It is always a thing of beauty watching that silver and black shield on the field for the first time each season, football is back people! This was just the first preseason game and the win doesn't mean a whole lot, but it is still great to see the Raiders win even if it is the preseason.
The thing that stood out most to me throughout this entire game against the St Louis Rams was the play calling on offense by Bill Musgrave. It can not be understated how much more fun and interesting it was to watch his play calling over what we got the last couple of years from Greg Olson. The creativity, the balance, and most importantly the rhythem were all better under Musgrave than we have seen from the Raiders in years.
The first preseason game is supposed to be sloppy, slow, and full of mistakes. That didn't happen to the Raiders this year though, they played a mostly clean, quick, and energetic game. The energy was especially engaging to watch because of how bored the team seemed at times during the Dennis Allen era.
That isn't the case anymore it would seem, the crew put together under Jack Del Rio has emphasized the change in excitement level since their very first day and it showed up last night at the O.Co. The defense was getting to the quarterback, the offense was efficiently moving down the field, and each one of the three top quarterbacks all played well.
None quite as well as Matt McGloin did, I must admit. That is not to say that he has any chance at all of unseating the obvious leader and starter Derek Carr, but McGloin did definitely outplay Christian Ponder who also had a good game himself. Still, 10 of 11 for McGloin for 104 yards and a TD is superb football. Even the one pass that went incomplete was right on the money and only incomplete after a well timed hit knocked the ball out.
None of that is to say that Derek Carr didn't impress though. He was poised, meticulous, and very deceptive in whether he was handing off the ball or playfaking it. His only knock on the day was from a miscommunication with Amari Cooper that resulted in a goalline interception, and ironically making that mistake probably will help the duo out more than having gotten a completion there.
I say that because making the mistake allows the rookie receiver to better understand the recovery speed of corners in the NFL and how important it is to be on the right page with the QB at all times. Had Amari Cooper sat in the hole instead of fade to the back pylon he probably would have had a touchdown, and instead it was an interception and failed redzone attempt. That is a great lesson to learn now in the preseason over happening once the regular season starts.
Besides that one error, Amari Cooper came out and gave a great glimpse into the future of the Raiders. He had 3 completions for 22 yards on the first drive and an end around run that went for 3 yards. Bill Musgrave is known for getting the ball to his playmakers, from the looks of it we can expect him to live up to that reputation with getting Cooper the ball early and often.
One of the back up receivers who really made some nice plays was Seth Roberts. He had 4 catches for 42 yards on the day and three of them were impressive. One was a perfectly run route between two defenders to the outside on a third down, one was a nice catch down the seem where he got down low to grab the pass draped in defenders, and one was a screen pass where he showed a nifty move and some speed. It was a nice day for the UDFA rookie receiver.
Also a must note, Latavius Murray is a boss. The Raiders appear to have their legitimate starting running back of the future. The way his whole body is in motion while he makes his massive cuts is especially impressive, he legitimately looks like he could turn any direction at any time and the defense rarely is able to take him down on the first hit. If Murray can stay healthy he is a stud and will be a huge piece to this team throughout the season.
As for the defense, they played very well throughout the night as well. One of the most exciting parts of their performance was that they actually got pressure on the QB! They got 3 sacks on the day but consistently got into the face of the St Louis quarterbacks.
One of the sacks was particularly enjoyable when Khalil Mack bullrushed his man and cleared out room for Shelby Harris to come in for the diving sack on Nick Foles as he tried to scramble away from the chaos. It was highly entertaining watching a man the size of Shelby Harris close in and attack the QB in the way he did on that play.
As far as the secondary goes, Larry Assante continued to impress just like he did for much of last season as well. He was consistently making plays, finishing the game with 5 tackles including 2 tackles for loss. Whether it was him making the tackles or him securing the edge and forcing the runners into other tacklers, he was a key player on the Raiders defense all night. Neiko Thorpe and Ras-I-Dowling also had some success on the night as well.
One of the other stars of the night was absolutely Ben Heeney, the rookie linebacker out of Kansas. Levi Damien already has a very good article on his day that you can read here, but he showed his instincts and his energy that he brought to Kansas was no fluke. He was flying all over the field with 8 tackles and a sack. He looks like an absolute steal as a 5th round selection.
Yes, it can definitely be said that it was a successful opening to the Jack Del Rio era. It was just the preseason so the win doesn't really matter much but it is still very nice to see anyway. The team is clearly enjoying the new coaching staff and came to play, hopefully they will continue to impress next week in Minnesota when they play the Vikings.