Football is back! The preseason may not matter in terms of wins and losses but for the diehard fan, it still means a lot. And it should. It means a great deal to the coaches and players. We all get our first glimpse of the kind of talent this team has and the position battles that are in store the rest of camp.
With football games being played, comes my Ballers and Busters. Where I break down those players who thrived and those who dived (I like rhymes). Those who were the keys to the victory or the reasons for defeat.
Luckily, in this game, the Raiders trampled the Cowboys and there are far more keys to the victory than flaws to point out that need to be worked on or replaced.
In this first game of the preseason, the starters get their first taste of real competition and there can finally be some real hitting without letting up. Unfortunately, that also means this is the most likely game for serious injuries to occur. The players are not completely in game shape and haven’t really hit anything since January. One false move could mean the end of a season. Isaiah Ekejiuba went down with a shoulder injury in the game which scared all of us. He will be needed for his special teams prowess as well as his line backing skills this season.
This game is also the best chance for the fringe players to make an impression. Their short term objective is to earn playing time for games two and three. Playing time will be much more hard to come by in those games and then they can, more importantly, earn their way past the first cut down and into the final game of the preseason. At which time they can make their final push to make this team. So the first game is crucial to their NFL career hopes.
Which brings us to our list. Some hopefuls made impressions as well as some players that have a bit more security in their roster spot. Although on a team that won only five games last season, very few roster spots are safe.
Is this guy for real? Sure seventh rounders succeed in the NFL from time to time but Schilens is looking like the second coming of Marques Colston. And if Chaz had been given the chance from the start of last season, I have no doubt he would have been mentioned in the same breath as Colston. He only played the part of the first half and still racked up five catches for 52 yards during that time. Almost all of those were either solid, steady, receiver type stuff or simply awe inspiring. The first play from scrimmage for the Raiders, JaMarcus Russell hooked up with Schilens for an 11 yard catch. Then with the Raiders in the red zone, Russell threw a six yard bullet right into the chest of Schilens that put the Raiders in on the 2 yard line looking to score on their first posession of the day. Then after a holding call that pushed the Raiders back ten yards, Russell hooked up with Schilens again for ten yards to set up a Janikowski chip shot field goal for the first score of the day. On the Raiders next drive, he plucked a high pass out of the air for a 15 yard gain on third down to keep the drive alive. But his final catch was the most amazing of them all. He caught a ball in the right flat that was at his feet, did a baseball slide and got up just before the defender could touch him down, juked him and ran for 11 yards. The play put the Raiders at the 4 yard line and they scored a touch down two plays later. That catch showed the kind of poise, athleticism, confidence, and skill that Schilens has. He is and will be something truly special. Mark my words, we will hear Schilens and Colston compared to each other many times before this season is over and long after.
On his first carry of the day he made everyone else on the field look like they were in slow motion as he took a ball off right tackle for a quick 13 yard burst. Then two plays later he picked up a rushing defender and manhandled him to allow JaMarcus Russell to tuck the ball and scramble for a 17 yard run. Then a few plays later he took a screen pass for 9 yards. Ok so, let’s do a versatility check: speed off the edge? Check, blocking? Check. Receiving? Check. All that is left is running between the tackles. So can you guess what he did next? That’s right, he broke one off straight up the gut in a breathtaking burst of speed for a 45 yard scamper. The play set up what would be the first TD of the game. I don’t know for sure but that may have been the fasted 45 yards I have ever seen. He gets to top speed so fast, it seems to defy laws of physics. That was his final play of the game. All told he rushed for 63 yards on just four carries and a played a role in at least 99 yards from scrimmage in just three Raider posessions. Straight Baller.
He struggled in mini camps, OTA’s and some of trainging camp but he looks like those struggles are over. He came in for Russell in the second quarter and looked like he is taking this Raider offense by the reins. He is supposed to be fighting for a roster spot as the third stringer but from the looks of it, Jeff Garcia shouldn’t be too comfortable with his second string job. He completed 9 passes for 161 yards and a TD in what amounted to less than a half. And while Russell clearly favored Schilens, Gradkowski was far less picky. He was showing great poise in the pocket and spreading the ball all over the field. He completed pass to Schilens, Tony Stewart (for TD), Darrius Heyward-Bey, Louis Murphy, Brandon Myers, Jonathan Holland, and Nick Miller. The last pass he threw in the game was a beautiful, perfectly thrown bomb to Nick Miller that went for 48 yards and set up a Raider TD two plays later. He has also been praised for his hard count which had drawn many Raider lineman offsides in practice and he drew a Dallas lineman offsides once in this game as well. Charlie Frye looked decent as well but with Gradkowski tearing up the Cowboys second string, he doesn’t look like he will be letting go of his roster spot.
Boyd is an undrafted free agent out of Oregon. He played linebacker during his time there and had great success but went undrafted due to his lack of size for a linebacker. So the Raiders picked him up with the intention of switching him to safety. It didn’t take long before they were convinced enough in his abilities to cut recently acquired safety Keith Davis. Then with the injury to Mike Mitchell this week, Boyd was bumped to second team. And he went out there and showed the coaches that their faith in his abilities were justified. He led the team with six solo tackles on the day. His size and speed is what helps him in coverage and his line backing skills make him a a valuable asset against the run. It didn’t seem to matter where he was on the field in this game, he was making plays. And wherever the ball was, he was in the picture. He was in the game with the second unit and it wasn’t long before he had a run stuff at the line. He later had another run stuff tackle for no gain to go along with a tackle on a kick return. Another instance in which rookie Slade Norris was out of position to make the tackle and Boyd swooped in and made the tackle instead to stop a potentially long run on a drive that ended without a score for the Cowboys. Last year there wasn’t a single undrafted free agent rookie on the team when they broke camp. This year it looks like at least Boyd could change that.
He was extremely efficient and mostly on target. He only missed three passes and had no interceptions or fumbles. He averaged under ten yards a reception but he marched the Raiders down the field in both of his posessions. The second drive was stunted by a sack and a penalty or it would have surely yielded a score as well. As it stood, a Lechler punt pinned the Cowboys at their 5 yard line where they went three and out and the Raider had great field position on their next drive. He had a great 17 yard scramble that he may have tried to force into coverage last season. Once he had his hole, he didn’t hesitate. He tucked it and ran and split two linebackers along the way. Efficiency was a big problem for Russell the first part of last season. So that is a big deal. Now for his accuracy.
Tyvon Branch, Michael Huff and Hiram Eugene
All three of these guys looked good on Thursday. Tyvon looked every bit the strong safety and Huff and Eugene were holding it down at the free safety position. Branch only recorded one tackle officially but he was in on another run stuff and he had a QB pressure on a blitz that resulted in a three and out for the Cowboys. His one tackle was on a third and long in which he gave up a short catch to stop the drive and force the Cowboys to punt from their own end zone. Huff had the only interception on the day for either team. And it was a beauty. He executed a text book read on a long pass and got there right as the ball did and caught it as it reached the receiver. Eugene did what he always does; Act as the last line of defense. He saves the Raiders so often from a sure score so often. There are few guys that can make an open field tackle like he does. The first time we saw him he was cleaning up after a missed tackle on pass into the flat to stop it after 7 yards. The next time was on an end around that had the entire rest of the Raider defense fooled. He stopped it for just 12 yards on a play that would likely have been taken to the house had he not been there or missed the tackle. All-around nice work by the Raider first and second team safeties.
If there was a play to be made around the line of scrimmage, he always seemed to be there. Often times he was the one making the play. The only sack of the day credited to the Raiders was given to Ricky Brown but if Ricky hadn’t gotten the QB, Richardson was ready to make the tackle. He also helped take the QB down. He was there for another play that may as well have been a sack because the snap was bobbled and Richardson was right there to tackle the QB as soon as he picked up the ball. After that the coaches said “ok we’ve seen enough, let’s see what some of the newbies have to offer.
As usual, JaMarcus Russell was unthreatened from his side of the line while he was there. You didn’t hear his name at all which means that he was doing his job. He also held the pocket and opened the huge hole that JaMarcus ran through for his 17 yard scramble.
He was given the ball to start the second half. On four of the seven plays on that drive, Gradkowski put the ball in his hands. Those plays were 4 yard run, 19 yard screen pass, 9 yard run, and 2 yard touch down. Then two drives later, he was given the ball for the first two plays and had two consecutive 7 yard runs. He averaged over five yard a carry and had 50 yards from scrimmage on just 7 touches. If this team keeps four running backs, or someone gets injured, he is the odds on favorite to fill that role.
Even without the tackle that Slade Norris made that Greg Papa gave Nixon credit for (Nixon is 48 and Norris is 58), he still had a really nice day. Most of the time he was in was when the Cowboys third string QB was playing, and that guy likes to run whenever he can. And when he did, Nixon was usually waiting for him. He tackled him twice in the open field on a scramble. He also sniffed out a screen and tackled the receiver immediately as he got the ball. He had a run stuff on the day as well. But his most memorable moment was when the Cowboys’ punt returner fumbled the catch and Nixon was Johnny on the spot to dive on it to give the Raiders the ball inside the Cowboys ten yard line. The drive ended three plays later with a Raider touch down. He is going from undrafted to un-cuttable (is that word?).
We have been reporting all week, that Routt has been getting burnt constantly since he has practiced with the first team. And on Thursday, he brought the same thing to the playing field. The Cowboys didn’t have a great deal of success passing the ball in the first half but when they did, it was nearly always Routt that they victimized. Of course this makes his name ironically appropriate but let’s not take the obvious…um…Route on this one. I’m just saying that if he were a starter, a “route” is exactly what the Raiders would have on their hands. But I digress, to the game. He came in for Nnamdi Asomugha in the first quarter and on his FIRST play on that side he gave up a 12 yard catch on third down. Two plays later, he was called for holding. Then he finally gave up an 11 yard touchdown on the drive to put the Cowboys up 7-3 when on their first drive Nnamdi almost single handedly forced them into a three and out. He played one more short series and was out for the remainder of the game. Which is probably good. He did enough damage.
This is some of the worst play I have seen from Carlisle. He must have been a bundle of nerves or something. Either that or he was doing his best Kwame Harris impression. It was a damn good impression too. He was called for holding with the Raiders on the 2 yard line and looking to score a touchdown on their first drive. It ended in a field goal. Sound familiar? Then with the Raiders threatening to score again on the next drive, he had a false start. It ended in a punt. Sound familiar? Shake out those nerves Cooper. You are better than that. Come on man. Take a lap. Take a knee. But for now just take a seat.
Trust me I get it. He is new to the team and will need some time to figure it out. But this is not the “take into consideration” list. It is Ballers and Busters. And Satele was not on his game. He was blocking air when a Cowboy defender came shooting through the middle to sack JaMarcus Russell for an 11 yard loss. The next time you heard his name (which for an Olineman is usually not a good thing), he was being called for tripping. Which means he was out of position or tossed aside and had to stick his foot out as a last resort. He did have a couple of nice blocks on the day including helping to spring McFadden for his 45 yard scamper. But it was nothing a backup could not have done. Giving up a clear shot on Russell and a penalty in limited duty is much more damaging.
He was pretty much invisible all day. As the starting pass rushing defensive end, he should at least be getting some pressures. The only time I saw him was when he was completely fooled by a fake on an end around and couldn’t recover to defend his area. Even if it hadn’t been a fake, he was on the wrong side of the field to make a play so he shouldn’t be biting that hard on the fake anyway.
I counted like three times I saw Horton putting his arms up as if to say “What’d I do?” after a flag was thrown. He had a nightmarish day for a guy trying to make a team. He was called for pass interference (which for the record was a BS call) and then a few plays later he was called for illegal hands to the face. These penalties put the Cowboys in field goal range and they converted. Then later in the game he was called for an arm bar/pass interference. All of these penalties were automatic first downs and the last one was near the goal line to put the Cowboys in scoring position. The Raiders kept them from scoring but that is beside the point.