These aren't the same old Oakland Raiders.
Although it's true the Raiders have made some drastic improvements over the offseason, there are still some areas that could cause this team to struggle in the regular season.
Not as many as there were in recent years, but more than most fans should be comfortable with.
The first preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys highlighted both the improvements and the weaknesses of the 2010 Raiders. The defensive line looks a lot better, the run defense appears to be solid, but I noticed some other things I'd like to bring to your attention.
My first concern is with the offensive line—especially the center and right guard positions.
Samson Satele and Chris Morris did not have good days at center. Satele looked completely out-matched by Cowboys' nose tackle Jay Ratliff. Granted, Ratliff makes a lot of centers look out-matched, but Satele was totally overwhelmed.
Ratliff got off the ball before Satele could even get into his stance. Once contact was made, Satele was pushed backward faster than Jason Campbell could get the ball to the running back. It was a horrible display of blocking by Satele.
Morris came in and didn't fare much better. The Cowboys' second-string nose tackle, Junior Saivii, was made to look like a Pro Bowl-caliber player when faced with the sub-par skills of Morris. Morris must play better if he wants to remain on the team.
Jared Veldheer was the lone bright spot at the center position. The rookie from tiny Hillsdale College played better than expected at center. He controlled Saivii and Cowboys' third-string nose tackle Josh Brent.
It seems to this writer that head coach Tom Cable should allow Veldheer get some time with the first team. This will do two things.
1. It will make Satele and Morris realize that there is someone ready to step in if they fail to perform. They may just pick their game up and play better.
2. It will give the coaches, the team, and the fans a look at the future of the offensive line. If Veldheer can hold his own against the Chicago Bears first-team players Tommie Harris and Anthony Adams, maybe he should be the starter moving forward.
Ultimately, Veldheer was drafted as an offensive tackle, so it will take some work for him to fully learn the position and all the calls that go along with playing center, but if he turns out to be the best performer at center, he should get his shot to start.
Cooper Carlisle did not play particularly well either. He was manhandled by the Cowboys' defensive line and gave up a lot of pressure on the quarterback. This is nothing new. Carlisle didn't show much last season either.
Rookie workout freak Bruce Campbell came in and played pretty well, especially on run plays in which he was required to pull and lead the sweeps and outside runs. His weakness is in pass protection. He didn't play as poorly as Carlisle, but he wasn't spectacular either.
I feel it would benefit both the team, and Campbell personally, if he were given more time with the first-team offense. Let him show what he can do against the first team defense of the Bears. If he excels, then the problems are solved. If he fails, the Raiders are no worse off than they were before.
The bottom line is the offensive guard and center positions must improve. If the young men we drafted can perform, they should play.
The second concern I have for this team is the outside linebackers' ability to cover tight ends and running backs in the passing game.
Tony Romo managed to find Jason Witten and an unknown recent signee, tight end DaiLeon Farr, wide open for 18-yard gains against the Raiders' starting linebackers. The Cowboys' running backs also had good receiving days against the Raiders' linebackers.
The Dallas back field and tight ends combined for 10 receptions for 65 yards. That, in most minds, is too much. A team cannot expect to win games when they are unable to cover the short and intermediate pass routes of opposing tight ends and running backs.
I have been skeptical of the Raiders' linebackers' cover skills since the day they traded Kirk Morrison. Not that I think Morrison should have been retained, but that I felt that he had been, and could continue to be, a very solid outside, coverage linebacker.
The loss of Morrison, the acquisition of Kamerion Wimbley, and moving defensive end Trevor Scott to linebacker, have caused me to worry about the Raiders' ability to play coverage from a base defensive formation.
My concerns played out last Thursday in Dallas.
If the Raiders can't find a linebacker with proven cover skills, it could lead to a lot of sustained drives by their opponents. Can Travis Goethel, Ricky Brown, David Nixon, or Slade Norris step up and be that "cover guy" from the linebacker spot? Or will Thomas Howard see more time in the base defense than he did in the preseason game against the Cowboys?
All I can say is the Raiders are improved all over the field from a talent perspective, but I still have some serious concerns.
The offensive line has some great young talent that may be capable of contributing right away, but we won't know for sure unless they get a chance with the first team.
The linebacker crew is certainly going to be much tougher against the run, but they need to figure out how to cover the short and intermediate pass routes run by the opponents' tight ends and running backs.
This team will most definitely be better than they have been over the last several years, but how much better may depend upon how well the concerns I've addressed are remedied.
If the coaching staff can find solutions to these problems, the sky is the limit for this team. If not, the Raiders will still be better, but not as good as they could be, in my estimation.
So what do you think? Are my concerns legitimate? Am I just being paranoid? Which of these issues are most in need of improvement? Are there other concerns I failed to point out?
Let me hear you Raider Nation!
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