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Raiders preseason game one: Analysis, breakdown of 5 different areas

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A few general observations and impressions on the first preseason game of the 2016 season against the Arizona Cardinals.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The 2016 Pre Season is underway and while it's too early to make any large judgments and assessments on what the season bodes for the team and what the players will be like, there were still a few interesting things that showed up from the first game. Here are just a few thoughts about what I saw and some items to keep watching as the preseason unfolds.

1. Running Game

It's an evaluation time, not just for players but also for plays. Bill Musgrave has had all offseason to review tape and think about what he wants to implement this year. In practice, there are times to practice plays, but to really see if they will work, the team needs to run them against live opponents.

Starters or backups, the OL were on the move. Musgrave had each line position pulling at some point in the game, either tackle, either guard, and the center. And he introduced some new plays and added some wrinkles to existing plays.

One in particular stood out, a weakside run with a designed cutback.

The backside blockers kick out and the backside TE angles down to seal the LB. The defense flows towards the initial run gap and the runner cuts back into a wide open lane. It takes advantage of (over) aggressive defenses that attack the run and creates a large natural running lane.

Interestingly, it may force defenders to be less aggressive and may lead to some playside holes.

The Raiders ran it three times on the night and it was successful each time. Latavius Murray ran it for 11 and Jamize ran it for 5. Then on the Raiders' final offensive play of the night, George Atkinson III made a spectacular 35 yard TD run; yup, on this same play.

Watch for it and see if it continues to be effective.

A side note : Murray may have heard all the criticisms of his running style. On a couple of instances, he lowered his shoulder into a defender and fell forward. Watch for this going forward. Maybe he can be a bruising, power back after all.

An interesting note: Of 21 running plays only 4 of them were from shotgun. The breakdown was like this :

  • Shotgun : 4 rushes, 11 yards, 2.8 avg
  • Under Center : 17 rushes, 155 yards, 9.1 avg

Again, it's only preseason and so we can't extrapolate too much about the scheme, but it is interesting that there was apparently a significant focus on running from under center. This is something to keep an eye on in the next couple of preseason games as it may give a hint to the run game attack.

2. Safety Play

On the 4th defensive series, instead of playing the traditional Free and Strong roles, Nate Allen and Dewey McDonald lined up as left and right. Then, depending on the strength of the formation (or the play call), one would drop to the single deep FS position and the other would slide to the Strong position.

When the strength of the formation is to the right, Nate Allen plays down and Dewey McDonald plays Deep.

But when it's to the other side, Dewey drops down and Nate plays back.

On motion, the safeties rotated to adjust to formation change. Here, the Cardinals' tight end lines up to the left

and when he motions to the right, the safeties rotate.

Obviously, we can't learn too much about scheme from Preseason game 1, but this stood out in my mind for a couple of reasons :

  1. This is how Ken Norton had his safeties play for the brief time they were both healthy in Week 1 of 2015. Recall that Nate Allen suffered a knee injury early in the 2nd defensive series.
  2. This scheme requires hybrid talents to function and will take advantage of it if the defense has 2 safeties with such talents. Karl Joseph seems an almost PERFECT skill/talent match to this scheme.

In the first series, Karl Joseph and Reggie Nelson did play the traditional roles with Joseph playing free and Nelson playing strong. This is unsurprising since Joseph is a rookie and getting his first real taste of NFL play.

But keep an eye on this moving forward, particularly in preseason game 3. Just watch how the safeties line up and how they move/rotate.

3. Defensive line

Khalil Mack's physical abilities and his raw power were on display in 2015. In the offseason, he's been hard at work to keep improving and in this first preseason game, we saw some some flashes of new moves.

After hearing Donald Penn extol Mack's dip move, I was eager to see it at work. In fact, I really want to see Mack attack the edge with dip and rip. Instead, in this game, we saw two new counter moves--a counter club and an inside dip--that are sure to give opposing tackles nightmares in film prep.

Mario Edwards Jr was flashing quickness and power. His best play of the night was on a zone run when he took on the RT, stacked him up, forced the RB to cut back, tossed the tackle aside, and then made the tackle. It was beautiful. Unfortunately, at the end of the play rookie Jihad Ward fell on Mario, resulting in Mario's strained hip.

Justin Ellis was extremely active and violent, showing a lot of power as well as some newfound quickness. Jelly may have been a bit enamored with overpowering the opposing center; on several plays Jelly drove the center 2 yards deep, but he neglected the gap and allowed the center to wall him off away from the play.

First look at Jihad Ward was a nice one. His power and his relentless motor were on display, as were his relative slow get-off and his still-raw technique. Did not get a feel for his quickness or explosiveness (yet) but his attitude and his hustle to chase down any play any where on the field was immediately impressive. I bet the coaching staff loves him. You can win with guys that leave it all on the field like that and so far the team has quite a few like him.

"Sunshine" James Cowser looked like a phenom with the backups. He did absolutely anything and everything you could ask. Stood up against the run, took on double teams, split defenders, and then showed some pass rush and tipped a pass to help give Neiko Thorpe his interception.

Shilique Calhoun looked like he still has a ways to go.

4. Pass Protection

The starting 5 linemen are going to be great and the only question is how long will it take for them to get the all-important chemistry so that they are able to function as a single unit instead of as five individuals.

Our first peek at the communication and chemistry was a good one. The protection held up pretty well, the best example being the deep out route to Michael Crabtree. On that play, Derek Carr had a beautiful pocket and was able to step into his throw.

Later, the Cardinals' pass rush attacked with a Tackle/End stunt on the right side and the new starting tandem of Gabe Jackson and Menelik Watson picked it up beautifully. You have to love that.

There are two main concerns to the pass protection though: Clive Walford and Latavius Murray.

Each of these players had opportunities to showcase their pass protection skills when Arizona brought some pressure. Unfortunately, at this stage, they both struggled a bit which led to some pressure on Derek Carr.

Clive Walford is looking to make the jump from rookie contributor to second year impact player. A key to him making this big jump forward is earning more snaps with dependable pass protection.

The better the base OL protection is, the more important the skill position protection will be. The OL looks like it will be formidable so opposing defensive coordinators may design pass rushes to exploit the weak link. So keep on eye on this part of the pass pro going forward.

5. Punting Game

It looks like Marquette King got bionic upgrades in his leg this offseason. He was already gifted with a powerful leg and in the past few years, he's become more consistent with his technique and getting his punts off with regularity.

In the Arizona desert this past week, Marquette may not have realized how booming his leg was. The ball was just jumping off his foot as if being launched into orbit.

Remember in 2011 when Shane Lechler hit that 80 yard punt that went 80 yards in the air? That was an insane punt. On Friday, Marquette was putting some balls 70+ yards in the air.

He had 8 punts on the night, 7 from Oakland territory (the 8th was from the Arizona 40 yardline). On the 7 punts, he averaged 54 yards and a healthy 4.1 seconds hangtime.

# From To Yards Hangtime
1 OAK 41 EZ 59 4.7
2 OAK 39 ARI 14 47 3.9
3 OAK 25 ARI 22 53 4.5
4 OAK 28 ARI 15 57 3.3
5 OAK 35 EZ 65 4.4
6 OAK 35 ARI 26 39 3.6
7 ARI 42 ARI 12 30 4.5
8 OAK 33 ARI 8 59 4.5
Avg 54.1 4.1

Interesting side note : Taiwan Jones did not play last night. Not sure if it means anything, but he was listed as a healthy scratch.

Finale

A four-touchdown game and a 31-10 win made for a really fun and enjoyable evening. Aside from the score, we got a nice taste of football after being 7 months deprived and making it even more exciting is that the team was showing a lot of really interesting things.

In years past, the team was clearly a work in progress that would struggle to fill out the roster with frontline NFL players, but as of now the team appears flush with talent and they are just starting to grow.

Expectations are sky high for the team this year and every little thing is going to be highly scrutinized. We shouldn't take things too seriously right now or make too big a deal about any little bit yet, but really, so far so good.