For many of the guys on the field on Thursday, this is the most important game of their career. Basically because it could decide whether they have a career at all. With the Raiders sitting nearly all their starters, these hopefuls would get their chance to prove they are worthy. And if they couldn't, it would likely be the last time they suited up in a Raider uniform.
For others, it was not quite so dire though. The first half was played mostly by players whose roster spot was not hinging on how they play in this game. For most of them, their roster spot is secure. The second half was the oppositeend of that spectrum. Most of those players will not make the team. Afterall, the cut down date is rapidly approaching and 22 players have to go to bring the roster from 75 to 53.
So with that sense of urgency in mind, here is the list of those players who made a push to make the team or even start as well as those who hurt or even eliminated their chances.
He has had a good camp overall since joining the Raiders as a 7th round draft choice. He has battled 5th round pick Walter McFadden to be the first guy off the bench after the starters. And that is saying a lot considering McFadden has also played quite well. When McFadden limped off the field during the Raiders second defensive stand, Ware would be given even more chance to show his value-- a chance he didn't waste.
One thing that stands out about Ware to me is his supreme tackling abilities. He does quite well in coverage but for a guy who is just 5-10 and 180 pounds, he can lay some serious wood. On the first play of the final Seahawk possession of the 1st quarter, Ware came up to help out when Seahawks runningback Julius Jones got past the first line of defense. Ware nailed Jones hard, wrapped him up and took him down instantly. Then after a long drive had the Seahawks in scoring position, Ware came up again to plug a hole on third down. The runner saw him and bounced his run outside but Ware followed him to tackle him at the line. The Seahawks would settle for a field goal.
Two Seahawk possessions later, he put the bookends on another drive. He began the drive by jamming his receiver at the line on a play Seahawks QB JP Losman wanted to throw a quick short pass to his receiver. With Ware stopping his progress, Losman was forced to try and scamble for it only to be tackled after a short gain. Then Ware ended the drive with a pass defended to force the Seahawks to, yet again, settle for a Field goal.
In the 2nd half Ware made a nice tackle on a short catch to helpforce a3 and out on their first series. Then he ended the next Seahawk possession with tight coverage on an incompletion. Really his only hiccup in this game was a pass interference call. But it is hard to fault him on it, he had his receiver completely closed out. If he hadn't arm barred him, it would simply have been a great pass defended or even an interception. Looks like the Raiders found themselves another late round gem.
He showed on Thursday that he not only still has it,but hecan be the feature back if called upon. He carried the ball 25 times in this game for 92 yards. He continuously churned out tough yards and found creases in a shoddy offensive line. If the line hadn't gotten beat as often as they did, he would have easily had well over 100 yards rushing. He wasn't too flashy, he just got the job done all day. His best drive of the game started with the Raiders backed up against their own goal line after a muffed punt by Yamon Figurs and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Joe Porter. Hestarted off witha 6 yard run to give the Raiders some breathing room. The next play he ran for 15 yards. Then after a big Jacoby Ford 62 yard catch put the Raiders in scoring position, Bennett had a 5 yard run to move them closer. The next play Kyle Boller hit Nick Miller for a touchdown to go up 24-16.
I am convinced the Raiders will keep both Cartwright and Bennett. Mainly because of the Bush injury but also because the decision is just too difficult as to who to cut. Cartwright didn't run extremely well in this game; finished with just 39 yards rushing. But where he made his hay was in pass protection and as a receiver. He caught three passes for 45 yards with his longest going for 27 yards. That 27 yarder was the longest play on an extremely long drivewhich started in the 3rd quarter. He put a nifty juke move on a prospective tackler and broke free for the long run after the catch. He also carried the ball on the final play of the game. He took the handoff for 3 yards and a first down to allow the Raiders to kneel the clock out. With Cartwright's pass blocking skills what could end up happening is the team carries just one fullback and uses Cartwright in that role until Michael Bush is healthy again. Hard to say what the Raiders will do here.
How do the Raiders possibly cut this guy? Every week he has been a Raider, going back to last preseason, he makes at least one amazing catch. This time with the Raiders on the 16 yard line he ran up the sideline and laid out across the goal line to pull in a gorgeous touchdown catch. Last week he leaped up and laid out in the back corner of the endzone, keeping hisfeet barely inbounds for a touchdown. It would be one thing if he was this good and flying under the Radar. But making those kinds of catches doesn't go unnoticed by other teams. Let us not forget that he is a dynamite return man as well. He set all-time records in college in return yards. If he is cut, I would be surprised if he made it through waivers to the practice squad.
If the team does keep two fullbacks going into the season,Tonga should be the guy. He and Marcel Reece offer both blocking and receiving skills to the position. Reece has locked up the starting job and Tonga has at least earned the backup position. His first play of this game he caught a screen pass and took it 36 yards for a touchdown. He didn't show blazing speed but he showed a nose for the endzone just as he did in college at BYU. The rest of the day, he was sticking his nose into defenders and making holes for Raider running backs. On the Raiders second possession of the 3rd quarter he had two key blocks on Bennett runs for 15 and 5 yards. The drive ended in a touchdown to put the Raiders up 24-16. On the Raiders final long drive near the end of the game, he had two more key blocks for Bennett. One for 12 yards and another for 4 yards to put the Raiders at the 2 yard line looking to score. I liked Tonga in college and had hoped the Raiders would pick him up either in the draft or free agency. I am glad they did and it is good to seehim justify my faith in his abilities.
I will have to check the B&B index, but I am pretty sure this is the first time DHB has made the Baller list. He only had one recorded catch in this game but it was a good one. He went up the right sideline andleaped up to high-point the ball to come down witha 34 yard gain. That catch alone isn't enough to get him here though. It was what he did the prior play that started out his good day. The prior play was the 36 yard touchdown screen to Tonga in which DHB laid a nice block on his man that gave Tonga the last few yards en route to the endzone. The final play that DHB had won't show up in the stat line either. He broke wide open in the end zone and caught a touchdown pass in the first quarter. Unfortunately, Eric Pears lined up off the line but wasn't declared as an eligible receiver. The illegal formation penalty negated the TD catch. Luckily the Raiders would score on the next play anyway. And since this is a preseason game, DHB still gets 'credit' for his catch.
He wasthe lone bright spot in an otherwise sloppy performance from the offensive line. Loper proved time and time again that he is an ideal blocker in the zone blocking scheme. One of the common moves in the zone is to stunt the guard around behind the center to help block the other side where the run is headed. So if there is a run going through the right guard gap, Loper leaves his LG gap at the snap and heads through the RG gap in front on the fullback or in lew of the fullback to block for the runningback. He performs this duty as well as any of the Raider guards and better than some.
The first nice block he had was one in which he laid out a Seahawk defender to help free up Tonga on his 36 yard screen. It wasa play in which he executed his screen chip block perfectly and broke out to find the first defender he could locate and decleated him. He also had several other key blocks thoughout the game on good runs. He was not perfect in this game by far. He gave up a run stuff at one point and added a holding penalty as well. But he showed that he is one of the best options for depth on the offensive line for this team. And they need all the help they can get.
Eric Pears, Bruce Campbell, Khalif Barnes
Hard to say who was the worst among this trio so I figured I would just let them share top Buster on this one. At one point earlier this offseason, it appeared the Raiders offensive line was finally going to have some solid depth to it. The drafting of Jared Veldheer and Bruce Campbell was a big part of that. Well, Veldheer didn't play in this game and looks like he could be the Raiders new starting center.While Campbell looks like he has a long way to go before he is ready to play the guard position in the NFL. This is especially troubling when you consider that he was supposed to be a top tackle prospect in the draft. But, anyway,let's get down to business in this game, starting with the two tackles.
Pears and Barnes were running back death traps on each side of the line in this game. They gave up 6 run stuffs between the two of them including a couple of tackles for loss. Barnes was also a nightmare for the quarterback as he gave up a QB pressure and two hard hits on the quarterback. Pears, while being nicer to the quarterback, was not so nice when he had three different penalties-- a false start, a holding and an illegal formation. The illegal formation wiped out a touchdown catch.
Campbell was also a penalty generating machine. He had three holding penalties called on him including two on consecutive plays, the second one was declined because the Raiders were already facing 3rd and 33. On top of his penalties, he gave up two QB pressures and two run stuffs for no gain.
Sure none of these three gave up a sack (the one sack was given up by Satele), but keep in mind that they were facing 2nd and 3rd string defensive linemen. Imagine how much trouble they would be in if they had some starting defensive lineman in there? The Quarterback would not make it out alive, the running backs would be spinning their wheels and the offense would be in 3rd and long all day from penalties.
There has been much discussion this offseason about who should be starting between Chris Johnson and Stanford Routt. Routt was said to have worked extra hard this offseason to improve his game. Then Chris Johnson went down with a hamstring injury which opened the door for Routt to go out and prove himself. Routt has had a solid preseason in CJ's absense too. This game was Chris Johnson's first game back from the injury and his chance to put some of this talk to rest. But his performance in this game only made the voices louder. As a starter, he should have little trouble with a bunch of backup receivers. But in this game, he was simply torched. There is no way around it.
On the Seahawks first three series he was solid and even read a pass into the flat perfectly to end the drive for a third straight 3 and out. But after that he was in serious trouble. The next drive he gave up a 19 yard pass and a 31 yard pass. To put it in perspective, the Seahawks only had 13 yards outside of the 50 that CJ gave up all by himself en route to a field goal. The next series he gave up a 37 yard catch on drive that ended in a Seahawks touchdown. It was again the longest play on the drive. The next drive again, he gave up a long catch of 32 yards for the longest play and a Seahawk field goal. In case you weren't doing the math, that is 119 yards on four catches-- all before halftime.
I am not quite ready to say that he should lose his starting job. But he didn't do anything for his case in this game, that's for sure.
The Raiders may be the only team in the NFL whose special teams coordinator has a spot reserved for him on the Buster list. And not just because this is the only Buster list in existence (that I know of). Usually STC's are mostly sight unseen. But for the second consecutive game, the Raiders kick coverage team gave up a long touchdown. This time it was a 99 yard touchdown and it just happened to be their former teammate Louis Rankin running by them to the end zone. That was the only difference. Otherwise it looked exactly the same. Right down the middle, through a gaping hole, untouched, andall the way to pay dirt. They also gave up a 54 yard kick return to Cord Parks earlier in the game that set up a field goal. That is 10 points given up on returns alone, which is uncacceptable. Oh yeah, and the Raiders allowed these long returns with their former special teams coach Brian Schneider, on the opposite sideline as the Seahawks STC. Schneider didto the Raiders what he always used to do forthe Raiders. The Raiders themselves got almost nothing on their own kick and punt returns too. Seriously how is it that Fassel can be this terrible at his job and still keep it? For now we just have to hope the reason the Raiders hired assistant special teams coach Craig Dickenson last monthis because they havedesigns on training him as Fassel's replacement.
ALSO SEE: Raiders vs Seahawks recap
For the complete Ballers & Busters Index, Click Hereor go to the Archives tab in the header.