Aug 8, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Oakland Raiders quarterback Matt Schaub (8) throws during the second quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at TCF Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Oakland Raiders: 3 Things to Watch vs. the Lions

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The Oakland Raiders’ 2014 season began on an inauspicious note last Friday, as the team went down in a 10-6 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

The offense was, by turns, sloppy, stagnant, and soporific, and the defense was Swiss-cheesed by Matt Cassel and the Vikings’ first-team offense.  The Raiders will look to rebound from that listless performance in the second week of the preseason against the Detroit Lions.  Here are a few things to look for in Friday’s contest.

1) Wide Receiver Wide Open

Despite the many pockmarks of unimpressive the Raiders left on the TCF Bank Stadium Field, there were ample glimmers of hope.  The wide receiver position was not one of them.  Rod Streater and James Jones did their best impersonations of the invisible man.

Andre Holmes, meanwhile, showed why prodigious physical talent so often goes for naught in the NFL.   One need look no further than the first play of the game, wherein Matt Schaub attempted to hit Holmes on a fly route.  It was a poor throw, almost intercepted by an above-average cornerback in Captain Munnerlyn, but in hindsight, the play was dead from its inception, as Holmes failed to give the slightest hint of deception or double move vital for success at the NFL level.

Instead, he simply ran in a straight line, the sort of execution that even a replacement-level NFL corner will win hands down.  This subpar route-running must improve.  Holmes’ 6’4” frame is well-suited to winning 50/50 balls, but that matters little if he is unable to put himself in position to snag them.

After winning plaudits from the coaching staff and media observers alike in camp, Greg Little reverted to the butterfingers form that earned him a one-way ticket out of Cleveland.  In the first half he had an unambiguous drop, and later on in the game, he saw a high ball from Derek Carr slip between his fingers.

Denarius Moore has clearly been demoted from his starting role, but shone against the Vikings second and third-team defense – as he should have.

Lastly, Juron Criner, Brice Butler, and Greg Jenkins appear to be battling it out for a single roster spot.  One of them must step up against Detroit.  The same could be said for the entire receiving corps.

The Lions had one of the worst secondaries in the league last season.  This season’s lineup, featuring Darius Slay and Rashean Mathis at corner, and journeymen James Ihedigbo and Glover Quin at safety, looks similarly unimpressive on paper.  The game should provide an excellent opportunity for the top of the WR depth chart to show a little life, and for those fighting for a spot on the final roster to make a case for themselves.

2) Marcel, Marcel

Marcel Reece, the game’s most versatile fullback, spent all but five plays of week last week as a highly-paid sideline spectator.  His absence sounds a familiar griping refrain from fans who have long called for a sturdier role for Reece in Oakland’s offense.  Nevertheless, those mining for a silver lining will not do so in vain.

Although Reece was largely inactive against the Vikings, backup fullback Jamize Olawale was plenty involved in the offense, particularly the passing game.  He was targeted four times in eighteen snaps (insert obligatory small sample warning here).  His 50 percent catch rate was thoroughly unencouraging, but it is at least an indirect signal that Greg Olson has a game plan in place to more fully utilize the fullback position.  If this is the case, it should become more apparent as the preseason continues.

Of course, there are numerous alternate explanations for Olawale’s seemingly high usage, from the Raiders quarterbacks’ inability to drive the ball downfield – the longest completion of the day went for a paltry 16 yards –  necessitating quick dump-offs to the flat to sheer randomness.  For now, however, I will opt for the rose-tinted lenses, and expect to see more than five snaps – and a whole lot better catch rate than 50 percent – from Reece against the Lions.

3) It Was All Yellow

There are two surfaces upon which you never want to see yellow: snow and a football field.  It is no secret that in the first week of the preseason, the referees were less officiating crews than laundry delivery service.  Still, the vast discrepancy in penalties between the Raiders (13-94) and the Vikings (5-25) was disheartening, and renders moot the “but, it’s our first game” excuse.  As Tom Flores succinctly noted, per ESPN’s Paul Gutierrez, it was Minnesota’s first game, too.

That Dennis Allen has cleaned up a once penalty-ridden franchise is something a misnomer.  In his two years at the helm the Raiders have remained securely in the bottom half of the league in terms of both gross and net penalties/yardage.

But they have still managed to claw their way out of the basement – in 2011, the year before Allen’s tenure began, the Raiders were last in both net penalties and net penalty yards.  It would be disconcerting for both fans and Allen’s job security if one of the few areas in which he has demonstrated improvement disintegrated this season.

Obviously, sounding the alarm after a single preseason game would be hasty, to say the least, but this remains a background issue to keep an eye on this coming Friday.

The game kicks off at 7:00 pm PDT at O.co Coliseum.  Happy watching!

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Tags: Andre Holmes Dennis Allen Marcel Reece Oakland Raiders

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