Preseason games being what they are, it's important not to get too hyped up about the Raiders' 31-10 win over Dallas on Thursday night. But there were plenty of positives to build off of, not the least of which was the play of quarterback JaMarcus Russell.
Russell only played the first quarter and threw just nine passes, but he completed six of ‘em for 50 yards and looked far more crisp and sharp than he had at any time in training camp.
Working both from the shotgun and under center, Russell found a particularly steady groove with wide receiver Chaz Schilens, who caught five passes for 52 yards on the night.
"That was the plan coming out," Oakland coach Tom Cable said. "I thought he was very aggressive with the ball, made good decisions. That's what I'm talking about with him. When he plays the game at a fast enough speed, it allows him to be on time and he showed that tonight."
Cable called for passing plays on six of Oakland's eight plays in the team's first drive, which ended with a 22-yard field goal from Sebastian Janikowski. Dallas was called for pass interference to help set up the field goal, but it was an impressive throw by Russell – coming while he was on the run and throwing off his back foot – that led to the penalty. Though the throw was short, it was still some 45 yards downfield in the air. Not many quarterbacks are capable of that, certainly no one in the Raiders' most recent history.
On the second drive, Russell completed a 16-yarder to Schilens then scrambled for an 18-yard gain, getting a huge block from running back Darren McFadden along the way.
"I think when the guys get going, those guys get in a good rhythm, and if I'm the guy to push them, then so be it," Russell said. "We have a lot of guys out there making plays and they're willing to do it. It seems like everybody is getting on the same page in order to want to make those plays."
Other news and notes from the game:
-- McFadden looked very strong, as did the entire running game. McFadden's 45-yard run was the obvious highlight, as was his blocking, but Bush had two very strong runs, Gary Russell added 44 yards on 11 carries and Louis Rankin chipped in with 31 yards on six carries. The final tally: 176 yards, 26 carries, 6.8 yards-per-carry average.
-- Backup QB Bruce Gradkowski went 9 of 16 for 161 yards and a touchdown. Gradkowski's passes looked very sharp and he moved the offense, leading three scoring drives. Charlie Frye also got in the act, hooking up with Will Franklin on a short 2-yard TD which came after Frye audibled at the line of scrimmage. Franklin made a great catch while falling back.
-- Safety Michael Huff made the best play of the night as far as the defense was concerned. The former first-round draft pick, vying for the starting free safety spot, came flying over to intercept a deep throw from Jon Kitna midway through the third quarter, one play after Dallas had moved onto Oakland's half of the field. It's the biggest play Huff has made in his NFL career and drew the attention of Cable.
"To me I want to go see what he did in terms of tackling people but that play out in center field like that really was something," Cable said. "He's capable of that. That's why he's back there. He's athletic, can run, all that. Now I want to go break the film down and see just how good it was."
-- The run defense obviously needs work. Far too many times Dallas running backs found gaping holes to run through. Keon Lattimore and Tashard Choice – who??? – combined for 84 yards on 19 carries.
Some of the players tried to downplay the struggles after the game but Cable took issue with the team's tackling in the first half, saying the Raiders tried to go up high when making contact.
-- Right guard Cooper Carlisle was called for holding and a false start. Coop's had a rough go of things in camp and hasn't looked like the player he was two years ago.
-- Cornerback Stanford Routt also had a tough night. He was beat for a pair of completions where he wasn't even close to the receiver, then got sealed off when Tony Romo connected with Jason Witten for an 8-yard TD which gave Dallas a temporary 7-3 lead.
-- It was nice to see the Raiders blitzing more. Ricky Brown got a sack coming on one blitz and a few other times Oakland put pressure on by bringing the heat. It's still a thing where I'll believe it when I see it in the regular season, but for now it's an encouraging sign.
-- 14 penalties for 107 yards is unacceptable, even in the preseason.
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Raiders beat Dallas 31-10
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