Raiders

Connor Cook shines in Raiders' preseason opener win over Lions

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USATSI

Connor Cook shines in Raiders' preseason opener win over Lions

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OAKLAND – Names you know well weren’t spoken much in Friday night’s preseason opener versus Detroit.

Derek Carr, Amari Cooper, Jordy Nelson, Marshawn Lynch and most offensive starters played a single series. Bruce Irvin, Rashaan Melvin and the defensive first unit hung around for two.

This game was for the backups. It always is.

Carr’s backup is an important position. It has to be someone the Raiders never play, yet can be competent in a pinch.

That battle was an even race when training camp started. Connor Cook may have a leg up after Friday night’s 16-10 win at Oakland Coliseum.

The Michigan State alum might’ve played his best football as a Raider – in fairness, there isn’t a huge sample size – completing 11-of-19 passes for 141 yards and a touchdown on three scoring drives.

He was efficient relieving Carr after the first series, and was pulled after the opening half. Cook hit a lull on one drive, but finished strong with a run of completions to set up Eddy Piñeiro’s 48-yard field goal.

His touchdown drive was particularly impressive. Cook bought time with his feet twice in the series, hitting tight end Paul Butler for 24 yards and Ryan Switzer for the seven-yard touchdown.

“He did some good things,” Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said in a halftime interview. “There’s still a couple things decision-wise I think he’s got to correct, but he moved the football, he put points on the board, and I liked his two-minute drill at the end of the half.”

Cook’s game performance backed up a strong start to training camp – he hasn’t thrown an interception in practice -- where he showed improvement in accuracy and decision-making, troublesome areas in season past..

Games, however, matter most.

Cook showed well in this environment, though he’ll have to continue playing well to secure a No. 2 job that eluded him in his first two seasons. Matt McGloin and EJ Manuel beat him out for the gig in respective seasons.

Manuel’s his competition again this year, though roles could well reverse under Gruden’s staff.

The veteran was 4-for-6 passing for 46 yards, and lost a fumbled snap.

Carr was 2-for-4 for 11 yards, and Jordy Nelson knocked down an easy interception.

Every offensive starter bounced after the first series save the offensive tackles. First-round left tackle Kolton Miller and right tackle Ian Silberman played two.

Marshawn Lynch wasn’t credited with a carry but showed great burst and breakaway speed on a 60-yard touchdown run nullified by Miller’s holding penalty that helped spring No. 24.

Count second-round defensive tackle among the impressive rookies Friday night. The Sam Houston State alum had a third-down sack and batted a pass at the line of scrimmage thanks to pressure from fellow rookie Maurice Hurst.

Running back Chris Warren also had a strong night, with 13 carries for 86 yards.

Continued health, as well all know, is the only true barometer of preseason success. While there may be issues unknown as the game ends, the Raiders didn’t have many obvious injuries. Cornerback Antonio Hamilton was attended to by trainers on the field early in the second half, but re-entered the game and got hurt again.

Raiders schedule predictions: Wins, losses projected for 2019 season

Raiders schedule predictions: Wins, losses projected for 2019 season

Year 1 of Jon Gruden's second reign in Oakland brought a lot of excitement but it didn't translate to wins on the field.

The Raiders traded Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper for a host of draft picks that should help them rebuild the roster into a contender under Gruden. After going 4-12 in 2018, the climb back toward the playoffs begins in 2019 when the Raiders' offense will be much more potent thanks to the addition of Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams.

Every year, one or two teams surprises and make a leap from cellar-dweller to playoff contender, and the Raiders certainly have the makeup of a team that could do that.

With the 2019 schedule having been released, let's go game-by-game and see how the Silver and Black will fare this season.

VIEW RAIDERS GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS HERE

Raiders 2019 schedule analysis: Brutal road stretch could define season

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AP

Raiders 2019 schedule analysis: Brutal road stretch could define season

Early portions of the Raiders’ last season Oakland won’t actually be played in Oakland. The season’s first half is dominated by a brutal road stretch that runs from Weeks 3-8, with a home game against the Bears given to London followed by a bye.

The season’s first half features five road games (counting the London affair) in seven contest, four playoff teams, Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau and a tough Vikings team in Minneapolis.

That’s just brutal. There’s no way around it.

A midseason run of three straight home games leads to another stretch of four road games over their final six, making it tough to overcome a brutal start to the season. The Raiders are still in rebuild mode even after an expensive offseason full of signings and the Antonio Brown trade, but this schedule sure makes it tough to improve results this season.

Biggest must-watch game

This one takes place across the Atlantic, most likely because the Raiders didn’t want it in Oakland. The sight of Khalil Mack sacking Derek Carr at Oakland Coliseum might’ve been too much for the home team to take after a controversial 2018 trade that sent Mack to Chicago for a significant draft capital not yet used.

Mack made eyes on Twitter at news of that Bears-Raiders date, coming on Oct. 6 at London’s Tottenham Hotspurs Stadium. He’ll circle it on the calendar for sure, and be ready for Jon Gruden and a Raiders team looking to get a win over an old friend they didn’t want to pay.

You won’t have to wake up super early for this one, as is required for some London games. It kicks off at 10 a.m. PT, so fans can see an important clash the Raiders want to win but shipped abroad just in case they don’t.

It will also mark the team’s fifth international home game in six years, and surely the last for some time. The Raiders won’t be giving home games away when they’re scheduled to move to Las Vegas in 2020.

Where the schedule makers hosed them

The early five-game stretch on the road might be the toughest – undoubtedly the longest – in my 12 seasons covering the NFL. All of their trips are at least two time zones away, including one in the United Kingdom. The competition’s are fierce, putting a premium on as many games as they can steal in two games to start the year. One problem there: The Kansas City Chiefs come to town in Week 2, meaning there’s a real chance the Raiders start the 2019 season in a big hole.

Where the schedule makers helped them

This one’s tough to find. The Raiders have a three-game home series just after midseason, with two against beatable teams. The L.A. Chargers sandwich games against Cincinnati and Detroit, but the good times don’t last the team finishes with four of six on the road.

What the prime-time schedule tells us

That Raiders stunk last season. Teams that struggle the year before generally don’t get a lot of high-profile time slots, so it’s no shock the Raiders play two night games all season and one is a Thursday night affair everybody gets. Even the Monday Night Football game comes as the second half of a double header, meaning most of the East Coast will be in bed when that game kicks off.

Bye week significance

Teams always get a bye after playing in England. This year is no exception. The Raiders will hope to lick wounds after playing Kansas City, then road games at Minnesota and Indianapolis before playing Chicago in London. They must come out of the bye healthy and ready to feast on a rare weak portion of the schedule.

Revenge narratives

We could single out Vontaze Burfict playing Cincinnati or Brandon Marshall going up against Denver twice next year, but there’s a great chance Jon Gruden holds up the 2019 slate and encourages players to stick it to schedule makers who put them in a bad spot.

[RELATED: Game-by-game predictions]

Raiders vs. NFL schedule makers is certainly sexier.

The Raiders didn’t have a 2019 stadium lined up until well past the NFL’s preference. Commissioner Roger Goodell wanted an answer for where the Raiders would play in early February to give schedule makers time to set 2019 up, but an Oakland Coliseum agreement came far later and wasn’t formally approved until the owners meetings. Conspiracy theorists will have fun with that one to be sure, as the team’s last season in Oakland will be defined by how Gruden’s Raiders handle a brutal 2018 slate.