The long anticipated return to live action for the Oakland Raiders ended in a 3-0 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Monday Night Football in their preseason opener. The score in preseason games matter little because the starters and contributors play very little. The Raiders were able to get a look at the players on the roster and evaluate the strength and weaknesses.
For the first time ever, quarterback Carson Palmer and running back Darren McFadden were on the field at the same time for Oakland. Coming off a foot injury that cost him the final nine games of last season, McFadden looked as explosive, strong, and quick as ever. He only played the first offensive series, but touched the ball on three consecutive plays. On the first, he ran off the right side for a gain of four. Next, the Raiders emptied the backfield for a screen to McFadden, who motioned out to wide receiver, picking up 18 yards. Lastly, he broke a 16 yard run to the left side. In total McFadden caught one pass for 18 yards and had two carries for 16 before exiting the game.
Raiders' starting quarterback Carson Palmer played two series, finishing 3-6 for 33 yards and an interception. His play was better than the numbers dictate because wide receiver Jacoby Ford dropped two consecutive passes that were on the money. The interception was a bad decision by Palmer. Trying to use their speed on the perimeter, the Raiders dialed up a deep ball to Ford. However, the Cowboys had double coverage down the field and Palmer forced a pass that was intercepted by safety Gerald Sensabaugh. Interceptions were a concern for Palmer last season and his decision making must improve in 2012. However, for a preseason game he may have been trying to develop chemistry on the deep balls before the games count.
“We wanted to score, obviously,” Palmer said. “So that part is disappointing. We did some really good things and have some things to clean up but it's good to get the first preseason game out-of-the-way. We'll take a look at the film and get to see the good and the bad, get coached up on it, and move forward.”
Matt Leinart relieved Palmer at quarterback and managed the game going 11-16 for 98 yards. Leinart was smart about his reads taking what the defense was offering and not forcing any passes. He and wide receiver Rod Streater developed great rapport, connecting on six passes, three of which went for first downs. Terrelle Pryor was the last Raiders' quarterback to see the field. Playing the entire second half, Pryor went 8-15 for 50 yards and an interception. He showed great strength and running ability. With the offensive line made up of a mix of back-ups and third stringers, Pryor eluded several rushers, breaking tackles and making positive plays with his feet. On the other hand, he needs to get more comfortable in the pocket throwing the football. This was his first ever preseason action and tended to rely on his instincts to run and use his athleticism. As he gains experience, Pryor will need to relax in the pocket, go through his progressions, and make accurate throws.
“For the first time to be on the football field in real game action, I was pleased he was able to get out there and get some reps and get some experience,” Raiders head coach Dennis Allen said of Pryor. “Obviously, we have to do a little better job getting in and out of the huddle and getting the play snapped a bit sooner. So he's a work in progress and just like I've always talked to him about, I want to see him get a little bit better every day.”
Undrafted rookie Rod Streater was a standout in his first preseason game. He caught 6 balls for 66 yards, while displaying his size, strength, and route running ability. Another rookie, Juron Criner caught his first NFL pass, but also dropped a wide open pass with space to pick up yards after the catch. Ford dropped two balls and was the intended receiver on the Palmer interception.
The first team offensive line gave Palmer plenty of time to deliver passes. They also showed they are responding to the new zone blocking scheme of offensive coordinator Greg Knapp by opening up running lanes. Some of the second and third team offensive lineman struggled to protect late in the game.
On the defensive side of the ball, the defense as a whole played well. The defensive line first unit gave the Cowboys no running room. They were able to dictate the line of scrimmage and put pressure on the quarterback. Defensive tackle Tommy Kelly broke through the line on a screen pass and sacked Tony Romo. Defensive end Lamaar Houston also broke into the backfield to apply pressure and rushed Romo into an off balance play that was completed to Jason Witten for little gain. In the fourth quarter, rookie Dominique Hamiliton and second year man Carl Ihenacho also sacked the quarterback.
Rookie linebacker Miles Burris was around the football all night. He played the most of the starting linebacker to gain experience. Middle linebacker Rolando McClain lit up Witten after a catch for a short gain.
In the secondary, cornerback Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer got the start and held Romo to 3-6 for 30 yards. Bartell was beat by Dez Bryant on a comeback in his first game action in over a year. After that, both corners were able to silence the Cowboys passing game. Training Camp standout DeMarcus Van **** had an up and down day. He will have to learn to translate those practice skills to game situations. Safety Mike Mitchell intercepted an overthrow for Kyle Orton.
“I just wanted to get an opportunity to show the world what I can do,” Mitchell said. “I really haven't done anything. That interception, I don't know what he was looking at, but he threw it right to me.”
The Raiders had a slew of problems of special teams. Both kickers, Sebastian Janikowski and Eddy Carmona missed field goals well with in their range. Punter Marquette King showed off his powerful leg booming several punts, but also shanked a 19 yard kick late in the half that bounced 15 yards up field. He also had problems holding for field goals. Without primary punt returner Denarius Moore, who was held out with a hamstring issue, several players muffed punts. After King crushed a punt down deep inside Cowboys territory, Chimdi Chekwa failed to down the ball and it snuck into the endzone for a touchback. Chekwa had eight yards to down the punt, but got greedy and it lost the Raiders 19 yards in field position and a chance to start the Cowboys at their own one yard line.
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