The Raiders will take the field in Green Bay against the Packers, tonight. If the pre-season tells us anything about a team – and I think it does – the third game is the best barometer of where the team will start the season because it is the game when the starting unit plays the longest.
Tonight, expect Matt Schaub, Justin Tuck, and their respective starting units to be on the field for something close to 3 quarters of the game. Third string QB Matt McGloin will relieve Matt Schaub with backup Derek Carr out due to rib soreness.
Here is what I will be looking for in the Raiders 3rd preseason game:
-Can Matt Schaub and the first team offense get touchdowns?
TDs have not come easy to the first team offense in the first two preseason games. The first team offense did not score in the first game against the Vikings and struggled to get a touchdown in the second game versus the Lions, too.
In fact, the sole TD scored by the first team offense was as much due to the Lions as it was to anything the Raiders did – the drive in which Oakland was able to get into the end zone was extended due to the Lions having 12 men on the field during the Raiders’ field goal attempt.
With a fresh set of downs, the Raiders were able to capitalize on good field position and get into the end zone on that drive but they cannot expect that sort of good fortune in the regular season.
Instead, the Raiders coaching staff wants to see the offense get into a good rhythm, tonight. On Twitter, much has been made about Schaub not being able to throw the ball down field but I do not believe that this is the case. Schaub does not have the strongest arm on the team but he isn’t at the point where he has a noodle on his shoulder – he is able to go downfield when he needs to.
Instead, the Raiders will be relying on Schaub’s anticipation, timing and accuracy to field a yards-after-catch offense with Schaub under center. His lack of stretching the field is less physical, I believe, than by design. The offense designed by coach Olson to play into Schaub’s strengths has more slants and crossing routes that will allow Schaub to pick an open receiver and lead that receiver to good yards after the reception.
In addition to the way the offense has been built, Schaub has had some difficulty finding time and lanes to throw in, which brings us to the second area I will be watching.
-Can the offensive line interior sort out their gap coverage?
The two tackles, Donald Penn and Menelik Watson, have both looked decent on the edges. Penn, in particular, has surprised me with his movement and technique. Watson isn’t nearly has honed as Penn but he has the physical skills to play in the NFL and is learning more every week.
I’m more worried about how the interior of the line looks right now, for a few reasons. One, the interior needs to be more on the same page than the exterior. Typically, the offensive tackles are lining up against the end or an outside linebacker, depending on the front and alignment.
The interior has to be more ready to block against the stunts and twists of the defensive line or blitzes by one or more interior linebackers or a blitzing safety. The guards and safety need to be in constant communication to know which coverage they are going to be in and who is covering which player.
Several times versus the Lions, the pocket almost completely collapsed on Schaub from the center of the offensive line. When that happens, the quarterback has very few options to avoid being hit. Schaub made some nice throws to a hot receiver to get the ball out but still took some vicious hits in the process.
This must stop and soon. Schaub is not going to be able to absorb multiple hits in a game and the Raiders are not going to be able to keep up, offensively, with their opponents if the team cannot dominate in the trenches.
The good news is that I think the team has the talent to be able to do so. Preseason is the time for the team to work out their issues and start getting on the same page against a new opponent every week. The Raiders offensive line has some real talent on it and as long as they improve from here, this line can be dominant this season.
While I think the offensive line can be dominant, I’m less sold on the defensive line, although I think that Justin Tuck can still be a force. The first team defensive line has been very pedestrian so far, with little pressure to show for their work.
Part of that may be the vanilla defensive scheme. The veterans may also be saving their best work for the regular season, being fairly confident in their abilities. Still, with the pedigree of both Tuck and Woodley, I would expect a better showing from the defensive line than we have seen thus far.
Behind the front line, can number 5 overall selection Khalil Mack grow into the player the Raiders think he is? Mack struggled mightily against the Lions’ first and second offenses before doing well against the third string O, if stats can be believed.
The Raiders’ coaches argue loudly that the stats are deceiving – and perhaps they are. I am not a believer in stats as the end-all-be-all. But I do not believe that Mack is anywhere approaching an impact player at this point. While stats can be misleading, the lack of any stats from Mack versus the Lions’ first and second team offenses have to mean something.
-Can the secondary make some plays?
Staying on the defensive side of the ball, can the first team secondary actually, finally, make a play? The secondary has been pretty terrible in the first two games, getting consistently burned in both of their games so far.
Detroit was able to score on their second play of the game because starter Tarell Brown bit on a double move and left Golden Tate wide open for an easy TD reception. Brown has struggled a surprising amount in the first two games considering that he was supposed to be the better of the two former 49ers cornerbacks that jumped across the Bay.
The best play I can remember a cornerback making last week was a nicely played batted pass by Chance Casey and he isn’t likely to make the team this year. If the Raiders hope to make any sort of splash this year, the secondary will need to fix their communication issues, break out the Stickum, and make some plays!
The Raiders face off against the Packers tonight, in Green Bay, at 5pm Pacific. We will see, at that time, if the team has grown any from last week.