Dennis Allen was furious with his team in the first half of Friday’s 34-26 preseason loss to the Chicago Bears. The Raiders got beat 27-3 in periods exclusively played by starting units, a troubling result following a similar outcome the week before.
The play of backup quarterback Terrelle Pryor couldn’t brighten his postgame press conference. Watching the game tape, you feel Allen’s pain.
[RELATED: Pryor creates quarterback controversy]
His team made so many mistakes, especially at the line of scrimmage. Quarterback play may have been the main story line, but run defense and run blocking are major causes for concern.
Without solid play in those areas, regular-season struggles are virtually assured. Those issues are addressed below.
We’ll start with some observations on Pryor’s big night, and why he was so successful.
Pryor’s progress: The NFL Rewind video package provided the Bears television feed of Friday's game, which offered a moment of humor Raiders fans didn’t get to see.
A sideline reporter was interviewing star defensive end Julius Peppers during the third quarter, with game action inset in a smaller window. Peppers talked about the Bears defense when Pryor started to scramble and formally took off running.
Peppers trailed off and eventually stopped talking all together as Pryor sliced through the defense. When he dove into the end zone to complete a 25-yard touchdown run, Peppers frowned and shook his head disgust.
“Can’t let a running quarterback do that to you,” Peppers said. “If you don’t contain a guy like that, bad things happen.”
Even while playing assignment-sound defense, containing Pryor isn’t always assured.
Pryor’s rare combination of size and speed makes him tough to deal with. He’s deceptively quick with long, powerful strides and, at 6-foot-4, 223 pounds, isn’t easy to bring down.
That keeps dead plays alive and allows Pryor to improvise.
[RELATED: Run defense gutted in loss to Bears]
Athleticism, however, only takes Pryor so far. On Friday night, smarts put him over the top.
Pryor picked up blitzes and capitalized on open space. He rolled out and found receivers on the sideline for bigger gains. He found holes in the zone using tight ends on seam routes that kept chains moving.
Despite a dismal first drive where he nearly threw an interception – credit Rod Streater with the pass breakup – Pryor played extremely well. He checked down at times and ran when he had to, without losing sight of big-play possibilities.
If we’re nit picking, most of his success came against the second team. That’s not Pryor’s fault. It will be interesting to see how/when he’s used in the preseason finale, when starters rarely play.
Practice snaps will tell a tale, but coaches will have to be forthright with what’s happening now that practices are essentially closed.
Closer look at run D: The Raiders run defense struggled mightily against the run. The numbers weren’t good, especially in the first half. The Raiders have struggled to set an edge in the run game and pursue runs that break outside. On inside runs, creases are being formed and linebackers aren’t making quick tackles.
Michael Bush’s 10-yard touchdown run is an example of that. Bush hit the A gap, wiggled back and was never seriously hit on his way to the end zone. That’s unacceptable.
So was the exterior run defense on a second-quarter run by Matt Forte. End Jack Crawford got turned inside, allowing Forte to cut back into space and make a big game.
The Raiders are still missing Pat Sims, expected to be their best run defender, but he can’t fixed issues this varied on his own.
D.J.s first game: D.J. Hayden’s first day wasn’t perfect. He allowed some plays, especially early on, and made some mistakes coverage. He plays well in man coverage and clearly has the speed to run with anyone. He looks behind, as expected after so much time missed due to health concerns. He looks like a cover man first and a tackler by requirement only.
[RELATED: Hayden makes it through Raiders debut]
Third-down woes: The Raiders were 0-for-6 on third downs in the first half. That’s unacceptable. They didn’t generate many manageable third downs, yet failed to convert on third-and-short when they had the chance. They were only 2-for-12 on third down, a dismal percentage across offensive units.
Flynn’s picks: Matt Flynn threw two interceptions, but only one was clearly his fault. It’s tough to assign blame on the first, which was thrown assuming Denarius Moore would break outside. The receiver slanted in. No matter who caused the turnover, breakdowns like that are unacceptable at this stage of the preseason.
The second was all Flynn. He made two mistakes uncharacteristic of his play this preseason. He threw into tight coverage – defensive back Isaiah Frey had the inside track on receiver Jacoby Ford – and he threw behind the receiver.
That assured the interception. If Flynn could’ve led Ford a bit and thrown high, the pass might’ve been complete. Instead, it ended up as Flynn’s second turnover in four drives.
Flynn’s first-half sack: Flynn went down in the first quarter when defensive back Charles Tillman came in unblocked and sacked the Raiders quarterback. He wasn’t picked up – a too often occurrence this preseason – although it seemed that he came only when fullback Marcel Reece left the backfield. The real issue here is that Flynn never felt the pressure. He didn’t have a chance to do anything but go down, another deficiency in his game.
Pryor’s touchdown pass: What a smart play from all parties on 3rd-and-16. Pryor used tight ends on seam routes throughout the game, and found Nick Kasa with a wise throw. Pryor identified single coverage, and quickly threw to Kasa’s back shoulder (coverage was on the inside). Kasa, who hasn’t made great impact this preseason, hauled in the pass in stride and pounded his way into the end zone. The decision making was spot on, and Kasa’s athleticism secured the touchdown.
Hindsight is 20/20:
-- Safety Brandian Ross wasn’t only my first projected 53-man roster. He’ll be on the next one. He’s a versatile talent who made smart plays against the Bears. He’s a poor man’s Tyvon Branch. He plays well against the run and doesn’t give anything up on the back end.
-- Touchbacks are unacceptable for a punter. The goal is to pin the opposition deep, and Marquette King failed to do that against the Bears. He didn’t get all of one punt and sent another into the end zone. If you read between the lines when Allen speaks, it’s clear that holding for field goals and getting punts out fast are important. King doesn’t do either thing well, and a poor hold hurt the Raiders on a missed field goal attempt. After a solid week of practice, King set himself back a bit.
-- Alex Barron has a problem with speed rushers. The veteran left tackle frequently gets turned around by aggressive rushing off the edge. He didn’t allow a sack, but plenty of pressure came from the blind side. The Raiders are trying to help Barron with blocking help, but that leaves another area vulnerable. Not a good situation on the left side.
-- Outside linebacker Kevin Burnett continues to show well. He covers tight ends well in man coverage, and tackles well in open space and can mix it up against the run. His play isn’t perfect, but he’s a solid contributor in a front seven with little going right.
-- Jacoby Ford played a ton in this game, without much to show for it. The receiver made good choices on a 62-yard return, but didn’t fare well as a receiver. He was in position to bring in a pass from Pryor but couldn’t reach it. All told, he was targeted four times without a reception.