returned to practice this week, and it doesn't appear like this should be an issue going forward. Roach's status remains unknown as he's yet to return to action.
After going down with a scary neck injury that led to him getting stretchered off the field with his head stabilized, Moore has already recovered. As severe as the injury originally looked, he looks like he'll be ready to go Week 1.
The absence of Roach and Moore will mean more playing time for Miles Burris. He's settled in as Moore's backup at weak-side linebacker, but he's also seen time at middle linebacker. Moore will remain the starter, but if Roach remains out, a strong performance by Burris could earn him serious consideration as Roach's replacement.
Kaluka Maiava was seen as primarily a special teams player at the start of camp, but he's played well this preseason. He'll also see major time, and he'll have the opportunity to make a case to replace Roach if he remains out.
After weeks of speculation, CSN Bay Area's Scott Bair reported Hayden was finally placed on the physically unable to perform list (PUP). Hayden is recovering from foot surgery, but the process has been slow, and he's not yet ready to play. He'll now have to wait until after week six to try and return to action.
Chekwa was once considered a candidate to replace Hayden, but he won't get the opportunity to do so on Thursday. Given the issues at cornerback, he'll still have a chance to work his way into the lineup, but he'll have to wait for his opportunity. His reps will go to Carrie and Thorpe, who'll battle it out for the third cornerback spot.
Per Silver and Black Pride's Levi Damien, Ellis finally returned after a two-week absence due to a concussion, and he was able to participate in a full week of practice. He should see a lot of time against Seattle, giving him a great opportunity to impress the coaching staff and work his way back into the defensive line rotation.
Ausberry remains out. The Raiders are thin at tight end, and they're hoping he'll be available for Week 1.
Schaub is out with an elbow issue, which means Carr, who is fully recovered from his concussion and rib injury, will see extended playing time. While Allen continues to deny there's any quarterback controversy, Carr can create just that with an impressive performance against Seattle.
X-Factors and Matchups to Watch
Brice Butler vs. Seattle Secondary
Statistically, Butler has been Oakland's most impressive receiver this preseason, but he's done it against lower-level competition. He'll see tougher coverage against Seattle than he has so far. However, he's run crisp routes and shown a great ability to go up and make a catch.
Reliable hands are something the Raiders haven't seen from Holmes, Little or Moore. Another equally impressive performance could see Butler jump past at least of few of these other receivers and earn significant playing time.
T.J. Carrie and Neiko Thorpe vs. Seattle Receivers
Both Carrie and Thorpe have played well enough to move up the depth chart behind only Brown and Rogers. The third cornerback spot is up for grabs, and their performance in this game will likely decide the competition.
Carrie is seen more as a slot corner, while Thorpe will play on the outside. This could give Carrie the advantage. What the coaches will be looking for is some sense of dependability. Neither player needs to make any spectacular plays. The job will go to the one who makes the fewest mistakes.
Justin Ellis vs. Seattle Offensive Line
After missing the last two preseason games, Ellis has one game to really make a positive impression. The starting tackles are set with Pat Sims and Antonio Smith, but the depth behind them is thin. The coaches will be willing to give playing time to anyone who shows they can have an impact. Ellis has the build of a prototypical tackle. If he plays well on Thursday, he'll likely secure himself playing time during the regular season.
Raiders' X-Factor of the Week: Derek Carr
Head coach Dennis Allen won't admit it, but Carr has a very real opportunity to earn the starting quarterback position on Thursday. The fact is the offense under Schaub has been inept, and the bar really hasn't been set that high. Carr has been more impressive overall despite being a rookie. If he can move the offense, create points and run the offense efficiently, the coaches will be forced to consider making the change.
The fourth game of the preseason is always interesting because starters rarely, if ever, see any playing time. What you see is position battles getting resolved and players trying to solidify their roster spot. For Oakland, a team with position battles all over the roster, this game is crucial.
The most exciting element will be the performance of Derek Carr. He has a legitimate shot at earning the starting spot, and he'll have plenty of time to do it. It'll be interesting to see how he's able to utilize Brice Butler, as they've been two of the Raiders' better performers this preseason.
Seattle is one of the deeper teams in the NFL, so it should still provide a real challenge for the offense. Carr has to show good poise and an ability to create plays. He may not earn the starting job, but he'll at least do enough to raise plenty of questions.
The Raiders defense won't have to face Russell Wilson, but Seattle is an efficient offense even without him, both through the air and on the ground. The Raiders should be able to show that while pass defense might still be a problem, they're not going to get beat on the ground.
Oakland's players have a lot more riding on this game, which will produce a better effort. The game will remain close early, and Matt McGloin will produce at least one more late score to seal a win.
Prediction: Oakland 20, Seattle 17