The stage was set, the air was crisp, and the feel of football was in the air. It was time for the Raiders to roll out their new and improved squad on the green grass of Jerry Jones' baby, and Raider Nation was breathless with anticipation.
Questions abounded: Will this look like an NFL offense? Can the team win the game in the trenches, and thus, stop the run against a versatile attack? What's Rolando McClain going to do? Lamarr Houston? DHB? Can this team have the look of one that is finally headed in the right direction? Will the pain and suffering finally end?
Well, none of those questions can have answers that are fully quantified after the first preseason game in which teams are traditionally sloppy and shaking off the rust of a long off-season. We did, however, get a glimpse of a few things.
This Looks Like An NFL Offense
Jason Campbell didn't set the world on fire, checked the ball down a couple of times when he had time in the pocket, and just missed on a couple of deep throws. But after years of futility behind center, the Nation can be encouraged by what we saw. The route trees were more complicated, Campbell saw more than half the field and the playbook was wide open.
Campbell looked rusty and even a little nervous at first, which he later admitted he was, but he also looked calm and poised on the third drive of the game, and began to find a rhythm with his offense.
His uncanny knack for the play-action fake and ability to freeze the defense will assist the running game and the vertical passing game. He also took a few shots down field and showed good touch even if those passes fell incomplete. Louis Murphy fought for the ball the first time, and caught it the second, but just slightly out of bounds. DHB did nothing of significance, but they did try to get him the ball first thing.
The Cowboys seemed to be itching to get to Campbell, but the O-Line actually kept him fairly clean with one exception. Once the rust is off and the rapport is built, I expect big things here.
Michael Bush ran the ball hard and tough, but in my opinion we did not run the ball enough. Our offensive line was actually getting decent push against the first unit, but we only ran the ball four or five times with Bush, and I thought we should've used him more.
The Raiders Have Improved in the Trenches
I'm trying not to read too much into the first preseason game, but early returns on the trenches are good. The offensive line, while not blowing the Cowboys back and creating huge running lanes, kept Campbell and then Boller relatively clean, giving up only one sack as big Junior Siavi overpowered Samson Satele. That's a going concern for the season, as Satele has shown he has difficulty with big nasties up front.
On the other hand, the Raiders defensive line lived in the Cowboys backfield for the majority of the game. When it was first unit against first unit, the Raiders sacked Romo three times and forced a fumble; Matt Shaughnessy, the often overlooked and underrated Raider rush monster, also beat the first team offensive line and sacked backup QB Jon Kitna just outside the end zone, almost grabbing a safety. Rookie draft choice Lamarr Houston got two of the sacks, and he also made a couple of nice plays on the edge, stopping runs for minimal or no gain.
Shaugnessy dominated the edge, picking up two sacks himself and dogging the Dallas QBs consistently. Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly plugged up the middle, and in all, the run defense DID look much improved. There was much better gap discipline, pursuit of the ball, and getting off blockers to make a play. It was extremely encouraging. In fact, I would go so far to say that the Raiders won the battle on both sides of the ball all night.
Nnamdi Being Nnamdi
The Awesome One has been floating around the field in recent practices, and he showed why last night. The Cowboys decided to throw on Asomugha only once; and he ran Roy Williams' route better than Roy did, and would've had a pick-six if not for a borderline offensive pass interference mugging by Roy to prevent the touchdown. All in a day's work.
Then, he was interviewed during the game, and sung the praises of Hue Jackson, Campbell, the young defensive backs like McFadden and Ware, and talked up Matt Shaughnessy, all while being his usual respectful, poised, and intelligent self. He told Raider Nation to get excited, because he was, and you truly believed him.
The guy is smooth as butter, and when his brilliant playing career is over, the networks would be wise to fight each other for his wonderful analytical skills and impressive vocabulary.
Our Third Running Back Is Good
Regardless of who it may be. Rock Cartwright runs hard, and has good hands for a physical guy. He's also a good kickoff returner, although you'd never know last night with David "Ferris" Beuehler hammering touchback after touchback into the Jerry Jones sky. His special teams ability may separate him from Michael Bennett when it comes down to cutdowns.
But Bennett isn't going to go without a fight, and man that guy still has some legs. On that screen pass in the fourth quarter, in which Bennett gained 33 yards, he looked like he was shot out of a cannon. He's still got some speed, and picked up some tough yards between the tackles as well.
It's a good problem to have, deciding between these two.
The Rookies Are Alright
I've already mentioned Houston, and big Rolando McClain, though not stand out, was solid in his debut, making a few nice tackles on short passes and showing well in coverage. He is an excellent tackler, and never seems to be out of position.
Walter McFadden had a scary moment in which a pile of Cowboys rolled over his right arm after a muffed punt by Shaun "Bye Bye" Bodiford. But he was okay, and played well in coverage when he was in there.
Jeremy Ware didn't do much; but didn't make any mistakes, either.
Stevie Brown grabbed a nice pick to end the game, and almost had another. The guy has been making plays all camp and has a knack for being around the ball.
Jared Veldheer played quite well in his time at LT, protecting Boller and opening some excellent holes on the left side with seal blocks to allow Bennett to bounce it around the edge. I was also VERY impressed with the fact that on that screen pass to Bennett, Veldheer, who was now playing center and doing it well, was the only lineman quick enough to even get out to block. Granted, Bennett blew right by him, but on the video, when you see Bennett accelerate and then a big number 68 come into your screen, you've gotta love that effort and intensity.
Speaking of effort and intensity, Bruce Campbell was impressive as well. He's a huge, strong dude, and he used that to his advantage to push back his opponents. Not content to block just the man in front of him, he consistently got to the second level, looking for someone to hit.
Would've liked to see Jacoby Ford, but next time.
Kellen Heard didn't do much and at this point may not make the final roster.
- Welcome back, JLH. You didn't score last night, but looked confident fielding passes and punts and showed some of that explosion we missed, along with good hands. Good on you
- As I mentioned above, bye bye Shaun Bodiford. His muffed punt, coupled with his poor hands early in camp, and Figurs solid performance last night tells me his days are numbered
- I'm comfortable with our backup quarterback situation, and Grads didn't even play last night. Boller, after early rust, looked pretty solid
- Well done, Jon Condo. Not only are you a Pro-Bowl long snapper, but you're a pretty awesome coverage man too; and you do it with toughness and style.
- Our WR corps has a plethora of quick guys that need to be sorted out. Figurs played well last night, muddying the waters amongst him, JLH, Jacoby Ford and Nick Miller
- Speaking of Nick Miller, how many fellow fans HONESTLY thought that call was going to go our way? I love this kid....I can see why they wasted a roster spot on him last season. Something about him just says to me he's going to be a player in this league, and I hope we keep him around again. I don't know what it is, but he's got that vibe
- Not much from Kamerion Wimbley, but Quentin Groves made a couple of solid run stuffs and played decently in coverage. He got hurt but stayed in the game, which is impressive toughness in the preseason
- Tommy Kelly gets dumped on a lot, but he was solid in the middle of the defense last night with three solo tackles in very limited action. I think he steps up this year
- For a preseason game, I was impressed with the discipline of the Raiders. They didn't take very many penalties, and really the only time it was a concern was when Boller first came into the game and the unit was out of sync
It was the first preseason game, so you can't read too much into anything positively or negatively, but the Raiders off-season goals were to improve against the run, to improve discipline, and to improve the offense. Judging by last night's performance, we're well on our way
Hope you enjoyed the game as much as I did, Nation. Let me know your thoughts, and hey, a win is a win, am I right?