NAPA (CBS Sports) — So where are the Oakland Raiders exactly after a dozen practices, a pre-season game, and then a couple of more practices?

Right on schedule, according to head coach Hue Jackson.

Exactly what you’d expect him to say, and given the lack of an offseason, it was hard to refute any of his rationales following a 24-18 loss to the Arizona Cardinals in the Raiders’ exhibition opener.

Oakland’s starting unit on defense was on the field for six snaps and most of the starting offense for three series, which makes it difficult to refute anything given most of the players on the field for both teams when the game was decided will either be on the bench or looking for work when the regular-season begins.

Anything the Raiders did well is cause for celebration in Jackson’s eyes. Anything they did with mediocrity or poorly is good too — it’s a baseline for improvement.

Basically, the Raiders can’t lose. Their injuries have been numerous but minor, their spirits remain high heading into their second preseason game against the 49ers.

“When you get a chance to go back and watch it all, there was a lot of positives,” Jackson said. “There are some things to clean up. There were some negatives, too, our issues in the scoring zone, the plays we gave up on defense. Those are things in a first preseason game a lot of people are trying to overcome, and we will.

“It was good to see guys competing and getting after it. We have something to build on here.?’

Whether this is a fairy tale that ends happily ever after, only time will tell.

A team that has basically struggled with the concept of the forward pass since winning the AFC championship in 2002, the Raiders have looked much better through the air with offensive coordinator Al Saunders arriving to assist Hue Jackson.

The pass protection, considered to be a potential problem based on the sack numbers throughout the last several years, was better than expected in the preseason opener.

The Raiders had only one three-and-out in the entire game despite playing without two of their most explosive players, running back Darren McFadden (broken orbital bone) and wide receiver/return specialist Jacoby Ford (broken left hand).

Defensively, their first team was on the field for only six plays, but looked good in limited time.

Overall, quarterback Jason Campbell gave the offensive performance a thumbs up.

“I was kind of excited to see it on film, with the short amount of time guys had to participate in practice,” Campbell said. “If you look at it on tape, everyone was pretty much in the right area. That’s hard to do after just a couple of days of practice. But I was glad to see that.”

Defensively, the Raiders played their first team so little it was hard to make a judgment, although third-round draft pick DeMarcus Van Dyke and second-year corner Walter McFadden took the brunt of the punishment as four Arizona quarterbacks completed 18 passes for 297 yards.

After the Raiders returned from a day off following the Arizona loss, Jackson didn’t ease back into things.

The Raiders had their most extensive “live” portion of practice, including tackling to the ground, and worked a great deal on red zone plays after a game in which they stalled four times in Arizona territory and settled for chip-shot field goals from placekicker Sebastian Janikowski.

“You have to balance it, but there is a time to do it and I thought it was a good time to do it,” Jackson said. “Guys are back, had a day off, their bodies are recovered, let’s go back at it again.

“I keep telling you how important the physical part of this team will be at some point in time. We’re working toward that. Now it’s time to make that next jump.”

(Copyright 2011 CBS Interactive. All Rights Reserved.)


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