The schedule-making elves at NFL Headquarters have put an interesting wrinkle in the Raiders’ slate this season. Oakland plays the Rams this Saturday for Preseason Week 2, and then has to play them again in short order in a regular season Week 1 Monday Night Football game. This development has Raiders coach Jon Gruden scratching his head.
“I don’t understand it honestly, I don’t,” said Gruden when asked by reporters if he’d ever done anything like this before.
When asked about his reaction to this quirk of the schedule, Gruden said, “Like I said, I’ve never seen that. I was in the league a long time, I don’t remember that. What are you going to do about it, right? We’ll just adjust and adapt. Same for them as it is us.”
Gruden plans to approach this like any other preseason game. “It’s a preseason game and we have a lot of really tough evaluations to get through before we start thinking about what play we’re going to call. We’re going to really continue to use this as an evaluation period. You’re going to see a lot of players playing a long period of time that are going to get a chance to show us they belong here. That’s how we’re looking at this game.”
Though this may be new to Gruden, it isn’t unusual for the Raiders to play the same opponent in the preseason and regular season. In the 2014 season, Derek Carr defeated the Seahawks in the fourth preseason game 41-31, but took a narrow 30-24 loss in Week 9 at Seattle. The following year, the Raiders lost twice to the Vikings, first 20-12 in the second preseason game and then 30-14 in Week 10 of the regular season.
In 2016, the Raiders had a similar situation to this year, where they lost to the Tennessee Titans in Week 3 of the preseason 27-14, but won in Tennessee a month later in the regular season Week 3, 17-10. Last year, the Raiders lost to the Dallas Cowboys twice, in preseason week 3 24-20 and then in Week 15 of the regular season, 20-17.
The funny thing about the Raiders’ preseason schedule is that it almost always includes the Cowboys and/or Seahawks, and in recent years it’s included the Cardinals and Rams because the now-canceled annual showdown with the 49ers has resulted in far too much violence and senseless property damage. The Raiders prefer not to travel very far in the preseason because they are one of the teams that always logs the most travel miles in the regular season due to the aforementioned schedule elves.
The Raiders are going to have repeat opponents almost every year, that’s just the way the cookie crumbles. But this year is a real anomaly. Playing a team in Week 2 of the preseason and then Week 1 of the regular season seems like a recipe for the most boring and vanilla preseason game ever.
Neither team is going to want to show much in the way of exotic elements of their scheme. Anyone can watch film and see what Sean McVay and Wade Phillips are going to do, but Jon Gruden’s offense remains a mystery after a decade away from the sidelines, and how the Raider defense can execute Paul Guenther’s plan is also a work in progress.
So, like Jon Gruden says, what we really want to see here is how individual players perform. There won’t be much usable film as far as what the coaches are going to do in the future, but we can certainly evaluate guys like Gareon Conley, Arden Key, Chris Warren III, PJ Hall and Maurice Hurst. If you’re looking for a good game, find something else to watch. But if you want to see the young guys play against a very talented opponent, this game is for you.