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http://www.sfchronicle.com/sports/ostler/article/Raiders-Marshawn-Lynch-needs-to-address-his-11816444.php
Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch (24) sits during the national anthem prior to the team's NFL preseason football game against the Arizona Cardinals, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Halfway through the Oakland Raiders’ Preseason and We’ve Learned So Much

Now that the Raiders are two games down in the preseason, the Raiders have shown some very promising improvements, as well as some major holes still remaining.

Big Pluses

Last year it was no secret that the Raiders had a top-notch offense. They have an MVP-level quarterback who leads his team so strongly that when he went down, the team all but crashed with him. They have a duo of wide receivers that can burn or juke just about any defender that’s been thrown at them. And they have a three-headed monster of running backs that not only impressed but carried their team down the field on more than a few occasions. And last but certainly not least, the Raiders had one of the undisputed best offensive lines in the game. They led the league in sacks allowed, giving up only a total of 18 all year. So it seems that there’s not much to improve upon. Or is there.

The Tight End Core is Much Improved

The Raiders had a few swaps at a couple of key positions that so far are looking very promising. One of the improvements that Raiders fans have been hoping to see is at the tight end position. It looks like they’ll be getting their wish. The former Packer turned Raider Jared Cook had a nice connection from Derek Carr to set up Marshawn Lynch’s first run in Silver and Black. Returning alum Lee Smith was hit for a 19-yard touchdown after that. And the way he held onto the ball to make that touchdown was nothing short of impressive.

Lee Smith hauls in a challenging grab for a TD

Clive Walford has even looked a little more steady, even if the stats aren’t in his favor at the moment. If nothing else, the Raiders have a solid two-tight end set that they can drop in depending on the opponent. Overall, this is great news for the Raiders, who have been behind the league’s tight end curve as of late. With a blocker like Smith showing that he can also be a down-field threat and a receiver like Cook, the Raiders look much stronger in areas that have shown weakness for decades.

A Pair of Aces

If you disagree that the Raiders have an elite receiving core, you haven’t been watching. Amari Cooper is easily one of the best receivers out of the 2015 draft class and improves with every season. He’s seemingly shaking off nerves that have plagued him throughout his first couple of seasons. His skill is evidenced by the catch he made in the second quarter of the game against the LA Rams. He made a leap between three defenders that would put an antelope to shame and came down with the grab. Admit it: if he was on your team, you’d be screaming, “Coooooooooooop!”

Michael Crabtree is an 8-year vet that’s showing no signs of wear. He’s proving it more and more as the time goes on and this season we’ll see why he belongs in silver and black. After a hit from Carr, he absolutely embarrasses the Rams defender to run it in for a touchdown.

Have we found Derek Carr’s understudy?

One of the less talked-about but most important battles, as we saw at the end of 2016, is the battle for the backup quarterback. This one is going hot and heavy and doesn’t look like it’s been solved yet, but there is a clear frontrunner in EJ Manuel. It seems that he’s a player that didn’t thrive in a Buffalo scheme, but fits the well in the Downing system. He had an impressive showing in both preseason games so far. Whether that’s because he’s not new to the game or he’s just ready to be that “next man up”, the Raiders may have found the right fit.

The Three-Headed Monster returns, bigger, badder and Beast Mode

Last year saw the rise of the three-headed monster. Latavius Murray and two undrafted rookie free agents, Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington. The three created a dynamic attack that was able to exploit opponents’ weaknesses to help the Raiders to their first winning season since their last trip to the Superbowl in 2003. This year gives rise to a new and improved monster headed by none other than Beast Mode himself, Marshawn Lynch. Lynch had a couple of quick rushes in game 2 against the Rams, his first in silver and black. While it was brief, it sent shivers through the Black Hole. A glimpse of greatness to come.

The other two pieces to that puzzle are just as impressive thus far, with DeAndre Washington showing himself as a more multi-faceted back than he seemed even last year. He threw himself into a solid block on the throw from Carr to Crabtree for their touchdown, proving that all 5’9″ of him is ready to throw down for his team. This is a pair that leaves nothing to be desired. They’re on the upward swing and pairing up with Lynch can only make them better.

Offensive line struggles weren’t a big struggle

Donald Penn has been sitting out of camp and preseason due to a contract dispute, so pinch-hitting at left tackle is Marshall Newhouse. The former Giants tackle/guard was widely chided when he moved to Oakland but is doing his best to fit in. He wasn’t great, but the good thing is that he wasn’t bad. No news of him dropping a play or giving up a sack yet and the blind side of the line was held down pretty well.

The right side of the line has consistently been the bigger problem, and nothing has been solidified after these 2 games, but Vadal Alexander definitely has his eye on the prize. While he didn’t quite look like a first-string tackle, he held his own pretty well. Perhaps the experience and strength of the rest of the line can guide him to where he needs in order to hit the elite level that the middle three have achieved.

Big Minuses

As expected but no less unfortunate, the defense maintains their substandard level of play. It’s almost too depressing to get into, so let’s hit a couple of the bright spots before the depressing stuff.

It wasn’t all bad

There were a few flashes of improvement in a couple of different areas, like a nice pair of sacks each from Treyvon Hester and Latroy Lewis against the Cardinals. Karl Joseph was back showing that he’s going to continue to improve this year, and even Eddie Vanderdoes gave a little mystery to the defensive line battle. Cory James is back to prove that he can pick up where Perry Riley Jr left off and then some. And Jelani Jenkins was decent, didn’t give up big plays, picked up half a dozen tackles and did ok on run defense. All of these things are good news for the Raiders.

One of the big stars so far has been safety Shalom Luani. He’s already looking like he’s got a home on the roster. His route running was good, and in cover 2 he was able to break up a solid pass from Cardinals backup QB Drew Stanton in week one.

Some of it was bad

The bad news remains the same. The Raiders defensive backs are still lying in a puddle on the floor, which begs the question that no one wants to ask. Is hiring John Pagano a mistake? It’s too early to make that determination, but it stands to reason that if he can’t get them in shape, it might be hopeless. Communication was the name of the game that they lost in each of their two contests so far. Even the vets on the field looked like amateurs, with both Sean Smith and TJ Carrie getting their hineys handed to them by Jared Goff all day long. Todd Gurley looked like the Gurley of old against these guys, and rookie Cooper Kupp proved that he could’ve been a first-round pick if his game tape was against the Raiders’ secondary. Something’s gotta give if the Raiders ever expect to compete with the top of the heap this year and solidify themselves as a powerhouse after only one trip to the Superbowl in nearly 40 years.

Is Oakland 0-2 in preseason concerning? No

So Oakland is down 0-2 in the preseason. But who cares? The games are a good window into what the team can put on the field, not what they currently have on the field. What they showed was that depth is not as much of a concern this year as it was last year or even going into training camp, even if there are still holes. The outlook isn’t all roses and sunshine, but it’s enough to get excited about what’s to come.

 

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