Raiders takeaways: What we learned in 33-26 preseason win vs. Cardinals

Raiders takeaways: What we learned in 33-26 preseason win vs. Cardinals


GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Raiders certainly wish Thursday night’s preseason game actually counted, because they kicked the Arizona Cardinals’ butt when the top players were on the field.

The starting offense looked great in a one-series cameo. The first-unit defense gave No. 1 overall draft pick Kyler Murray fits over multiple series. Backup quarterback Mike Glennon was pinpoint accurate, with a perfect passer rating over 14 throws, in an effort that might’ve secured his spot as the No. 2 signal-caller.

It was a good night at the office for the Raiders, who have three more training-camp practices before concluding the preseason in Alameda.

Let’s not make too much of one exhibition game against the NFL’s worst team last year, but the Raiders executed well and showed signs of promise in a 33-26 victory over the Cardinals at State Farm Stadium.

Here are three takeaways from Thursday’s events:

Carr has some weapons

The Raiders' first-unit offense was humming on the opening drive, paced by rookie Josh Jacobs’ tough running. The Alabama product is a downhill runner able to slash into small pockets of space and squeak out extra yards. He ran just four times, but the talent’s clearly there for the first-round draft pick.

The true test this season is whether he proves durable enough to take all the touches coming his way.

Jacobs' work sets up the passing game well, where Tyrell Williams is a clear threat, Ryan Grant has shown some juice in games and Darren Waller is a mismatch waiting to happen. The offense ran smooth Thursday while operating without their best weapon, whom we’ll talk more about in a bit.

Those guys will make life easier on starting quarterback Derek Carr, who has been as efficient and focused as ever during this training camp.

Top defense starts preseason off right

The frontline Raiders defense played four series in this game, and gave Murray a real welcome-to-the NFL moment. They harassed the young, agile quarterback on every drive, holding him to 3-of-8 passing for 12 yards. The Cardinals couldn’t run well either, even with David Johnson toting the rock.

We can’t take too much from playing a Cardinals team learning a new offense with a new coach and a new quarterback, but Oakland's defense flashed some encouraging signs that must be built upon in the next preseason games.

AB is really close

Raiders wide receiver Antonio Brown looked comfortable running routes with his team during pre-game warm-ups, running hard, striding well and cutting without issue. Those are all signs he’s almost all the way back from foot issues that have sidelined him for all but one training-camp practice.

There’s a realistic expectation that he will be back practicing before the Raiders break camp Monday. He runs so smooth, with precise movements, and he didn’t seem hindered in pre-game work done in full pads.

Brown’s rehab from suffering frostbite on his feet during a cryotherapy mishap has been well documented, including roughly 10 days spent in Florida during camp receiving specialized treatment. He’s close to full speed already, meaning the Raiders will have plenty of time to integrate Brown’s unique talents into the offense.

[RELATED: What AB reportedly told Carr when he returned to Raiders camp]

Thursday’s work should bring an end to fan hand-wringing over their superstar receiver being away from the team.

Now if only he can get his desired helmet certified …

D.J. Swearinger ready to bring immediate aid to Raiders' ailing secondary


D.J. Swearinger ready to bring immediate aid to Raiders' ailing secondary

Yes, the Raiders are 5-4. Yes, the playoffs are a realistic possibility.

But issues abound in Oakland.

Jon Gruden's gritty club has fought through a rash of injuries, a five-game road trip, the suspension of Vontaze Burfict and Antonio Brown's decision to go AWOL to be in the thick of the playoff hunt in November. But the Silver and Black's secondary is running on emergency power after Karl Joseph suffered a season-ending injury on the final play of the Raiders' Week 10 win over the Chargers.

With Joseph out for the season, that means the Raiders are missing both of their starting safeties -- Johnathan Abram has been out since Week 1 -- as well as their starting middle linebacker and two defensive ends. Gruden is trying to patch the defense together as the Raiders prepare for a playoff run.

D.J. Swearinger is the latest member of the duct tape brigade. The Raiders signed the veteran safety Saturday, and hope he can slide in immediately and give them some relief in the backend. 

It's hard for players to come in cold off the street and learn a new system, but Swearinger played in a similar scheme in Arizona, so he isn't worried about the learning curve. 

"It's not a new system for me because Arizona ran the exact same system," Swearinger said Monday. "Just got to get the different terminology, which is sort of the similar terminology in Arizona --- almost identical -- with a few coverages so it's not a hard transition for me. I'm going to fit right in, do my studying and make it happen."

Swearinger played in four games for the Cardinals this season before being released. The 28-year-old veteran safety has played for four teams prior to the Raiders, including two stints with the Cardinals, notching 14 interceptions and 40 passes defensed in his seven-year NFL career.

He's versatile, experienced and likes to hit. Most of all he's hungry and ready to seize the moment, both for himself and the Raiders.

"It's a great opportunity, man," Swearinger said. "I'm happy to be here. Happy to be with a coach like coach Gruden. I know what he means to football, know what he brings to the table. I'm excited to be here, they are doing some great stuff here. I'm ready to add whatever I can to help this team win and win a championship."

With both their starting safeties done for the season, the Raiders are in the unfortunate position of having to rely on a guy that's been in the building for only couple days. Swearinger has the talent, and the Raiders need him to be at his best right away.

"I like Swearinger," Gruden said Monday. "He played for my brother in Washington. I was a broadcaster at one point, I spent a lot of time in South Carolina with my friend [Steve] Spurrier, so I know a little bit about Swearinger. I think he's a good player, he just has to put it all together. That's what he needs to do. He's got to start that process today. We need the very best of Swearinger."

[RELATED: Ferrell arrives with statement game in Raiders' TNF win]

He's spent the last month waiting for an opportunity, viewing this tough Raiders team from afar.

"They got grit and it starts with the head coach," Swearinger said of his new team. "I love the head coach, I've always loved coach Gruden. From way back in college, from him doing Monday nights. I know what he brings to football and I know playing for a coach like that we're going to bring it every time we step on the field. He expects that. The guys in the locker room ... there are some young guys but they are talented and they want to go to work and you can help but come in and get with the coach."

The Raiders will face an 0-9 Bengals team Sunday in Week 11, a vertically challenged team that should present limited problems for a new safety getting his feet wet in silver and black. Swearinger prides himself on being a physical safety with underrated cover skills. He's tough, emotional and hard working.

Gruden and the Raiders need all of that to translate into winning football in the backend of the Raiders' secondary. The playoffs might depend on it.

Raiders fans can dare to dream of Jon Gruden leading team to playoffs

Raiders fans can dare to dream of Jon Gruden leading team to playoffs

ALAMEDA – Go ahead. Say it, then dare to dream.

You won’t turn to stone. You won’t get laughed out of your local sports pub. Your friends won’t mock false logic.

Playoffs. Playoffs. Playoffs.

The Raiders have a real chance to make the postseason for the second time since 2002. There’s zero guarantee they’ll get there, but the landscape is favorable to a playoff push.

Head coach Jon Gruden isn’t dangling that carrot and would prefer the “P” word stay out of the Raiders vocabulary right now.

“I don’t even think they know that right now,” Gruden said after Thursday night’s victory over the LA Chargers. “We have a long season left to play.”

That’s a plus for the Silver and Black, considering the Raiders would not be a playoff team if the season ended tonight. They are ever so close.

The Chiefs lost Sunday, considerably tightening the AFC West race. The Raiders are just a half-game back of their longtime rivals, with a head-to-head matchup set for Dec. 1.

The Raiders don’t need help. They control their own path to the playoffs through the division. Assuming, of course, they win out. There’s no chance in holy heck that happens. The Raiders win too many tight games. One or two or three are bound to go against them as the schedule winds down.

They’re currently the AFC’s seventh seed, losing a tiebreaker Pittsburgh while sitting a game behind Buffalo in the wild-card standings.

There are several teams hovering around .500 who believe they can snag a postseason spot. The Raiders are one, with the resilience and fortitude required to weather stressful periods. They are 4-1 in games decided by one possession, with game-winning drives in the fourth quarter to beat Detroit and the Chargers in a five-day span.

That has kept the season going strong despite unfavorable scheduling. The Raiders embarked on a five-game road trip – there was a home game played in London during that run – against all legitimate playoff contenders. They came out of it 2-3, with a home split prior to that making them 3-4 to start a three-game home stretch.

“When you're playing games in November that mean something, and you get a home crowd that's like that, this is exactly what we talked about coming off of our 1,800-day road trip, right?” quarterback Derek Carr said. “That we're going to come home and play games that matter.”

The Raiders already have won two of them. Now they’re a 10.5-point favorite against the winless Bengals on Sunday, with the floundering Jets beyond that. The Raiders realistically could be 7-4 heading into that Chiefs showdown, which would not be a must-win. The Raiders have a few tough games on the schedule, including the Chiefs and home games against Tennessee and Jacksonville in the Oakland regular-season home finale.

A contrarian’s view could say two things: 1. Winning nail biters is no way to live, and 2. The Raiders defense has weathered too much attrition to remain competitive.

[RELATED: Ferrell arrives with statement game vs. Chargers]

The Raiders have lost Johnathan Abram (injury), Vontaze Burfict (suspension), Gareon Conley (trade) and Karl Joseph (injury) from the original starting lineup. Backups Marquel Lee (injury) and Arden Key (injury) are also down for the count, though Lee’s coming back.

Can they survive such losses, or will it eventually catch up to them?

Time will tell on that front. We know for sure that the Raiders season will be intriguing, with the very real prospect that Gruden could lead this team to the playoffs.