I do, at times, find pre season fascinating. Sure, I don’t think there’s a natural projection from it to regular season, but you can learn bits and pieces about teams and what they are going to do. You also get the occasional flash from players that make you stand up and take notice.
So I went into the New Orleans Saints trip to play the Oakland Raiders hoping to see some flashes, but also focusing on some of the newer players for New Orleans, and some players I’m hoping will step up for Oakland.
How did they fare, and what did I see? Let’s find out after watching the first half of the game.
New Orleans – Three Things of Note
● Back last week I had a discussion with Neil Hornsby about Zach Strief. Essentially it went along the lines of me suggesting Neil’s belief in the right tackle was a little generous in this piece, so I watched him on every play to get an idea of where he was at. On the 40 snaps I watched him in I started off quite impressed but that had tempered by the end of things. To give some numbers – 29 plays he was in pass protection and he gave up a hit and a hurry in the second quarter, but was pretty much perfect (one play where he picked up the wrong guy aside) than that. His work in the run game was a bit more uneven. He never really attacked when he got to the second level and it left him with mixed results. A nice play on Quentin Groves didn’t make up for how easily Rolando McClain stood him up and shed his block to make a tackle. He does looks like an upgrade on Jon Stinchcomb at this stage however.
● My next port of call was to look at Shaun Rogers. I’ve always liked watching Rogers, if for nothing else than it seems to defy logic, and maybe even physics, how a man that size can move the way he does. Rogers was only on the field for 13 plays before his day was done, and he managed to make an impact, though the Raiders dealt with him well. If they weren’t out and out doubling up on him with a center and guard (as they did on four plays), Samson Satele realized he was likely no match and eventually resorted to cut blocking Rogers on consecutive plays which was all the Saints needed to see to take him off the field. The only real interesting things to note with Rogers were the Saints used him both at 0, 1 and what appeared 3-techniques (as much as angles let you tell) and they took him off the field in their sub package. He still appears too strong and explosive at times, as evidenced by how he drove linemen back at 6:28 and 5:46 in the first.
● The last thing I wanted to get a handle on was how the Saints would use their linebackers, a group that rarely threatens to impress. It should be noted they started with the combo of Scott Shanle, Jonathan Vilma and Will Herring, with Herring leaving the field in their sub package. As I expected, nobody impressed. With the Raiders running the ball we were given example after example of why the Saints could struggle. Their linebackers just cannot shed a block. Whether it’s Shanle getting moved by Jared Veldheer on the first play, Vilma taking a bad angle putting him in the crosshairs of an offensive lineman or newcomer Will Herring driven back six yards by tight end Brandon Myers, they are a collective liability. Whenever a Saints linebacker made a play it was because they were unblocked. They simply need to do a better job working off blocks and not leaving everything to the guys up front. At this rate the Saints run defense has a boom or bust feel to it on a play by play basis.
Oakland – Three Things of Note
● The Raiders seemed pretty intent on upgrading their left tackle spot considering their pursuit of Jared Gaither. Injuries scared them off him and instead they were left with Veldheer on the left side. How did he fare? Well for the first quarter I was relatively impressed with Veldheer. No pressure allowed, though this was somewhat helped by some quick throws. In the second quarter there were some struggles as Will Smith in particular figured him out. Veldheer was lined up so far off the LOS he was extremely vulnerable to the inside move, where Smith picked up a hit and was constantly beating the sophomore left tackle (as well as a pressure he picked up on a bull rush). The other issue with Veldheer is he looked a bit cumbersome out in space. He struggled to engage defenders on screens or running plays, making it easy for defenders to flow to the ball. Consider myself not sold on him just yet.
● One guy who did impress was receiver Derek Hagan. He seemed to have a chemistry with Jason Campbell, catching four balls despite being on the field for only 10 passing plays. His touchdown owed a lot to a cornerback sliding like he was playing baseball, but he showed some good open field shiftiness late in the second quarter to pick up some yards after the catch. The Raiders have some home run threats, but could Hagan be that dependable target every quarterback loves?
● I wanted to look at something on the Raiders defense, but what? The obvious thing would be to turn my attention to victimized cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke, but that seems both unnecessarily cruel and almost too easy. So I’m looking at a guy who split opinions in year one, Rolando McClain. I looked at him for all the plays he was in on and came away impressed with the second year man. There are a few things you notice with him. One, blockers really struggle to keep their hands on him. There wasn’t one block on him he wasn’t able to shed. Two, when he tackles you he stops your momentum. Three, he seems like he knows where he’s going in coverage (something you couldn’t always say in year one). He made two defensive stops on third down (one was called back by a defensive off side) and was in picture perfect coverage on the three plays he was targeted (one pass break up, one tackle short of first down and one incompletion).
So there was some positive and negative on both sides of the ball and for both teams. New Orleans looks to have found an upgrade at RT, but the throw-as-much-mud-and-see-what-sticks-at-linebacker-while-persisting-with-the-sub-standard-Shanle approach is still in full operation and could prove their downfall. For the Raiders you wonder about their offense. They have a line built to force quick throws and receivers built to go deep. Something has got to give and the best bet right now is that of Campbell’s health. Still, the front seven shook off some rust and looked disruptive at times, and that could be enough to make them competitive in the AFC West.