In the Oakland Raiders loss to the San Francisco 49ers Saturday night, you could tell that Head Coach Hue Jackson just wanted his starting offense to get into the end zone at the end of the second quarter. They failed to do so after an ugly Trent Edwards interception and left the game with only a field goal that was scored in the fourth quarter. Both defenses battled valiantly, but the Raiders' defense gave up over 200 yards rushing in an effort that was reminiscent of Raider defenses over the decade of dismal.
“Until we become the team we want to become, we can’t ever worry about [what people say],” said Coach Jackson a few weeks ago. “Until we learn to quit beating ourselves pre-snap with concentration penalties, until we learn to quit beating ourselves turning the ball over, not getting enough turnovers, until we learn to tackle and block the way I think we need to tackle and block, I think all those things are going to be said.”
Certainly not a lot has changed in that few weeks since Jackson said those words to a questioner on a Raiders.com Q&A session with the coach. The Raiders proved Saturday night that they still have a lot of issues that need addressing and Coach Jackson expressed confidence they could get the issues fixed and was happy that this was only the second preseason game of the season.
Although the Raider defense gave up two long sustained drives to start the game, part of the blame lies with the Raider offense for having their first series of the game result in a three-and-out.The Raider defense ended both of those drives with interceptions, one from a botched field goal that turned into a fake attempt and was picked by Rolando McClain, and the second in a cover three where Matt Shaughnessy dropped back from his defensive line spot and wasn’t seen by Alex Smith. However, the Raiders also gave up two interceptions, evening out the turnover ratio.
But the Raiders' biggest problem is not the fact that they had an even turnover ratio to their opponent or that they have been unable to sustain long drives of their own, it is that their red zone offense has been atrocious over the first two preseason games. There is a factor that could help remedy this issue and it may be coming soon for a team that is approaching desperate territory.
This preseason it is fair to say that the Raiders have been without some of their most productive offensive weapons. Jacoby Ford and Darren McFadden combined for 17 of the team's 44 touchdowns last year – a whopping 38 percent between just two players. So far this preseason, they have yet to play in either of the two contests and you know the Raiders are missing the production these players could provide.
Ford and McFadden both had break out years in 2010, though Ford was a rookie and McFadden was in his make or break season. McFadden has been dubbed a player who is just scratching the surface of his capabilities, while Ford’s rookie season was considered to be an overachievement of his abilities. Both players are looking to build on their solid performances from last season, but have faced minor setbacks with broken bones, with McFadden fracturing his eye socket nearly at the same time that Ford broke his hand.
McFadden’s injury was supposed to keep him out for two weeks. Two weeks will be up later this week. Ford’s injury was originally deemed two to four weeks but he has reportedly been healing quite fast. Sunday’s game will be three weeks since Ford’s injury. Both players participated in some non-contact drills, separate from team activities, that included 100-yard sprints last week. With the third preseason game on Sunday and the starters likely to sit out in the fourth game, you know the players as well as the coaches will be itching to get them on the field for some time with their first team teammates in game three.
Yet another player who could very well make his return this week is the oft-injured wide receiver Chaz “Glass” Schilens. Schilens sprained his knee in the first week of preseason action against the Arizona Cardinals. The “Glass” dubbing refers to the idea that any time there is contact with this frail wide out something ends up injured. Schilens’ injury in this case was deemed minor and he sat all of last week to heal his sprained knee. Schilens is a multidimensional threat as a wide receiver for the Raiders. He can either move the sticks with his consistent hands and route running or be a deep threat with his size, speed, and height, when the offense wants to stretch the field.
If Schilens were to return to action along with McFadden and Jacoby Ford for the first time this season against the Saints, the Raiders would really get their first real look at their 2011 offense. The only other big name missing would be Louis Murphy, who is scheduled to be out at least past week 1 in Denver. With so many players out, it is hard to decipher at the present time exactly what Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator, Al Saunders, are working with this year. But they aren’t the only three players who could return to action this week for the team in its “most meaningful” preseason game.
Rookie halfback Taiwan Jones has been rehabbing his injury from early in camp as well. Jones was a highly hyped Division II product from Eastern Washington who has drawn comparisons to Tennessee Titans' halfback Chris Johnson and Kansas City Chiefs' halfback Jamaal Charles. Unfortunately, Jones has not shown much of what he is capable of since he injured himself early on in camp. When asked about Jones in a presser last week, Coach Jackson said that he is 100 percent certain that Jones is “close” and the Raiders will get to see him in preseason action this year. Don’t be surprised if that happens this weekend.
Two players who will be more grateful than anybody for the return of their teammates as early as this weekend will be Darrius Heyward-Bey and rookie fifth round pick Denarius Moore. Most of the pressure from not having these guys in camp and on the football field has fallen on the shoulders of the third year player and his rookie counterpart. Whereas both players relish the opportunity to get extra reps with the first team offense, both players could have additional impact if they aren’t the only threats on the field.
Both DHB and Moore made a few nice grabs, particularly Heyward-Bey, and Moore had a nice kickoff return to the Raiders’ 45 yard-line on Saturday night. However, getting their teammates back would give the defense less of a chance to focus on stopping them and make it easier on that dreaded red zone offense that the Raiders have shown thus far.
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