Raiders-Cardinals Recap

Final Score: Raiders 27, Cardinals 31

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Offense:

The first team unit was inconsistent at best. Darren McFadden looked strong for a second straight game, though the Raiders failed on a few 3rd-and-short conversions. The offensive line was down second-year Center Stefen Wisniewski, and it showed. The line struggled to give Carson Palmer adequate protection for much of his outing. Palmer was intercepted again, a habit which marred his 2011-12 campaign. Two drops did cost this first unit a touchdown, however.

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Bright Spot: Rookie WR Rod Streater had 7 catches for 43 yards. While the yardage total is not impressive, this team needs a consistent possession target to complement all their speed; Streater could be that guy, especially if an injury occurs.

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Area of Concern: Mike Goodson had a bad night. Not only did he struggle to find running room, he fumbled twice. This was a problem for him in Carolina, so it is worrisome if the Raiders believe they can count on him to see significant playing time behind Darren McFadden.

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Defense:

The defense seemed dazed and confused on the Cardinals’ first drive. Players were out of place, tackles were missed, and the unit was gashed for an opening-drive touchdown. They decided to play, and looked much better the rest of the game. The score doesn’t show how well they played; 7 points were scored off a blocked punt, while 10 other points resulted from Mike Goodson fumbles. Dennis Allen brought plenty of pressure, causing Kevin Kolb to look “scared” according to DT Tommy Kelly. Speaking of Kelly…

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Bright Spot: DT Tommy Kelly was disruptive for his second straight outing. He was credited with the safety on Kevin Kolb, but also managed to get consistent pressure coming up the middle. Teams might not double-team Richard Seymour much more if Kelly continues to cause quarterbacks trouble.

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Area of Concern: CB DeMarcus Van Dyke struggled in this one. While the secondary as a whole needs to make strides, Van Dyke did not display the improvements he seemed to have made during the offseason program. On back-to-back plays, Van Dyke was out-jumped for a ball he should have broken up and missed a tackle that resulted directly in a touchdown. He’s young and has tons of talent, but will need to step up if this secondary is to look much better than last year’s abysmal unit.

 

Injuries of Note: WR and return man Jacoby Ford left the game with a foot injury. He had an MRI Saturday, and his return in time for the season-opener is questionable. WR Darrius Heyward Bey (shoulder), QB Matt Leinart (hand), and RB Mike Goodson (chest) all left the game with minor injuries.

 

What to Look for Next: The Raiders play the Detroit Lions in Week 3 of the preseason. I want to see a complete effort from both starting units. Detroit is the most talented opponent yet, so this game will act as a good measuring stick for where exactly this team is. Week 3 is when the starters see the bulk of the action, and I’m excited to see just what we can do.

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Projected 53-man Roster

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With mandatory Mini-Camps wrapping up and Training Camp 6 weeks away, I thought I’d take a look inside my crystal ball to project who will make the final 53-man roster come week 4 of the preseason. Feel free to agree or disagree, as this is merely an educated speculation.

QB: Palmer, Leinart, Pryor
My take: Carson Palmer is the clear starter, but the battle for back-up QB could get intriguing if Terrelle Pryor continues to impress and improve.

RB: McFadden, Goodson, Jones
My take: This is a speedy, talented group. Darren McFadden is an All-Pro and rushing title-contender when healthy. Taiwan Jones may be the fastest player on the team. Mike Goodson is talented but needs to prove he can hang onto the rock.

FB: Reece, Schmitt
My take: Marcel Reece is a dangerous, versatile weapon who creates mismatches. Owen Schmitt is the classic blocking fullback the Raiders have been missing in recent years.

TE: Ausberry, Myers, Gordon
My take: This is a young, inexperienced group. Brett Myers is the front-runner due to experience and consistency, but David Ausberry is a unique athlete.

WR: Heyward-Bey, Moore, Ford, Criner, Streater
My take: This group needs to take a step forward. DHB, Denarius Moore, and Jacoby Ford all provide speed, but Juron Criner could be the big, possession target this offense needs to take the next step. Rod Streater impressed in mini-camps and could edge out the oft-injured Louis Murphy for the final receiver spot.

OT: Veldheer, Barksdale, Barnes, Hurd
My take: Jared Veldheer is a Pro Bowler in the making at LT. Hopefully Joe Barksdale will push the unimpressive Khaliff Barnes at RT, but his progression is slower than hoped. Sam Hurd makes the cut for depth, as he is versatile and familiar with the team (member of the practice squad last year).

C: Wisniewski, Parsons
My take: Wiz II played well in his limited time at center a year ago. His transition could make or break the cohesiveness of the Raiders offensive line. Alex Parsons provides depth, and has been taking first-team reps in mini-camp while Wisniewski heals up.

OG: Brisiel, Carlisle, Bergstrom, Nix
My take: Mike Brisiel will solidify the RG spot instantly. The aging Cooper Carlisle will be pushed by 3rd round pick Tony Bergstrom for the LG spot. Lucas Nix is a promising rookie who played tackle and guard during his time at Pitt.

DE: Houston, Shaughnessy, Crawford, Tollefson
My take: Lamarr Houston is primed for a big year. Matt Shaughnessy is back from a nasty shoulder injury and was sorely missed last year, especially in run defense. Free agent signing David Tollefson can get after the quarterback, while draftee Jack Crawford has the physical tools to contribute right away.

DT: Seymour, Kelly, Bryant, Bilukidi
My take: Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly both have Pro Bowl ability, but must make the leap from very good to dominant in order for this defense to progress. Desmond Bryant is a versatile, athletic big man who rushes the passer well. Christo Bilukidi is very raw but has two great teachers to help refine his talent.

OLB: Wheeler, Curry, Burris, Ihenacho
My take: Phillip Wheeler is a sure tackler who is solid against both the run and the pass. Aaron Curry needs to show his mental makeup can match his physical abilities. Burris is a promising, versatile linebacker who could contribute as a pass rush specialist. Ihenacho stays on as depth.

MLB: McClain, Goethel, Stupar
My take: Rolando McClain needs to perform well on the field this year, or he will be cut by new GM Reggie McKenzie. Off the field antics can be swallowed (to some extent) if the performance is there; so far in McClain’s short career, it has not been. Travis Goethel could be the starter if McClain misses time, and has shown some ability when healthy. 7th round pick Nathan Stupar offers depth at both linebacker positions, but should see most of his time in special teams.

CB: Bartell, Spencer, Van Dyke, Chekwa, Underwood
My take: Free agent acquisitions Ron Bartell and Shantae Spencer have plenty of NFL starting experience, but fell out of favor with their former teams mostly due to injury. Second year corners Demarcus Van Dyke and Chimdi Chekwa both have the speed necessary for the position, but need more game experience to make improvements. Brandon Underwood is familiar with GM Reggie McKenzie from their time in Green Bay, and is a wild card of sorts after being buried on the depth chart there.

FS: Huff, Giordano
My take: Michael Huff simply needs to make more plays. Matt Giordano lead the Raiders in INTs with five last year, but has shown inconsistency in coverage.

SS: Branch, Mitchell
My take: Tyvon Branch is one of the most gifted safeties in the league, and will finally be in a defense which utilizes his abilities. Mike Mitchell, pegged as a huge reach when he was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2009 NFL draft, needs to show he’s worthy of playing in the NFL.

K/P: Janikowski, Lechler LS: Condo
My take: The best special teams unit in the NFL. If they play to the level they’re capable of, all three should make the Pro Bowl.

Leinart or Sorgi?

It is being reported that the Raiders are interested in the services of both Matt Leinart and Jim Sorgi to backup starter Carson Palmer. This backup position has been identified as a need all offseason, but GM Reggie McKenzie waited, knowing that there were many options that could be had for cheaper as OTAs approached. Project Terrelle Pryor and unkown Rhett Bomar are the only other quarterbacks currently on the roster, so it makes sense to be shopping for a veteran backup. Leinart and Sorgi come from different backgrounds but have had similarly unproductive NFL careers. Here’s a look at each guy.

Matt Leinart – Age: 28. Height/Weight: 6’5″, 234 lbs. Drafted: Round 1, Pick 10 of the 2006 NFL Draft

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Leinart had high hopes coming out of USC. He was a Heisman Trophy winner (back-to-back finalist) and National Champion (back-to-back appearances). It all goes downhill from here. He was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals with the hopes that his accuracy and decision-making would make-up for a lack of arm strength. However, he was never able to supplant veteran Kurt Warner in his time in Arizona. He had his chances, but was unimpressive. Leinart spent the last two seasons with the Houston Texans, where he backed up Matt Schaub. In his one chance to prove himself as a starter once again, he suffered a season ending collarbone fracture against the Jaguars in Week 12 of this past season. He’s familiar with Gregg Knapp’s offense, however, and at one time had high potential that has yet to be realized.

Career Stats: 31 games, 57.6% Completion, 3,950 yards passing, 15 TD/20 INT, 71.6 Passer Rating

Jim SorgiAge: 31. Height/Weight: 6’5″, 196 lbs. Drafted: Round 6, Pick 193 of the 2004 NFL Draft

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Sorgi had some success with the Wisonsin Badgers, but was not a highly touted prospect coming out of college. He’s known throughout the NFL as Peyton Manning’s backup; not the best reputation to have. But with that moniker has to come with it some sort of knowledge gained. Surely, six years of clipboard holding made him a student of the game. If nothing else, he is a veteran NFL backup quarterback who can be smart and accurate if he is called upon.

Career Stats: 14 games, 63.5% Completion, 929 yards passing, 6 TD/1 INT, 89.9 Passer Rating

My Take:

While Sorgi’s numbers indicate better (safer) quarterback play, he doesn’t have nearly the sample size. Leinart has vital starting experience, and already has experience in the Gregg Knapp system. Both guys are check-down artists (Leinart: 6.5 ypa, Sorgi: 5.96 ypa) and should not actually see the field. Should Carson Palmer experience an injury (knock on wood), either guy would be a better option in reserve than what is currently on the Raiders’ roster. Leinart seems to be a slightly better option, but what do you think?

Raiders Get in the Draft Mix, Take OT/G Bergstrom

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After almost three rounds of waiting, the Reggie McKenzie era has kicked off. The Raiders selected OT/G Tony Bergstrom from Utah with the 95th overall pick (Compensatory, 3rd round). Bergstrom is a tough, versatile player who has shown good strength and mobility. This 2011 All-Pac-12 Conference First Team selection played OT in college but will likely push Cooper Carlisle for the starting left guard spot. This fits a need and is about the range Bergstrom was expected to go, so I like the pick.

GM Reggie McKenzie had this to say [of Bergstrom] “There’s no way you can know who you’re going to take at No. 95 until you see names come off the board. He was still there and was the one we liked.”

The main reason Bergstrom fell to Oakland is that he will turn 26 years old this year because of a LDS mission trip before college. The Raiders have made their first pick, and it looks to be a good one.

Giordano Re-signs

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The Oakland Raiders announced Monday that they have agreed to bring back safety Matt Giordano. Giordano saw action due to injuries in the secondary last year, and played admirably. In his nine starts, Giordano totaled career highs in tackles, 70, and interceptions, 5. He was one of the few playmakers in a secondary which was shredded time and time again. While a liability at times in coverage, Giordano is a high-effort, athletic player who finds himself around the ball consistently. He is ideally a reserve, but can fill in with the starters if need be.

DE Tollefson a Raider Once Again

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Northern California native and former New York Giant defensive end Dave Tollefson has signed a two-year, $2.5 million deal. Tollefson was a key reserve for the Super Bowl winning Giants, having tallied 5 sacks in a rotational role. He will add to an already talented defensive line, and gives the Raiders defense another pass rusher. Based on comments from the various football sites, Tollefson was a fan favorite who was known as being a high-character and high-motor guy. This signing brings Tollefson full circle; he is from nearby Walnut Creek, CA and was a practice squad player for the Raiders in 2007.

New GM Reggie McKenzie is now six-for-six in signing free agents who he has had visit. This is another solid signing, but also further signifies that the Raiders free-spending days of the past are over. Bringing in good football players at a bargain is what makes teams competitive for years.

State of the Raiders: Defense

This is the second of a three part series. My first post covered the offense; this post will cover the defense. Now that the free agency dust has more or less settle, the Raiders starters seem to be set. Last year, the defense was flat out bad. In fact, it’s one of the reasons Hue Jackson was replaced by the defensive-minded Dennis Allen. The 2011 Oakland Raiders were 29th in points against/game (27.1) and 29th in yards allowed (387.6). These numbers alone do not tell the whole story. If you, like me, watched the games, then you know the pain of watching the defense cave in the most important times of games. Against Buffalo and Detroit the team lost on last minute drives. In five of the other six losses, the defense never even showed up to the game (I blame the week 7 loss to the Chiefs on the 7 turnovers committed by quarterbacks). Yet, a new scheme is coming to Oakland, and there still exists quite a bit of talent, especially on the defensive line. Here is a breakdown of each positional group, along with a letter grade.

Defensive Line

This group is made up of a wealth of talent and experience. Richard Seymour is coming off a Pro Bowl year, and has become a true leader in the locker room. Fellow DT Tommy Kelly had numbers similar to Seymour’s, and some could argue he was deserving of a nod to Hawaii as well. Defensive end Lamarr Houston has impressed so far during his two year career, and has rare physical ability. DE Matt Shaugnessy has a clean bill of health, and is an above-average starter with a high motor. Desmond Bryant offers versatility in reserve as both a pass-rushing DT or a run-stuffing DE. The Raiders are also reportedly interested in former Giants defensive end David Tollefson, who would offer some much needed pass-rushing abilities. Versatility is the key with the defensive line. If Dennis Allen does implement a hybrid 4-3/3-4 defense, he’ll have plenty of toys up front to play with. This unit can pressure the quarterback and stop the run, but needs the rest of the team to improve to see its true potential unfold. Grade: A-

Linebackers

Going into the 2011-12 season, I knew we had one of the largest 4-3 linebacker cores in the league. Yes, they were big and fast. But I had my doubts – could they cover? The resounding answer was no, no they couldn’t. Aaron Curry brought more speed and aggressiveness, but still lacks the football IQ and coverage skills necessary of a Will linebacker. Rolando McClain consistently proved to be… inconsistent. Aside from a mid-season arrest, McClain’s season was full of incorrect angles, poor coverage, and over-aggression against the run. He is very talented and was a leader at Alabama, so it is disappointing to see him acclimate to the NFL so slowly. Incumbent starting Sam linebacker Kamerion Wimbley was cut, but offered little more than pass rush. In fact, I find him to be highly over-rated; he’s never tallied more than 69 tackles in a season, despite playing in all but one game for his teams during his six-year career. To put that in perspective, free agent acquisition Philip Wheeler scored 80 tackles in only 11 starts last year. While not the pass rusher Wimbley is, Wheeler is better both in coverage and against the run, and should bring in some much-needed discipline.

This unit is in serious need of depth. Travis Goethl is a serviceable player but has durability concerns. Practice squader Carl Ihenacho is the only other linebacker currently on the roster. Yikes. Look for at least two more players to be brought in for depth and special teams. There’s lots of talent here, but Dennis Allen will need to bring along Curry and McClain (especially) if there will be any improvements from last year. Grade: B-

Secondary

Where do I begin? This unit was so bad that both incumbent starting cornerbacks were cut. They were so bad, Matt Giordano got significant playing time. I think Calvin Johnson just scored again. All kidding aside, a big goal for GM Reggie McKenzie this offseason was to overhaul a broken coverage unit. Stanford Routt’s silly contract was terminated. Chris Johnson was sent packing as well. This left 2011 draft picks Chimdi Chekwa and DeMarcus Van Dyke as the only NFL-level talent (at corner) on the team. Reggie McKenzie, however, saw an inexpensive solution: enter Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer. Both are big, fast, and experienced cover corners. While not elite talents, they come on-the-cheap, and will at least offer more consistency than last year’s unit. McKenzie pulled from his Packers days by adding CBs Pat Lee  and Brandon Underwood, but neither should see much playing time aside from special teams duties.

The safety positions are set in stone, with incumbent starters Michael Huff and Tyvon Branch giving it another go. My hope is that both thrive in Dennis Allen’s more aggressive/less man-oriented defense. Branch is a stud, and it will be interesting to see how a true defensive mind uses him. Huff will need to be better in coverage and make more plays, or his bloated contract could be ended at year’s end. Talent-wise, this unit is about the same on paper. Can a new scheme make that big of a difference? Let’s hope so. Grade: C+