The bandwagon eased out of the starting gate Friday night, sputtering a time or two before ultimately emerging with a potential major dent in the fender.
The Raiders, a trendy playoff pick even by some of the most skeptical media pundits, beat the Arizona Cardinals 31-10 at University of Phoenix Stadium, and did little to alter the mostly glowing public perception that the first playoff season since 2002 is at hand.
The most notable occurrence was an apparent leg injury to starting defensive end Mario Edwards Jr., who needed help to make it off the field and was carted to the locker room. Coach Jack Del Rio had no update following the game, telling reporters injuries would be kept “in-house” until the NFL mandates an injury report.
If Edwards misses a significant chunk of time, it’s an event that dwarfs everything else that happened in a typically forgettable exhibition.
With an ability to play outside and inside, Edwards’ versatility gives defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. added creativity in terms of scheme. Losing Edwards would put added pressure on rookie Jihad Ward, also a starter, to be good immediately.
The Edwards situation aside, we didn’t learn anything about the Raiders that we didn’t already know. Nor did we see any hints that their 28th-ranked rushing attack has improved.
There were some bright spots, with linebackers Korey Toomer, James Cowser and Cory James all making a case for the 53-man roster. George Atkinson III inserted himself into the conversation at running back with touchdown runs of 53 and 35 yards, although DeAndre Washington looks the part as the complementary back for Latavius Murray.
But Toomer, Cowser, James and Atkinson aren’t likely to be major players this season in a Raiders resurgence and are sidelight stories at best. In past years, when simply getting to the 53-man roster was a chore, this year the Raiders will actually cut players that other teams will pick up.
The Raiders should have a deep roster, and their reserves dominating the reserves of a playoff team speaks to that.
As for areas of concern, the Raiders have had only 11 training camp practices, so there’s plenty of time to get better.
It’s not as if quarterback Derek Carr showing the ability to throw to Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree is any kind of revelation, and Sebastian Janikowski showing the ability to kick a 53-yard field goal is old news.
The running game, on the other hand, lacked the consistent 4-plus yards per carry push that is expected behind a bolstered offensive front line featuring free agent Kelechi Osemele.
It was at least a little surprising the Raiders, in the two series Carr was on the field, went for big plays rather than allowing their offensive line a chance to establish some forward progress.
It didn’t help that on the Raiders’ first series Osemele had a false start and Carr a delay of game, essentially removing the run from the equation. In all, the Raiders ran only four times for 11 yards behind the first-team line.
As is the case with the preseason in general and the first one in particular, the starters spend so little time on the field that the contest is a glorified scrimmage, a chance to tackle to the ground and little more.
The good news for Del Rio is that there is no shortage of teaching points. Wide receiver Andre Holmes lost a fumble on a play in which he was clearly going down. There were penalties galore (11 for 86 yards).
Tackling, by and large, was not what Del Rio and Norton had hoped for and will be addressed.
While David Amerson has been the Raiders’ top corner throughout training camp, it was free agent acquisition Sean Smith who stepped up against the Cardinals. Smith jumped a route intended for Larry Fitzgerald, a play that was nearly a pick six against Carson Palmer, and later dumped Fitzgerald for a loss on a quick screen.
Amerson gave up a big completion and had a conspicuous whiff on tackle, but it’s not as if he got to stick around and make up for it.
In a minor surprise, rookie first-round draft pick Karl Joseph started. Joseph himself thought there was a good chance he’d sit out a preseason game or two, and it’s another indication that the Raiders are convinced his surgically repaired knee is nearing 100 percent.
Only two training camp practices remain before the Raiders return to the club facility in Alameda. It’s a microscopic sample size, but the win over Arizona will keep the bandwagon moving forward.