The third preseason game for the Raiders is upon us. Tonight they take on the Cardinals in the most anticipated of all the preseason games. This is the week the Raiders will actually game plan against a specific opponent and go through a simulated game week just as they will throughout the regular season.
This is also the game we an expect to see the starters for the longest amount of time, making it more interesting for the fans and allowing us our best judgment of what kind of team the Raiders will field this season.
Starters to play into third quarter
This week Jack Del Rio admitted the rash of serious injuries to key players on other teams has had him second guessing whether to cut short the amount of time he planned to have his starters in the game. His plan going in is to have them open the second half.
"Ideally, you'd like to get the guys to feel coming back in the second half and starting the second half at least, because that's what it ends up being that first week of playing with smaller rosters and getting the feel of what it's like to take that number of snaps in a game," said Del Rio. "The conditioning aspect, not only physically but mentally, it's important, so it's an important part, but you have to weight that against having your best people healthy and ready to go for the year."
He went on to say that he will play it by ear and see how the game is going as to what he decides as far as how much the starters play. In the first two preseason games, he removed Derek Carr and Latavius Murray first and kept the rest of the first team in the game for another series. We'll see if that continues in this one.
Making things more interesting is the game will be nationally televised on NBC's Sunday Night Football. It adds to the pressure a bit as well as this Raiders team is expected to have taken a step forward this season after their 3-13 season in 2014. Big things are expected from Derek Carr, who has yet to throw a touchdown pass this preseason.
The eyes of the football world will be using this performance to make a lot of blanket statements about the expectations they have of this team. A strong showing by the starters would earn them a lot of positive press and respect which can be a real confidence builder for this mostly young group with a new coaching staff.
Oakland Arizona connection
In recent years the Cardinals have been pretty eager to pick of former Raiders players. They traded to acquire Carson Palmer, and signed Jared Veldheer, Tommy Kelly, Matt Shaughnessy, and Lamarr Woodley as free agents. Kelly has since retired from football, but the others remain. In turn this offseason, the Raiders signed former Cardinals defensive tackle, Dan Williams.
Thus far the plan for the Cardinals have been extremely good for their team. Last season they were one of the best teams in the NFL until near the end of the season when their quarterbacks began dropping like flies. Even still, they made the playoffs.
Now Dan Williams will face his former team for the first time, while the former Raiders on the Cardinals squad will see their former team again as well. There is always a feeling of trying to show your former team they made a mistake in letting you go, so it will be interesting to watch how these players perform in the game.
Where's Benson Mayowa now?
Coming over as the new defensive coordinator this offseason is Ken Norton Jr, who reunites with Benson Mayowa who played with made the Seahawks roster as an undrafted free agent two seasons ago. That was no small task then with the roster the Seahawks had. Norton is enjoying having Mayowa again on his defense and has big plans for him.
"Benson is fantastic," said Norton. "I've tried him out at SAM linebacker. He's played defensive end, Leo position. He's all over our special teams. He's very versatile. He's the type of player that has the flexibility to play different positions. When you have a guy like that, you have a pretty good team."
So, keep an eye out for Mayowa in this game to see where the Raiders have him lining up on any given down on defense as well as special teams.
Roy Helu Raiders debut
After missing half of training camp as well as both the first two preseason games, Roy Helu Jr returned to practice this week and could play in this game. It will be the first look fans will have at Helu as the Raiders new change-up back to starter Latavius Murray. It will also be exciting for Helu who is a Bay Area native getting to suit up for the Raiders for the first time.
Derek Carr vs Patrick Peterson
Carr faced Peterson during the season last year to not great results. He went after Peterson on a long pass on the very first play of the game and Peterson defended it well, having it fall incomplete. The All Pro corner was just one of a few great cornerbacks Carr faced early last season. All of whom, he went after without fear an it eventually bit him when facing the Seahawks in week 8.
This is, after all, the preseason, so there's no reason to 'fear' any cornerback. Add to the mix a couple of far better receivers than Carr had when facing Peterson and the Cardinals last season and Carr may just take his opportunity to attack one of the better NFL corners.
Khalil Mack vs Jared Veldheer
Mack has been on a tear this preseason. Even in limited snaps and even while often being double teamed, he has been dominant. Facing one of the better left tackles in the league in former Raider Jared Veldheer will be a good test for him and an even bigger test for Veldheer facing one of the best pass rushers in the NFL.
This is the match-up all Raiders fans want to see. As long as Veldheer continues to show himself to be a top 10 left tackle, that nagging feeling of regret will be there, even with Donald Penn in place in Oakland. If Mack can beat him, even once, as he does most offensive linemen, rejoice. You would tell the tale far and wide of how the mighty Mack dispensed of the feeble rubbish Veldheer. The shockwaves of epic dominance and vindication will be felt across the NFL landscape. And if not... well, it's just a preseason game, so who cares.
Looking for repeat performance from Mario Edwards Jr
After a breakout game last week against the Vikings, the coaching staff will be watching closely to see if Edwards can do it again. Del Rio said he wants to see "continued effort" from Edwards who had developed a reputation for a lack of consistent effort while at Florida State.
Keith McGill vs Larry Fitzgerald
I look to see how much first team work the Raiders give McGill. He will face off against one of the best receivers in the NFL in Larry Fitzgerald. With DJ Hayden continuing to struggle at cornerback in camp and preseason, a big showing by McGill could go a long way to helping him take over as one of the two starting spots.
As a bigger corner (6-3, 215) McGill isn't known for quick feet. He belongs on the boundary, guarding bigger receivers like Fitzgerald who he can shadow and contest jump balls. These are the kinds of match-ups head coaches love to see. Fitzgerald is hard to contain and it will be a great test for McGill at this stage.
Defensive line bubble watch
No position group presents more difficult decisions than along the defensive line. In total there are 13 players who are vying for at most nine roster spots. An argument can be made for every one of those 13 guys to make the squad, including undrafted rookie defensive tackle Leon Orr, and second year undrafted defensive end, Denico Autry. Even so, it's likely four of these guys will not be on the roster come next week. And with the first round of cuts coming after this game, it will be interesting to see who, if any, of these guys is among the first round of cuts.
Taylor Mays experiment begins
This week, the Raiders added former Bengals safety Taylor Mays to the team. This will be his fourth team in a matter of months and likely his best shot at actually sticking on a roster. Ken Norton Jr was his former defensive coordinator from USC, so few would know better how to best utilize Mays' skillset. I know I will be watching closely to see how he performs in his first game with the Raiders.
Trent Richardson experiment ends?
Thus far Richardson has not looked good for the Raiders. Another poor showing in this one and it's possible it could be his last. The first roster cuts aren't always the guys no one has ever heard of. There are also some veteran players among the first roster cuts as somewhat of a courtesy by the team to give the player a better chance to be picked up by someone else before the beginning of the season. On the other hand, the coaches may have decided Richardson would get the final preseason game to show his stuff regardless of what happens tonight. Even still, how he performs tonight is still vital to his chances of ultimately making the squad.