AFC West: 2012 NFL preseason Week 1

Observation deck: Raiders-Cowboys

August, 13, 2012
A look at the Oakland Raiders’ 3-0 home loss against the Dallas Cowboys on Monday night:

It was uglier than Russell Brand’s performance at the Olympic closing ceremonies.

Both the Raiders' and Cowboys’ first-team offenses were awful. Dallas' was probably more awful, but the Raiders’ first-team offense (sans running back Darren McFadden, who was his explosive self in a cameo appearance) shouldn’t take solace in not being as sloppy.

Oakland quarterback Carson Palmer was on the field for 10 plays. He threw an ill-advised interception and the Raiders struggled to move the ball. I wouldn’t worry too much about Palmer based on this performance, but interceptions were a problem for him last season and remain something he needs to address.

Oakland receiver Jacoby Ford had a terrible night, for what it’s worth. He dropped two passes from Palmer, ran out of bounds on a punt return and looked pretty disinterested during his outing. I’m a big Ford fan, but he has to shake off this performance. With rookie Rod Streater the flavor of the month in Oakland’s receiver’s room, Ford could be pressed for playing time.

There are no doubt the Raiders wanted to showcase Streater. Backup quarterback Matt Leinart, who looked good at times, often went to him. The undrafted free agent from Temple had six catches in the first half. At this point, I’d think Streater is a lock to make the 53-man roster. Fifth-round pick Juron Criner, also a camp star, had a bad drop and did not shine like Streater did. Still, Criner will have a place on this team.

In his first NFL preseason action, Oakland third-string quarterback Terrelle Pryor brought some late-game excitement with several exciting runs. That is Pryor’s game. But the truth is, Oakland wants to see him develop as a pocket quarterback. Perhaps the team will draw up some packages for Pryor, but he is still a work in progress. Running for his life won’t always work against first-team NFL defenses.

ESPN's Herm Edwards just said on "SportsCenter" that he'd move Pryor to tight end. It could be tempting because of his size and speed -- and because of Oakland's need there -- but I'd think Pyror will still get more time at quarterback. Plus, I think he would be reluctant to make that switch at this point.

Oakland had just three penalties in the first half, which is a good sign for a team that set NFL records for penalties and penalty yardage last season.

Backup safety Mike Mitchell made a nice interception for Oakland near the end of the first half. Mitchell is not a star, but he makes enough plays to keep him in business.

Is Oakland’s sloppy game a worry, particularly because Denver, Kansas City and San Diego were all impressive in their preseason debuts? No. I wouldn’t worry about that. But it is clear first-year coach Dennis Allen still has to get this team in shape as the season opener against San Diego looms in four weeks.

Cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke, who looked good in training camp, struggled some Monday night. The second-year player will get a shot at playing extensively.

One of the most impressive Raiders on Monday was a player who will not be on the 53-man roster -- punter Marquette King. The rookie, who is playing for injured star Shane Lechler, has a huge leg. But he isn't beating out Lechler. Perhaps Oakland will try to stash King of the practice squad as insurance for Lechler, who is entering the final season of his contract. But with the film King is putting out there, there is a chance a team in this punter-hungry league could snap him up.

Rookie linebacker Chad Kilgore was very active and physical. He could be practice squad bound.

Great scene to see former Oakland coach Jon Gruden, now an analyst on ESPN's "Monday Night Football," hug fans prior to the game. They still live and breathe Gruden in the Black Hole.

Three things: Raiders vs. Cowboys

August, 13, 2012
Here are three things to watch in Oakland’s preseason opener against visiting Dallas on Monday night. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. ET. The game will be broadcast on ESPN:

1. The quarterbacks: This is a big season for Carson Palmer in Oakland. He must shine in his first full season with the Raiders. He won’t play much, but he needs to be sharp. Backup Matt Leinart has looked good this camp. Let’s see whether he can keep that up. This likely will be Terrelle Pryor’s first extensive preseason action as an NFL player. He is far behind Leinart, but the Raiders would like to see Pryor produce.

2. Discipline: The Raiders have to cut down on penalties, and it must start now. They set NFL records for penalties and penalty yardage last season. New coach Dennis Allen has been preaching discipline. The improvement has to begin against Dallas.

3. Receivers: The Raiders have a promising group of receivers, but it skews young. Oakland wants to see production from all layers at this position. Expect rookies Juron Criner and Rod Streater -- offseason and early-camp stars -- to produce in a game setting.
So far, so good for the AFC West.

Now, it’s up to the Oakland Raiders to finish strong. The first three teams in the division to play in the preseason have all been extremely impressive.

San Diego outplayed Green Bay and looked much improved on defense in a 21-13 win over the Packers. Every Denver unit dominated in a 31-3 win at Chicago. Kansas City’s first-team offense was spectacular and its defense shut down the Cardinals in a 27-17 win.

Oakland hosts Dallas on Monday night in a game broadcast on ESPN.

If Oakland isn’t as sharp as the other three teams were in Week 1 of the preseason, I wouldn’t think the Raiders should be alarmed. I’ve been on record many times saying that I don’t think the preseason means much. Just because Denver, Kansas City and San Diego were all impressive in Week 1 doesn’t guarantee anything.

But all three teams looked to have made improvements in the offseason, so the quality of play does give each organization confidence moving forward.

Now, it’s the Raiders’ turn.
Here are three things to watch in Kansas City’s preseason opener against visiting Arizona on Friday. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. ET.

1. The ACL Club: Safety Eric Berry, running back Jamaal Charles and tight end Tony Moeaki will all play. They all suffered torn ACLs in their knees last September. Don’t expect any of them to play extensively in this game, but it will be interesting to see them in action.

2. The quarterbacks: Starter Matt Cassel is under a lot of scrutiny. Every outing is important, no matter if he just plays a series or two against the Cardinals. Also, Brady Quinn and Ricky Stanzi are in a battle to be the backup, so this is a critical game for both.

3. The past two first-round picks: Receiver Jon Baldwin, the No. 26 overall pick in 2011, and nose tackle Dontari Poe, the No. 1 pick in 2012, have been closely watched in camp. Baldwin has been terrific and a lot in expected from him. Also, this is Poe’s first game action. The Chiefs are going to want to see him show he belongs.
The following are three things to watch for during the San Diego Chargers home game against the Green Bay Packers on Thursday night. The game will be telecast on ESPN. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m.

1. Offensive line: This unit is vital to San Diego’s hopes. Injuries made a mess of the line last year, though it improved down the stretch. The 2011 season showed San Diego that it needed better depth on the line, and the team thinks that was accomplished during the offseason -- making this an important night for the entire unit.

2. Defense has to get off the field: A major point of emphasis during Chargers camp has been third-down defense. And for good reason: San Diego was the worst in the NFL on third down last season, allowing opposing offenses to score a first down on 49.2 percent of all third-down situations. That was the worst mark in the NFL in 16 years. We will see if the first two weeks of the John Pagano regime on defense have helped in this crucial area.

3. The rookies: The Chargers are thrilled about their rookie class, particularly first-round pick Melvin Ingram (pass-rusher), second-round pick Kendall Reyes (defensive end) and third-round pick Brandon Taylor (safety). The group has been terrific in camp; let’s see how the players react in a game environment. The team is counting on Ingram and Reyes to play a lot this season, so this will be a good first test.