There are some writers and fans who scoff at the importance of pre season football games and for the most part, it is difficult to see the connection between pre season and regular season success, but not for Oakland and not tonight.
Raider fans enjoyed a modicum of success against a hapless 49er unit, coming away with a 18-6 victory, but in Tennessee the Raider will face a Titan team that is far better than the 9ers on both sides of the ball.
It is very likely the 1st quarter of this game could serve as an indication of whether Al Davis’ traditional unconventional approach can still work.
Al opted for Darren McFadden instead of "the best player in the draft" Glen Dorsey, the run stuffing DT from LSU (who was chosen with the next pick by rival KC) with the philosophy "The best defense is a good offense" the Raiders hope to force teams into abandoning the run at some point to play catch up as the clock winds down.
Good theory, but only if you can get into the end zone.
The Raiders have always used pre season games to evaluate talent rather than go for "W’s", and the fact Oakland’s offensive theory is predicated on entire games rather than one or one and a half quarters of 1st team football, but last week, the Titans racked up nearly 500yds of offense, 340 of it on the ground. Granted, it was against a cellar dwelling Rams team, but the Raiders aren’t known for stopping the run and running is obviously something Tennessee does very well behind a solid O line.
In fact, the Titans are opposite the Raiders as far as their lines are concerned. The Titans enjoy solid line play from the offensive and defensive side of the ball where Oakland struggles in both areas.
If Oakland can move the ball on the ground against Tennessee’s defense in the 1st quarter, their may be hope for the "scheme over talent" selection the Raiders have decided to make.
If not, it could be a long year.
Michael Bush looked good, but whether or not he’s for real could be indicated tonight. RB Justin Fargas looks the most ready to play according to Coach Kiffin so naturally, he’ll see the least field time.
That begs the question of whether McFadden will get a lot of reps. Theres a fine balance between getting him field time and risking injury in a meaningless game, but it seems like he has had a solid camp and may deserve some rest.
Jamarcus Russell on the other hand is slated to play at least a half, but whether he does could depend largely on the questionable Mario Henderson at left tackle.
Dinged up LT Harris could be "forced" onto the field to start and Kiffin has stated before "As long as Russell’s on the field, so is our 1st string protection." but tonight, that may not be the case.
Even though Kwame Harris can be a scarily incompetent blind side protector on occasion, he is still an upgrade over former 3rdround pick Henderson who has struggled all camp and looked bad in limited action against the 9ers.
Henderson was flagged twice in a row at one point.
He may be struggling with the game, but the quiet, reserved 2nd year man seems to have gained some power. He was bull rushed and beaten badly by a DE on one play last week, but managed to plant and stop the onslaught dead in its tracks.
He can also cut, in fact, Henderson has decent feet and is not a terrible technician, hes just green and might not have the killer mentality to fire out and dominate the LOS.
Tonight will be a big test for the former Florida Seminole and the strength of Oaklands line depth.
The Titans are experiencing some trouble along the O line as well, losing starting RT David Stewart to arthroscopic surgery and he could miss the rest of pre season. Stewart signed a 6 yr, $39 million dollar extension in June. He’ll be replace by back up Daniel Loper and it will be interesting to see if the Raiders move Derrick Burgess around like they’ve done in practice to try to create mis-matches.
If so, Henderson might not be the only Tackle in for a tough night.
Henderson will likely square off with DE Kyle Van Den Bosch, who took full advantage of Albert Haynesworth’s contract year. Haynesworth wreaked havoc last year and commanded double teams freeing "Bosch" to rush the passer.
Needless to say, for Oakland tonight could be all about the run.
Executing it successfully themselves while doing something they haven’t done well in the past 5 years, keeping their opponents from doing the same is paramount to the Raiders success against the Titans and every other opponent on the 2008 schedule.
*Look for CB Stanford Routt to show up tonight filling in for Aso or Hall.