As I reflect upon the win over Dallas, it occurs to me that every major storyline that presented itself during the game was an extension of one that also presented itself in practice reports. Nobody really played well in practice and sucked against Dallas, nor did anyone play terribly in practice and shine in the game. There were some really important things that happened in the game that present certain tidings for the upcoming season, and we should keep an eye on them as a fan base. These issues could mean the difference between the Raiders hanging in the division race or being the front-runners in the JaDeveon Clowney sweepstakes.
Will Matt Flynn continue to perform well with his accurate, short-to-medium game, or will he prove to be in over his head?
When Matt Flynn had his two starts with Green Bay, obviously he played well- in fact, as well as anyone ever has with such a small sample size. We need to remember that he had an excellent offensive line and possibly the finest receiving corps in the league when he did that, and was facing two relatively awful defenses. The Raiders do not need Flynn to go 45-58 with 580 passing yards and five TDs every game, but we do need a guy who can limit mistakes and effectively run the play action. Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre were two of the best I've ever seen at this, as was Rich Gannon, although all three of those guys are superior runners to Flynn. Matt needs to show that he can manage an offense and lead a team that doesn't have the kind of talent he's used to. I hope he gets three or four series against a mediocre Saints defense to show what he can do. In the land of Misfit Backup Quarterbacks, is Flynn more Matt Schaub or Frank Reich?
Will Terrelle Pryor continue to tantalize us with his natural talent and ability to extend plays, or will his decision-making cause him to be too volatile to consider starting?
Anyone who watched the Dallas game could see that Terrelle Pryor has "it" as far as talent and ability. He's special. However, what separates the type of guy Pryor is from the type of guy Russell Wilson is would be decision-making. Russell Wilson doesn't tend to force the ball. He is a very cerebral player in addition to his loads of natural ability. Pryor hasn't yet shown himself to be that sort of guy, and he may never be. If Pryor can get it together between the ears and stop forcing things or trying to be macho and prove himself, he will basically be Randall Cunningham. If not, he's just Joe Webb.
Will the offensive line find a lineup that can succeed in both run and pass blocking, open holes for McFadden, and keep Flynn from getting David Carr'd out of the league?
I understand DeMarcus Ware is pretty much a demigod and Mike Brisiel isn't 100% healthy, but a sack-fumble like that is pretty embarrassing and I don't know how much better it would have got if the first units had stayed in. If the Raiders play like that on Thanksgiving, it's going to be a long day and even mom's turkey and stuffing won't cheer anyone up. I really like the acquisition of Andre Gurode, who offensive line coach Tony Sparano is very familiar with from their days in Dallas. If anyone knows what Gurode can do and how best to use him, it's Sparano. At this point I am really uncomfortable with our left guard situation and I don't see why the Raiders shouldn't try Gurode there in the Saints game. I also want to see a lot of Alex Barron in the game. Whenever I focused on him during my viewing of the Dallas game, he was handling his man. As those guys were Dallas' second and third stringers, I want to see him go against New Orleans' best rushers. Barron probably isn't the long-term answer at right tackle, but neither is Khalif Barnes, and we have yet to see a healthy Menelik Watson. Is Alex Barron Mr. Right Now?
Will Sio Moore continue to beast?
When I watched the Hall of Fame Game, I saw a certain outside linebacker with voluminous dreadlocks flying around the field making plays for the Miami defense. It made me wistful that Mr. Phillip Wheeler was no longer an Oakland Raider. Then I watched the Raider game, and I was no longer upset. Sio Moore is exactly what this team needs at about $25M less. I want to see him fly by whatever turnstile the Saints put at tackle and plow Drew Brees into the turf (not too hard though, Brees is my fantasy QB). I want to see him stuff Mark Ingram at the line of scrimmage. I want to see him punish Darren Sproles for even thinking he could make a catch over the middle. I want him to strike fear into the Saints, intimidate them as did Lawrence Taylor, Mike Singletary, and Derrick Thomas before him. One day, Sio Moore will be where Wheeler was at the end of last year, and we will give him his $30M because we can't afford not to.
Will the Raider defensive backs continue to play at a high level?
One of the most comforting things to me about the game was the play of the secondary. Last season, it was nerve-wracking watching Tyvon Branch, Michael Huff, and the cotton candy vendor we pulled out of the stands to play cornerback struggle to prevent the opposing offense from ripping off big play after big play. Branch did his best, but he is only one man. This year, we have a slew of talented defensive backs starting in addition to a few backups such as Chance Casey and Taiwan Jones who are proving themselves to be quality players. The next game will be a huge test for this unit due to the Saints' high-flying offense. If the Raider DBs can stop these receivers, they can stop anyone. The biggest question about this game is, can any Raider defender cover Jimmy Graham? I'm not sure anyone in the league can, so it may be about scheme for that matchup in particular.
I'm sure all of us were very impressed by Matt McGloin and Brice Butler against Dallas. Butler showed good speed, size and strength and has the physical tools to be a superlative receiver on this team. McGloin showed poise, accuracy and arm strength, which are three things that are not dependent on which string of defenders a quarterback faces. You can rack up yardage against scrubs, but you have to show you can hit your man where you're supposed to hit him on a pattern, you have to show you can place the ball where even the finest defender cannot reach it, and you have to stand calmly in the pocket while the chaos flows around you. McGloin showed all three of those qualities on Friday. What will he show against New Orleans?
So Raider Nation, what will you be looking for from the team in the next game and beyond?