Raiders defense surges past stumbling offense
The Raiders looked really good — when they didn’t have the ball.
That’s why kicker Sebastian Janikowski got a proper hamstring workout, kicking five first-half field goals as the Raiders lost 30-23 to the Arizona Cardinals.
Raiders quarterback Derek Carr overthrew several receivers, and some catchable balls weren’t caught.
Starting running back Latavius Murray gained only one yard on seven carries, which is partly due to good defense, but also an overlooked element that happened a lot more than some realize in 2014.
Of Murray’s 82 carries from last season, 37 were for two yards or less, and eight — 10 percent of them — went for negative yardage.
It’s a small sample, and it’s unfair to overlook big scampers like a 90-yard touchdown run in Oakland’s first win against the Chiefs, which ultimately helped lead to a 5.2 yards per carry clip for the season.
The Raiders will need to run the ball well, though, in order to be effective as a football team. That’s pretty basic, sure, but there’s little to point to in making the case that the running game is much improved.
And going against a good run defense doesn’t cut it when creating an argument. Head coach Jack Del Rio said:
“Our run game? I didn’t see anything from our run game. We didn’t run tonight very well. We expect to run it better.”
Del Rio added that he told the team that there will be improvement, and that he believes that will happen.
It helps, though, that Cardinals starter Andre Ellington only managed 19 yards on nine carries, seven yards coming on one attempt.
The Raiders run defense was everything it was expected to be. And the pass rush looked like it could be the best in the NFL
Defensive end Khalil Mack, who played linebacker during his rookie season, recorded two sacks and dominated whomever he was facing. Rookie defensive lineman Mario Edwards Jr. also notched a pair of sacks, and defensive lineman Denico Autry made himself more than comfortable in Arizona’s backfield.
There had been some national voices issuing concern over the Raiders pass rush. A betting man might place a sizable wager that those concerns will not be echoed for some time after Sunday night.
The Cardinals have acquired left tackle Jared Veldheer, formerly of the Raiders, and guard Mike Iupati over the last two offseasons. They drafted guard Jonathan Cooper seventh overall in 2013.
But the Raiders defensive front made them look like the high school team who ran some drills during pregame festivities. Oakland looks very promising in the trenches.
“We have a special group. We have a special group of guys. … Once we put it all on display, it’s going to be a special thing to see.”
If that seems like typical NFL-speak from a player who doesn’t say much, well, it kind of is. But that doesn’t mean the words are steam with no channel to push.
Oakland accumulated eight tackles for losses Sunday evening, all from players who could finish the preseason as starters.
The defense stopped a few screen attempts as well, something that hasn’t happened much over the last two seasons. They defended passes well, too; Arizona starting quarterback Carson Palmer completed only eight of 22 attempts.
Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who probably has the most compelling argument of any current receiver towards entering the Hall of Fame, caught two of five targets. Oakland covered him up well.
Second-year speedster John Brown did most of the damage for Arizona on one of his four targets, a deep sideline reception for 39 yards. Brown’s grab and Fitzgerald’s pair accounted for 70 of Palmer’s 103 passing yards.
The Raiders weren’t scheming for anything, either, they showed the preseason vanilla that is to be expected. Safety Nate Allen didn’t care. He managed two interceptions off of Palmer.
Allen came from the Eagles, but true to the Silver and Black, he played like quite a hawk.
The Raiders lost. Their offense looked lost. But their defense, which was good for worst in the league last year, if you factor the things that matter, looked like something that has a shot at topping the league.
That’s crucial when you face Peyton Manning and Phillip Rivers twice a year, not to discount the work Kansas City did to improve their passing game over the offseason.
What comes next for the Raiders is a day off — and then roster cuts. Oakland currently employs 88 players, and needs to trim down to 75 by Tuesday afternoon.
They may include an extra offensive lineman in their future plans, though, after losing starting right tackle Menelik Watson for the season with a ruptured Achilles. Watson had been looking dominant, so the loss is significant.
They are also likely to add a few faces, though time will tell.
Jason Leskiw is SFBay’s Oakland Raiders beat writer and member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow @SFBay and @LeskiwSFBay on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of the Oakland Raiders.