Welcome back! The 12th season of Ballers & Busters starts with the Raiders preseason opener against the LA Rams. The established starters didn’t suit up for this one. Even a few veterans who may not start were spectators Saturday. This allows us to make these evaluations mostly about players who are fighting for a roster spot. Rarely are individual performances more important than when they’re fighting for their NFL lives.
Neither team was fielding their best players. So the playing field was even, but the lesser completion must be taken into consideration when judging their performances in the grand scheme of things. That being said, it’s about beating the man in front of you, regardless of who they are. Beat them an earn the right to have a shot at the next level of competition.
For the most part, the Raiders did beat their competition. They handled the Rams and their three backup QB’s to win the game 14-3. There were a good many solid performances along the way.
When coaches say they want to take a look at the tape, this is the kind of thing they want to see. Rush was an absolute beast in the middle. The undrafted rookie out of University of Alabama-Birmingham (UAB) came practically out of nowhere to do what he did in this game. He didn’t even sign with the Raiders until a week into camp. And here he was starting in the team’s first preseason game alongside 2018 starter Maurice Hurst.
The 6-5, 340-pounder was having his way with Rams offensive linemen. He was crashing the pocket and stuffing runs all game long. In the first half, he crashed the backfield to force a tackle for loss and added a run stuff for no gain.
On consecutive drives to begin the third quarter, he had another run stuff for no gain and again burst into the backfield to force a run stop. He would add one more play in which he exploded through the line to make a tackle for a loss of four yards. Those five plays he made resulted in a net five-yard loss. He looks like he could be quite a find.
The play of Kirkland in this game was great news for the Raiders who will be without Gabe Jackson for the first four games of the season. Kirkland stepped in at right guard for him in practice when Jackson left with an MCL injury. The former undrafted free agent is in a competition at the position along with backup center Jordan Devey, so everyone was looking for a solid outing by him. That’s what he gave Saturday night.
His first big block came on DeAndre Washington’s touchdown run. Washington got the ball seven yards out and Kirkland laid the key cut block to give him the seam he needed to cut through for the score. And the Raiders jumped out to a 7-0 lead on their first drive.
The second drive, Kirkland had a key block on a three-yard Washington run on fourth and one and another block on the next play for Washington to pick up five yards. He didn’t return for the second half but he played nearly a full half of what appeared to be mistake-free football while he was in.
He didn’t get the start, but came in shortly thereafter. The Raiders want him to be a third down pass rush specialist and that’s where he made his impact first. With the Rams in third and 13, he got in the passing lane on an attempt in the left flat, put his hands up and knocked it down. The next series, he was held to back the Rams up ten yards and they would punt two plays later.
Late in the first half, he did something he was able to do just once last season – sack the quarterback. On third and four, he got a great jump off the ball, got the edge on the tackle, dipped and showed off his elite bend the fly in and take down the QB. The Rams settled for a field goal to get their only points in the game.
In the second half he was still in the game an still making plays. Only these plays were in the run game, where he had three stops to finish third on the team with three tackles.
The only time you heard from Mullen in this game were on incompletions. He had tight coverage on an incompletion on the first drive and a pass defended on the second series. He didn’t give up a catch in this game, despite seeing 32 snaps (54%). They simply stayed away from him. That’s what you want from your cornerbacks. Good game for ther Raiders second round pick.
Their top pick was making plays both in the run and the pass game. He was held on the Rams’ first drive to set up third and long (where Key batted down that pass in the flat). He was held again late in the first quarter, but it was declined because the Raiders made the stop on third down.
Mike Glennon had his first interception to begin the second quarter, but thanks to Ferrell, it didn’t result in any points. He got a pressure on first down and then on third down, he made the tackle on a 2-yard QB scramble. He added a tackle for loss late in the first half.
The guy who has been the clear favorite in the punting competition all camp continued his domination over Johnny Townsend in this game. His first punt went 46 yards with a hang time of 5:09 and was fair caught at the 29. His next punt was a brilliant pooch punt that went 33 yards and stuck in the turf at the 8 and was downed at the 10. His next punt went 44 yards and was downed at the 31, and his final punt went 49 yards and was fair caught at the 18. That’s zero returns and two punts inside the 20. Chef’s kiss.
Grant led all wide receivers on the team with three catches on four targets for 32 yards. This included a highlight reel snag on the left sideline in which he seemed to defy gravity to go up and get the ball with a defender in his face, and tap his feet inbounds.
Once again, Washington is in a fight for his roster spot. And if Gruden opts to keep four running backs, he is the clear favorite to get it. He ran six times for 24 yards (4.0 ypc) in the first half and showed some great vision. Among those runs was the 7-yard touchdown and a 3-yard run on third and one.
By the numbers: 39 snaps (53%). Zero sacks allowed. Zero penalties. And if there were any pressures allowed, I didn’t notice them, which means they didn’t affect anything adversely. The former fourth round pick may be taking the lead in the swing tackle battle.
He only played four snaps. But in that time he had two catches. One of them was a fantastic 38-yard grab up the right sideline to set the Raiders up at the 12-yard line. He made a 5-yard catch on the next play to put them at the 7-yard-line and Washington score on the next. Nelson’s day was done after that. Efficient.
Nathan Peterman – Speaking of efficient. Peterman wasn’t pushing the ball down the field, but he took care of the ball. His biggest play was a 50-yard scramble which set up his 3-yard touchdown pass to Keelan Doss.
Maurice Hurst - He had a tackle for loss in the first quarter, assisted on another in the second quarter. Later he was held on third and three to set up a punt.
Ethan Westbrooks – Playing in front of his hometown fans, Westbrooks shows some of the push he showed in camp.