The Hall of Fame game on Thursday night was about as good as can be for the Las Vegas Raiders. Sure, it was only the preseason but the Raiders looked like a force to be reckoned with en route to a 27-11 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Las Vegas hopped out to a 20-0 halftime lead and Jacksonville didn’t score their first touchdown until late in the fourth quarter, so there were plenty of performances to be excited about for the Silver and Black.
WINNER: Josh McDaniels
While the win may not count toward McDaniels’ record, he did make a good first impression as the Raiders' head coach. His players were clearly more motivated and ready to play than the Jaguars’ which helped them jump out to that big lead early on. The offense looked like a well-oiled machine, methodically and consistently moving the ball down the field, while the defense notched a handful of three and outs as well.
McDaniels’ scheme was clicking as the Raiders out-gained the Jaguars 321 yards to 273, and he stayed true to form by getting the running backs involved in the passing game. Josh Jacobs, Zamir White, Ameer Abdullah and Austin Walter combined to haul in nine passes for 63 yards, which is something Raider fans have been wanting to see for a few years.
But beyond any stats, it was clear the coach’s players came to play for him. The Canton, Ohio, native reportedly had over 100 people in attendance, so his friends and family got to see him pick up his first win as a head coach in over 10 years. Yes, the guys on the field were motivated by their roster battles, but it’s still a good to see that they fighting to make sure this was a special night for their leader. Hopefully, that’s a sign McDaniels is already getting his team to buy in.
LOSER: Brandon Parker
If there is one player who put a damper on the Raiders’ offensive performance, it was Parker.
He came into the evening battling for the starting right tackle spot and second on the team’s initial depth chart behind Alex Leatherwood. After giving up three pressures — two sacks — on just 17 snaps in pass protection, Parker might have fallen even further down the ranks. It also doesn’t help that he earned a sub-par 55.6 run-blocking grade from Pro Football Focus.
For comparison’s sake, Leatherwood surrendered two pressures on 19 opportunities but neither was a sack — one QB hit and one hurry. Last year’s first-round pick also performed much better in the ground game with an impressive 78.9 grade in that regard.
It’s still early on but the scoreboard is currently Leatherwood one, Parker nothing for this position battle.
WINNER: Malcolm Koonce
Koonce was undoubtedly my MVP of the night. He notched three pressures on just 24 pass rush attempts for a pressure rate of 12.5 percent. That’s very similar to his regular season pace from last year — 16 percent, four on 25 — and he mixed in a batted pass to finish the Hall of Fame game with an impressive 80.5 pass-rush grade from PFF.
With Kyler Fackrell going on injured reserve last week, the Raiders' third edge rusher spot is wide open and up for the taking. Koonce showed some excellent promise to fill that role and separate himself from the rest of the competition against the Jaguars.
Also, Chandler Jones has been banged up a bit and sat out of a few practices recently, so it’s good to see the second-year pro has been taking advantage of the extra opportunities. If he can string together a few more strong performances this month, Koonce could become a third-down pass rush specialist for the Silver and Black.
LOSER: Nick Mullens
The evening started rough for Mullens. On his first snap, it looked like he pulled away from center Andre James a little too early and ended up having to dive on a fumble for a negative play.
Mullens was average at best for the rest of the night, completing eight of 11 passing attempts for just 72 yards and three first downs. PFF didn’t credit him with any ‘Big Time Throws’ (BTT) and he had just one deep attempt that was thrown late and lofted in the air, inviting the safety into the play for a risky throw.
But what made the five-year veteran’s performance more discouraging was the play of Jarrett Stidham. The latter looked much more comfortable in the offense — granted he’s played in it longer — as he lead the Raiders’ offense to two touchdown drives, running one in himself. The former Patriot also had one BTT and had to deal with three drops from the receivers, while Mullens only had one pass fall through the wideouts’ hands.
I see Vegas’ backup quarterback competition functioning like this; Chase Garbers is likely the project who will spend 2022 on the practice squad, leaving Stidham and Mullens to duke it out for a roster spot. Stidham got the start on Thursday night and was able to pull even further away from Mullens after the game.
WINNER: Lester Cotton
One of the early surprises from Raiders’ training camp is that Cotton has been taking first-team reps after Denzelle Good’s retirement. The reviews/reports on Cotton have been almost all positive so far, and he gave us an example of why in the first preseason game.
The four-year pro registered more snaps in pass protection (25) than anyone who suited up on Thursday and only allowed one pressure, which was just a hurry, so he never let the quarterback get touched. He also posted a respectable 63.6 run-blocking grade and got some love from Chris Collinsworth in the broadcast booth for his work as a road grader.
This is expected to be a pivotal preseason for Cotton as it’ll be his fourth attempt to make the active roster and so far, not only is he cementing himself on the 53-man, but he might just sneak into the Week 1 starting lineup.
LOSER: Neil Farrell Jr.
Heading into the contest, I had high hope for Farrell as I thought it could be an opportunity for him to show growth as a pass rusher and potentially move up the depth chart. While he did have three pressures, his 61.0 pass-rush grade suggests those came off the unblocked variety. It didn’t look like he was doing a whole lot of ‘winning’ and he often disappeared and went unnoticed as a rusher, seemingly running out of gas at times.
But what might be the most disappointing part about the LSU product’s performance was his work against the run. He was known as a stout run defender in college but posted an ugly 37.3 mark in that department against the Jags. That’s not ideal for someone who is competing for playing time.
WINNER: Zamir White
Just getting on the field was a win for White. He battled injuries at the end of OTAs/minicamp and was banged up to start training camp, so to see him play and play well on top of that was a welcomed sight.
The fourth-round pick finished with 10 carries for 40 yards, 33 of which came after contact. He showed off his punishing running style on several attempts, most notably in a third and short situation where he ran over a Jacksonville defender to pick up the first down. It felt like he was finishing every carry falling forward which is exactly why the Raiders drafted him.
But what might have been most impressive about White’s night was he got involved in the passing game. He only had eight catches for 72 yards in 15 games at Georgia last season, but he managed to make three grabs for 23 yards in the Hall of Fame game. Granted, he also had one drop that he’ll want back, but that’s progress nonetheless.