Oakland Raiders: What to Look for When the Saints Come Marching into Oakland

Jim BarndollarContributor IIIAugust 28, 2011

Oakland Raiders: What to Look for When the Saints Come Marching into Oakland

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    Week three of the preseason will be a test for the Oakland Raiders as Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints come to town.  Brees heads one of the highest powered offenses in the NFL.  He is a prolific passer with the ability to make big plays downfield and put points on the scoreboard in bunches.

    It's no secret that the Raiders secondary is depleted.  Chris Johnson is still rehabbing from a small surgical procedure and the prognosis is good for his availability for week one.  

    Recently acquired Lito Sheppard will not be playing today.  He was signed Friday and still needs some time to get into game shape.  I was hoping that while he was looking for a job and heading to tryouts with NFL teams he would have been in the best condition possible.  

    The majority of the work will fall on the shoulders of Stanford Routt and Demarcus Van Dyke, if he's available.  Van Dyke missed multiple practices this week with an undisclosed injury.  

    So how much can we take from this matchup?  

    In this article I will cover some key things to keep your eyes on to see just how far we've come in the short preseason or if it's been one step forward and two steps back.

Run Defense MUST Show Signs of Improvement

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    It's not a good sign when stopping the running game is left to your cornerbacks and safeties.  

    Last week fans watched the San Francisco 49ers steamroll the Raiders defensive line and linebackers. They gashed the Raiders for 239 yards on the ground.  It was a dreadful performance by the starters and backups as they did nothing to slow the 49ers and made them look like a much better team than they actually are.

    The middle of the defensive line must be stout.  Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly must dominate their individual matchups.  John Henderson is once again battling foot issues that limited his time and effectiveness last year.  Desmond Bryant is also in the rotation but seems to be more effective rushing the passer than shedding blocks and tackling running backs.  

    After that the depth gets scary thin.  Jamie Cumbie, an undrafted free agent from Clemson, was rated well coming out of high school but was eventually dismissed from the Clemson football team after being arrested for assault.  That's it for tackles on the roster, although Lamarr Houston would be able to slide over if it were necessary.  

    The run defense is not just about the tackles though as the play of the defensive ends and linebackers must improve as well.  The ends have to show improved ability to get off blocks and get ball carriers on the ground. The linebackers must read run plays and attack the creases in the line instead of trying to break down and fill a gap, only to be blocked out of the play by an offensive lineman.

    Shaughnessy and Houston are talented young linemen and I believe they are fully capable of contributing to the success in stopping the run.  Kamerion Wimbley and Trevor Scott should see time on passing downs at defensive end.  

    After that, the depth at defensive end is thin.  Jarvis Moss is more of a pass rushing defensive end, or so I'm led to believe.  Watching the 49er game I didn't see him do anything that made me think he deserves a spot on the 53–man roster.  He was pushed around and taken out of almost every play.  

    Tommie Hill might stick around a while even though he only weighs in at 245lbs.

    The linebacker play for the Raiders must improve and that starts with Rolando McClain.  Hue Jackson has raved about him and his teammates all respect his ability and yet, for all the film studies and all of the physical tools, he has yet to show the game changing ability the Raiders hope for.

    We expect a second year leap from McClain after hearing how he has slimmed down to help his speed.  He should be able to play faster now that he knows what to expect in game environments.  Watching the 49ers roll over the Raiders last week I saw him taken out of too many plays after he would attempt to come up and "fill a gap" rather than attacking the crease, beating the blocker to the point of attack and hammering a running back in the hole.  Time will tell for McClain.

    Kamerion Wimbley's strength is rushing the passer but he doesn't look completely lost when dropping into coverage. His ability to come up in run support and make tackles could help this unit take a step forward in defending the run.

    Quentin Groves has been up and down this preseason and with Travis Goethel being lost for the season the job looks like it's his to lose.  Groves has not yet shown the ability to do anything above–average.  He has looked improved in coverage but that is not hard to do after last year.  

    Trevor Scott could possibly see some time back at linebacker if Groves struggles.  Other players who round out the linebacker depth are Darryl Blackstock, Sam Williams and Bruce Davis.

    Again, very thin on depth at the linebacker position and any additions at this point would be castoffs from other teams. 

How Will the Depleted Secondary Handle the Offensive Firepower of the Saints?

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    With Chris Johnson still recovering from an undisclosed surgery and Lito Sheppard not yet ready to play, the Raiders will face one of their biggest tests this young preseason.

    Demarcus Van Dyke missed multiple practices this week and will hopefully still be available to play tonight. If Van Dyke can take another step forward in this game it could go a long way to solidify the depth at the position when Chris Johnson returns and Lito Sheppard is available.  

    Stanford Routt will see a large workload with the secondary being so thin and many young players will have an opportunity to state their case for a spot on the Raiders roster.

    Sterling Moore could potentially bump a draft pick from the Raiders roster if he continues to show that the NFL game is nothing too big for him to handle.  He is fast and has good instincts for the ball.  Being an undrafted free agent makes it tough to make the Raiders as they usually favor keeping the men they drafted.  

    Walter McFadden could end up losing a job if Sterling Moore plays well.  McFadden looks lost at times in coverage and easily gives up completions.  Other times he will have good position but an inability to locate the football results in completions.  He is undersized for help in run support and can be exploited by physical receivers.

    I think Jeremy Ware has played better than expected and should he have a strong showing in the final two weeks of the preseason he could earn himself a spot on the 53-man roster.  

    Chimdi Chekwa has been rumored to possibly be shifting to safety.  I don't know if this is just due to injuries the Raiders have suffered to Hiram Eugene and Mike Mitchell or if they feel his skills are better suited to play there.  He has an ability to be around the ball and I would like to see him play some corner being that the Raiders are so thin at the position.

    Will we see Michael Huff play some corner tonight?  We might if it gets bad enough.  I think the Raiders would prefer not to but may be forced to make the decision if the task proves too difficult for the young corners.

    This would lead to an opportunity for Stevie Brown to show that he can play free safety.  He too has an ability to be around the ball and I would like to see if he can play well against one of the better passing teams in the NFL. 

    Can Tyvon Branch cover?  I have seen him do some nice things on blitzes, I have seen him make more tackles than I would care to see on running backs in the secondary.  Can he cover a tight end or running back coming out of the backfield?  That is the true test, he hasn't yet shown an ability to be consistent in coverage. 

    Mike Mitchell is still out with an injury and it doesn't appear he is going to be coming back soon.  He was seen on crutches at the Raiders practice facility.  The injury stunts the possibility for Mitchell to show he is more than just a red zone piece on defense.  

    I believe Josh Bullocks and Matt Giordano were brought in simply to help the Raiders get through practices and the preseason and I don't expect to see them on the final roster, barring another injury. 

Offensive Line: The Raiders Can't Be Serious About Starting Khalif Barnes

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    I was hoping to see some of the "moving pieces" get moved for the game against the Saints but all signs from practice point to Barnes starting at right tackle.

    It's a move that I still cannot believe to be the best option for the Raiders.  The only things I have seen from Barnes in this preseason are a lack of mobility and an inability to keep his man from making plays behind the line of scrimmage.  It has been downright pathetic to watch how many times he has missed his block.  What could the Raiders possibly be seeing on film?

    I find it hard to believe that giving Stephon Heyer or Joe Barksdale a chance to start against the Saints defensive starters would be a bad move.  Both of them have shown well in the preseason and deserve an opportunity to show what they can do.  In my opinion, they couldn't do worse and might help move some people off the ball, "bully style."

    Daniel Loper should not even be considered for the starting line.  He has been pushed into the backfield during this preseason and Stefen Wisniewski has shown he is more than capable of overtaking Loper for the starting left guard position.

    Will Bruce Campbell get an opportunity to show if he can overtake Cooper Carlisle?  Reports from camp have said that Carlisle has actually been playing pretty well.  I thought Carlisle was a zone blocking guard and I would like to see what Campbell has at some point.

    Satele has played well at center so far and I believe some of the quarterback exchange issues coupled with an inexperience of facing NFL defenses may keep Wisniewski from overtaking him for the starting position.  Besides, we could use Wiz' help at left guard.

    Veldheer has shown improvement in his pass protection from last year and while he will occasionally struggle with speed rushers he is by far the Raiders best option at the left tackle position.   

    Cohesion is a key to any successful offensive line and the Raiders need to get things figured out. These guys need to work together and know one another so they can trust each other and function as a unit.

    When it's all sorted out the Raiders should have decent depth on the offensive line.  Hopefully the right guys are on the field when week one comes around. 

What Will We See from the Wide Receivers and Tight Ends?

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    The wide receivers look to improve on solid performances thus far in the preseason.  How they perform tonight could be telling of what we can expect from them during the regular season.

    I expect Denarius Moore to have many balls thrown his way and solidify himself as the best playmaker we have at the wide receiver position.  He is fast, has good hands and is a fluid route runner who excels after the catch.  He has showcased his explosiveness and vision both on receptions and his punt return that was called back against Arizona.

    Darrius Heyward–Bey has been much improved this preseason.  Some of the credit for his progression has to go to the coaching staff for understanding his strengths and how to utilize him effectively.  It has been a welcome blessing to the receiver position to see him catching the ball.  This kid works really hard and while it may be hard to justify him as a first round pick he is looking to make a bigger contribution this year.

    The return of Jacoby Ford!  What a difference maker he proved to be last year.  The kickoffs being moved up will undoubtedly hurt the Raiders return game as Ford was always a threat to take it to the house.  However, this will allow him to focus solely on the receiver position where he proved more than reliable and flashed more ability to make the big play when the Raiders needed it the most.

    Is this Nick Millers' last chance to prove he belongs?  Millers' largest contribution was set to be at  punt returning until Denarius Moore proved more than capable of handling that assignment.  Miller has yet to show that he can make a contribution catching passes.

    Has Derek Hagan earned himself a roster spot yet?  If not, he should after tonight.  The veteran of the group runs solid routes, has reliable hands and has shown an ability to get open.  Enough said.  

    Will anyone else get their name in the wide receiver mix in tonight's game?  Will Chad Jackson get an opportunity?  Perhaps Shaun Bodiford?  Anyone else?  Although unlikely, Bodiford has flashed some potential in practice and may earn himself a shot with another team should he be released.

    At the tight end position we should get a good look at two of the Raiders draft picks.  David Ausberry is making the Raiders look very wise for taking him in the draft.  He is a converted wide receiver out of USC and has shown that his big play ability is not limited to practice as he caught a touchdown from Jason Campbell against the Arizona Cardinals.  

    Another rookie tight end worth a look is Richard Gordon.  Gordon was drafted out of Miami and is known for being a power blocking tight end.  At 6'4" and 265lbs, it's easy to see why he's effective as a blocker.  I would like to see how he runs routes and catches the football.  He is a blocker first but if he can show the ability to get open and catch passes it could spell the end of the line for Brandon Myers.

    Brandon Myers is rumored to be an Al Davis favorite.  If Al is watching the same games I am this might change rather quickly.  Myers has been dominated at the line of scrimmage.  He has been overwhelmed with regularity when trying to hold his position against defenders.  With his biggest contribution coming on special teams he could get squeezed out of a job.

Will the Offense Get on Track?

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    The passing game has looked better and there are many key elements for the offense to get on track tonight.  

    The offensive line must be able to protect Campbell.  The Raiders want to exploit mismatches to get the ball downfield to its speedy wide receivers, tight ends, fullback and running backs.  To have success in the passing game they must be able to protect Jason Campbell and give him a clean pocket to step up and deliver darts on time and in stride to his many weapons.  

    How will having Darren McFadden back help the offense?  Will McFadden see any more time in the preseason?  If he does play tonight it will go a long way to aiding our offense move the football.  He is fast and strong and finishes runs better than most running backs.  He can wear down a defense.

    Will tonight be the start of something special with Taiwan Jones?  There is no doubt that Jones is fast, really fast.  He is also a dynamic playmaker.  In college Jones averaged a touchdown every 12 times he touched the football and a gaudy 10.8 yards per touch. I don't care if you're playing college football at Eastern Washington in the FCS, if you can do that you've got something special.  He can catch the football as well and tonight I look for him to make some explosive plays just like Denarius Moore.

    Jason Campbell must be decisive with his throws.  Too many times he looks hesitant when throwing downfield, almost as if he's afraid to really throw the ball.  He can double clutch at times and take something off his throws to be safe rather than firing a strike to the receiver and letting him run after the catch.  This year, Campbell must lead this offense and involve the weaponry he is surrounded by. Tonight could be a big step in the right direction.

    The Raiders must start building confidence in many aspects of their team and tonight will be a large factor in determining the level of that confidence.  The Saints present many difficult challenges for the Raiders and they must answer the bell tonight if they wish to contend for an AFC west title.  

    Another game like they had against the 49ers could take the wind out of the sails of an organization that looked to turn a corner last year and build upon it this year.