Despite taking the lead on a 57 yard Sebastian Janikowski field goal with just over two minutes left in the game, the Raiders were not able to pull out a win in their preseason opener against the Arizona Cardinals. This, however, should not concern Raiders fans. It was the first preseason game and the starters were already sitting early in the second quarter. What is important to take away from the game is how the young players performed after a shortened off season.
Before we get to the rookies, the Raiders starters both on offense and defense looked good in the limited time that they played. The Raiders defensive line looked dominant and gave Kevin Kolb a lot of problems in his Cardinals debut. Jason Campbell and the Raiders offense were able to move the football well, even though they were unable to convert a touchdown, settling for a field goal on the only drive with all starters playing.
Now, on to the rookies. Three rookies in particular really stood out for the Raiders, Denarius Moore, David Ausberry and Demarcus Van Dyke.
Denarius Moore has been all the rage during training camp. In fact, he made so many plays that he immediately drew comparisons to last year’s rookie phenom, Jacoby Ford.
It did not take long for Raiders fans at the Oakland Coliseum (no, I will not call it O.co Coliseum) to realize exactly what all of the hype was about. On his very first appearance as an Oakland Raider, Moore showed off his crisp route running, ability to get separation, good hands and perhaps most importantly, his impressive ability to make defenders miss tackles.
Not only did Moore impress with his play at wide receiver, he showed even more Ford-esque abilities when he returned a punt nearly 60 yards, only to get called back on a penalty for blocking in the back. However, the penalty was not committed extremely close to the actual play, and despite it, the return was unbelievably impressive. Moore took the punt on one bounce, caught the ball with Cardinals players all around, made at least four players miss tackles, then used his speed to cut down the sideline before being pushed out of bounds near the ten yardline.
Needless to say, the Raiders need to find a way to get the ball in this playmakers hands often this season.
Another impressive performance came from seventh round pick out of USC, David Ausberry. At USC, Ausberry was a wide reciever until his senior season when he was moved to tight end. The Raiders decided to keep him at tight end, adding yet another athletic threat on offense. Ausberry immediately showed the Raiders they made the right move when he caught their only touchdown of the game in rather impressive fashion.
The Raiders had just recovered a fumbled punt by the Cardinals and found themselves deep in Cardinals territory. With the ball at the 18 yardline, quarterback Trent Edwards dropped back and threw a nice ball to the back left corner of the endzone. Asuberry ran a clean route and got separation from his defender before making an impressive catch, dragging his left foot at the edge of the endzone to get two feet down and score the touchdown.
The Raiders may have signed Kevin Boss to replace Zach Miller, but Ausberry has just threw his name in the hat to be Oakland’s tight end of the future.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, third round pick Demarcus Van Dyke showed Raiders fans and coaches something on Thursday night as well. Van Dyke got in the game early and was asked to go man up against one of the league’s best receivers in Larry Fitzgerald. Despite being outmatched in size and experience, Van Dyke did a good job of holding his own.
On almost every play that Van Dyke was asked to play man coverage on any receiver, he was on his man like glue. I did not once see significant separation, and on almost every ball thrown his direction, Van Dyke got his head around, put his body in good position and was able to try and make a play on the ball.
Fitzgerald was able to make an outstanding catch for fourty yards while being covered by Van Dyke. However, what should be mentioned is that the reason Fitzgerald had to make such an impressive catch is because Van Dyke was in excellent position and attacked the ball at its highest point, forcing Fitzgerald to use his combination of height and excellent hands to make an impressive catch along the sideline.
Van Dyke may not be able to overtake Chris Johnson as the number two corner for the Raiders, but he certainly made a strong argument to get playing time as a nickel back. Especially considering second year cornerbacks Walter McFadden and Jeremy Ware struggled at times against the Cardinals second and third string offense on Thursday.
The Raiders clearly need to work on cutting down the penalties that haunted them once again in the preseason opener. The Raiders committed 10 penalties for 84 yards. If the Raiders want to make a run for the playoffs, this needs to be cleaned up.
The only other area where the Raiders clearly need to improve is in finishing drives. The Raiders first three offensive possessions looked incredibly promising, only to wind up with two field goals and a punt. Scoring field goals instead of touchdowns is a sure fire way to lose games and miss the playoffs.
It is still very early, but these are problems that the Raiders need to address by the time the regular season rolls around.