Football is back folks! Oh what a feeling! It is such a relief just to see the Raiders shield back on the field, but watching them beat a good team 31-10 in the process is even better. We do have to keep it in perspective though, it was just the first preseason game so the victory is pretty much without any real meaning to it.
I know, every win matters Marcus! Except there are many times throughout the history of the NFL that shows a team dominate the preseason only to go on to have a terrible season. Wins are not what the preseason is all about, it's about evaluating personnel and trying to find the best 53 men for the roster.
With that in mind, the player that most improved their chances to make the team is none other than legacy Raider George Atkinson III. The running back that has been a practice squad member of the Raiders the last two years knows it's time to make an impression. He spoke with media after the game about his father (former Raider great George Atkinson) giving him some fatherly advice this year.
"He's definitely been in my ear, you know especially this year being my third year. Last two years practice squad, didn't make the squad. So this year he was like you gotta buckle down now. Soon as you get an oppurtunity you need to let the coaches know you can make the squad."
Clearly Atkinson III listened to that advice because he had the game of his NFL career last night against the Arizona Cardinals with 97 yards and 2 TD's in just 5 carries. He looked like an entirely different running back than we saw the last two years. He was confident, he used his elite speed well, and he even had some shiftiness to him that we hadn't seen before.
Another player who had a very nice game was also a running back, 5th round rookie DeAndre Washington. He had 8 carries for 43 yards, an impressive 5.4 yards per carry, but it was his work on his one 32 yard reception that really caught my eye. His route that he ran on that catch was absolutely perfect, he looked like a wide receiver out of the back field with how well he executed that play.
That was actually the most exciting play of the entire game for me, because the Raiders desperately need a tailback that can catch out the backfield. The receiving back was supposed to be Roy Helu Jr. but that never materialized and Latavius Murray had several gaffes receiving last year. If DeAndre Washington can add that element then the Raiders just got a lot more dangerous with screens and passes to their running backs in 2016.
Another part of the game that I was very excited about was the special teams play by the Raiders overall. Hopefully that is a sign of things to come, and not just the Cardinals being bad in their own special teams unit. The coverage team for the Raiders was all over Arizona return men the entire game, they even had a key fumble recovery that led to the Raiders first touchdown of the game.
Their return game was also looking very good, both Johnny Holton and Jaydon Mickens had nice returns though Mickens' punt return was called back from a holding call. We already know Janikowski is great at long kicks but his 53 yarder never had a doubt about it and Marquette King was booming punts like always. Overall the special teams unit was great throughout the whole night, except for 2 offsides penalties on kickoffs and the holding call that cost Mickens his nice return.
The starters on the team left a lot to be desired, but they were not out there for that long to prove themselves anyway. I was very disappointed in Amari Cooper's performance specifically, I felt like he should have stayed in bounds on the long pass along the sidelines on the first drive and he had a drop too. Just the first preseason game but still, Coop is expected to make those plays.
The first string defense also didn't perform great, though Sean Smith almost had a pick 6 interception on the Cardinals 2nd play from scrimmage. He dropped the ball though and then the Arizona offense made it look easy after that as they quickly got deep into Raiders territory. I do give them credit for staying strong in the red zone though and holding the talented Cardinals first string offense to a field goal on their only drive.
A very scary moment did happen in the short time that the Raiders first team defense was on the field though, Mario Edwards Jr. went down with a hip injury. Hopefully the reports that it is nothing serious are true because that would be terrible to see after Edwards' rookie year was cut short with a neck injury already. After battling back from that injury it would be terrible to see him hurt again so soon, we will have to wait and see how he heals from this latest issue.
The defense in general was a lot of fun to watch in this game actually, their secondary was full of ball hawks that promise to make this season exciting with forcing turnovers. However, their over aggression still left them very vulnerable to screens and they consistently had trouble with tight ends, two problems that were huge for the team last year as well.
Though the first team offense was rusty and the starter defense had issues too, we have to be VERY pleased with how the first preseason game looked overall. The Raiders depth is looking great. The Cardinals are one of the best teams in the NFL and Oakland's depth looked far more impressive yesterday. Take that with a grain of salt though, because the playcalling was not by Bruce Arians and was purposely very vanilla which obviously would impact player performances.
The victory doesn't mean a whole lot, but the performance from the depth players is very important. The Raiders have a lot of talent on their roster, it will be interesting to see who makes the final cuts. Also, Matt McGloin and Connor Cook both looked good backing up Derek Carr which is always nice to see. It was McGloin who again showed why he is so loved by Raider Nation though with his two touchdown passes that broke the game open for Oakland.
On to next week against the Green Bay Packers next Thursday, a game that will be Aaron Rodgers first of the preseason. If anybody can exploit the Raiders secondary it will be him, though he probably won't play very long anyway. If the secondary looks as good in Green Bay as they did last night though then Raider Nation will really start getting excited.