Raiders Recap–Preseason Week 4

The Oakland Raiders had their final preseason game against the Seahawks in Seattle.

When the regular Season starts, my recaps will not be as lengthy. The preseason is for breaking down and analyzing almost every single play. The score is peripheral. However, when the games count, the only thing that matters is the final score. Ugly wins supercede the fictional creatures known as beautiful losses.

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In a surprising move, Josh McCown was named the starting quarterback, although he was to share equal time with Dante Culpepper. I felt Culpepper had the job locked up, but I am not the coach.

Josh McCown’s first pass was a perfect strike to Ronald Curry over the middle for 10-15 yards. A steady dose of runs by Lamont Jordan, who continues to impress, led to a 39 yard field goal attempt by Tyler Fredricksen. I was surprised that Sebastian Janikowski was not in. The kick was wide by a country mile. Another Raider missed opportunity.

Seattle started out with Seneca Wallace, and not Matt Hasselbeck. Unlike most backups, Wallace is good enough to be a starter, and can scramble better than Hasselbeck. There is no drop off at that position in Seattle.

Watching the defense was interesting. Seattle appeared to go three and out, but an illegal contact penalty on 3rd and long gave Seattle new life. This kills teams. Then on the next 3rd down, a perfect pass by Wallace was complete to Deon Branch for a first down, but he fumbled on the play. He was ruled down, which replay showed was not the case. However, the referee blew his whistle. So between a defensive penalty and a blown call, the character of the defense was tested. The Seahawks had a 4th and 1 at the Raider 40 and decided to go for it. A false start penalty pushed them back, and they punted.

Special teams are a special breed. I have no idea where he came from, but welcome to the NFL Johnny Lee Higgins. He returned the punt 90 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 Raider lead.

Seattle’s next drive went nowhere, but the Raiders did not move the ball either. Josh McCown seems to feel the pressure well and step up in the pocket appropriately, but he overshoots receivers.

Seattle’s next drive was aided by a horrendous pass interference call on Chris Carr. The ball was uncatchable, and he was clearly playing the ball. The refs disagreed. With Seattle at the Raider 16, a pass into traffic by Wallace that should have been intercepted was dropped in the end zone. However, a solid run stop (that forced a fumble, but Seattle recovered) and a gorgeous defensive play by Stanford Routt held Seattle to a field goal with 5 seconds left in the first quarter.

True, the Seahawks are not the same without Hasselbeck and Shaun Alexander, but the Raiders first string played well against Seattle.

The second quarter began with a new Raider drive. McCown had a very nice 6 yard scramble, followed by a perfect sideline lob pass to Mike Williams. Mike Williams is big and strong, and earlier in the game had a gorgeous stiff arm to pick up a first down. With regards to the running game, Zack Crockett is still a hero at fullback, as good a blocker as ever. Dominic Rhodes struggled, with Jordan clearly running better. After a time out, on 4th and 4, a harassed McCown through an off balance pass that fell incomplete.

Seattle torched the Raiders on the next drive. A 35 yard pass play from Wallace to Nate Burleson was a breakdown in the zone. On first and goal at the 6, Wallace threw another perfect strike to Burleson, this time for a touchdown and a 10-7 lead.

The Raiders started the next drive at their own 43 yard line after a decent Chris Carr return followed by a 15 yard face mask tacked on. Coach Lane Kiffin likes the west coast quick strikes, and receiver Taylor had a great stiff arm to pick up an extra 8 yards.

Dominic Rhodes had a nice run to set up 3rd and 1, but he was stopped for no gain on the next play. It was a horrible spot, but it should never be that close. On 4th and 1, Rhodes picked up the first down with a tough second effort, but then fumbled the ball. The replay clearly showed Rhodes was down, but Lane Kiffin did not challenge.

Yes, the call was horrendous, but Rhodes should have hung onto it, and Kiffin should have challenged it. This was dreadful all around, and it wasted a scoring opportunity.

The defense continued to impress, stuffing Seattle on 3rd and inches. On 4th and inches, two Raiders jumped offsides. If this as the regular season the language to describe it would have been unbearable. The Raiders have a solid run defense, but the pass defense gave up a 1st down on 3rd and long. Cornerback Duane Starks made a gorgeous interception at the 1 yard line to stop Seattle. Wallace had been flawless up to that point.

Dante Culpepper came into the game with three minutes left into the first half, 99 yards from paydirt. It took two plays for Dominic Rhodes to be stuffed for a safety, and a 12-7 Raider deficit.

First of all, why was Culpepper asked to come in at such a ridiculous point and time? Yes, he needs playing time, but asking a guy to get into a rhythm in such a situation is insane. This was another awful decision by Coach Kiffin. Secondly, running off tackle in a slow developing play is giving the defense extra time to get the safety.

Seattle punted again with a minute left in the half, and Higgins nearly broke another one. The Raiders started at their own 35. Lane Kiffin continued to absolutely confound the football gods by throwing a couple passes, not calling timeouts, and letting the clock run out. It made no sense. They were not at their own one yard line again. They were at their own 40, with 35 seconds left, and Kiffin refused to run another play. It was mind boggling.

The Raiders trailed 12-7 at the half, in a game where they had zero offensive points, a missed field goal, and numerous missed opportunities. In fact, the Seakawk defense outscored the Raider offense 2-0.

I keep saying that the Raiders had so many games last year that were winnable. At the risk of sounding like Tony Montana in “Any Given Sunday,” the difference between winning and losing is often mere inches. In 2000, the Raiders were 12-4 and the Chargers were 1-15. The Raiders barely survived the Chargers both times. In 2006, the Chargers were 14-2 and the Raiders were 2-14, but the Chargers barely survived the Raiders in San Diego.

Games at some point are psychological. The game of the year in 2006 was the Monday night game between the 5-0 Bears and the 100 year frustration known as the Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals led 23-3 after three quarters before Chicago scored on an interception return, a fumble return, and a punt return, to lead 24-23. Zero offensive touchdowns, and the Bears were ahead. The Cardinals still could have won, but Neil Rackers missed a reasonably short field goal as time expired. The Bears went to the Superbowl, and Cardinal Coach Dennis Green had a justified meltdown.

I say this because while 2-14 teams should not have high expectations, there is no reason a team with the talent of the Raiders should be that bad, They have potential, but preseason games like this one show that the Raiders have not come close to reaching that potential yet. Also, the Raiders had good time of possession previous games, but in this game Seattle had it for 19 minutes and the Raiders only 11 minutes.

Neither team did anything with their first possession of the second half, although Culpepper did manage to outrun four Seattle defenders and throw the ball away, avoiding a sack. Avoiding disasters in close games is important, and keeping it close until the fourth quarter is sometimes good enough. Seattle went nowhere on their next possession, and Culpepper avoided another sack and scrambled for a 5 yard gain.

The Raiders overall have made some strides. They seem more disciplined, are committing fewer penalties, and the offensive line is significantly improved.

Seattle blitzed Culpepper, who threw a perfect screen pass to Justin Fargas for a 25 yard gain. Culpepper then threw a perfect bomb to Johnny Lee Higgins, who dropped it.

Culpepper faced more pressure than McCown did. McCown may have better stats, but Culpepper’s intangibles demand that he be the starter. On 3rd and 7, facing a blitz, Culpepper threw a perfect sideline strike to Travis Taylor for a 20 yard gain to the Seattle 27. After an offensive pass interference call, on 3rd and 13, Culpepper rolled out and connected with Taylor for a first down. Another pass to Santiago took it down to the four yard line. On the next play, a perfect play action pass allowed Culpepper to roll out and lob a gift to receiver James Adkisson. Culpepper could have walked it in, but chose to throw it. Had it been dropped, I would have screamed that he should have run it. Nevertheleless, a good play call and great execution had the Raiders up 14-12 with 3 ½ minutes left in the 3rd quarter. Culpepper was 6 of 7 on the drive for over 80 yards.

After the kickoff, on first and 10, Oakland called a timeout on defense. That should not occur in that situation, and will hopefully be straightened out by September. On 3rd and 1, Wallace was intercepted for the second time, this time by Bowie. Bowie had to jump sky high to get it. Neither interception by Wallace was a horrible pass. Overall he played well, but the Raider defenders made some great interceptions at key times.

This next drive brought Raider running back Echemandu into the game. He does run hard. The Raiders had a 4th and 8 at the Seahawk 33, and decided to go for it rather than try a 50 yard field goal indoors. Again, I know in preseason, teams want to experiment, but to not give field goal kickers practice could be costly in the regular season.

Wallace was still playing in the 4th quarter, which was quite surprising. It was also unnerving when his next pass was a 32 yard gain, and the pass after that was a sure touchdown that was dropped. Unlike Rookie Lane Kiffin, the Walrus, aka Seattle Coach Mike Holmgren, is experienced enough to throw the challenge flag when needed. Nevertheless, the call was upheld as an incomplete pass. It was still a good challenge. On 3rd and 7, the Raiders were caught off guard when Seattle ran the ball. That is good play calling. On 4th and 1, Seattle ran for the first down. Another third down conversion led to first and 10 at the Raider 11 yard line. The backup run defense is not the starting defense. An 11 yard run put Seattle up 19-14 with 10 ½ minutes remaining.

The ensuing kickoff was taken 5 yards deep in the end zone, and I managed to breathe after it was returned to the 30. In what may be a first, a flag for an illegal block was actually picked up as veteran referee Ed Hochuli announced that there was either no contact or contact too minimal to affect the play.

Culpepper made his first major mistake of the game when he threw a long pass into traffic that was intercepted. On 3rd and 4 from their own 48, Seattle tried another draw play that had fooled the Raiders before. This time the defense stopped it, and Seattle punted.

Johnny Higgins fair caught the ball at his own 9. I was questioning why Higgins was fair catching everything, especially after having run one back for a touchdown. However, the announcers brought up the point that perhaps they did not want him to get hurt.

In another mind boggling decision, Andrew Walter was brought in to try and win the game with 5 ½ minutes left and 91 yards to go. Given that it was already announced before the game that McCown and Culpepper were competing to start and that Walter was relegated to 3rd string, giving him charity snaps rather than allowing Culpepper to try and win it seemed senseless. I know the final score does not matter in preseason, but unless it was a test to see if Walter should be cut altogether, the injury rationale for Culpepper does not fly. The Raiders went nowhere, and Seattle got the ball back with three minutes left.

Equally bizarre was the decision to have Seneca Wallace sit after 57 minutes. Either have him play sparingly, or let him finish the game. At the two minute warning, Seattle faced a 3rd and 8 from their own 25. They ran the ball to the outside and picked up the first down. As much as I downplay the successes of the offense, this backup defensive lapse is not a tragedy. Seattle ran out the clock, as the Seahawks defeated the Raiders 19-14.

The Raiders finished the preseason 2-2. They will not be a good team this year, but they might not be an awful team either. Forget the playoffs. If a 2-14 team can improve to 6-10, then in 2 years more improvement could get them to 10-6 and a playoff berth.

As for final thoughts, Culpepper should be the starter, JaMarcus Russell must get into camp and hold a clipboard for the whole year, and neither McCown or Walter have Culpepper’s ability.

Dominic Rhodes is suspended for the first four games, but even when he returns, Jordan is the starter. Fargas is marginal, and Echemandu hopefully will make the team. He might develop a cult following.

The offensive line looks vastly improved, and Zack Crockett is solid at fullback.

The defense is fine. Rob Ryan is a chip off the old buddy block, and with an even adequately marginal offense, the Raiders should improve.

The Raiders host the Lions in week 1 and the Browns in Week 3, both winnable games at home. If they lose those games, 0-16 could happen. Even if they start out 2-1 (at Denver in week 2 is not promising), it will be a long season. However, the building blocks of the future are there.

As Al Davis would say, “Just Win Baby.” We shall see.

The 2007 NFL season starts Thursday, September 6th, when the Saints are at the World Champion Colts. On Sunday, September 9th, the Raiders start their season.

7 months of waiting is almost over. Are you ready for some football? I am. Let’s get it on!


No Responses to “Raiders Recap–Preseason Week 4”

  1. Lord Nazh© says:

    over/under on Raiders this season 5? (wins)

  2. ajmontana says:

    Preseason over …yay… and I am definetly ready for some football! My team starts against the buccaneers where are you’re buccaneers? under you’re bucken helmet!
    enjoy the season eric…….aj :)

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