Well, that game was interesting. The Raiders lost 19-15 to the Rams but it felt a lot more like the 4th preseason game over the 2nd one. That’s because these two teams face off in Week 1 of the regular season though so it is understandable. There was a lot of talk of both Jon Gruden and Rams head coach Sean McVay calling vanilla game plans but this was as plain as a preseason game gets because of the scheduling anomaly.
There is no excuse for the NFL to have a preseason game feature two teams that wil face each other in the opening week of the season. That was a big scheduling error that shouldn’t have happened, and the result of that error was one of the more boring games you’ll ever see, at least for the first half anyway.
The biggest story line coming out of this one is easy, it’s undrafted rookie running back Chris Warren III. Man, he is fun to watch. It might only be preseason but the guy runs with authority. It’s hard to imagine a guy being that fast and shifty at his size, and he also uses his power and is always trying to fall forward when he is tackled. It’s been a very exciting two games for him with over 200 yards rushing in these first two preseason games, and he got his first TD in this game against the Rams.
I am already looking forward to next week against the Packers when Warren surely will get some reps with the starting offensive line against Green Bay’s first string defense. It’s way too early to know what the Raiders have in him yet, but it feels like they got another UDFA gem in the Reggie McKenzie era. You can read more about Chris Warren’s day here.
The next biggest topic has to be the personal fouls on the Raiders because there were several that should never happen. Anthony Hamilton body slamming the receiver well after the whistle was by far the worst one out of several boneheaded penalties. All the good from last week from Hamilton was washed away with his performance yesterday in general, a guy in such a heated battle for his position needs to play way more intelligently than he did yesterday.
Another enigma that had several penalties for the Raiders, including the game ending face mask, was Shilique Calhoun. He has actually made huge strides in his play this year though. His unchecked aggression was a real detriment to the team at times but he also was a force to deal with for much of the game. He must be on the bubble to have played as much as he did against the Rams but there were times where he looked like the best player on the field against the 2nd and 3rd string players he was facing.
Another enigma player for Oakland is Connor Cook because he suddenly looked like a rookie all over again after a great performance last week. He didn’t look anything like the player against the Lions, though with zero effort in play scheming I will give him some leeway on his performance. His fumble was a weird play that just happens sometimes, and yes it was a fumble because the ball slipped out right when he started his motion. He didn’t even try to tackle the guy who recovered it which would be unforgivable in the regular season but he thought the play was dead and you don’t want a QB giving up their shoulder making a preseason tackle anyway.
The biggest break for Connor Cook was E.J. Manuel’s own fumble actually. Neither QB was good yesterday against the Rams deep defensive roster but Manuel’s fumble seemed far more careless with the football. He shouldn’t have been holding the ball so loosely inside a pile of bodies and then he needed to just fall on the ball instead of trying to pick it up to make a play. He actually had some nice throws to get out of pressure but he failed to take a major step up in the competition after Cook left an opening with his performance.
The most impressive play of the day was definitely the TD catch from Griff Whalen though. Manuel’s rocket pass was thrown behind him but Whalen turned on a dime and made a spectacular one handed catch for the score. He is in an incredibly tight battle with Ryan Switzer so he needed to make a statement play, that TD was just that though it still might not be enough for him to leapfrog Switzer who had a nice TD of his own last week. It’s going to be the toughest call of the cuts between those two, I’m glad I don’t have to make that decision.
The last play and player I will highlight is James Cowser and his interception. He played that coverage perfectly when he sat in the hole and baited the QB into throwing the pass he intercepted. It wasn’t even the great play that was so enjoyable though, it was his teammates reaction to it. After Cowser was tackle by the Rams, he was nearly tackled again by his teammates when he was mobbed by what looked like the entire defense.
You could tell how thrilled everyone was for Cowser, not just for the play he made. It was an awesome moment of camaraderie and possibly sealed Cowser making the team as long as he doesn’t fluff off the rest of the way this preseason. Knowing how hard he always is working you can guarantee he won’t fluff off though, Cowser has a motor that doesn’t stop. He is a blue collar worker who deserves to be an Oakland Raider again this season.
All in all, this was a very weird 2nd week of preseason for the Raiders. It sets up for a huge 3rd preseason game though that will surely feature a lot more of the starters, they need to get their reps in too before the games start for real in Week 1 against these same Rams again.
I’m glad Gruden didn’t give away anything this week with these teams matching up in the first real game of the year though, even if the result was a boring game for much of the time yesterday. I’d rather the team be boring now over exciting but revealing key plays or key player weaknesses against the first week’s opponent any day.
It would be wrong to finish without a shout out to Raider Nation taking over L.A. yet again. It’s incredible how well the Raiders fans travel, but this wasn’t about traveling fans at all. This was about Los Angeles still be Raiders territory no matter how many teams the NFL tries to give them.
It’s special seeing the team still embraced so emphatically in So Cal, it’s clearly why the NFL didn’t want them back there because no other team would have a chance to compete with that much love. Kudos to Raider Nation for creating another home stadium every time the Raiders get to play in Los Angeles, a tradition that will no doubt continue for years to come.