Takeaways from Raiders preseason home tilt with Rams

Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) celebrates after throwing a touchdown pass against the Los Angeles Rams during the first half of an NFL preseason football game in Oakland, Calif., Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

By Joe Hawkes-Beamon
Sports Radio Service Writer

OAKLAND — Halfway through the preseason, the Raiders are 0-2.

Cause for concern if you’re Raider Nation?

Not really, seeing that the first game of the regular season against the Titans in Nashville isn’t for another month and records don’t carry over from the preseason, but after watching the Raiders lose to the Rams 24-21 at the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum Saturday night, a few things jumped out at me in the press box relating to the Silver and Black:

Starting quarterback Derek Carr looks healthy, but starting left tackle Donald Penn’s absence looms large

Saturday night marked the first time that Carr was in uniform for the Silver and Black for a home game after sustaining a season-ending leg injury on Christmas Eve against the Indianapolis Colts last season.

Showing no signs of the injury that derailed the Raiders’ chances of winning their first playoff game since 2002, Carr completed 7-of-9 passes for 100 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in three drives for Oakland.

Carr found backup tight end Lee Smith for Oakland’s first score of the game with a 19-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter that gave Oakland an early 7-0 lead, then in the second quarter, Carr hooked up wide receiver Michael Crabtree on a 13-yard, catch-and-run touchdown that saw Crabtree absolutely abuse Rams cornerback Troy Hill with a ridiculous fake out move that left Hill on roller skates.

Fellow wide receiver Amari Cooper may had the highlight of the night when he jumped over two defenders to reel in a 31-yard pass from Carr in the second quarter.

Carr finished with a passer rating of 113.0, but had to move around in the pocket to avoid a bevy of Rams’ pass rushers coming from the left side of the offensive line to complete his passes. When you’re worth $125 million and play the most crucial position in football and the team will only go as far as you, your health is of the utmost concern and it was evident that the Raiders need their wall of an left tackle on the field if Carr is to remain healthy.

Penn has been a no-show during all of training camp in Napa due to wanting a new contract. The 11-year veteran is set to make $5.8 million in the final year of his deal and wants to be paid as a top-10 left tackle.

Some may point out that Penn could be replaced if he decides to stay away, which I don’t buy. Penn may have given up the sack that led to the end of Carr’s MVP-like 2016 season, but he is irreplaceable and the Raiders and Penn need to come to an agreement somewhere if they expect to be a Super Bowl team.

The defense can be leaky

Defensive end Khalil Mack recorded a sack in his first preseason action, but the rest of Raiders’ defense has some work to do.

Rams’ starting quarterback Jared Goff was razor sharp, completing 16-of-20 passes for 160 yards and one touchdown in leading Los Angeles to 17 points in his three drives of work. Goff looked more poised and confident in Year 2 than he did as a rookie last year and showed growth as an NFL quarterback by keeping the Raiders defense on their heels with quick passes and tough runs by starting running back Todd Gurley.

But the real guy that was hurting the Raiders was Rams’ rookie wide receiver Cooper Kupp.

Kupp was a matchup problem for Oakland, especially working in the slot and it showed in catching six balls for 70 yards and a 23-yard touchdown where Goff found Kupp 10-yards ahead of the closest Raider defender. There’s no question that Goff will look for Kupp early and often in games during the regular season.

There were times where you saw Raider defensive backs looked out of position, most notably on the Rams’ final drive of the game and backup quarterback Sean Mannion dropped a 20-yard dime for a touchdown to another promising Rams rookie, wide receiver Josh Reynolds, for the game-winning score leaving reserve cornerback Chris Humes confused.

Mannion finished 15-of-22 for 132 yards after taking over for Goff at halftime.

The battle for the No. 2 quarterback continues, but Cook could have inside track at job

One week, fifth-year quarterback EJ Manuel appeared to be in the driver’s seat to be the No. 2 guy behind Carr after completing 10-of-12 passes for 107 yards and posting a 103.8 passer rating against the Cardinals, Manuel didn’t look near as good against the Rams in front of Raider Nation.

Manuel took over for Carr and was just 3-of-9 for 16 yards with a passer rating of 42.4 in two drives.

Connor Cook may have actually helped his case at being the primary backup behind Carr with his night.

The second-year signal-caller from Michigan State finished the game completing 9-of-15 passes for 81 yards, including a 17-yard touchdown dart to backup wide receiver Johnny Holton to give Oakland a 21-17 lead late in the fourth quarter. Cook completed his final six-straight passes on the 11-play, 65-yard drive for the Silver and Black.

After posting a meager 58.0 passer rating in Arizona, Cook finished with a passer rating of 97.4 against Los Angeles.

Both teams will be in action again next Saturday, Aug. 26 for preseason football, with the Raiders traveling to Dallas, and Los Angeles hosting their in-city rival, the Chargers.

Lynch sits again, Carr puts right arm around Mack during National Anthem

Prior to the start of the game, Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch sat down during the National Anthem. Lynch also sat during the National Anthem in Arizona last weekend.

Raiders quarterback Derek Carr put his right arm on the shoulder of defensive end Khalil Mack during the National Anthem.

Recently, Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett (who sat during the National Anthem during Seattle’s 48-17 win over the Chargers last Sunday), called for white football players to join the anthem protest to help change and improve race relations and the general treatment of other human beings.

 

 

 

Oakland Raiders host Los Angeles Rams at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Preseason Encounter

Oakland Raiders quarterback EJ Manuel (3) during an NFL preseason football game against the Arizona Cardinals, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

By Joe Hawkes-Beamon
Sports Radio Service Writer

OAKLAND — The Raiders will play their first home game of the preseason schedule when they host the Los Angeles Rams Saturday night at the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum.

Kickoff is at 7:00 p.m. PT.

This will mark the first game between the Raiders and the Rams in the preseason since 2015 (an 18-3 home win for the Silver and Black). Oakland and Los Angeles last played in the regular season in 2014, when the Rams rolled over the Raiders 52-0 in St. Louis where the Rams called home from 1995-2015 after relocating from Los Angeles originally.

Oakland dropped their preseason opener 20-10 to the Arizona Cardinals last Saturday night in Glendale.

The Raiders held out most of their top players most notably quarterback Derek Carr, running back Marshawn Lynch, wide receivers Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper, offensive lineman Gabe Jackson, Rodney Hudson, and Kelechi Osemele.

With left tackle Donald Penn still holding out due to a contract dispute, the Raiders were cautious about playing Carr in the preseason opener. Carr is the franchise signal-caller the organization rewarded with a five-year, $125 million extension following his second-straight 3,900-passing yards and 25 touchdown-passing season in the offseason.

But with the second preseason game on the horizon and the Raiders returning to their Alameda headquarters Thursday following their annual training camp in Napa for the remainder of the season, you’d expect Carr and the first-team offense to be on the field Saturday night for at least the first quarter in front of Raider Nation.

Training camp reps are great, but Carr and the first-team offense need to be on the same page and live-action in an NFL game (even if it’s preseason), is the only way teams get better especially a team that have been picked by most Las Vegas odds-makers as the AFC’s representative in Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis on Feb. 4, 2018.

Once Carr gets his work in for the evening, the battle for Carr’s backup will continue between five-year veteran quarterback EJ Manuel and second-year signal-caller Connor Cook.

Manuel got the starting nod against Arizona and played admirable in the first half, completing 10-of-12 passes for 107 yards and a quarterback rating of 103.8. The former Buffalo starter was signed in the offseason to be Carr’s backup, but Cook was drafted in the fourth round by the Raiders in 2016 and the organization believes he could be just as good as Carr someday.

Cook took over for Manuel and played the entire second half and was just 10-of-21 for 82 yards, but did lead the Raiders to their lone touchdown of the evening, a one-yard rushing score by second-year reserve running back John Crockett in the third quarter that finished off a five-play, 63-yard drive.

Remember, Cook did make NFL history last season becoming the first rookie quarterback to make his pro debut in a playoff game, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, albeit after the Raiders lost Carr to a broken leg for the remainder of the season after an 12-3 start on Christmas Eve.

Losing Carr was the ultimate lump of coal in the stockings of Raider Nation.

Defensively, defensive end Khalil Mack and linebacker Bruce Irvin sat out Saturday’s contest in the desert. Both Mack and Irvin should see the field and get a chance to play with some of Silver and Black’s younger talent in second-year linebacker Cory James and rookie middle linebacker Marquel Lee.

James led all defensive players with seven tackles (seven solo) and looked more comfortable defending the run, while Lee finished with six tackles (five solo) and a fumble recovery in his first NFL preseason game.

Lee did struggle at times covering the running back out of the backfield and tight ends on option- and curl-routes, and needs to improve his coverage skills as the Raiders face dynamic tight ends almost on a weekly basis with Kansas City and San Diego coming to mind with elite guys named Travis Kelce and Antonio Gates, respectively.

Rookie defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes may have wrapped up a starting job, but fellow rookie defensive tackle Treyvon Hester racked up two of Oakland’s four sacks in Arizona with rookie linebacker LaTroy Lewis registering the other two sacks to go along with four tackles (four solo).

Add in holdovers Justin “Jelly” Ellis and defensive end Mario Edwards, Oakland’s defensive front could be intriguing to watch in 2017 after lacking any serious punch in 2016 with a league-low 25 sacks, 18 by the aforementioned Mack (team-leading 11.0 sacks) and Irvin (second with 7.0 sacks).

The Rams enter Oakland 1-0 in the preseason following a 13-10 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in Los Angeles last Saturday.

Former California starting quarterback Jared Goff, the Rams No. 1 overall pick in 2016, started the game and finished 3-of-4 for 34 yards during his only drive. The Rams are entering the 2017 season hoping that they can rebound from a disastrous 4-12 season a year ago that resulted in a head coaching change, out goes longtime head coach Jeff Fisher and enters first-timer Sean McVay.

McVay spent the last seven seasons in Washington as an offensive assistant, but the last three as the offensive coordinator where he’s aided in the growth of Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins. Cousins has posted back-to-back 4,000-yard passing seasons in the Nation’s Capital and is line for a major contract next offseason after making  nearly $44 million (fully guaranteed) on one-year franchise tenders the past two seasons (which includes this season at $23.9 million after walking away with $19.9 in 2016).

The Rams are banking on the 31-year-old McVay (the youngest head coach in NFL history) to develop Goff into a franchise quarterback. Goff started the team’s final seven games of the season last year and completed 112-of-205 passes for 1,089 yards and a  five-to-seven touchdown:interception ratio during that stretch.

Los Angeles did add weapons for Goff to help expedite the second-year pro by bringing in former Buffalo Bills wide receivers Robert Woods (signed by the organization to a five-year, $34 million ($15 million guaranteed) contract in free agency), a USC Trojan; and former top-pick Sammy Watkins in a blockbuster trade last Friday.

Watkins is also looking to have a bounce back season in 2017 that is reminiscent of his second year in 2015; where he exploded on to the NFL landscape with 60 catches for a career-high 1,047 yards and nine touchdowns in 13 games after a down year in Buffalo in 2016; where he posted career-lows in catches (28), yards (430) and touchdowns (2) while dealing with a nagging foot injury that limited the former standout from Clemson to just eight games.

When healthy, Watkins can take the top off a defense as his career average of 16.1 yards per catch can attest, which should open things up for wide receiver Tavon Austin.

Austin, who is paid like the Rams’ No. 1 wide receiver at $42 million ($28.5 million guaranteed), doesn’t play like a No. 1. With the additions of the Woods and Watkins on the outside, the 5-foot-9, 174-pound Austin can now flourish in the slot and be utilized in the similar fashion that the 5-foot-10, 178-pound DeSean Jackson (now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) was utilized by McVay in Washington.

The Rams also added skill players via the NFL draft, utilizing three of their first four picks on tight end Gerald Everett, and wide receivers Cooper Kupp and Josh Reynolds that will give Goff or third-year backup quarterback Sean Mannion (18-for-25 for 144 yards against Dallas) more options to look to in the passing game.

Kupp had fumble recovery on the Rams’ first drive of the game for a touchdown and could be a fixture in the Rams’ offense by Week 5 as coaches have salivated over his route-running ability. The former wide receiver from Eastern Washington is arguably the greatest weapon in Football Championship Subdivision history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, setting all-time records in total receptions (428), receiving yards (6,464), and receiving touchdowns (73).

Kupp finished his senior season as the best wide receiver in FCS in 2016, hauling in a conference-leading 117 receptions, for 1,700 yards receiving and 17 receiving touchdowns.

Third-year running back Todd Gurley is still the bell-cow for the Rams.

As a rookie in 2015, Gurley carried the ball 229 times for career-highs in rushing yards (1,106) and rushing touchdowns (10) in 13 games, but dipped a bit in his second year out of Georgia. Although Gurley played all 16 games in 2016 and finished with a career-high 278 carries, Gurley had only 885 yards rushing and six touchdowns to go along with a career-high 327 receiving yards.

Defensively for Los Angeles, veteran defensive coordinator Wade Phillips brings 39 years of coaching experience to Southern California and help McVay’s transition as a first-time head coach almost seamless. Phillips was the defensive coordinator from 2015-16 where he help guide Denver to their third Super Bowl championship in franchise history in 2015.

In 2016, Phillips’ defensive unit finished tops in the league in pass defense and yards per play.

Fourth-year defensive tackle Aaron Donald highlights the Rams’ defense. Donald was selected to his third-consecutive Pro Bowl in 2016 after recording eight sacks and 62 tackles while playing in all 16 games.

The glue to the Rams’ defense, Donald is currently holding out for a new contract that will make him one of the highest-paid defensive tackles in football. Recent reports have Donald threatening to extend his holdout into the season, which would cripple the Rams.

After Saturday’s game, the Raiders will travel to Dallas for their third preseason game against the Cowboys; and the Rams will return home to take on the Chargers in the “Battle of Los Angeles” or what my mentor likes to call the game, the “Carson Chargers” vs the “Inglewood Rams” at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Both games will be on Saturday Aug. 26th at 7:00 p.m. PT.