MINNEAPOLIS – NFL teams prefer to stay close to home during the preseason. Regional opponents fill out the schedule, typically with one long road trip mixed in.
That’s done by design.
It’s a dress rehearsal for road games across the country, from the flights to the hotel meetings and walk-thrus to unfamiliar surroundings.
The Raiders experience all that this weekend, culminating with Saturday night’s exhibition against the Minnesota Vikings at TCF Bank Stadium.
“It’s going to be imperative that we understand what a business trip looks like – how we conduct ourselves, how we meet, how we go through the meetings at the hotel,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “Just how we do things leading up to the game. It’s different. We have to bring our own energy. When you’re on the road, it’s kind of an ‘us against them,’ ‘us against the world’ mentality. Sometimes it can feel like if they’re really going crazy in the stands. We want to understand what it looks like to go on the road and win in a hostile environment.”
The Raiders are certainly getting their money’s worth. In addition to the standard road experience, the Raiders will be playing this game in inclement weather. There’s a strong chance of thunderstorms around the 5 p.m. kickoff, with scattered bouts of precipitation throughout the contest.
The Raiders play road games at open-air stadiums in Chicago and Pittsburgh in the fall. They play at Denver and Kansas City in the dead of winter. They need to be prepared for the elements.
Injury risk goes up on days like these. So does sloppy play. That’s something the Raiders will try and avoid after a clean game last week against St. Louis.
“You want to continue to stay clean but you want it to be more efficient,” quarterback Derek Carr said. “You want to make sure the little mental errors, we had a couple on offense, the percentage that we want to be at as an offense as a whole was just above our goal. We want to get that down. Some of them aren’t drastic things, but they are things that make a difference. We want to make sure we clean that up. As long as we take last week and we see growth, whatever growth looks like after we turn the film on, we just want to see growth.”
There is a unique dimension to the Vikings clash atypical of preseason affairs. The Raiders host Minnesota on Nov. 15 in a game that actually counts. Neither team wants to give much away in this contest, but it’s so far away that it won’t be a major factor down the road.
“We play them so late in the year that it’s not as big of a deal as if you were playing them earlier,” Del Rio said. “Certainly, it’s not ideal to play a preseason game and then play that team later in the year. Every now and then it happens. Both teams have the same body of work to go through and have the same experience, so it’s not an advantage for one or the other. It’s similar, it’s almost like playing a divisional opponent that you’re playing again.”
Some pre-game notes:
-- Don’t expect players missing practice to play in this game. That list includes linebacker Sio Moore, running back Roy Helu Jr., fullback Jamize Olawale, cornerback Keith McGill or tight end Clive Walford.
-- The Raiders could limit touches by clear-cut starting running back Latavius Murray, especially in the muck. They want to keep him fresh and injury-free heading toward the regular season. They also have some tough decisions regarding a backup running back, a battle currently waged by Trent Richardson and Michael Dyer.
-- Starters generally play close to a half in the second preseason game, as first-unit players ramp up activity and endurance.
-- Vikings running back Adrian Peterson won’t test the Raiders defense on Saturday. He doesn’t plan to play in the preseason.
-- There are several Vikings-Raiders connections. Here are a few: Jack Del Rio played for the Vikings from 1992-95. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave held the same position in Minnesota from 2011-13. Quarterback Christian Ponder was the Vikings’ No. 12 overall pick in 2011 and stayed here for four seasons. Receiver Amari Cooper played at Miami Northwestern High with Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.