LOS ANGELES, August 15, 2015 — The Oakland Raiders kicked off their preseason by hosting the St. Louis Rams. The Raiders won the game, 18-3, but preseason games are always about more than the score. Here are some takeaways from the game.
Derek Carr is firmly in command of the offense. He was shackled last year into throwing dink and dunk West Coast Offense passes, which was boring and predictable, especially early in the season before a coaching change. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave called a pretty balanced attack that included some unexpected plays. The only disappointment was that Musgrave did not call one single bomb the entire game. For a team that now has a receiver who can stretch the field, the vertical game should not be completely eliminated.
Carr is capable of staying in the pocket, rolling out, and throwing on the run. He is smart and accurate with his passes.
Carr will make mistakes, but he has to be allowed to make them. His only interception came because he never saw the defender. It is important that he be unleashed and allowed to throw as often as he needs.
Amari Cooper is immediately ready for the NFL. All of the praise heaped on the receiver during the offseason is deserved. He and Carr already have chemistry.
Running back Latavius Murray is ready to start. His cuts on delayed handoffs provided Carr with the ability to lead the passing attack.
Second string quarterback Christian Ponder may not be a total bust. He completed all four passes on a touchdown drive that had the Raiders leading at halftime. Ponder did throw an interception on the last play of the half, but that was more of a flaw in scheme. Ponder was throwing against backups, but he looked good enough.
Third string quarterback Matt McGloin is very good. He is poised and, for some reason, was not allowed to unleash his cannon of an arm. He completed ten of his first 11 passes. The only incompletion came when a well thrown ball was dropped after the receiver got blasted by the defender. McGloin could move up to second string before training camp ends.
Trent Richardson is still struggling. His carries gained little yardage. He may not make the roster.
The Raiders had only two penalties in the game, one in each half. Neither penalty was significant. Jack Del Rio should be very pleased at how disciplined his team was in only the first preseason game. Conversely, Jeff Fisher teams are known for being disciplined. On this night, they committed several penalties on both sides of the ball. It was the Rams killing themselves with dumb mistakes, not the Raiders.
The Oakland pass defense could be a concern. It is too early to panic, but Nick Foles needed only two plays to get the Rams into the red zone. Foles looked fantastic on his first drive. The Raiders gave up far too many third down conversions and one fourth down conversion. Credit the defense with holding the Rams to a field goal on their opening drive.
The Oakland pass rush led by Khalil Mack could be really special. After a sack of Foles was wiped out by offsetting penalties, the Raiders came back and sacked Foles again on the next play. Oakland’s defense just teed off on backup Case Keenum, who is not nearly as good as Foles. Rookie linebacker Ben Heeney had the announcers taking notice in a good way.
Sebastian Janikowski is as good as ever, with booming touchbacks on kickoffs and making his only field goal of the night from 44 yards out. Seabass is fine. Trindon Holliday showed explosive moves on one punt return.
The Raiders have some very young, talented players but they also have coaches who range the gamut. The offensive line played very well. Line coach Mike Tice is a veteran, and it shows. Conversely, Ken Norton Jr. is in his first year as a defensive coordinator, but the players seem to respond well to him.
The Raiders in their struggling years have had far too many games where the defense played solid, the offense did little, and the defense eventually wore down. If Carr can lead like he appears to be able to do, the defense will be well rested and ready.
The overall result of this game should have the Raider Nation cautiously optimistic.