Teams do not game plan early in the preseason so this entry will focus on situations that the Raiders coaching staff will be paying attention to. As the season starts this series will focus on more in-depth opponent analysis.
First up for the Raiders this year is a road trip to face the Arizona Cardinals this Saturday. The Cardinals played in the Hall of Fame game and may have a step up in terms of their familiarity with their personnel. That should give the Raiders staff a good look at how well their players can adjust to a team that has already played a game together.
There were a few areas the Raiders looked to improve this offseason and it will be interesting to see how well those improvements are going. Besides the individual player analysis, how the team performs in specific scenarios is the main thing coaches are focused on in these games. Here is what they will be looking at in this game.
1) TE Seam routes
There wasn’t a more critiqued area of the team last season than the defenses problem covering tight ends. The Raiders have attempted to address this by selecting Obi Melifonwu in the 2nd round of the draft. They have also brought in John Pagano to help with back end communication and coverage disguises.
The Raiders will get a good look at how well those changes are working in this game. The Cardinals love to get their tight ends involved in their vertical passing attack.
The “seam” route Ifeanyi Momah ran here was an Achilles heel in the Raiders pass defense. In their preseason match up last year Momah and fellow tight end Troy Niklas combined for 77 yards on only 5 receptions (15.4 yard avg.) setting the tone for the rest of the season. How well the secondary is able to stop a team who really wants to involve their tight ends could be a precursor to how well they do this year.
It is also worth noting that the Cardinals did not play starting quarterback Carson Palmer in this game but second string quarterback Blaine Gabbert played well. He completed 11 of 14 passes for 185 yards (13.2 avg.) with no touchdowns or interceptions. That should help the Raiders analyse their 2nd and 3rd string players better than if they were facing poor quarterback play.
2) Attacking man coverage
Last season’s games against the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs really highlighted the Raiders struggle against elite man coverage teams. There may not be a better team for the Raiders to face than the Cardinals in that regard. Arizona is a strict press man coverage team, like the two plays on this video show.
Raiders quarterback Derek Carr is a master of the fade route, but they can’t expect the team to win with that route alone. Cardinals cornerback Brandon Williams deflected one pass and it took a great leaping catch from former Raider Brice Butler to complete the second pass. Williams also made a great interception on a fade route in the endzone later in the 2nd quarter.
This is a great opportunity for the coaching staff to see newly signed tight end Jared Cook working the middle of the field. This is also the first look at the #3 WR battle between Seth Roberts and Cordarrelle Patterson. They will all have a role in the outcomes of the Bronco and Chief games this season.
3) Offensive line
A couple of weeks ago it would have seemed ridiculous to question the condition of the offensive line. Now with left tackle Donald Penn holding out the state of the line is in flux. The Cardinals were able to produce pressure in their game against the Cowboys.
Like this clip shows, most of the pressure was applied by defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche but defensive tackle Rodney Gunter got involved as well. They held the Cowboys to 3.2 yards per carry and forced 2 sacks.
Who plays and how they hold up to the Cardinals interior pressure will be worth paying attention to. Penn and the Raiders will surely come to an agreement at some point, this game could show how important he is to the offensive line.
4) Stopping the run
The Cardinals running back David Johnson is the best all around running back in the NFL not named Le'Veon Bell. He did not play in their first game but it would be in the Raiders best interest to see some snaps against him in this game. The Cardinals are a zone run team and have some running backs that fit their scheme as these two plays show.
With first and goal from the 10-yard line, the Cards ran the ball twice. First an inside zone then an outside zone, culminating in a 5-yard touchdown run. On the first run check out how Cardinals running back Kerwynn Williams simply side steps the initial penetration for the Cowboys 3 technique defensive tackle. It is also worth noting that if your last name is “Williams” there is a 34.6% chance you will play for the Cardinals, there are 5 guys named Williams on their roster.
5) Yards after catch or contact
The Raiders have some players that have great elusiveness. Guys like running back Jalen Richard or receivers Amari Cooper and Cordarrelle Patterson come to mind. It will be interesting to see if any of these players can break tackles in this game. The Cardinals don’t miss tackles.
On their first 3rd down, the Cowboys run a “levels” concept hoping receiver Andy Jones can make the catch on his in route and pick up the first down. Cardinals rookie safety Budda Baker didn’t allow him a single extra step. Baker really showed up with some solid tackles in this game. The Cardinals defense as a whole doesn’t miss tackles.
The Raiders season is finally getting started. It will be great to get an idea of how the team is coming together. There is a lot of Super Bowl talk surrounding the Raiders season, this is the first step in making that happen.
What aspect of the team are you most interested in checking out?
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Beating man coverage
The offensive line
Stopping the run
Another aspect (specify below)