Call me captain understatement. This was an interesting preseason for the Oakland Raiders. A preseason where they said “I see your questions and I’ll raise you more questions.”
Let’s go over the questions that loomed going into camp. Would John Marshal’s coaching improve the defense and more specifically the run defense? Would Jamarcus Russell build on his strong finish to last season? Would the off-season offensive line acquisitions help the pass protection while leading a solid running game to greatness?
These are the kind of daunting questions that will face a team coming off an epically bad six-year run. I am not going to sit here and say we have definitive answers after this preseason, but we have been given a glimpse into the nature of the answers.
Anyone hoping for coaching to help turn around the Raiders defense must be getting stomach pains from all the kool-aid at this point. Jesus Christ Jr. couldn’t turn this defense around.
This does not mean fans should not expect Marshal to improve on last year’s unit, but I do not see a significant turnaround in the realm of possibilities. Preseason indications are not pointing to any improvements.
It appears as if the biggest question for opposing teams, while preparing for the Raiders, will come when deciding in which way they want to attack them. It would be foolish to hope that the Raiders will be able to stop the run and hoping for them to slow it may be a seldom granted wish.
When the collective prayers of fans are answered, and they do manage to force teams into passing situations, the Raiders appear unable to guard the entire field. Quarterbacks that are able to move through their progressions are going to pick this defense apart.
They will have time to do this because either:
a) They are sending an ineffective blitz or
b) They are not generating an effective pass rush from the down four.
The hope here is that the Raiders young and speedy safeties find weekly improvements in their coverage skills and somehow, someway they manage to get some effective pressure on the opposing QB’s.
So, we have learned that defense is unlikely to be the strength of this team, but we have also learned that the offense has the potential to be the strength for more reasons than default.
After a dubious start to training camp, Jamarcus finished strong. He came into camp overweight and skipped out on some voluntary workouts. Since then he has appeared to have worked himself into shape and even gone so far as to put in extra running after practice.
His accuracy has improved as the preseason progressed. His decision-making has been solid as are his stats.
Maybe most impressively he did this without the benefit of the services of Chaz Schillens for all but the first preseason game, while being surrounded by youth at every skill position.
Not to mention he is being protected by dramatically underachieving offensive line. Kahlif Barnes was injured before playing a game, while new center Samson Satele has been nothing but a disappointment.
Cable has mentioned his disappointment in Satale and has stated he does not know who the starting center is going to be. There really is not a viable option to Satele at this point- a point that was made evident when Cable decided to play Satele the entire fourth preseason game.
It has been next to impossible to judge the effectiveness of the line in the running game- the running game was seldom used in the preseason.
As he planned, Cable pushed aside the running game in favor of using the preseason to build the passing game. If, and this is a big if, the Raiders can get the running game cranked up and effective once the season starts, this has the potential to be a diverse and effective offense.
Schillens looks to have built on his strong finish from last year and baring any unforeseen setbacks from his injury he is poised to have a breakout year. Early returns on the rookie receivers give solid depth and options at the receiver position.
Heyward-Bey had an unspectacular preseason but he was certainly effective in occupying defenders while he running deep routes. Fellow rookie receiver Louis Murphy showed he has what it takes to be a successful receiver in this league for a long time, while simultaneously showing he is still a rookie and will still experience some growing pains.
If Satele figures out how to be effective in this offense, while Barnes makes a return with a willingness to play right tackle (so he can replace the hopeless Cornell Green) some of these weapons may actually get the chance to be displayed.
All in all, I do not find myself being any closer to answers in any of these questions than I did before training camp opened- except in the sad and definitive conclusion that this defense is a liability.
My prediction: 6-10