The Raiders wore T-shirts in training camp proclaiming that they’d win the AFC West and the Super Bowl. After seven straight seasons of double-digit losses, they should have aimed at getting to .500 first.
As the exhibition season has showed, the Raiders couldn’t fill all their holes with one good draft. On paper, the run defense looks better, with the addition of rookie linebacker Rolando McClain and the fact that Tommy Kelly pushed himself away from the table in the offseason, losing 30 pounds of fat from his middle. At times Saturday night against the 49ers, it did look better, but then, there were those other times.
For instance, on Frank Gore’s first carry, he bolted for 49 yards behind a huge hole created by 49ers rookie guard Mike Iupati, who made two blocks on the play. Then, Michael Huff tried to bring down Gore with a shoulder hit. Huff has been in the league since 2006, but still doesn’t realize you can’t bring down a quality back or receiver that way. Slow learner, I guess. Gore just bounced off Huff and kept running.
Good news for the Raiders: They held Gore to 10 yards on his next run. Better news: He spent the rest of the game resting for the regular season.
The Raiders did make one nice stop when the 49ers had second-and-1 in the red zone, twice stopping the Niners cold and forcing them to go for a field goal. But they also got victimized on a third-and-long play when Brian Westbrook darted for a first down on a draw.
The Raiders were without defensive end Richard Seymour, an important part of their run defense, but it’s obvious there’s still work to be done before they launch that Super Bowl run.
Offensively, there was some good news and some bad. Darrius Heyward-Bey actually caught more passes than he dropped (3-1), though he’s still trying to cradle the ball with his arms and body, not trusting his hands. That led to fumbles and drops last year.
But the Raiders’ offensive line is still a weak link, with emphasis on left tackle Mario Henderson, who’s often a swinging gate against pass rushers.
Newly acquired quarterback Jason Campbell looked good despite the inadequate pass protection, but he also was injured and had to come out of the game. His injury was not believed to be serious, but it raises a question of whether Campbell, who is not at all elusive, can survive behind that line.
Bruce Gradkowski took over for Campbell and played well, as he did late last season after coach Tom Cable (and owner Al Davis) gave up on JaMarcus Russell. Gradkowski is much more mobile and better able to elude the pass rush than Campbell, and he may yet wind up as the starter again.
Michael Bush looked good as the main running back, but he also suffered a thumb fracture. That means Darren McFadden will be the main man for a time, and McFadden is a runner you want out in the open, a la Reggie Bush, not running between the tackles.
My conclusion: Raider fans should hold off on those Super Bowl plans.