Oakland Raiders: What We've Learned Through Week 4 of Preseason
There’s a lot of buzz surrounding the Oakland Raiders leading up to the preseason finale, and it’s not all positive.
A slew of events transpired over the past week—from roster cuts to injuries, from meaningless name-calling to an unofficial declaration of a new star.
It sounds exciting, but wait until you hear the noteworthy storylines behind each bullet point.
Head coach Jack Del Rio stands above the chatter to prepare the team for the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday, as he should. However, his press conference with the local media on Tuesday ended with some cryptic words about a fan favorite, which led to more speculation.
The media is often accused of digging for stories, but there’s a lot of writing on the wall that we can all read.
We’ll sift through some interesting narratives unfolding in the background of the Raiders’ Week 4 matchup against the Seahawks.
Life After the Trent Richardson Experiment
Raider Nation, as well as those outside of the fanbase, kept track of Richardson’s progress, which amounted to very little in Oakland.
The former No. 3 overall pick didn’t show enough in his game to convince the coaches to keep him beyond three games. According to Pro Football Focus, he accumulated 42 yards on 15 attempts with a 2.8 yards-per-carry average in the preseason.
Richardson didn’t leave without taking some parting shots. Analyst Ryan Clark said on ESPN First Take, “Trent Richardson is the worst running back of all time.”
Clark’s comments came off as harsh considering he admitted lobbying for Richardson during his tenure with the Pittsburgh Steelers prior to the 2012 draft.
The Raiders must figure out who takes the primary backup role to starting running back Latavius Murray. The final preseason game against the Seahawks stages a huge showdown between Roy Helu and Michael Dyer as the prime candidates to fulfill the No. 2 spot at running back.
Raiders fans won’t concern themselves with Richardson as a free agent, but one has to wonder: What’s next for the Alabama star who’s no longer in the league?
Menelik Watson’s Early Shutdown
Right tackle Menelik Watson confirmed an injury that players hate to hear. The dreaded Achilles injury ends another player’s season before it starts.
Watson sent out a tweet following the Raiders’ Week 3 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, stating he ruptured his Achilles tendon. It’s never good to hear about a significant injury, but Watson started to show signs of promise in the preseason.
The third-year tackle played well under new offensive line coach Mike Tice after two frustrating, injury-plagued seasons that limited his progression.
In Week 3’s postgame press conference, Del Rio acknowledged Watson’s situation as a significant setback, but he also expects right tackle Austin Howard to step up in Watson's absence.
As a result of the injury, the continuity that Tice fostered with the offensive line takes a hit, and Howard—the player who was originally expected to take over at right tackle—must earn his $6.4 million cap hit this year.
The unfavorable memory of Howard playing at guard leaves some doubt, but his place on the outside suits his natural position on the offensive line. He started 32 games at right tackle for the New York Jets with mixed results, per Pro Football Focus, but should improve under Tice.
Khalil Mack: A Superstar in the Making?
It’s the preseason, but media outlets as well as the NFL analytic site, Pro Football Focus, took notice of defensive end Khalil Mack’s performances of late.
Pro Football Focus’ senior analyst Sam Monson declared Mack to be a star on the rise. He pinpointed Mack's stunning performance against the Arizona Cardinals last week and his added responsibility of providing a pass rush.
Monson’s findings shouldn’t surprise anyone who watched Raiders games last year. A simple position switch to unleash Mack against the quarterback will bring extra eyes across the nation as he racks up sack totals in the double digits.
Aaron Donald won Defensive Rookie of the Year honors over Mack because he tallied nine sacks as a rookie last year. Look for Mack to make a bold statement in the upcoming season in defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.’s system.
Every star needs a name that sticks. What’s in store for Mack? "Mack Attack?" "Mack Truck?" "The Immackulate One?" "Mack Smash?"
Whatever sticks, fans will hear “Mack with the sack” at least 10 times in 2015.
What’s Up with Sio Moore?
In a bizarre turn of events, linebacker Sio Moore has seemingly become an afterthought in the Del Rio regime.
According to ESPN.com's Bill Williamson, Moore came off the PUP list August 1, which indicated his ability to practice and play during the preseason.
Not so fast.
Moore has zero snaps on defense at linebacker and plays sparingly on special teams. His inactivity on defense gave Ray-Ray Armstrong the clear green light as the starting strong-side linebacker in all three preseason games.
Armstrong committed three penalties, missed two tackles and stands as a liability in pass coverage, surrendering six catches on eight targets. He’s ranked last among Raiders linebackers with a minus-5.2 grade based on PFF’s analytic scale.
Despite Armstrong’s struggles, Moore remains benched with a very minimal role on special teams.
After Tuesday’s practice, a local reporter asked Del Rio if Moore would play against the Seahawks, and the coach remained non-committal to the idea.
You can hear Del Rio’s response at the very end of the press conference. He shrugged his shoulders and cautiously said, “It’s possible we’ll get him in.”
Del Rio stands firm on his stance about not giving out starting positions on prior merit. Clearly, something he sees in Moore doesn’t sit well with him.
It’s not clear whether it’s injury or something deeper that keeps Moore off the field.
Norton mentioned Benson Mayowa’s involvement at strong-side linebacker and the "Leo" position in recent practices, according to CSNBayArea.com reporter Scott Bair.
Speaking of Bair, Moore called the reporter a “real loser” for simply tweeting about his reappearance on Twitter. Moore had deactivated his Twitter account July 16 after posting this tweet: “It’s been real with yall” with a peace sign emoji.
He returned to Twitter September 1 amid all the controversy surrounding his status with the Raiders garnering unfavorable publicity. Moore’s tweet seemed a bit immature, but who knows what history the player and reporter have behind the scenes. However, the name-calling seemed unprovoked at that particular moment.
The two-year starter seems a bit frustrated with his current standing on the team. Further absence from the base defense against the Seahawks should raise some eyebrows. Mayowa’s positioning at strong-side linebacker gives this plot another layer with Armstrong struggling on the field.
Where does Moore fit into the picture?
Special Teams Issues
The Raiders surrendered 78 yards in kick and punt returns to the Minnesota Vikings and 84 return yards to the Cardinals in the last two games.
Based on Oakland’s struggles in the forgotten phase of the game, Alexander could stick on the final 53-man roster.
Return specialist Trindon Holliday didn’t make the first wave of cuts, which poses the question about his replacement.
Taiwan Jones served as the primary kick returner in 2013. He’ll possibly reassume that role in the upcoming season.
Devon Wylie should get an opportunity to seal a position as the punt returner against the Seahawks. If not, it’s plausible the Raiders make a late waiver-wire pickup before Week 1 for their special teams unit.
All statistics are provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com and Pro Football Focus unless otherwise noted. Raiders roster cuts and transactions provided by Raiders.com. Preseason game statistics provided by NFL.com.
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