What we learned about the Oakland Raiders following Week 3 of the preseason, also known as the “dress rehearsal” game.
The Oakland Raiders fell to 0-3 in the preseason after another close loss, this time to the Dallas Cowboys. Here are three thing we learned (or confirmed) following the game.
The offense is nasty
The rich absolutely got richer this offseason in regards to the Raiders offense. Derek Carr is self-proclaimed “locked in” and who could disagree with him? He hasn’t skipped one beat coming back from last year’s heartbreaking leg injury.
There is a noticeable improvement across every offensive group compared to last season. Early indications tell us that Todd Downing is going to take advantage of the never ending list of weapons and make it really hard for defenses to key on any one or two players. He appears to value balance, formation variety and shows a great understanding of exploiting defensive weaknesses. I’ve loved what I’ve seen from him so far.
The Raiders have appeared to improve at every position group on the offensive side of the ball. E.J. Manuel is a more reliable backup option at QB than Connor Cook. Marshawn Lynch appears to be the same Marshawn Lynch. He gets an extra yard or two every time he has the ball in his hands, something Latavius Murray struggled to do during his time in Oakland.
Here is an example of what makes Marshawn so special and valuable to an offense:
Okay, yes, I am showing you a 2-yard gain, but damn, this is an impressive 2-yard gain that could have easily been a 1-yard loss, and it probably would have been if Murray was carrying the ball. Newhouse misses his block on Sean Lee, who comes flying in to lay a hit on Marshawn. Initial contact occurs on the 17.5 yard line and Marshawn fights to bring the ball to the 21 — a difference of 3.5 yards, which is a world of difference for any offense. These extra couple yards are going to make this offense even more efficient than they were in 2016.
At wide receiver, Cordarrelle Patterson is an acquisition that isn’t as highly regarded as others, but he might be one of the most important. While having a somewhat limited route tree, he has really reliable hands and is an absolute menace after the catch.
I love this rub play on 3rd & 1. It’s a 31 personnel group, slot right, Crabtree motions down to “bunch” the two WRs and Patterson shows a great understanding of down and distance, displaying complete confidence in his hands and footwork on the sideline. I think you are going to see a lot from him this year.
Jared Cook is the highlight for the tight end group. He’s known as a catch first tight end who will provide the most dangerous threat across the middle that Derek Carr has had to date. He has also been surprisingly competent as a blocker.
Even on the offensive line, a group that was regarded as a top three unit last year, got better with the addition of Marshall Newhouse and added depth of David Sharpe. I have really liked what I have seen so far with Newhouse. Right tackle has been a revolving door the past couple years and I am really excited to see what a year of continuity and consistency can bring to an already dominating unit.
Jenkins and James at LB
The defense struggled again against the Cowboys, but they did show some improvement. The biggest question mark has been at linebacker. In my mind, Cory James has established himself as the most reliable player in that group and has solidified himself as a starter at either Mike or Will. His absence against the Cowboys allowed for the other three contenders to get ample opportunity to take the other spot. In my opinion, that job was clearly won by Jelani Jenkins.
Jelani was a free agent signee from Miami who had some good years as a starter in his tenure there, but was also coming off a serious knee injury. I haven’t noticed any effect from that injury. He appears to be confident in the knee and does not seem to be playing with any hesitation. He has also been the team’s second best linebacker in the preseason.
Jenkins shows the highest level of recognition, diagnostics and ability to read, react and make plays. He was one of the few bright spots within the first unit against Dallas. Here is a play on 3rd &1 — you can see Jenkins retain gap integrity, trust his eyes and shoot the gap to make the tackle.
The other two LBs in the mix — Marquel Lee and Tyrell Adams — have flashed potential, but in a bigger way have flashed their lack of experience. Marquel continues to look lost and seems as though he is thinking way too much. He will benefit from sitting on the bench for a while and getting more reps in practice before getting his chance at being the starting Mike.
Tyrell has flashed with the second unit, but got some time with the first-team against the Cowboys and was often times caught out of position, chasing plays, and not playing as instinctually as we had seen when he was playing with the second unit. I still think there is potential there, but I’d go with the vet Jenkins to start the year.
Covering the Tight End is still a problem
This has been a problem for the Oakland defense for a long time now. For whatever reason, nightmares of Derrick Gibson keep coming to mind. I digress, and I write this with some optimism simply because Malcolm Smith is no longer on the team. Reggie McKenzie made some moves that directly aim to resolve this issue, more pointedly in second-round pick Obi Melifonwu, a 6’4″ safety who put up some of the most impressive numbers ever seen at the combine.
Preseason Week 3 was Obi’s first opportunity in game action. He got some run with the first unit as the $LB in the nickel personnel group, which kept Sean Smith outside at corner. For the most part he was matched up with slot receivers and RBs out of the backfield, so we didn’t get to see him much vs. Witten. Later in the game he was playing deep safety, so again, not much to analyze against tight ends.
Instead, Witten was matched up on early downs against Adams/Jenkins/Lee and at times against Karl Joseph. He had his way with pretty much all of these guys.
Below is one of the handful of plays where Witten got the best of the defense. 2nd & 6 after a 4-yard run by Ezekiel Elliot on first down. This down and distance gives the Cowboys a ton of options. They go with a play action off of a wide zone left with boot right by Dak Prescott.
Watch Marquel Lee completely sellout on the run and see Witten slip across the middle, wide open. Bruce Irvin did a good job of keeping his eyes on the QB and reacts quickly to get a hit on Witten and prevent an even deeper gash. This was a great play call, and a really tough cover for Lee, but it showcases slow recognition and easy manipulation, which offenses will leverage relentlessly until he proves he can diagnose quicker.