The Oakland Raiders were victorious in their first preseason game against the Detroit Lions. The first team offense was only in for a series while the first team defense stayed in a bit longer. Even with the majority of the starters getting little to no playing time, there were significant takeaways from this victory.
Five Takeaways: Raiders vs Lions
Jon Gruden has been heavily scrutinized in his return to coaching and many thought the game had passed him by long ago. It certainly fueled the jokes when he told the media he “wanted to throw the game back to 1998”. However, he doesn’t appear to be behind the times, and his offense looked far more complex than anything Raiders fans saw last season. Gruden looked to be in total control and at times during the game, the Raiders moved the ball with ease. The bigger takeaway from the night, however, is how important the addition of Paul Guenther is to the coaching staff. The defense looked solid last night with some surprising depth. Shilique Calhoun, who many had written off as a busted third-round pick, played lights out. He understood his assignments and was able to get pressure on the quarterback multiple times. He recorded a sack and a tackle for loss. This goes to show that Guenther is coaching these guys up, and not just the starters.
Penalties Still An Issue
Year after year the Raiders are among the most penalized teams in the league. With nine penalties last night, Raider Nation has cause for concern. Gruden will get this straightened out by Week 1, but until the Raiders consistently stay disciplined, the concern is still present. The NFL’s new ‘lowering the helmet’ rule claimed its first Raiders victim last night. Karl Joseph was flagged on a hit to Ameer Abdullah. This could become an issue all year and not just with the Raiders. If the Raiders can cut down on penalties, especially drive-killing infractions, this team can run smoothly on both sides of the ball under Gruden.
Rejuvenating the Running Game
The Raiders, with Todd Downing calling the plays, didn’t run the ball effectively for most of the season in 2017. This is sure to change and fans saw glimpses of that last night. Marshawn Lynch broke off a 60 yard run on the third play of the game, only to have it brought back on a holding call. Even though the rush didn’t count, you could tell Lynch still has some legs left. The use of Keith Smith and Ryan Yurachek at fullback was effective in opening up holes for the running backs all night. Chris Warren III continues to impress as he tallied 13 rushes for 86 yards last night. He should be well on his way to making the 53 man roster.
Interior Pass Rush Is a Game Changer
This has been lacking with the Raiders for years and it appears that Reggie McKenzie has found a solution. When Reggie selected PJ Hall, from little known Sam Houston State in the second round this year, the pick was highly criticized. After last night, this looks like a smart pick as Hall was all over the backfield. He created pressure up the middle and demanded double teams which open up pass rushing lanes for others. Hall recorded a sack and batted down a pass in limited time. Maurice Hurst, who could have gone in the first round if not for medical issues, created havoc on the defensive line alongside Hall. Hurst struggles with double teams and that doesn’t appear to be fixed just yet. Guenther will coach them up, but early indications suggest Hall and Hurst could become a scary duo inside.
Connor Cook Looked Confident
Cook has been highly inconsistent throughout his tenure with the Raiders. The player fans saw last night was a completely different version of Cook. He was 11 for 19 for 141 yards and looked solid all night. He threw a touchdown pass to Ryan Switzer on a beautiful scramble drill on 3rd and goal from the seven. There weren’t many errant throws or bad decisions by Cook all night. Again, this proves how much coaching can do for this team and the Raiders may finally have themselves a good backup QB.
Look for the Raiders to improve as the preseason moves along as there was still a lot left on the field last night. This team looks nothing like the Raiders of the past decade, and that is a refreshing feeling…