The third exhibition game is the one that coaches typically place the most importance upon, for whatever reason. It’s the time when the starters tend to get their most playing time, and coaches are able to gauge how far their teams have come as the season draws near.
For the Raiders, tonight’s game against the New Orleans Saints comes against the best team of the four the Raiders play in exhibition games.
“This is probably the best test that we can get, playing against a tremendous offensive football team with a quarterback that is one of the best in football,” Raiders coach Hue Jackson said. “It’s a great test for our football team, period.”
Jackson refused to divulge how long his projected starters would play tonight. It’s safe to assume that they should play most, if not all, of the first half, at least.
Given Jackson isn’t into telling fans what to look for tonight, we’ll take a stab at it, based upon what we saw at practice in Napa the past month, as well as the first two exhibition games.
*A whole lot of wide receiver Jacoby Ford and running backs Darren McFadden and Taiwan Jones. All three missed the first two games with injuries and could use some playing time before the regular-season opener Sept. 12.
Jones, in particular, is someone that Jackson wants to see perform in a game. Jones has impressed with his speed, moves and physical style the past week or so. Now it’s time to see how that translates in a game.
*Stephon Heyer, Joseph Barksdale, Daniel Loper and Bruce Campbell getting a final long look to see if they are worthy of a starting job on the offensive line.
Entering tonight’s game, it appears as if Jared Veldheer is set at left offensive tackle and Samson Satele at center. Stefen Wisniewski at left guard, Cooper Carlisle at right guard and Khalif Barnes at right offensive tackle have surged ahead in the competition for those jobs.
Yet, Jackson has been hesitant to name a starting five, which means there’s at least some level of concern about the projected five and hope for Heyer, Barksdale, Loper and Campbell to alter Jackson’s plans.
*The Raiders get a little more creative defensively than they were the first two games.
Jackson and the other coaches no doubt are aware of the fact that Saints quarterback Drew Brees carved up the Raiders in an exhibition game two years ago. Brees completed 14 of 17 passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns in a little more than one quarter of play.
A repeat performance is not something Jackson wants to see happen, especially on the heels of such a bad defensive performance against the 49ers eight days ago.
So, look for defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan to slip in a few more blitzes, mix his coverages more and make things as difficult as possible for Brees, without giving away too many secrets.
*Be more aggressive in the so-called red zone.
The Raiders starting offense has managed only two field goals the first two games. Jackson and offensive coordinator Al Saunders would love for the starters to build a little momentum and gain more confidence in the red zone before the regular season.
Jackson just might leave his starters in longer than planned if he feels as if more work is needed offensively and there’s a chance to get another crack at executing the red-zone offense against the Saints.
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