Bears at Raiders: What to watch for

The Raiders get their toughest offensive test of the preseason this week when a stout Bears front seven — teamed with all-pro defensive backs — create matchup problems for any offense.

Especially the Raiders sub-standard receiver sets and mediocre run game.

It’s said that “well planned is half done” and “where there’s a will, there’s a way,” so there’s no reason to chalk this game up as a loss just yet. Here’s five things to keep an eye on while the Raiders attempt to defeat the Chicago Bears in Oakland:

Offensive Line

The Raiders front five need to prove themselves against Chicago. Alex Barron has been preparing for his second preseason start in the wake of left tackle Jared Veldheer succumbing to serious injury.

Rookie Menelik Watson will probably get a chance at starting during the regular season, but options are thin for coach Dennis Allen. The Raiders excelled in pass protection during the 2012 season, but massive cuts have brought in what appears to be a mediocre offensive line.

Quarterbacks and receivers

Matt Flynn maintained his composure against the Saints despite having virtually no time to find an open receiver. His receivers, though, were seldom able to escape coverage.

Terrelle Pryor did even worse, despite fans tweeting en masse that Pryor would be a better option with the weakened offensive line. Both Flynn and Pryor face another challenge against a mean Bears pass rush.

The receiving corps needs to perform better than they did in New Orleans. The play calling will be tailored to fit limited time in the pocket, but the receivers’ job is to find a hole in the defense and exploit it.

Denarius Moore is the best of the bunch, but Brice Butler has been impressive for a late-round pick. He may not be in position to be even the third receiving option, but the more reliable options, the better.

Jacoby Ford is one of those players who excels beyond expectations but has never played a full season due to injuries. If Butler or another wideout can prove themselves, General Manager Reggie McKenzie will surely be pleased.

Pash russ and run stopping

The last time the world saw the Raiders try and rush the passer, it was embarrassing.

Drew Brees was allowed enough time to take an SAT test while defensive backs were becoming exhausted in coverage. The above-average Oakland secondary needs a solid pass rush to function the way it was designed to.

Look for Oakland to run more blitz packages, especially in nickel coverage and against Chicago’s sub-standard offensive line.

The Bears have one of the better backfields in the NFL in Matt Forte and former Raider Michael Bush. Defensive tackle Vance Walker returned to practice this week and is a question mark to play.

Coach Allen reiterated to media on Wednesday that Walker was brought to Oakland as a run stopper. Rookie linebacker Sio Moore was another team addition that will need to prove himself further.

The goal should be to create situations that gives Chicago no legitimate options but to air the ball out, ideally forcing turnovers.

Special teams

Kicker Sebastian Janikowski and all-pro returner Josh Cribbs were both given new contracts by the Raiders this offseason. After letting go of punter Shane Lechler, the team wound up with Chris Kluwe.

Not bad by any standard, they still must earn their pay. An extra 20 yards on kick and punt returns could end up being the difference between a miserable season and a memorable one.

Janikowski has one of the strongest legs the league has ever seen, and notching three points from 50 yards out will be a massive shot in the arm for everyone.

The general consensus among analysts is that Kluwe will be very busy this season, and the team will be pleased if he can match the production of Lechler.

Play calling

The most important aspect of success in the NFL relies on calling the proper plays for each situation.

All playoff-caliber teams depend on it, from mixing up run and pass, to figuring out opposition strategy and developing counter maneuvers.

Last week, the Raiders were outmatched by the play calling of Saints coach Sean Payton. They’ll need to do better this week.

Expect bracket coverage on Bears receiver Brandon Marshall and strong-side blitzes along with running back spies. It will be tough for the Raiders to contend with the powerful Chicago offense, but keeping Forte and Bush at bay could be the difference between a shootout and a blowout.

The Raiders will have a tougher task on offense. Screen passes and play action rollouts will need to gain the necessary yardage to get into field goal range or the end zone. Even using a defensive player as a fullback could create fruit on a barren offensive line.

The Raiders-Bears game will be televised in the Bay Area at 7 p.m. Friday on KTVU.


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