Raiders visit Tennessee Titans Sunday in key Week 1 matchup that could be playoff preview

AP File Photo: Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) smiles on the sideline during the second half of an NFL preseason football game against the Seattle Seahawks in Oakland, Calif., Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

By Joe Hawkes-Beamon
Sports Radio Service Writer

OAKLAND — Finally, the NFL regular season is here.

For me, the preseason schedule is nothing more than a dinner salad. It’s just there to help me pass the time until my main course (preferably a grilled salmon with broccoli and red potatoes or homemade spaghetti), is brought to my table.

Bring on the “meal” that is the NFL regular season.

Week 1 has some great matchups that can set the tone for the 2017 season: Kansas City traveling to Foxborough to take on the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots on Thursday night in the league’s kickoff game, Seattle at Lambeau Field to take on the Packers and Dallas hosting the New York Giants on Sunday.

Add the Raiders against the Titans in Nashville to that list of games.

Oakland has been picked by many national publications and experts as a trending opponent to play New England in the AFC Championship Game (the Raiders “host” the Patriots on Nov. 19 in Mexico City), but the true test starts against Tennessee at 1:00 p.m. ET (12:00 p.m. CT/10:00 a.m. PT) at Nissan Stadium in Nashville.

The Raiders are making their second straight trip to Nashville for a regular season game. Oakland defeated the Titans 17-10 in Week 3 last season.

Derek Carr threw for 249 yards with one touchdown and an interception, while the defense forced three turnovers to pace the Silver and Black to victory that day.

Carr posted his second consecutive season with at least 25 touchdowns passes (28) and 3,900 yards (3,937) after throwing 3,987 yards and 32 touchdowns in 2015.

The Raiders raced out to a 10-2 start in 2016 before a 2-2 finish, highlighted by Carr’s season-ending leg injury that doomed Oakland’s chances in the playoffs. Oakland had no chance against the Texans in the AFC wild-card playoff game with rookie Connor Cook under center and lost 27-14 in Houston, there first playoff appearance since 2002 when I was just a freshmen in college.

With additions like running back Marshawn Lynch, tight end Jared Cook and wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson in the offseason through free agency to go along with wide receivers Michael Crabtree, Amari Cooper and Seth Roberts, Oakland has the offensive talent to match any team in the league score-for-score.

The Silver and Black finished with the NFL’s sixth-ranked offense averaging 26 points per game last season so its a virtual guarantee that the offense can score more this season.

Will longtime kicker Sebastian Janikowski still handle the kicking duties for Oakland this season? Janikowski and the team are at crossroads on a contract that the Raiders want to restructure that pays Oakland’s all-time leader in games played (268) $4.05 million this season, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

At 39, Janikowski said he wanted to kick for the Raiders when the team moves to Las Vegas in 2020. The veteran kicker has been dealing with back issues that kept his out of the team’s final two preseason games.

On Monday, the Raiders worked out three kickers: Mike Nugent, Josh Lambo and Marshall Koehn.

With Janikowski still on the roster Tuesday, he’s collected $238,000, representing one-seventeenth of Janikowski’s salary or one game-check. If Janikowski is still on the roster Saturday at 1:00 p.m. PT, the remainder of his contract becomes fully guaranteed.

Defensively?

The strength of the unit will come from defensive end Khalil Mack, the league’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year after recording a team-leading 11.0 of Oakland’s league-low 25 sacks in 2016.

Mack is tougher than sandpaper to block.

Double- and even triple-teams seems to not work on a guy that also registered a pick-6 (interception returned for touchdown) last season. Mack had a stretch where he recorded at least one sack in eight straight weeks.

Linebacker Bruce Irvin finished second on the team with 7.0 sacks, but has double-digit sack talent. Irvin was tied with Atlanta Falcons outside linebacker Vic Beasley for the league lead with six forced fumbles in 2016.

Oakland is high on rookie defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes, the team’s third-round pick in this year’s draft out of UCLA. Vanderdoes had an impressive training camp and showing in preseason games and has cemented a starting spot on the defensive line.

But Oakland still has a bag of footballs at middle linebacker, with rookie Marquel Lee as a starter and second-year player Tyrell Adams as the backup. Lee was decent against the run in preseason, but still has to improve in pass coverage against running backs out of the backfield and tight ends over the middle of the field.

In the secondary, David Amerson is Oakland’s best cornerback. TJ Carrie is expected to start at the other cornerback spot since high-priced free agent addition Sean Smith can’t cover speedy wide receivers. Smith was working as a hybrid safety/linebacker in training camp covering tight ends with the second-team defense, and lined up as the fourth cornerback when the offense deployed four wide receivers in drills.

The hope is once this year’s first-round draft pick, cornerback Gareon Conley steps onto the field, he’ll surpass the entire group. Conley didn’t play in the preseason and barely took reps with the team during training camp as he dealt with legal issues and litany of nagging injuries.

Second-round draft pick Obi Melifonwu, who the team hoped would contribute at safety, was placed on injured reserve Tuesday after battling a knee injury during training camp.

The earliest that Melifonwu could return would be Week 8.

Some pundits are questioning with players like linebacker Perry Riley Jr., who was signed by Oakland off the street last season and was the team’s starting middle linebacker the rest of the way and cornerback Joe Haden available via trade this season, why didn’t the Raiders, a legitimate Super Bowl contender, upgrade those key spots on a defense that finished ranked 26th in total defense last season?

The overlooking of a strong middle linebacker and a sturdy cornerback may come back to bite the Raiders in key situations this season, as it did last season.

Like Oakland, Tennessee has a hot, young signal-caller that is returning from a leg injury of his own and have the Titans thinking playoffs for the first time since 2008 in quarterback Marcus Mariota.

Mariota had Tennessee on the brink of the playoffs last season at 8-7 before finishing tied at 9-7 with division rival Houston for the AFC South title, but Houston won the division due to a better division record (Houston was 5-1, Tennessee was 2-4) that left the Titans outside of the playoffs.

The former No. 2 overall pick by Tennessee out of Oregon threw for 3,426 yards with 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions in 2016. Mariota, just like Carr, is a mobile quarterback that will use his legs to get out of trouble.

Just like Carr, Mariota suffered his season-ending injury on Christmas Eve while being sacked by the opposing team’s defense.

The Titans’ running game could spell trouble for Oakland, especially with the physical running styles of both DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry. Tennessee boasted the NFL’s third-ranked rushing attack averaging 136.7 yards and Murray was a big reason for that.

The seventh-year running back from Oklahoma finished third in the NFL in 2016 in rushing with 1,287 yards and nine rushing touchdowns in his first season with Tennessee after a forgettable season 2015 season in Philadelphia.

According to ESPN Stats and Information, the Titans called 44-percent of rushing plays (2nd in the NFL) and was fourth in the league averaging 4.6 yards per carry.

Henry, a former Heisman Trophy winner, was selected by the Titans in the second round in the 2017 NFL draft, was second on the Titans with 490 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns in his rookie campaign.

Wide receiver Rishard Matthews gives the Titans a big-play threat downfield that they haven’t had in forever.

Matthews quickly became one of Mariota’s trusted receivers last season in his first season with Tennessee after four seasons in Miami, finishing tied with tight end Delanie Walker for the team lead in catches with 65 to go along with 945 yards and leading the team with nine touchdown catches.

Walker gives Mariota a pass-catching threat that is tough as nails that Raiders safety Karl Joseph will have to keep an eye on come Sunday. After not playing in last season’s contest, Walker could be the difference maker this time around as Oakland has had trouble in recent years covering agile tight ends with linebackers and safeties.

Especially agile tight ends like Walker, who has been targeted by Mariota 159 times over the past two seasons. The 12-year veteran from Central Missouri State racked up 800 yards receiving and seven touchdown catches last season following a career-high season in 2015 when Walker had 94 catches for 1,088 yards and six touchdowns.

Tennessee’s first-round pick, wide receiver Corey Davis who didn’t play in the preseason while dealing with a hamstring injury, is expected to see action on Sunday but its unknown how many plays the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Davis will line up for.

The Titans did sign eight-year veteran wide receiver Eric Decker in the offseason to bolster the wide receiving corps for Tennessee, and has a hidden gem in rookie wide receiver Taywan Taylor in the event Davis doesn’t start.

It might not be the best week to start a Davis on your fantasy team, just some friendly advice.

On defense, Tennessee is quietly won of the better defenses in the league that no one really talks about led by defensive tackle and space-eater, Jurrell Casey, who is the 6-foot-1 and 305-pound clog in the middle of the Titans’ 3-4 defensive scheme ran by legendary defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.

Casey recorded 44 tackles for 5.0 sacks for a Titans defense that ranked 20th in total defense in 2016, finishing second in the league against the run surrendering just 88.3 yards per game and 30th against the pass yielding 269.2 yards through the air per game.

Tennessee’s pass rush is powered by outside linebackers Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan. Orakpo led the Titans with 10.5 sacks and Morgan was second on the team with 9.0 sacks.

Casey, Orakpo and Morgan combined for 23.5 of the Titans’ 40 sacks in 2016. Tennessee was just one of seven teams to record 40-plus sacks last season.

Inside linebackers Avery Williamson (team-leader in tackles with 104) and Wesley Woodyard (57 tackles) aren’t household names, but are consistent and provide additional support in the running game.

The player that I’m most intrigued to watch Sunday is second-year safety Kevin Byard.

The MTSU product didn’t record an interception during his rookie season after recording 19 interceptions (a career-high six during his junior season), but did finish third on the team with 58 tackles, four passes defensed and a sack in 16 games played. His seven starts were the most for a Titans rookie safety since Michael Griffin’s 10 starts in 2007 according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

At 5-foot-11 and 212 pounds, Byard isn’t the biggest safety, but his instincts and attention to detail is an important element for Tennessee’s defense.

Throw in free agent addition in cornerback Logan Ryan, a Super Bowl champion with New England and the drafting of USC’s speedster and highlight-maker Adoree’ Jackson, the Titans have talent in the secondary to compete with top-end wide receivers.

Sunday’s matchup between the Raiders and Titans could very well be a playoff preview that may not be decided until late in the fourth quarter.

The game’s outcome could be reminiscent of last season’s game when Tennessee had a would be game-tying touchdown from Mariota to wide receiver Andre Johnson that was called back due to an offensive pass interference call before the Raiders took over on downs two plays later.

Prediction: Raiders 27 Titans 23

 

 

 

Oakland Raiders commentary: Carr impresses, but Titans get win over Raiders

By Joe Hawkes-Beamon
Sports Radio Service Writer

AP photo: Oakland Raiders running back DeAndre Washington gets broadsided by the Tennessee Titans linebacker Sean Spence in the second half of Saturday night’s pre season game at the Oakland Coliseum

OAKLAND, Calif — Even though the Raiders lost to the Tennessee Titans 27-14 in both team’s third preseason game Saturday night at the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum, it was good to see Derek Carr and the Raiders’ first-team offense finish off drives with getting the ball into the end zone.

Carr, who led to the Raiders to just six points in the previous six quarters he appeared in during the preseason, went 12-for-18 for 169 yards passing and two touchdowns against the Titans while playing the entire first half.

After Tennessee took an early 7-0 lead behind a DeMarco Murray one-yard run, Oakland’s signal-caller drove the Raiders’ first-team offense 58 yards in seven plays for their first touchdown of the game (and of the preseason) as a unit, a 6-yard toss to rookie running back DeAndre Washington on an angle route out of the backfield to the tie game, 7-7.

Washington, along with fellow running back Jalen Richard, combined for 95 yards of total offense, but the diminutive Washington did cough up the ball in the third quarter  after taking a huge hit from Titans linebacker David Bass which resulted in a 47-yard fumble recovery by fellow linebacker Sean Spence that gave Tennessee a 27-14.

But Carr was just getting started.

Following a Ryan Succop 30-yard field goal that pushed Tennessee’s lead, 10-7, Carr engineered a six-play, 75-yard drive culminating a picture-perfect, 29-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Amari Cooper down the Titans’ sideline and hitting Cooper in the back of the end zone that gave Oakland (1-2) a 14-10 lead shortly before halftime.

Replay would confirm Cooper kept both feet in bounds. Cooper finished with three catches for 52 yards.

Earlier in the game, Carr placed another beautifully thrown pass to his other top target, wide receiver Michael Crabtree for 41 yards.

It would be Crabtree’s only catch of the game.

In the midst of Oakland’s first drive to begin the third quarter, Carr would give way to backup Matt McGloin.

McGloin, and third-string rookie quarterback Connor Cook, proceeded to throw two interceptions to Tennessee’s second- and third-string defenders.

What I wasn’t impressed with was Oakland’s first-team defense, which gave up 276 yards (106 on the ground), in the first half.

Tennessee’s Murray (8 carries for 40 yards) and rookie running back Derrick Henry (12 carries for 49 yards) did the most damage to Oakland’s rush defense. Tennessee found gaping holes that turned two-yard gains, into five-yard gains.

It was the second time this preseason that Oakland had issues with beefy, powerful runners.

Oakland struggled to curtail Green Bay’s Eddie Lacy, surrendering 45 yards on nine carries and a touchdown in Oakland’s 20-12 loss at Lambeau Field last Thursday.

Oakland’s first-team defense never forced the Titans to punt, allowing Tennessee to score three touchdowns and two field goals in two quarters.

It wasn’t until their final drive of the third quarter that Oakland’s starting unit forced Tennessee’s offense to punt.

The secondary had trouble defending the passing game of the Titans.

Tennessee (2-1) starting quarterback Marcus Mariota completed 9-for-16 passes for 170 yards, 65 of those yards to veteran wide receiver, Andre Johnson who will be one of Mariota’s go-to guys this season.

On the Titans’ second drive of the game, the 35-year-old former Miami Hurricane had consecutive catches of 13, 38, and 14 yards.

It was vintage Johnson.

Johnson finished with three catches for 65 yards, while promising rookie wide receiver Tajae Sharpe (fantasy football sleeper), hauled in a 60-yard, catch-and-run pass that helped setup Tennessee’s first score of the game.

Oakland finishes the preseason at home Thursday against the Seattle Seahawks, with the starters unlikely to play.

 

 

 

Oakland Raiders-Tennessee Titans preview: Carr, Raiders needs offense to click against Titans Saturday

By Joe Hawkes-Beamon
Sports Radio Service Writer

AP file photo: Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr slings it back to air it out against the Green Bay Packers in week two of the exhibition season at Lambeau Field Thu Aug 18th in Green Bay

OAKLAND, Calif — Derek Carr looked rather pedestrian, completing 9 of 13 for just 38 yards, during Oakland’s 20-12 loss to Green Bay last Thursday night.

Carr and the Raiders’ first-team offense have produced zero touchdowns during the team’s first two preseason games.

In fact, Oakland’s first-team offense have produced just six points in the three quarters that Carr has played so far this preseason. If you’re Raider Nation, you’re not too concerned, but you do want to see Carr engineer the Raiders into the end zone before the end of the preseason.

What’s troubling for me with Oakland’s offense is not the lack of touchdowns, but the chemistry issues in the passing game, particularly with training camp roommates in Carr and Cooper on deep routes.

In Oakland’s first preseason game against the Cardinals in Arizona, Carr and Cooper were disconnected on a deep throw down the Cardinals’ sideline that Cooper caught, but couldn’t keep his feet in bounds.

Then against the Packers, Carr threw an underthrown pass to Cooper that was intercepted by Packers cornerback Damarious Randall in the first quarter.

“I tried to throw it up and give Amari a chance,” Carr said after the game. “This is the time to do it. I am risky, but at this time, a bit more risky.”

I do expect Carr to play comfortable in front of the Raider Nation Saturday, when Oakland (1-1) host Marcus Mariota and the Tennessee Titans in both team’s third preseason game, where generally the starters play the majority of the game.

Kickoff is set for 5:00 p.m. PDT at the Oakland Coliseum, with the game seen nationally on CBS.

Carr led four fourth quarter/overtime game-winning drives, one including a 24-21 victory over the Titans in Week 12 last season after trailing 17-21 late in the fourth quarter.

Carr orchestrated a 9-play, 90-yard drive in 3:20 that ended with a 12-yard touchdown to wide receiver Seth Roberts with 1:21 left in the game.

It was  Roberts’s first career 100-yard receiving game (six catches, 113 yards, and two touchdowns), and the second time in 2015 that Carr and Roberts connected on a game-winning score in the final two minutes.

Coincidentally, Carr found Roberts for a 12-yard touchdown in Oakland’s 37-33 home win over Baltimore in Week 2.

Oakland’s first-team defense can improve, especially against the running game. The Raiders were battered by the strong running game of Packers running back Eddie Lacy, who carried the ball nine times for 45 yards.

Lacy closed out a 14-play, 74-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown plunge in the first quarter. Lacy had a 20-yard run on 2nd and 10 that was key on the Packers’ opening drive, which saw a litany of Raiders missing tackles.

Tennessee (1-1) is coming off a 26-16 loss at home against the NFC Champions, Carolina Panthers, has the promise of being one of the surprising teams this year, especially with Mariota at the helm.

The second-year quarterback completed 9 of 10 passes for 104 yards passing with one interception. Mariota did hook up with wide receiver Harry Douglas for a 23-yard touchdown on his final throw after engineering Tennessee’s first three drives.

Tennessee also has the potential of having one of the league’s better rushing attacks with running backs DeMarco Murray and rookie Derrick Henry.

Murray, who was acquired by the Titans in the offseason after spending a disastrous 2015 season in Philadelphia, looked like he is ready for a bounce back season as evident of his 71-yard touchdown run against the Chargers in San Diego in the team’s first preseason game.

The six-year pro out of Oklahoma has 11 carries for 113 yards and a touchdown through two games this preseason.

Henry, the bruiser out of Alabama who Tennessee drafted in the second round this past May, has 15 carries for 105 yards and a touchdown through two games this preseason.

One player that I’m very interested in watching for the Titans is rookie receiver Tajae Sharpe, who Mariota recently told Around the NFL’s Marc Sessler “he makes it easy,” when catching the ball.

The UMass product leads Tennessee with eight catches for 103 yards this preseason.

 

 

 

 

Murray scores three touchdowns in win

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By Jeremy Kahn

After scoring on a fumble return on the opening kickoff, everything looked to be going the Oakland Raiders way.

Unfortunately, the game is four quarters and not first team to score points in the game and the game continued from that point.

DeMarco Murray ran for three touchdowns, and his backup running back Lance Dunbar ran for a career-high 82 yards, as the Dallas Cowboys overcame a 14-point deficit to defeat the a Raiders 31-24 at AT&T Stadium.

Tony Romo overcame a virus to throw for 225 yards on a 23-for-32 day and a touchdown, as the Cowboys moved into first place in the NFC East.

The Raiders scored on the opening kickoff after rookie kickoff returner Terrance Williams, who replaced an injured Dwayne Harris fumbled the ball and rookie Greg Jennings picked up the ball and scored just 12 into the game.

Rashad Jennings carried the ball 17 times for just 35 yards, and Darren McFadden returned after missing the last three games with a hamstring injury and carried the ball five times for 13 yards.

Rookie Matt McGloin started for the third consecutive week, and went 18-for-30 for 255 yards and finished off five consecutive third down drives on two scoring drives for the Raiders.

Former Cowboys receiver Andre Holmes hauled in seven catches for a career-high 136 yards, breaking his previous high of 33 yards.

Murray tied up the game in the final minute of the first quarter, as he scored from two yards out.

Jennings then scored two touchdowns in the second quarter, the second coming in the final two minutes of the half.

Murray got the Cowboys within seven points with just 10 seconds remaining before the end of the half, as he scored on a four-yard run.

Romo connected with Dez Bryant for a four-yard touchdown pass to tie up the game in the third quarter.

Murray scored his third and final touchdown of the day on a seven-yard run just 40 seconds into the final quarter to give the Cowboys the lead for good.

Dan Bailey closed out the scoring for the Cowboys, as he hit a 19-yard field goal with just 1:56 remaining in the game.

Sebastian Janikowski got the Raiders within seven points, as he hit a 45-yarder with 35 seconds remaining.

Janikowski’s onside kick was recovered by the Cowboys and Romo kneeled for the final play, as the Cowboys comeback was complete.