Posted August 26, 2013

First Down/Fourth Down: D.J. Hayden was Friday’s best story

AFC West, First Down/Fourth Down, Green Bay Packers, NFC North, NFC West, Oakland Raiders, Seattle Seahawks
Oakland Raiders cornerback D.J. Hayden warms up for his very important day. (Marcio Jose Sanchez)/AP)

Oakland Raiders cornerback D.J. Hayden warms up for his very important day. (Marcio Jose Sanchez)/AP)

It’s all well and good to say that preseason games don’t mean a lot, but don’t tell that to Oakland Raiders rookie cornerback D.J. Hayden. Less than a year after suffering a tear in his inferior vena cava (the primary vein to his heart) in practice and nearly dying as a result, Hayden was on an NFL field for the first time. It was my belief that the Houston product was the best pure cover cornerback in this draft class, and when he ran a 4.33-second 40-yard dash at his pro day in March, the NFL was ready to believe again. The Raiders took him with the 12th overall pick in the 2013 draft, and waited while he underwent surgery in May to deal with scar tissue in his abdomen — this was related to the emergency heart surgery that had saved his life.

Hayden finally suited up in Oakland’s 34-26 loss to the Chicago Bears on Friday night, and all things considered, it was a triumph for him. He looked a bit shaky to start, but he deflected a Jay Cutler pass intended for Brandon Marshall in Chicago’s first drive, and showed flashes of the player who was named First-Team Conference USA despite starting just nine games for the Cougars in 2012.

“He’s been very good as far as practice has been concerned,” Raiders head coach Dennis Allen said this week. “We’re having to hold him back. He wants to do more and more. From that standpoint I think he has the right mindset going into this thing. I think it will be a great opportunity for him to go out there and play this week and get his first game action under his belt.”

There’s no doubt about Hayden’s football talent — the big question is whether he’ll be okay taking and delivering hits again. In that regard, Friday’s game was an enormous step forward … actually, “miraculous” isn’t too strong a word.

First Down: Vince Young’s comeback.

Current Green Bay Packers backup quarterback Vince Young last completed a pass in a regular-season NFL game for the Philadelphia Eagles on Dec. 1, 2011, in a 34-10 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. It’s been a long, strange trip for Young since then. Cut by the Buffalo Bills before the 2012 season, he was signed by Green Bay on Aug. 6 after an impressive workout. The third overall pick of the 2006 NFL draft had a lot of time to think about how he’d do things differently if he ever got another chance, and in limited action, he proved to be a surprisingly viable reserve option.

It wasn’t blow-away impressive, but Young looked like a quarterback in control. He didn’t try to do too much — when he didn’t see anything open downfield, he simply tucked the ball and ran, and that allowed him to avoid turnovers and gain 39 rushing yards against Seattle’s backup defense. He also led the Pack to their only touchdown of the evening, a one-yard scoring pass to fullback Jonathan Amosa late in the third quarter, and completed six of seven passes overall for 41 yards.

“Vince Young’s dimension of running; that’s something we really wanted to see,” Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said after the game. “I thought he did very well. I think Vince is definitely one of the players that took advantage of his opportunities.”

Ostensible backup quarterback Graham Harrell did not. The former Texas Tech standout completed six of 13 passes for 49 yards and frequently looked overwhelmed by pressure. Aaron Rodgers played just one series in the Packers’ 17-10 loss, which was a clear move my McCarthy to get a better look as his backups. Judging by Friday’s results, Young has the pole position.

Update: ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported on Saturday afternoon that the Packers will release Harrell, so there you go.

Fourth Down: Matt Flynn’s Groundhog Day.

Before the start of the 2012 season, Flynn thought he’d be the Seahawks’ starting quarterback. He signed a lucrative contract with Seattle based on a Small Sample Size Theater career as Aaron Rodgers’ backup from 2008 through 2011, and it was going to be his big shot. Nobody thought much of Russell Wilson, the third-round rookie who was supposed to learn over the long-term, until Wilson totally outperformed Flynn in training camp and easily won the starting job. The Seahawks traded Flynn to the Raiders in April for a couple of low draft picks, and … well, here we go again, Mr. Flynn.

It was thought that Flynn would be the Raiders’ short-term starter as general manager Reggie McKenzie tried to rebuild the franchise, but based on this preseason, that isn’t going to happen. Flynn looked completely and totally out of his element against the Bears’ first-team defense — he threw two pretty ghastly picks, fumbled once, and completed three of six passes for 19 yards and a 17.4 quarterback rating. Meanwhile, backup Terrelle Pryor looked much better, more effective, and far more confident against Chicago’s reserves — he ran around like a champ and completed seven of nine passes for 93 yards and a touchdown. Allen has an interesting problem on his hands, and Flynn might find himself ousted by an unexpected contender for the second straight season.

First Down: Green Bay’s plans against mobile quarterbacks.

Friday marked the first time Green Bay’s starting defense was able to face a mobile quarterback since the divisional round of the 2012 playoffs, when Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers shredded them for 181 rushing yards and two touchdowns on the ground. The Packers’ coaching staff went back to school in the offseason, reaching out to the coaches at several different college programs to get a better idea how to stop signal-callers who were befuddling them with all manner of read-option and Pistol schemes.

Against Seattle’s Russell Wilson, things were different. Wilson started off hot, but the Packers persisted, and he started to get fenced in. He threw two interceptions — one from a tipped pass at the line by linebacker Nick Perry — and took three sacks, rushing just once for 13 yards.

“Obviously, that was a big emphasis for us last year and even more so this year, is limiting his ability to create plays by running out of the pocket,” linebacker Clay Matthews said at halftime. “He’s going to make his plays, but I felt for the most part, not only myself, but as a rushing unit, we did a good job of keeping him bottled up in the pocket, forcing some errant throws and getting after him.”

Fourth Down: Oakland’s first-team defense.

The 34-26 final score in the Bears-Raiders game was misleading at best — it was a 27-3 laugher for Chicago at halftime, and Oakland’s first-team defense put forth an embarrassing effort when trying to deal with Chicago’s rushing game. Matt Forte gained 76 yards on just six carries, and Michael Bush bulled in for two touchdowns in the game’s first 30 minutes. Forte also had a 32-yard touchdown pass, and all one could see when Chicago’s backs were heading downfield was an array of broken tackles and poor technique. Credit the backs and Chicago’s offensive line — especially rookie right guard Kyle Long, who continues to impress — but this was on the Raiders, and their inability to match up when the Bears went smashmouth.

First Down: Christine Michael’s step forward.

If you talk to people around the league about the Seahawks, you’ll hear one thing over and over: “Those guys are deep.” Not deep in the philosophical sense (though Pete Carroll seems to be), but deep in the roster sense. Certainly, few NFL teams have more quality options at running back, where the Seahawks boast Marshawn Lynch, Michael Robinson, second-year man Robert Turbin, and rookies Christine Michael and Spencer Ware. More and more, it’s Michael, the second-round pick from Texas A&M, who’s setting himself apart in the battle to back up Lynch. Michael missed last week’s game against Denver due to back spasms, but he built on his excellent preseason performance against the Chargers two weeks ago by rushing for 97 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. Michael is a slashing, powerful runner with an extra gear in space, and he reminds me at times of Ricky Watters.

Fourth Down: Seattle’s guards … and penalty-prone play.

There’s no doubt that Ron Winter’s crew was flag-happy in the Seattle-Green Bay game, but the Seahawks in particular need to take a strong look at their lack of discipline on the field. This is a young team to be sure, but 14 penalties for 182 yards? That’s a problem, and Seattle’s first-teamers were often involved in extracurricular activity after the play. Right guard J.R. Sweezy was a particularly guilty party — he had three penalties (two holding, one unnecessary roughness) wipe out productive plays. And in a blocking sense, neither Sweezy nor left guard Paul McQuistan looked like world-beaters last night. The Packers were especially tough to deal with on delayed blitzes.

Carroll reinforced the idea by ordering Sweezy from the field at one point and earholing him on the sideline.

“We’re over-trying,” Carroll said after the game. “We’re trying too hard to make plays. That’s the situation, whether it’s the late hit, or whether it’s trying to reach out and grab a guy so he doesn’t tackle our returner. We’re trying too hard. And we have to trust that we’re okay doing the regular techniques.

The Seahawks have enough talent to roll deep into the playoffs. They are also young and inexperienced enough at several key positions to run into themselves along the way. We saw a lot of both types of phenomena on Friday night.

17 comments
gary41
gary41

In the 3 exhibition games so far the Raider line has been a sieve.  Flynn either must throw the ball away or take a sac, without fumbling.  Thus Pryor who has real running abilities looks like the answer in the short term, but not the solution.  I guess Tyler Wilson will remain on the sidelines.  The Raiders are QB purgatory right now, but Reggie is keeping diligent notes for next year.      

friendly--neighborhood--scrawler
friendly--neighborhood--scrawler

This Flynn, Pryor Raider game is a small but perfect example of why guys like Brady (who is terrible once players get into the backfield, step up and shoulder dip is as good as it gets with Tom, ASK Ed Reed about Tom's skills under pressure outside the pocket) or Manning (who goes to the ground or throws away the ball when things break down) will never be the best at their position (Rodgers excluded)...  For guys like Flynn to be successful they need a pocket and time to throw, when greatness at the position should be judge on all scenarios a quarterback may encounter not just a few criterias.  

People keep saying give Flynn a O-LINE and then judge him... discounting what Pryor is doing without an O-LINE. If i gave Pryor a better O-LINE and time i doubt his skills will revert to a where Pryor starts TEBOWING  the ball into the ground and to players on the opposite team.  If a guy strives under pressure NATURALLY more time in the pocket will increase his game not decrease it. People who claim the opposite are those  with an ax to grind against Pryor.

I dont think guys like Pryor just decides to run out of the pocket without oncoming pressure unless its a designed run, so why do people act like they cannot pass inside the pocket if given time. Some just don't like the added skills guys like Pryor brings to the position because it make their favorite Quaterback of yesteryears look obsolete.

decredico
decredico

just popped in to say this writer is 100 times the writer than is that hack peter king  ... this is great, information based, football writing

randomdeletion
randomdeletion

Seattle behaved like a young punk team.  It was deplorable.  Hawk fans need to get used to the idea that Russell Wilson is going to have more struggles this year than late last year.  The Packers had a game plan that particularly played to his natural weakness of being short.  They bull rushed the center of the pocket to collapse it in his face which made it really difficult for him to see over the linemen to find the receivers. They also got their hands up to disrupt his passing lanes. As long as linemen can do this and contain his rushing lanes to escape from the pocket defenses can make it a very long and difficult year for him.  

The rest of the team needs to grow the F up and not be undisciplined punks letting their out of control egos get the best of them.

Wisconsin Death Trip
Wisconsin Death Trip

"Nobody thought much of Russell Wilson......"  BALONEY!! Carroll thought enough of him too video tape EVERY GAME of his final year, and followed him the ENTIRE final season of his with the Badgers. He also had him pegged from the start to draft him in the 3rd round.

Matt Flynn should have stayed in Green Bay, but that's easy to say after all is said and done.

Who ever edited this should be taken out back and shot......YIKES! My English/spelling is lousy,  but for people with a degree in it....wow.

JimSaunders
JimSaunders

Pryor is a HORRIBLE QB..he's trying to play basketball on grass, that doesnt work in the NFL..he cant read a defense and has poor accuracy and an average arm..Flynn is a joke as well, McGloin shows a little promise and Tyler Wilson needs time to adjust..this will be ANOTHER long year in Oakland..next year, they'll be nearly 60 mil under the cap and should be able to bring in help via FA

friendly--neighborhood--scrawler
friendly--neighborhood--scrawler

Why does Flynn keep getting chances base on what....  scoring 6 touchdowns in what is equivalent to a 4th or 5th preseason game.  Any backup with knowledge of the playbook will look great in week 17 when both teams have nothing to play for, except getting through the game injury free. Pryor should have played last year the Raiders wasted an entire year knowning there was no future with Palmer, this year is a heavy QB draft you need to know if Pryor is your QB going forward.

209cat
209cat

Oakland is a mess of epic proportions! the O-line is horrendous  and it won't matter who is QB when you don't get time to scan past your first reed without running for your life.  Flynn may not be a great qb but he will never get a chance to show how good he is with the Raiders pathetic O-line in front of him!

Oakland will have a new coach and top 3 pick at the draft next year,  AGAIN!!!   

donald5
donald5

Oakland's o-line is horrible.  Of course Pryor is going to look better because he has the physical abilities to run away from the immediate pass rush that is on him.  Flynn doesn't have a snow ball's chance in hell.  It is really hard to gauge the abilities of a pocket QB when he is running for his life on every play.  Hell, New Orleans had the worst defense in history last year and Flynn wasn't getting any time vs them in that preseason game.  Matt Flynn might very well be a below average QB but you won't be able to tell behind that O-line

logue.justinf
logue.justinf

@randomdeletion Yeah, we'll see.  Wilson looked pretty good on the first drive and the seahawks kept things pretty vanilla.  I say he makes the pro bowl this year, you predict tough year, we'll see how it goes.  In terms of seattle growing up, look in the mirror.  It shows from green bay players and fans, they barely scored against seattle and ended up losing the game but just being in the game with seattle seems like a moral victory for those fans and players.

Merv
Merv

@randomdeletion The Packers game plan was so good at stopping Wilson that they allowed the Seattle backs to gain 180 yards rushing, and Seattle did not run one play action play.  SF will steam roll them with Gore packing the Football.

SkylerDavis
SkylerDavis

@randomdeletion It was preseason and there was a lot of overagressiveness due to players wanting to make the roster on both sides. It was just an undisciplined, ugly game. I didn't any penaltys that were "deplorable", besides a couple on Green Bay. One was where the GB player tried to punch the Seattle player after he was shoved, another was a pretty bad roughing call. Almost all the flags on Seattle were pretty ticky-tac. The one bad one was where Sweezy came in late to try to block.

Chris8
Chris8

@Wisconsin Death Trip Yeah I have no idea what these guys are talking about.  Who exactly are these people that didn't think much of the guy.  Even if they didn't think he was the best prospect that ever there was, surely anyone with even the least bit of football sense who watched his college play knew that this guy was a good one.

Mech
Mech

@BaNosser @Wisconsin Death Trip  If you guys think any rookie QB is "pegged" for starting,,,get a life. Its such a huge leap from college to the pro's that no coach is expecting a player to come out the way Wilson did,,, much less pegging him as their starter. Wilson made him a believer by taking control , something rookies seldom do.