Return to the Black Hole–The first full week of the 2012 NFL preseason had one game left. The Oakland Raiders hosted the Dallas Cowboys on Monday Night Football.
Everything is different about the Raiders. With the passing of Owner Al Davis last year, his son Mark has completely restructured the organization. The team has a general manager for the first time in years with the hiring of Reggie McKenzie. Head Coach Dennis Allen is new. Both McKenzie and Allen are participating in their very first game in their roles.
Before the game, ESPN announcer Jon “Chucky” Gruden was greeted very warmly by the Black Hole. After seven long months, the Raiders were finally playing football. For those like myself who detest preseason, I watch it because it is something.
Quarterback Carson Palmer is in his first full season with the silver and black. Yet everything on the offense comes down to running back Darren McFadden. McFadden is electric when healthy, but gets injured far too often.
The offense started out strong. McFadden ran for four yards. Then Palmer hit McFadden on a West Coast swing pass, which McFadden took 18 yards. Then McFadden took a handoff another 16 yards. From just past midfield, Palmer went for the bomb. The ball was thrown into double-coverage and intercepted.
The Raiders were a mess on defense last year. When Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo his wide receiver Dez Bryant for a 24 yard gain, it looked like more of the same. Yet the defense held, and the first penalty of the game was a false start on the Cowboys. A good punt had the Raiders beginning their next drive at their own eight yard line.
McFadden was done for the night. With Michael Bush having been traded to the Chicago Bears, keeping McFadden healthy is more important than ever. The Raiders are not the same team without him, and their first penalty for offensive holding soon followed. On 3rd and 4, Palmer could not find anybody and only ran for one yard.
With star punter Shane Lechler out with an injury, the backup punter hit one for 58 yards. Yet a running into the kicker penalty on Dallas gave the Raiders an automatic first down. The Raiders have made these mistakes over the years, so it was pleasant for the home fans to see it the other way.
Given new life, Palmer threw to a wide open Jacoby Ford on 2nd and 3. It bounced off of his fingertips. On 3rd and 3 Palmer went back to Ford and he dropped it again. Ford is a phenomenal kick returner, but he has to get the jitters out and be ready as a receiver. On the punt, Dallas jumped offsides giving the Raiders another automatic first down.
The Raiders now had a third chance on the same drive. Yet Palmer was now done for the night. Matt Leinart came in at quarterback. Leinart has been a major bust in his career, and this may be his last chance to succeed in the NFL. He backed up Palmer at USC and is doing so again. Leinart began handing the ball off three straight times. He then fumbled the snap from center but recovered it himself.
This is where we saw the first major concern for the Raiders. Dennis Allen runs the “West Coast Offense,” which usually caters to quarterbacks without arm strength and teams with no running game. Think “Dink and Dunk with (Trent) Dilfer.” Yet this team has McFadden and Palmer. As for Leinart, his very first pass as a Raider was a Dink and Dunker that gave him a 100% completion percentage with zero first downs picked up. The Raiders punted and this time did not get another chance. The ball should have been downed at the one but the coverage man got greedy and it was ruled a touchback.
The defense certainly looked improved to start the next series. Romo somehow avoided a sack and completed a pass for a 2 yard loss. On the next play Tommy Kelly did get to Romo. On 3rd and 24 from their own 6, the Cowboys handed the ball off and punted. Ford continued his tough start by fumbling the punt with nobody around him. He accidentally stepped out of bounds without gaining any yardage.
On 1st and 10, Leinart went for the play action pass and found a wide open rookie Rod Streater for a 19 yard gain. He then hit Owen Schmidt for another first down but an illegal block negated that as the first quarter ended in a scoreless tie. The second quarter saw Leinart hit Streater again on 2nd and 11 for a first down at the Dallas 34.
Leinart was 4 for 4 on the drive at that point, and a naked bootleg was perfectly executed by Leinart. A wide open receiver had a clear path to the end zone, but the pass was dropped. A delay of game penalty soon meant 3rd and 10. Leinart threw the ball away and was lucky that the replacement referes did not call intentional grounding. Sebastian Janikowski came in for a 52 yard field goal off of the dirt.
The Polish Cannon never had a chance. With normal holder Lechler out, the backup punter and holder could not handle the high snap. Yet another penalty on Dallas moved the ball five yards closer. From 47 yards, still on the dirt, Seabass hit a knuckleballer that was wide. One of the big problems with the Raiders last year was “finishing.” They did not finish drives early on and they did not finish games in the fourth quarter. This was a wasted opportunity.
Cowboys Head Coach Jason Garrett kept his starting offense in the game. On 3rd and 9, Romo found Jason Witten. Yet a pair of defenders wrapped Witten up one yard short of the marker and Dallas punted again. Leinart continued the short passing game, completing a pair of passes to move the chains. Yet on 3rd and 10 Leinart, under pressure, threw another short pass that padded the stats without picking up the first down. The plan of hoping for a defensive penalty on the punt did not work this time.
Tony Romo was finally done for the night, and the new backup in Dallas is Kyle Orton. Orton began last year with Denver and was traded to Kansas City when another player who will not be mentioned took over in Denver.
(He will not be mentioned unless he does something on the football field.)
While Orton is a solid, underrated quarterback, a holding penalty meant 2nd and 19. On 3rd and 9 an Orton pass near the sticks was dropped as Dallas punted again. At the 2 minute warning it was the Raiders facing 3rd and 2. Oakland converted, and Leinart stood strong in the pocket and threw a completed pass just before getting belted. With 1:09 left in the half the Raiders had passed midfield. They got nothing more and punted again.
With little time in the half, Orton threw a pass where only Raiders were in the vicinity. Mike Mitchell intercepted it, and with five seconds left in the half the Raiders had one chance from the Dallas 47. Seabass has the strength for a 64 yard field goal, but breaking the NFL record in preseason seems pointless. Seabass has a share of the record of 63 yards. Rather than try a hail mary, the crowd had to be disappointed when Dennis Allen called a handoff. Al Davis rolled over in his grave as the 0-0 tie went to the locker rooms.
The second half was technically a game of backups, but Kyle Orton was a starter at the end of last year. He came out and threw an 18 yard completion. Unlike some backups who deserve to be, Orton is still good enough to start for most teams. Despite a pair of offensive penalties, defensive pass interference had the Cowboys on the Oakland 19. The defense held after that, but a 33 yard field goal by Bailey had the Cowboys on the board first 3-0 midway through the third quarter.
After an uneventful kickoff, the final draft pick of the Al Davis era stepped on the field. Terrell Pryor had his chance at quarterback. A pair of runs set up a manageable 3rd and 5. Pryor was chased around, escaped, and gained one yard. The Raiders punted as Pryor still did not throw his first pass.
The game truly became about the backups when 3rd stringer Stephen McGee came in at quarterback for Dallas. A 3rd and 15 completion came up two yards short. Since this was preseason, Jason Garrett decided to go for it on on fourth down from just past midfield. McGee’s pass was deflected as the Cowboys turned it over on downs.
Pryor came out throwing this time, and a pair of incompletions meant 3rd and 10. Yet he then hit David Ausberry shy of the marker, and Ausberry broke a tackle for the first down at midfield. Yet another first down was not in the cards as this puntfest continued.
The Cowboys began the fourth quarter and converted a 3rd and 1 from the Oakland 46 on the ground. Yet on the next 3rd down conversion, a dead ball offensive personal foul on Dallas killed the drive. For the opening preseason game, despite 0 points, the Raiders were remarkably disciplined while the Cowboys were being flagged frequently.
On the next Oakland series the Raiders faced 3rd and 4. Pryor threw low and incomplete. Yet defensive holding on Dallas gave the Raiders another gift first down. On 3rd and 7 Pryor scrambled all over the place, avoided a sack, and ran past the marker. We know he can run. The question is if he can throw. Pryor then went deep and benefitted from defensive pass interference, putting the Raiders on the Dallas 25. A draw play on 3rd and 4 only gained one yard. Eddie Carmona came on for a 36 yard field goal try. He missed it. Seabass was not in danger of losing his job, and now certainly is not.
With 6:44 to play, the Cowboys brought in their fourth string quarterback Rudy Carpenter. He was sacked twice, and fumbled once, recovering it himself. A dangerous attempt to return the bouncing, rolling punt was luckily recovered by the Raiders. They took over at their own 22 with 4 1/2 minutes left. A pair of short passes moved the chains. Pryor again showed amazing ability to scramble and avoid sacks but his throwing mechanics were not good. On 3rd and 14 he threw a wobbler that was caught for a first down at the two minute warning.
On 3rd and 2 Pryor scrambled for the first down and got out of bounds at the Dallas 40. with 1:18 to play. At this point announcer Jon Gruden probably had no idea that he created a funny sound bite when he said that a Dallas player “beat Wang inside.” Things were not so funny for the Raiders on the next play when the Dallas defense finally caught the scrambling Pryor and sacked him. On 3rd and 26 with one minute to go, Pryor threw low and was almost intercepted. On 4th and 26 Pryor was intercepted.
While the score would indicate a terrible football game, it was not as badly played for the Raiders. The Cowboys looked awful, even getting a delay of game penalty while trying to take a knee. I am not sure I have seen that before. Dallas did take a knee to end things. As with most preseason games, what we learned from this one was practically nothing. 3-0 Cowboys