Raider football is back which means Ballers & Busters is back right along with it. It was the first preseason game against the Raiders nearly annual preseason match-up, the Dallas Cowboys. The Raiders surprisingly held their own in this game, mostly matching the Cowboys at every turn and came out with the victory, 19-16.
But we all know preseason is not about wins and losses so much as it is about individual grades. That's where Ballers & Busters comes in to shine a light on those players who raised their stock as well as those who put their roster spot in jeopardy. There are two more preseason games before any real decisions must be made but this first step is a critical one along the way.
When the Raiders drafted him in the 7th round, most people said "who?" To that Butler introduced himself on Friday night. With just two catches, he easily led all receivers. That's for both teams. Those catches came on one drive. The first catch was on a crossing route and he caught the Matt McGloin pass and immediately showed a very impressive burst of speed for a 40-yard gain. The second catch was highlight reel stuff. He got behind Cowboys' cornerback, Sterling Moore, and McGloin put the ball out in front of him and he laid out at the goal line to make a spectacular catch for a touchdown. Easily the play of the day, not to mention the only touchdown for the Raiders. In the second quarter, he showed his blocking skills when he laid a key block to help spring Terrelle Pryor for a 17-yard run.
This undrafted free agent didn't see the field until the fourth quarter of this game, but after what he did in this game, I have a feeling we might just see him a little earlier in the game next week. On the very first play of the fourth quarter, Casey sealed the edge on a run play to force it inside where Keenan Clayton stuffed it at the line. Two plays later, he made a tackle to stop a catch for just 3 yards. On the next series, after an 8-yard run on first down, Casey shot into the backfield to tackle the running back for a two-yard loss. The series ended in a three and out. He later had the final play of the game in which he had good coverage and leapt in the air to force an incompletion. It was victory formation after that. Casey had played well in practice of late and it showed up big time in this game.
He did the one thing no other quarterback on this roster was able to do in this game - score a touchdown. Also part of his day did not include any big mistakes. His first full drive began on the Raiders' 19-yard line and he drove them for a touchdown in five plays. The first play, he connected with Brice Butler in stride on a crossing route and Butler raced for a 40-yard gain. A couples runs later, McGloin saw Butler beat his man deep and threw a nice pass that Butler laid out to make a brilliant touchdown grab. McGloin finished with a 135.7 QB rating which was by far the best on the team.
Also having a strong performance was Matt Flynn. He completed four of his five pass attempts with no interceptions and drove the team into field goal range. He had a fumble in this game but it was in no way his fault, nor way there anything he could have done to prevent it. Cowboys' linebacker, Sean Lee, came unblocked between left tackle and left guard and blindsided Flynn. Flynn was pressured from both sides, first by the Jason Hatcher who beat Mike Brisiel and smacked the ball out while Flynn was instantaneously hit hard in the back, and Hatcher pounced on it. That was the first drive of the game. Flynn shook it off, and came back to complete three passes in a row as well as a four-yard run. The drive stalled after two short run plays and a dropped pass when Rod Streater was hit as the ball arrived. It was more life from the Raiders first team versus a formidable Cowboys defense than most national sports analysts were expecting.
"Juice" was full of from the moment he took the field for warm-ups. He is always a powder keg waiting to go off. He got his chance very early in this game, too. After the forced fumble on Flynn, the Cowboys would start their day already in scoring position. Then on the very first defensive play, Sio was threatening to disrupt things which caused Jason Witten to hold him and be called for the penalty. Witten must have had flashbacks from what number 55 for the Raiders did to his spleen last preseason. Two plays later, Romo sat in the pocket too long as receivers were not getting open and Sio's persistence paid off, he came disengaged from his blocker and came from the left side and up the middle to sack Romo for a five-yard loss. His two plays put had the Cowboys drive finish four yards back from where it started. They had to settle for the field goal and the Raiders tied it up on the following possession.
Young entered the game late in the first quarter to replace Charles Woodson. The Cowboys first team offense came back out on the field, however, and Tony Romo and Dez Bryant began carving up the Raiders corners. Once the second quarter began, that promising drive stalled. Romo had time once again to try and find a receiver. He went for Jason Witten in the back of the endzone but Young had him locked down, forcing Romo to throw it too high and out of bounds. Young started the third quarter in the same way. But this time, the ball wasn't thrown out of reach and he swooped in from center field to picked it off.
Tyvon Branch, Nick Roach
They make the Ballers for their teaming up to make a fantastic play on special teams. After the aforementioned promising drive by Romo and Bryant stalled, they lined up for a field goal attempt and Tyvon Branch shot into the backfield to block it. The ball twisted to the right and Roach made an over-the-shoulder catch and ran it back a few yards the other way. It kept the score tied at 3-3 as the Cowboys starters left the game.
Jennings came out and looked every bit what the Raiders hoped. He ran very well and rarely went down on first contact, keeping his legs churning, and spinning out of tackles to make something out of nothing. He also had a 16-yard run. His 39 yards on 9 carries (4.3 ypc) led all rushers for either team.
It may not have been a perfect day for Taiwan but it was a positive step for him. He showed some raw skills in coverage as well as his usual special teams prowess. He also got a chance to return a kick and took it back 29 yards. That matches the season-high for Coye Francies who was the team's return man last season. He helped seal the win with a coverage incompletion and pass defended on two of the final three plays.
He had one punt on the day and it was a good one. It went just 42 yards down the field but it may have traveled twice that distance in the air. The return man couldn't ended up muffing it and the Raiders recovered to get the ball back.
He does some pretty awesome things when he gets the ball in his hands. On one play, he caught a short pass from Pryor, made a couple stutter steps and juked two defenders out of their shoes and ran right between them like a basketball player splitting defenders. Kevin Burnett was on the sideline saying ‘See, he does that stuff to everyone!'