The Oakland Raiders enjoyed something Friday night they haven't had in quite some time, an interior pass rush.
Rookie defensive tackles P.J. Hall and Maurice Hurst were active against the Detroit Lions, and when I say active, I mean active. The duo played the majority of the first half prior to taking a seat after halftime, but in those 30 minutes of play the two created a lot of problems for the Lions offensive line.
"Felt good just to finally get out there and go against someone fully live, and just trying to do what we're supposed to do," Hurst said postgame. "I thought it was a lot of fun just to get out there and play, be next to P.J., and all the other guys on our D-line. It was a lot of fun."
Rewind to the 2018 NFL Draft; there were question marks surrounding the two, but in their first preseason game they showed a lot of potential. Hall wasted no time getting to work, wrestling Lions quarterback Matt Cassel to the ground emphatically in the first quarter of action. The former Sam Houston State product also added a batted pass and a tackle for loss to his final stat line. Following the game, Hall reflected on his night in the Silver and Black.
"I wouldn't say it was surprising, that was one of my goals," Hall said when asked about getting his first NFL sack. "I was actually talking to my [college] coach before this — he played in the league — and told me his first play was a sack. So I was like, 'alright I'm going to make sure I get that done too,' and I got it done. It wasn't surprising, it was a good feeling to get that out of the way, so now I feel like I'm calm. I won't be trying to shoot for sacks anymore, I can just go out there and play my game now."
Hurst might not have had the same night statistically as Hall, but he tallied a quarterback hit, and applied a significant amount of pressure on the opposing offensive line.
Their effort was more than enough to catch the attention of their head coach, who was pleased with what he saw on the field.
"Well P.J. Hall comes in on his very first play and gets a sack, I think he bats a pass down, I think he batted down and blocked a lot of kicks in college," Gruden said during his postgame press conference. "He's just a very good inside rusher and that's great for him. He missed part of training camp with a pec strain. Maurice Hurst had some good pressures. I would've loved to see an Arden Key play tonight but he didn't go. And we're really hopeful one of these days we'll get Khalil back to fortify everything but good start for our two young guys."
As a whole, the defense limited the Lions offense to only seven points in the first half, and a mere 96 yards of total offense at the break. Whether it was on the ground, or through the air, the Lions' offense sputtered, and one could attribute that to the pressure applied up front. When things are clicking in the trenches, it creates a ripple effect that benefits the secondary. Because Hall, Hurst, and Co., were aggressively disrupting the line of scrimmage, the defense was able to successfully limit the Lions from getting much of anything going.
Even though the duo looked comfortable in front of the over 50,000 in attendance at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, Hurst wasn't ashamed to admit he was a little nervous before the game.
"Yeah there was a little jitters, a little pregame jitters," Hurst said with a smile. "First game of the season, just try not to make any mistakes, and just try to do my job."
Hall and Hurst undeniably had impactful moments on the field, but the team has a long road ahead and they'll need both of them to keep it up. With three preseason games left, the pair of rooks will have plenty of time to try out some new moves before the regular season starts, and they'll be looking forward to watching the film from Friday's game.
"I think it'll be really great just to look over the film and get to make corrections," Hurst said. "Just try to look at all the little things that we did wrong, or did right."
The film won't go anywhere. For now, I hope Hall and Hurst are basking in their first NFL victory, and relaxing as they get ready for another four days of training camp in Napa, Calif., before eventually heading down south to face the Los Angeles Rams next week.