Oakland Raiders Translate Offseason Hype into Impressive Preseason Opener

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistAugust 15, 2015

Derek Carr
Derek CarrTony Avelar/Associated Press

The Oakland Raiders came into their first preseason game riding a lot of hype from the offseason, and that new attitude manifested on the field Friday night.

After two plays, the St. Louis Rams received the ball. You can imagine the collective eye rolls from spectators and NFL analysts. Same old Raiders, right? No.

After quarterback Nick Foles found tight end Lance Kendricks deep to the right for 26 yards and wide receiver Tavon Austin on a short pass to the left for 35 yards, everything faded to black for the Rams offense.

Crisp Starting Offense Struggles in Red Zone

Amari Cooper.
Amari Cooper.Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The Raiders stood their ground and forced the Rams offense to settle for a field goal on a solid opening drive led by Foles.

Quarterback Derek Carr returned the favor, finding wide receiver Amari Cooper in a flurry of plays to open the Raiders' first drive. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave made a point to involve Cooper early and often with short, easy passes and a reverse run. Cooper didn’t show signs of jitters and looked comfortable with Carr against the Rams' first-unit defense.

Running back Latavius Murray showed off his elusiveness when he picked up a flashy 17-yard gain early in the first drive.

Red-zone efficiency was the only problem for the starting unit. Oakland had to settle for a field goal after moving the ball consistently between the 20-yard lines. In the subsequent drive, Carr tossed an interception inside the 10-yard line in a miscommunication with Cooper—cornerback Trumaine Johnson forced a turnover in the end zone.

Front 7 Shows Strength, Pass Defense Untested

LB Josh Shirley sacks QB Austin Davis.
LB Josh Shirley sacks QB Austin Davis.Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Defensive end Khalil Mack didn’t record any sacks, but he collapsed the pocket twice. His tenacity allowed defensive end Shelby Harris to record a sack of his own. He’ll eventually turn those hurries into sacks, but in the meantime, his teammates benefited from his move to defensive end.

The Raiders run defense held the Rams to 86 rushing yards for the game. Running back Todd Gurley didn’t suit up, but Oakland handled the players in front of them. Defensive tackles Dan Williams and Justin Ellis, also known as Meat and Potatoes, did their part in clogging the middle to shrink the running lanes.

No. 75 Shelby Harris sacks No. 5 Nick Foles.
No. 75 Shelby Harris sacks No. 5 Nick Foles.Tony Avelar/Associated Press/Associated Press

Foles completed three out of five passes, which included the first two passes in the first drive before the Raiders pass rush made some breakthroughs.

Backup quarterback Case Keenum entered the game and attempted to dink and dunk his way down the field, but it didn’t yield any points. At every turn, the linebackers and defensive backs made solid tackles which kept passing gains to a bare minimum.

The Rams passing offense didn’t pose much of a threat to the Raiders secondary for a good look at Travis Carrie, D.J. Hayden or Keith McGill in extended coverage.

Raiders Flash High-Octane Offense

No. 14 Matt McGloin.
No. 14 Matt McGloin.Ben Margot/Associated Press/Associated Press

The game started to unravel late in the second quarter with a mixture of second- and third-string players on the field for both teams.

Backup quarterback Christian Ponder initiated the avalanche effect with a short touchdown pass to wide receiver Andre Holmes. Ponder had a decent day but also floated an interception to end the first half.

Quarterback Matt McGloin entered the game and operated out of the pocket like a boss. He went 10-11 for 104 yards and a touchdown. He took over under center and immediately helped march the offense up and down field with ease.

McGloin built a solid rapport with wide receivers Brice Butler and Seth Roberts, who recorded a combined 10 receptions for 99 yards and a touchdown.

No. 12 Brice Butler.
No. 12 Brice Butler.Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Butler scored the touchdown and led all receivers in receptions and receiving yards. He needed this performance to boost his stock after a lackluster start to training camp. Clearly, he’s dialed in and is looking to put together another solid preseason.

Some people where surprised by Roberts' placement on the first official depth chart, but he managed to put on a show indicative of what the coaches have witnessed on the practice field.

Quarterback Cody Fajardo entered the game in the fourth quarter to protect the Raiders' 18-3 lead. Fajardo threw two passes and consistently handed off to running back George Atkinson III, which hindered wide receivers Josh Harper and Austin Willis’ opportunities to showcase their skills.

The No. 3 wide receiver spot remains an open position with Rod Streater sidelined with an illness. Both Roberts and Butler have officially placed their bids to start in three-receiver sets for the remainder of the preseason.

Welcome to the Ben Heeney Show

Rookie linebacker Ben Heeney made the biggest impression on the defensive side of the ball. You had to see it to believe how well the rookie commanded the defense in communication and play-making ability. He finished the game with eight tackles and a sack.

Heeney met nearly every receiver or ball-carrier from sideline to sideline as the Rams methodically moved down the field. He made sure his teammates lined up in the right spots, made adjustments and executed his tackles with speed and solid technique.

Heeney’s impressive start allows defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. to experiment with creative defensive alignments, such as having two inside linebackers roaming the middle in 3-4 schemes.

Final Thoughts

No. 75 Shelby Harris.
No. 75 Shelby Harris.Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The Raiders haven’t established a consistent secondary pass-rusher behind Mack, but it’s good to see everyone get in on the action from different angles.

Aside from Heeney, there were small flashes in the pass rush from random players. Defensive end Benson Mayowa pressured Keenum a couple of times with the second unit. Linebacker Josh Shirley nearly folded Rams quarterback Austin Davis in half with a sack in the fourth quarter:

The pass rush forced the Rams quarterbacks to get rid of the ball early, which minimized the opportunities to challenge the defensive backs. When passes were completed, safety Larry Asante and cornerback Ras-I Dowling wrapped up tackles on the spot.

The Raiders run defense contributed to suffocating the Rams offense, preventing gains on early downs. As a whole, Oakland's defense played better than most expected with all the new players and rookies thrown together in the offseason.

Musgrave could become the next bright offensive mind to reach prominence in the NFL. Every unit looked sharper than the last Friday night.

Raiders' Quarterbacks Under Bill Musgrave
PlayerCompletions/Passes/YardsTouchdownsInterceptions
Derek Carr6/9/4301
Christian Ponder6/8/5911
Matt McGloin10/11/10410
NFL.com

Carr and Cooper generated some oohs and ahhs. Ponder stepped in and connected on the first touchdown pass of the game. McGloin broke the game open. He threw pinpoint passes to two wide receivers on the roster bubble and embarrassed the Rams in the third quarter.

The offensive line didn’t surrender any sacks but could improve with run blocking. Oakland's running back committee behind Murray failed to get much going on the ground. Richardson entered the game in the second quarter with an energizing six-yard run and Taiwan Jones flashed with an 11-yard gain, but both went mute after an initial jolt.

Nonetheless, the Raiders escaped without major injuries or talent lapses on either side of the ball. It’s the first preseason game, but even the sideline reporters commented on the energy from the players and coaching staff.

Preseason games shouldn’t cause an overreaction either way, but this impressive opener, along with the aura surrounding the organization, raises the question, “Are we witnessing the beginning of wholesale changes in the Raiders’ losing culture?”

What are your thoughts on the Raiders' first preseason game? Share your comments below. Follow Maurice Moton on Twitter for Raiders news and updates.

All statistics and play-by-play provided by NFL.com unless otherwise noted.

Oakland Raiders' official depth chart courtesy of Raiders.com.

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