There were many positives to take from this game, specifically the preseason debut of Bruce Gradkowski. However, there was far more that went wrong for the Raiders in their 28-24 loss to the 49ers on Saturday night. It was easily a game the Raiders could have won, had it not been for simple mistakes in fundamental play.
Much like last weekend against the Bears, Jason Campbell began the game with a perfect opening scoring drive. Campbell was 4-for-4 on his pass attempts and threw for 67 yards. He finished the night 6-for-8 for 93 yards, before leaving the game with what is being called a stinger. Campbell had to be carted off the field, although he got up and walked to the passenger's seat under his own power. The injury put a damper on the team's momentum, that is, until Bruce Gradkowski made his preseason debut.
Gradkowski, who has missed much of the offseason due to issues stemming from a torn pectoral muscle, looked like he hasn't missed a beat. He finished with 202 yards and two touchdowns on 14-of-22 passing. All things considered, it was a brilliant performance by Gradkowski who might have cemented himself as the primary backup over Kyle Boller. Yes, it was only a little over one half of play, but given Gradkowski's standing in the organization and the way he played last season, it's only fitting that a guy with his experience and grit be the number two guy behind Campbell.
Even as the Raiders were making their final drive to try and win the game, you had a feeling that if anyone was capable of doing it, it was "Bruce Almighty".
Running Backs/Fullbacks: C
The running game was unspectacular. Michael Bush plugged away for his usual gritty yards (23 yards on 7 rushes) and opened the scoring with a touchdown. Michael Bennett and Rock Cartwright continue to battle for the third spot on the depth chart, and quite possibly, a spot on the 53-man roster. It's possible that both might make it past the final cut, although if you had to choose, Cartwright might get the nod given his ability to contribute on special teams as well.
Of course, the most important thing we saw in the running game was the return of Darren McFadden. McFadden looked like a guy who has missed a good amount of training camp. He still has, and always will have, the ability to make defenders miss tackles in the open field. However, after two years, McFadden has yet to show himself capable of being an every-down back and a between-the-tackles type of runner.
McFadden's speed and agility is practically neutralized when he's asked to run up the gut, as he was easily tracked down and tackled by the 49ers' defensive front. However, when offensive coordinator Hue Jackson put him out in open space, you could see the shiftiness that made McFadden so special as a first round draft pick in 2008.
Wide Receives/Tight Ends: C+
Louis Murphy and Zach Miller each caught a touchdown pass and Darrius Heyward-Bey had a nice showing with 46 yards on three catches, but ultimately, the unit took a hit due to dropped passes.
It was frustrating because most of those dropped passes came on potential first down plays. On the Raiders' final offensive drive to try and win the game, Gradkowski threw a pretty pass over the defensive coverage to Todd Watkins. It wasn't an easy catch to make, but one that should have been made as Watkins let it go through his hands and he stumbled forward.
Offensive Line: D+
Perhaps a D+ grade is a tad bit harsh, but the offensive line should always be held to a much higher standard. First, the good. So far this preseason, the offensive line has done a great job on screens. Again, the offensive was effective when dumping passes to the sidelines, as receivers had great blocking from their moving offensive linemen.
Now, the bad. Pass protection was lacking, and of course, that's best evidenced by Jason Campbell's injury in the first half. On that play, 49ers outside linebacker Travis LaBoy flat out beat Mario Henderson without the use of any special moves to get to Campbell's blindside. Such a mistake is completely unacceptable for a left tackle to make at this level, especially against a guy who is as unheralded as LaBoy.
Overall, the line only allowed two sacks, but what's never accounted for is the amount of time they give their quarterbacks to make a play. You got to give a lot of credit to Gradkowski, who in his time with the Raiders has shown himself to be a master at moving in the pocket and setting himself up for the best throw he can make. There were a number of times where Gradkowski was forced to step up in the pocket after the protection broke down around him. Although that's something any quarterback should be able to do, Gradkowski has mastered that while playing behind an inconsistent line.
It's a disconcerting observation that the offensive line still has a ways to go with such little time left.
Defensive Line: C-
The defensive line's play in the second half probably saved the unit's grade from being any lower. In the first half, the 49ers were able to gain consistent yardage on draw plays and runs with the pulling guard. Delays and movement along the offensive line looked to catch the Raiders off guard, as Frank Gore, Brian Westbrook and Anthony Dixon were able to gain some good yards on the ground.
The pass rush was nearly nonexistent in the first half, and although the second unit put heavy pressure on David Carr, the end result was zero sacks.
On the bright side, when push comes to shove and opposing offenses decide to get physical, the Raiders' defensive line has shown itself more than capable. It's been said a number of times already, but a slimmed down Tommy Kelly has really made a difference. Early in the second quarter, the Raiders stopped the 49ers on two short yardage plays before Nnamdi Asomugha was called for holding on 4th and 1. Despite the penalty, the defensive line did a great job stuffing the line and getting penetration into the backfield.
The linebackers did not do much to distinguish themselves, and for that reason, they get a C- grade for their performance. By virtue of their position, linebackers should be getting to most of the action, and their inability to be proactive is evidenced by Anthony Dixon's 69 rushing yards.
Despite the high praises he's received in training camp, rookie linebacker Rolando McClain hasn't blown anyone away in his preseason performances. He led the team with six tackles tonight, but again, it was uneventful at best.
Tyvon Branch gets a B+ for his performance, and that probably saves the secondary. Branch was everywhere on the field and it seemed like he was in on every play. Last year, Branch led all NFL defensive backs in tackles, and tonight showed that he is ready to go this season. In addition to his great run support, Branch did a good job in coverage as well.
Walter McFadden and Stanford Routt had their off moments, but for the most part, they were impressive throughout the night. McFadden did a great job playing in man-to-man against San Francisco's bigger receivers.
Michael Huff continues to be hit or miss. He'll make a big play or tackle on some plays, but for the others, he is usually out of position to make a proper tackle. It's an issue that has plagued Huff since his rookie year, and if he hasn't fixed it by now, it's unlikely that he ever will.
Special Teams: D-
Yamon Figurs fumbled the ball on a kick return, Jerome Boyd was called for an illegal block, and Phillip Adams returned a Shane Lechler punt for an 83-yard touchdown. It was a disappointing performance to say the least. Throughout the offseason, Head Coach Tom Cable has talked about how important it was to get the return game up to speed, and so far, the Raiders have failed to do much. To finish the game, instead of trying to take it back for a game winning punt return, Nick Miller called a fair catch as time expired. Perhaps Miller was hoping that with one second left, the Raiders offense could have one more play, but looking back, Miller would probably opt for the return if he had a second go at it. The one play that saved the unit from a F grade was Sebastian Janikowski's 57-yard field goal in the third quarter.
What can you expect from a preseason game? Coaches are weary to open up the playbook, opting to save their best stuff for when it really matters. If anything, Cable made the right choice in handing the offense to Gradkowski for the duration of the game. Boller has had enough time to prove himself as one of the three quarterbacks, and this was the best chance for Gradkowksi to get some meaningful playing time before the regular season.
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