The Oakland Raiders will play their all-important (as far as exhibition games go) third preseason game of the year on Friday night when they take on the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau field. The first team units for the Raiders have not looked good in limited time this preseason, giving fans a cause for concern. The areas that appeared to be the weakest leading into training camp have proven to be worse than expected.
- On offense, the passing game hasn’t found any rhythm and as a result has struggled to move the ball with consistency.
- On defense, the secondary has made opposing quarterbacks look like they were playing Madden on the easiest setting.
With the starters likely to see most of the first half on Friday night, the hope is that extended playing time will allow them to gel more and show signs of life thus far not seen. And while you’d hope to see the team as a whole perform well, there are certain players whose performance matters more than others. Some because of the importance of their position and some because of the importance of their presence. So as you watch the Raiders and Packers on Friday night, pay close attention to these guys:
Jake Murphy and Scott Simonson
The Raiders are frighteningly thin at the tight end position after injuries to David Ausberry and Nick Kasa. Both players look like they will miss extended time, so while the Raiders still have promising second-year tight end Mychal Rivera, there are major depth concerns. Quarterback Matt Schaub likes to lean on his tight ends and ideally, the Raiders would like to provide him two passing options at the position in order to keep players fresh and be able to use two-TE sets.
Before the Raiders go combing through the trash heap of players at the roster cut deadline, they need to see what they have in two undrafted rookie free agents. Both Scott Simonson and Jake Murphy made big plays against the Detroit Lions last week as they attempt to convince coaches they are worth roster spots. With Schaub getting extended time, if either one sees the field with him, they will need to make the most of their opportunities. If not, the Raiders will have to hit the drawing board again and find another answer to their tight end problem.
We might as well get through the obvious one early. For the most part, teams in the NFL go as their starting quarterback goes. The Raiders have been looking for a good starting quarterback ever since Rich Gannon retired. Not surprisingly, they have been one of the worst teams in NFL history during that period. This year, they turn to former Houston Texans quarterback Matt Schaub.
The veteran with two Pro Bowl appearances looked horrible in his final season with the Texans. His arm strength appears to be fading and his confidence may have already paid the check and hopped in the cab. If the Raiders want to stick to their plan of allowing rookie Derek Carr to sit for a year or two before taking over as starter, they will need Schaub to show he’s worth using for an entire season. So far he has not done so, but he also hasn’t had much help from his offensive line. This will be a key test to see if he can get something going with a full half to work with. If not, the Raiders should be very concerned.
The Raiders’ first round pick was supposed to come in and be an impact player from day one. After an offseason that saw coaches laud his physical abilities and talk about how he was better than expected, he has been all but invisible in the first two preseason games. The Raiders do not need him to perform the way they need Schaub to perform, but any hope of exceeding expectations sits largely in the hope that Mack can be one of those larger than life kind of players. You never want to count on an unproven rookie and the Raiders are trying their hardest not to, but after years of missing on first round picks, the Raiders cannot afford another whiff.
They don’t need Mack to be an all-star right away, but he can’t be an absolute flop either. They need a guy who will be active around the ball and can contribute in a significant way. So far, they have not seen that on the field, but there is still lots of time. Hopefully, the team will see him make a bigger impact tomorrow as the season edges closer.
Of all the bodies that the Raiders brought in this offseason, none were as highly vaunted as Justin Tuck. He was the first big name signing and a lot of names found their way to Oakland soon thereafter. He does well in the run game, but he was brought in primarily for his pass rush abilities. So far, he has looked decent in the preseason, nothing to be concerned about but also nothing to be overly excited about. Hopefully with more time in the game, he can show that he still has the ability to be that impact, play making pass rusher he has been in the past. The Raiders will need him to be if they have any hope of competing in a pass happy NFL this season.
The Raiders secondary was suspect heading into training camp but then D.J. Hayden got hurt and suddenly it went from suspect to down right bad. A large part of why the play has been so much worse than expected is because Tarell Brown, a guy who many expected would represent a big upgrade to the position for the Raiders, has been terrible this preseason. Not only has he given up a lot of passes, he has been made to look a fool, getting burned for big plays on more than one occasion despite minimal playing time as a starter. Now that it appears Hayden could start the season on the PUP list, is’s even more important that Brown step up his game and start playing the way the Raiders hoped he would when they signed him.