If it seems like I just put out the first Ballers & Busters of the season, it's because the team just played five days before the second game. The team was looking for some improvement from the first game to the last but with such a short turnaround, not a lot could be done.
This week the Raiders would meet up with the Arizona Cardinals on their turf at University of Phoenix Stadium. But unlike Sun Devil Stadium where the Cardinals shared a facility with Arizona State University, University of Phoenix doesn't actually have a football team. Or any sports. They do, however, make a lot of money as a for-profit university and therefore can use that money to get naming rights to a stadium where they can't play all those sports they don't have.
No, this is where the Cardinals play and the Raiders had their annual preseason matchup with them at their shiny new indoor stadium. They meet each year because of their proximity. Them and Seattle are the closest non-division teams so it makes sense to play each other in the preseason.
In this game, most of the starters played the entire first half before giving way to the second team. We only got a sample of their work in the first game and had to judge many of them in microcosm. Not so this week with a whole half to get a few possessions.
So let's see how this team's starters did with their two quarters of work in this week's B&B.
Entire defensive line
I will have to look in the archives but it may just be unprecedented that an entire unit makes the Baller list two weeks in a row. But it is undeniable just how dominant these guys have played in their three quarters of work this preseason.
The Cardinals started off the day with a touchdown on their first drive. But that was through no fault of the defensive line. Lamarr Houston was back at it early with a tackle for loss on a run and a QB pressure. Unfortunately the coverage team and the linebackers let the Raiders down. The defensive line would stiffen even more after that.
The Cardinals' next possession also ended in three plays with same result. Kelly got pressure on second down to force an incompletion from Kolb. Then on the next play Matt Shaughnessy and Lamarr Housto led a pack of Raiders to sack Kolb. Unfortunately on the Raiders next series, Carson Palmer through an interception and the Cardinals would set up in first and goal at the five yard line. But the defensive line wouldn't let them get any closer. Kelly had a run stuff, Houston had a sack, and Dave Tollefson finished it off by hitting Kolb and pressuring him into an incompletion.
The Cardinals would get the ball back again on a turnover. This time they tried the ground one time and Tollefson sealed the edge to allow Rolando McClain to stuff it for no gain. They would score but they did it through the air with quick, short throws so as not to give the defensive line time to sack Kolb again.
Despite the 24-11 halftime score, the Raiders defense held the Cards to just 53 total yards of offense-- 29 yards on the ground and 24 yards through the air-with three sacks and a safety. That's domination.
I know, "First team?" That's right. I had mentioned last week after Streater's six catches for 66 yards that Palmer may want to steal him from Matt Leinart and that is exactly what happened. Palmer had similar success throwing to this gem undrafted free agent rookie. He had seven catches in this game. And although he had just 43 yards, he was by far the most dependable receiver on the field.
He just missed pulling in a tough touchdown catch on the Raiders second drive. The next play, Palmer went for him again and the Cardinals were called for pass interference, giving the Raiders the ball at the one yard line. A couple possessions later, Palmer dropped back and overthrew Richard Gordon and had it intercepted. The Cardinals returned the ball and thought they had it in the bag, but Streater came out of nowhere to tackle him from behind and deny them the touchdown. The Raiders defense held which means that was a four point tackle by Streater. In case you're keeping track, I haven't mentioned a single catch from him yet.
That first catch came a couple possessions later and it went for six yards. The final possession of the first half is where he went off. The Raiders had a long sustained drive that last 8:11 and featured six catches for 37 yards from Streater. Four of those catches went for first downs. He would have had a seventh for a touchdown if it weren't for a nicely defended pass from the Cardinals. His day was done after that and Matt Leinart would have to find himself another go-to receiver.
Brisiel had two pretty big plays in this game. The longest run by any player in this game came from Darren McFadden in the first quarter and it went for 22 yards. Brisiel laid a key block to make that run happen. His biggest contribution came after one of the two Mike Goodson fumbles. A Cardinal defender had picked up the loose ball and attempted to return it and Brisiel caught him and punched the ball out to give the Raiders the ball back... with a first down. The turnover would have given the Cardinals the ball already in scoring position. Instead, the Raiders were able to get a long drive out of it and score themselves before halftime.
After missing two field goals in the first preseason game thanks to bad holds, Janikowski was three for three in this game. He hit from 18, 21, and 41. He had a few booming kickoffs too, pinning them at their own 13 yard line once and kicking a touchback one other time.
I caught a lot of flak for having Palmer as a Buster last week. He overthrew a ball into double coverage for an interception on his first drive. With just two series for Palmer, throwing an interception on one of them is not a good percentage. But for anyone wondering if that was an anomaly or not his fault, he did the same thing in this game. This time he waited for the Raiders first offensive play of the second quarter and floated one over the head of Richard Gordon for an interception. He and the Raiders were lucky it wasn't returned for a touchdown. As it stood, it gave the Cardinals the ball at the five yard line and resulted in a field goal. But that wasn't his lone mistake.
His first pass of the day was nearly an interception. Then on the next play he threw short and incomplete for Darrius Heyward-Bey. A one yard run from McFadden and the Raiders would go three and out. He would play quite well for a drive which would end in the Raiders first point of the preseason on a field goal. But on the next drive, he overthrew a wide open McFadden who would have scored had the ball been even slightly closer to on-target. But they settled for another field goal instead.
The next possession was when he threw his interception on the only play. He would finish out the first half with a nice drive but his miscues prior to that resulted in a ten point swing for the Cardinals and they were up by 13 points at halftime.
He has been a revelation in camp and the first preseason game reflected that. But he was back to some of his old habits this week. He made a couple nice plays but the big bad plays outweigh them pretty heavily. On the Cardinals' first drive, they had a first and goal at the five yard line and McClain stuffed the first attempt for a two yard gain. But then on the next play, he came through the line and when he saw the running back had gone through a hole that wasn't his responsibility, he just stopped and watched him go right in for a touchdown. If I were his teammate, I'd have been like "Really? Seriously?..."
A bit later, in the second quarter, he stayed in his gap and Dave Tollefson cut off the edge where McClain was there to stuff him for no gain. Good. But on the next play, he let the fullback squirt out into the flat for a wide open catch for a touchdown. Bad. Very, very bad. That was the last play for the first team defense in this game.
Burris got off to a rough start. On the first drive, he couldn't get off his block and gave up a 15 yard run to set the Cardinals up at first and goal at the five. And remember that gap I mentioned that wasn't McClain's responsibility? That was Burris' gap and he was plowed over for the touchdown. As a rookie who is filling in for the injured Aaron Curry, Burris came back out for the second half. He was on the field for one more drive and it was enough for him to miss a tackle and make a tackle. That tackle was his only tackle of the game. It is never a good thing when a linebacker plays more than two quarters has one total tackle.
Speaking of having one stat in this game, DHB. He played the entire first half as well and had just one catch for 14 yards. But his lack of production alone is not what landed him here. It was his flat out drop on a touchdown pass that was put right on him on the Raiders second drive. He tried his signature "chest pin" maneuver and oddly enough, the chest plate on shoulder pads is not ideal for securing a football. Who knew?! So while an undrafted free agent rookie is catching nearly everything in sight (seven catches actually), DHB is targeted three times for one catch and drops a gimme TD pass. Jacoby Ford, Eddie McGee both had two catches and they were on the field less than half as long as DHB. And on his one catch, he still left his feet and caught it in his gut. I just...I don't...
It can be hard to judge a coordinator in the preseason. But there is one area that there is no grey area: Get in the endzone. Field goals is always a poor consolation for scoring touchdowns. And the preseason is no different. In some ways it's even more important. Because in the preseason, winning isn't crucial. Finding ways to get in the endzone is very crucial. I point to one particular series of plays for Knapp's inclusion here. It came at the tail end of the Raiders' second possession.
The Cardinals were called for pass interference in the endzone which gave the Raiders the ball in first and goal at the one yard line. That is when a team sends out their goal line offense, right? But the Raiders just lined up like any other play and ran McFadden up the middle twice for no gain. McFadden is not a goal line back. Never has been, never will be. Then on third down, McFadden doesn't chip block a rusher and Palmer is forced to throw the ball away. So, hey, half yard line, fourth down, preseason, go for it. This is the time to do it. You work on scoring touchdowns in the preseason, not kicking field goals. Pretty sure Janikowski's got that down pretty well. Nope, field goal unit comes out. No goal line offense and settling for a field goal in the preseason. Buster.