ReFo: Raiders @ Vikings, Preseason Week 1
The first live action for both the Oakland Raiders and the Minnesota Vikings commenced with a Friday night showdown of two teams each looking to improve on a 2013 season that didn’t quite fall their way. One year removed from sacrificing their cap space in order to clear out numerous failed contracts, Oakland looked to rebound with numerous veteran free-agent signings — though only one played more than 20 snaps in this game.
The hype in Minnesota was audible midway through the first quarter, when Teddy Bridgewater made his way onto the field amidst chanting from the crowd. And while analysis on Bridgewater will no doubt steal headlines and airtime, there were plenty of other standouts in this game.
Oakland– Three Performances of Note
Defensive Front Dominance
As indicated by the final score, this was a defensive battle. Once the starters were out of the way, Oakland’s second string made short work of the Vikings’ offense, shutting them out for the final three quarters. Seventh-rounder Shelby Harris nearly negated three of those points with a strip sack in the red zone that the Vikings were lucky to recover, adding two more hurries along the way. Fourth-year linebacker Justin Cole (+4.9) made a strong case for roster consideration, tallying a sack and two hurries on five pass-rushing opportunities. Eager to show he isn’t a one-dimensional player, Cole made short work of blockers in the run game, indiscriminately bullying both tackles and tight ends.
Make’s Little Sense
Just one year removed from having Darrius Heyward-Bey on the roster, Oakland seems to have fallen into the same trap of a high-potential wideout with hands of stone. Sure, he’s not getting paid much, but why sign the one guy who consistently has more drops than Heyward-Bey? Former Brown Greg Little made his Raider debut against the Vikings, and it was a forgettable performance. He dropped one of two passes thrown his way. On the other he was absolved from the drop (but not the downgrade), failing to attack the ball on, of all routes, a comeback, allowing the corner to close ground and rake his arms before he could secure the completion.
Things weren’t much better elsewhere in the receiving corps, with two drops each from Mychal Rivera and Jamize Olawale. The longest completion was just 16 yards, accurately summarizing a disappointing day through the air for the Raiders.
Aging veterans like Charles Woodson, Carlos Rogers, and Tarell Brown have all come to Oakland recently to help shore up the secondary, but it was a couple of back-ups making their case for additional playing time. Seeing significant playing time in only four games since being drafted in 2011, Chimdi Chekwa prevented a number of completions by either knocking the ball away or swiping the arms of the receiver as the ball arrived. Jansen Watson earned his +2.3 grade covering out routes, nearly intercepting two passes. The first was a tough sideline catch that many receivers would struggle with, while the second won’t show up on the stat sheet thanks to a penalty on one of his teammates. Still, those ball skills would be greatly appreciated on a team that picked off just nine passes last season.
Minnesota– Three Performances of Note
The New Quarterback Situation
While it wasn’t an especially noteworthy performance, the one guy everyone tuned in to see play was Minnesota’s quarterback of the future, Teddy Bridgewater (-1.0). Starting out strong, Bridgewater’s first pass found Greg Jennings for an impressive 21-yard strike on the move, only to be negated by an illegal formation. His statline (6-of-13, 49 yards) looks thoroughly underwhelming, but considering two of those incompletions were busted screens and the aforementioned pass omitted from the copy book, it wasn’t a bad day through the air for the rookie. Most concerning was his ball security on his lone fumble. Trying to escape pressure up the middle late in the first quarter, Bridgewater took a hand off the ball trying to scramble away only for it to be knocked loose by the outside rush of Harris. Mistakes like that will get a young player benched in a hurry.
It appears to be a two man race for the starting spot with Matt Cassel (+1.7) performing well (albeit on only seven drop-backs) and Christian Ponder restoring faith in the team’s decision to relegate him to third-string. Playing against backups, Ponder (-3.4) completed just three of his seven passes and very nearly put points on the board the other way but for a dropped interception on an out route deep in Oakland territory.
Right Side of the Line Needs Work
Unchanged from its 2013 iteration, the Vikings’ starting offensive line saw just 22 snaps as a unit before stepping aside and letting the backups have a go against a Raider defense with similar plans. The reserves on the left side held their own, but the story at right tackle went a bit differently. Austin Wentworth (-1.5) gave up three hurries, while Pierce Burton earned his -1.3 grade on just seven subpar snaps. Mike Remmers was the only one of the three to allow a sack, and he committed a false start for good measure as well. Minnesota has one of the better offensive lines in the league, but that could change in a hurry should the injury bug rear its ugly head.
New Additions Stand Out on Defense
Linval Joseph was the flashiest offseason signing by the Vikings’ front office, but there isn’t much to report with a paltry 10 snaps Friday evening. Instead, former Bear Corey Wootton made a splash on the defensive line, manufacturing a sack and two hurries on his 25 snaps. In the secondary, the much-maligned Kurt Coleman (+1.3 coverage) allowed just 7 yards on three targets, even picking off a pass that skipped off the fingers of Jamize Olawale. Similar to Coleman, former Charger Derek Cox started off on the right foot in Minnesota with just one 5-yard catch to show for 14 snaps in coverage.
– The highly touted first-rounder Khalil Mack played just 18 snaps, dropping into coverage (five times) nearly as often as he rushed the passer (six times).
– Of the Raiders’ 45 tackles, 31 were defensive stops. The Vikings weren’t far behind (20 of 39).
– If you’re a fan of big punts (let’s be honest, who isn’t?) tune into Marquette King’s bomb with 2:08 to go in the third quarter; 56 yards straight out of bounds, with an impressive five seconds of hang-time.
PFF Game Ball
He was on the field for only 18 snaps in a losing effort, but Justin Cole earned every bit of his +4.9 grade, helping to shut down Minnesota’s offense in the second half.