What to Watch: Raiders Preseason Week 3
After two close games against two pass-heavy offenses, the Raiders face their first game against a heavily defensive, run-first team in the Chicago Bears this Friday. Key defensive starters will be returning for both teams in this third preseason game, as the Raiders see the debut of both Vance Walker and Lamarr Houston, and the Bears are likely to see Julius Peppers back after pulling a hamstring in the first preseason game. Unlike the previous two preseason games, this will be a defensive affair, with suspect offensive lines on both sides of the ball likely to limit scoring opportunities for both teams.
IR/WAIVED: RT J. Wetzel (knee), K E. Carmona (neck)
OUT: LT J. Veldheer (triceps), TE D. Ausberry (shoulder), CB T. Porter (groin), LB M. Burris (knee), LB K. Maiava, RB L. Murray (ankle)
DOUBTFUL: SS T. Branch (hamstring), DT P. Sims (undisclosed), OT M. Watson (calf), OG M. Brisiel (ankle)
BACK: CB D.J. Hayden, DT V. Walker, DE L. Houston, WR J. Ford
ADDED: UDFA LB Chase Thomas, RT Tony Hills
With no major changes to the offensive line, but with several key players returning on defense, Defensive Line takes the spot as the number one key to the game. After pitting essentially our second defensive line against the starters in Dallas and New Orleans, getting DE Lamaar Houston and DT Vance Walker back from injury has the potential to finally get to the quarterback this preseason. “Swagger Vance” is a big, strong body in the middle of the line, and had been known to draw double teams during his time in Atlanta. If he can prove to be dominating in driving his man back up front, we should see gaps in the pocket opening up, allowing our defensive ends to get into the backfield for the first time this offseason. Lamarr Houston is one of the leaders on defense, and although he has not participated in any preseason games to date, he has been on the field with the first team defense largely throughout training camp. While this is possibly the weakest pass-protecting offensive line we have seen this preseason, Chicago is an old-school run-first team, and their offensive line is built for that purpose. Rookie Bears’ Right Guard Kyle Long, son of Raiders Hall-of-Famer Howie Long, has proven to be a dominating weapon in run support, blocking downfield in front of Matt Forte and former Raider Michael Bush. With our defensive line facing a completely different style of offense from the first two preseason games, and bolstered by healthy first-team starters, this will prove to be a nice battle to watch.
It is no secret that the bears only truly have one weapon in the passing game, and Brandon Marshall will undoubtedly be in tight double-coverage all game, and should be blanketed by Michael Jenkins, Usama Young, and Charles Woodson. However, Marshall is a dynamic receiver, and his excellent chemistry with Jay Cutler will see him getting his fair share of receptions. The key, however, will be limiting his yards after the catch; an area in which safeties Charles Woodson and Usama Young have proven to be extremely solid. With D.J. Hayden finally seeing action in his first preseason game, he will line up as the #2 cornerback against Alshon Jeffrey, which may prove to be an interesting battle between a young receiver looking to break out, and a young cornerback hoping to make an impact in the league. While the number ones will be on the field for the majority of the first three quarters, this team has sixteen defensive backs on this team vying to make the roster, and it will be up to Philip Adams and Joselio Hanson to stave off the young upstarts in Chimdi Chekwa, Chance Casey, Cory Nelms, and Taiwan Jones.
The Raiders have just about entered the nightmare scenario with their offensive line, with Jared Veldheer expected to miss most of the season, and with practically no one able to step up. I’ve stated on numerous occasions that Khalif Barnes is not the answer at Right Tackle, but all of a sudden, he is the best option on this team at *either* tackle position. LT Alex Barron quickly reverted to 2010 form, leading the team in penalties as he just couldn’t keep up with New Orleans’ pass rush. He had looked very good in camp to that point, but when thrown into the fire, he is proving that the game is just moving too quickly for him to make adjustments. Let’s just say that neither of them is likely to do well in a game where Julius Pepper is making his big return to the Bears’ front seven. Stefen Wisniewski and, perhaps surprisingly, Tony Bergstrom have looked solid, and Lucas Nix has been pushing to make the starting lineup since last year; with Mike Brisiel questionable to suit up for this game, he should have his chance at Right Guard, rounding out a crop of solid interior linemen. But with no starting-caliber players at either Tackle position, it is looking like it could be a long season for any quarterback relying on a stable pocket.
Through the first two preseason games, Matt Flynn has shown good arm strength, with excellent accuracy. However, he has failed to show that he can properly point out protections and make adjustments to a heavy pass rush. Flynn will need to show both of these things against a dominant Chicago defense, even without stud Defensive Tackle Henry Melton. Chicago is solid from top to bottom, with its only weakness perhaps being in the middle of the field, as new MLB Jon Bostic is no Joker in the vein of Brian Urlacher or Nick Roach, with his slow coverage likely to open options in the slot. As such, Flynn will need to put his touch to good use, as he will likely not have more than a few seconds to get the ball away before being blindsided in the pocket. However, this could also be where Terrelle Pryor has the opportunity to shine, as he has displayed great elusiveness outside of the pocket, and a big arm to get the ball downfield to receivers. If Pryor continues to show his improvement in accuracy, particularly on the run, he may end up being the only quarterback able to move the chains against Chicago.
With David Ausberry expected to be out for several weeks with a presumed shoulder separation, the team is back to square one in its search for a starting Tight End. However, with the torn tricep to Jared Veldheer decimating the offensive line, it’s probable that priorities have changed at the tight end position anyways, as it is more imperative than ever that tight ends be able to support the pocket against the pass rush. Thankfully, Jeron Mastrud has been stepping up in a big way, proving to be competent as both a receiver as well as an inline blocker. I had previously predicted him to win the starting job, and with Ausberry out, it is all but guaranteed. Richard Gordon, who was signed to this team as a blocking tight end, has looked absolutely miserable in that role throughout the preseason thus far, and is likely to be supplanted by both Mastrud and the rookie Mychal Rivera, who has proven a far better blocker than anyone expected. Nick Kasa has not proven himself against even third stringers, whereas Brian Leonhardt has proven solid exclusively as a blocker. The Ausberry and Veldheer injuries have shaken things up quite a bit, and gives even these third-string players their fair shot at the starting position.
Joshua Cribbs will not make this team’s roster. Averaging only 17 yards per return, he looks even worse on film than what you would expect from those numbers. Unfortunately, such is the nature of the sport, as he may never return to form from his knee injuries. Jacoby Ford is in a similar position, however; his own injuries have possibly cost him the starting slot receiver position to Juron Criner and then Brice Butler, not to mention the Kick Returner designation. Thankfully, Greg Jenkins has looked very good as both a receiver and in the return game; winning the Kick Return job would secure his tenuous position on the roster. Still, all three of these players will get an equal shot at earning the job against the Bears’ excellent Special Teams coverage, but it is possible that only one of them will even make the team’s final roster.
The game will be nationally televised at 10PM EST on NFL Network this Friday.
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