Five Takeaways: Nothing but pulled punches as Oakland Raiders return to Los Angeles to face Rams

LOS ANGELES — The last time the Raiders played at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, they were the Los Angeles Raiders, and they lost, 19-6, to the Kansas City Chiefs on Dec. 24, 1994.

Of course, since the team returned to Oakland, top Raiders rookies have put on the silver and black uniform in the 95-year old stadium during the NFL’s annual Rookie Symposium, but the Raiders — as a team — have not touched the grass at this particular Coliseum since Al Davis returned the team to its first home.

They returned on Saturday to face the Coliseum’s new tenants, the Los Angeles Rams, and despite a heavy Raiders contingent in the stands, it seemed that neither the Raiders nor the Rams actually wanted to play football. With their season-opening date at the Coliseum set for Sept. 10, neither side showed much in a 19-15 Oakland loss.

“It was awesome to be back here,” said Gruden, who noticed that, when the Raiders scored 15 points in the second half, the crowd made as much noise as if Oakland were playing in the Coliseum up north. “If you understand the Raiders, they have a history here, a championship history here. There’s still a lot of fans that remember those teams. Rightfully so … We appreciate their support. Hopefully, in a couple weeks, we give them a much better ballgame.”

Close to the vest: The Rams did not play Jared Goff or Todd Gurley, and the Raiders didn’t use Derek Carr, Doug Martin, Jordy Nelson, Marshawn Lynch, or Amari Cooper. Both offenses were as vanilla as possible, and hardly any starters played in what would normally be at least a quarter of full starter-on-starter action in the second week of the preseason. In fact, 15 Oakland offensive players were on the shelf.

“There’s never been a preseason game like this,” Gruden said. “This is tough, in our first training camp … in our first year of operation here, we didn’t want to play our starters. We didn’t want them to hear our audibles, [see] our hand signals. I don’t think they wanted us to get a feel for them either, so it was a strange week of practice, and a strange game afterward.”

Not dressed were Carr, Lynch, wide receiver Jordy Nelson, left tackle Kolton Miller, guard Gabe Jackson, center Rodney Hudson, defensive tackle Justin Ellis, tight end Derek Carrier, tight end Lee Smith, left guard Keleche Osemele, right tackle Donald Penn and Lynch. Defensive end Bruce Irvin, wide receiver (and Gruden’s “white tiger”) Martavis Bryant, linebacker Tahir Whitehead, linebacker Emmanuel Lamur, linebacker Derrick Johnson, cornerback Leon Hall and wide receiver Daryl Worley also did not play. Kicker Eddy Piñeiro joins Gilchrist, Jared Cook, starting right guard Breno Giacomini and Dexter McDonald on the list of injured Raiders.

Versatile offensive lineman Jon Feliciano had been injured, but made the start at center, and promptly snapped the first ball over the head of Connor Cook.

Without Penn, Giacomini and Miller, the Raiders started with an offensive line of left tackle Jylan Ware, left guard Denver Kirkland, Feliciano, right guard Oday Aboushi, and Ian Silberman at right tackle.

Oakland did have defensive end Arden Key in for his first preseason action (he played on third-down reps in the first quarter), as well as Gareon Conley. Conley, who sustained a hip injury on the first day of camp, practiced all week and returned to the field for his first preseason action on Saturday.

Also under this heading: Some odd formations that I can’t be sure Gruden will use in the season, but I can’t be sure he won’t use, either.

Jalen Richard got a lot of run with Martin not available, and had a big catch-and-run up the near sideline on a swing pass he took from Manuel for 30 yards — 25 of those after the catch. That came after both backs in the backfield lined up in a three-point stance.

Maurice Hurst played into the third quarter, had a tackle for loss late in the second quarter, and a sack of third-string quarterback Brandon Allen with 12 minutes to go in the third.

Backup quarterback: As good as Cook looked in the preseason opener against the first- and second-teams for the Detroit Lions, he looked just that bad against the second- and third-team Rams defenders, and against a pass rush that’s still without Aaron Donald.

Aside from the high snap — which went off his hands at shoulder level, which he reasonably could have caught — Cook threw to Chris Warren III for a loss, overthrew Switzer and threw into the back of tackle Brandon Parker with 40 seconds to go in the first quarter.

That errant pass was ruled a fumble, with Ramik Wilson recovering it. That set up the game’s first score — a two-yard run by John Kelly.

“I thought it was a pass,” Cook said. “I thought I heard a whistle. Obviously, if I didn’t hear a whistle or if I thought it was a fumble, I would have been tackling that guy or trying to rip the ball out, so that was disappointing.”

EJ Manuel took over with 12:08 to go in the second, and instantly seemed to spark the offense, though it didn’t result in a score during his first series.

Manuel did get sacked by John Franklin-Myers at the two-minute drill in the first half. With 1:19 to go in the second quarter, Manuel fumbled a snap, giving the ball back to the Rams on the doorstep of Oakland’s red zone.

In the first half, the two candidates to back up Derek Carr went 9-of-13 for 58 yards and two fumbles, with both lost (the bad snap Cook recovered was charged as a fumble to Feliciano).

Cook returned in the third quarter, only to go three-and-out in his first series.

Cook got the Raiders down deep late in the third quarter, and after a 10-yard pass to fullback Ryan Yuracheck, Warren, the undrafted rookie, scored on an inside two-yard run. The two-point conversion, though, was botched badly, as Cook was chased out of the pocket, fumbled, recovered at the 20. It was ugly.

After an interception by James Cowser set Manuel up at the 20 in the fourth quarter, he overcame a holding call on David Sharp and threw a touchdown through traffic in the back of the end zone to Griff Whalen, who’s battling Ryan Switzer for the slot receiver spot. Whalen made a reaching grab behind him to secure the score, which brought the Raiders within one ,down 16-15 with 9:52 to go.

“I think E.J. did some good things, I thought Connor did a couple good things, but fumbling the snap in the two-minute drill, turning the football over, those are things you can’t do as a backup quarterback,” Gruden said. “You’ve got to come in and prove you can play mistake-free football in the short term, and so far, we have fumbled two snaps in two weeks inside the five. It troubles me, greatly.”

Warren continues to make his case: With Martin and Lynch sidelined, The 6-foot-2, 246-pound Warren made a big push to make the 53-man roster for the second game in a row.

“We’re going to try to run the ball,” head coach Jon Gruden said this week. “To do that, you have to have the components to do it. We have two blocking tight ends, we’ve got a big fullback, we’ve got two backs in this league that have gained almost 1,500 yards. Chris Warren is a good player, and the two other guys ran hard, [DeAndre] Washington and [Jalen] Richard. I think we will be able to run the ball to some degree. It’s going to be a team thing.”

Warren rushed for 86 yards in the preseason opener, after which Gruden was effusive with his praise for Warren’s combination of speed and size.

“You don’t know it but he’s 253 pounds and can run four-five,” Gruden said last week. “He’s a hammer, he can really thump you and he’s got breakaway speed. But he’s improving in the passing game, he’s become more and more of a running back instead of just a runner. He’s becoming a receiver, blitz pickup, all those little details are improving but he’s got a lot of talent.”

Warren rushed for 110 yards on 18 carries on Saturday.

With first-and-10 at the Rams’ 39 early in the fourth quarter, he turned the corner around left tackle and nearly got to the end zone, were it not for a very good angle taken by safety Afolabi Laguda down at the six.

Defensive backfield: Saturday was very much a roses-and-thorns day for the secondary. The first-team bunch held the Rams to 25 passing yards in the first quarter.

Along with Conley, who is projected to start at corner, the rest of the projected starting secondary also played, including Rashaan Melvin opposite Conley and safeties Karl Joseph and Reggie Nelson. Marcus Gilchrist, down with a foot injury, did not play.

On a third-down crossing route late in the first quarter, Melvin broke up a pass from Sean Mannion intended for Fred Brown. He followed Brown across the field and waited to jump the route until the last moment. That’s exactly what the Raiders needed to see from Melvin

Conley played for all but the final two minutes of the first quarter, after which he was replaced by Nick Nelson, who had a breakup with 1:40 to go in the first stanza on a pass, intended for Fred Brown.

Conley, for his part, did decently and looked solid, with one pass defended, but didn’t see much action to that side of the field.

With 4:50 left in the first half, Nelson was victimized by a 47-yard pass from Mannion to KhaDarel Hodge.

Tevin Mitchell had a near-pick on a pass intended for KhaDarel Hodge with 36 seconds to go in the first half, but as he one-handed the grab, his second foot hit out of bounds.

With 12 minutes to go, James Cowser read Rams backup QB Brandon Allen’s eyes and jumped in front of a slant for a 15-yard interception return.

Antonio Hamilton got a personal foul late in the third quarter for essentially delivering a belly-to-back suplex on a stop. He almost got tagged for a touchdown on what was an overthrow by Josh Allen of Steven Mitchell. Instead, the Rams settled for a field goal with 5:46 to go to make it 19-15.

Calling Calhoun: Shilique Calhoun has had a difficult two years with the Raiders. After recording nine tackles and a pass defended in 10 games as a rookie in 2016, he placed on injured reserve in December (knee) and released in September of 2017, then signed to the practice squad, then brought back to the active roster on Oct. 14, 2017.

The former third-round pick played nearly wire-to-wire for the Raiders on Saturday, and brought a lot of pressure off the edge, with two quarterback hits, four tackles and a tackle for loss.

With Key somewhat limited, and the absences of Irvin and Khalil Mack, Calhoun has had a chance to prove himself worthy of a spot on the 40-man in the first two preseason games. He had three tackles and a sack in the preseason opener against the Detroit Lions.

Ryan Gorcey

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