Game Grades: Raiders vs. Chiefs

Pass Offense:  Neither Derek Carr’s stats (18-35-174-1-0) nor those of his top receivers (Holmes, 5-55-0; Jones, 5-47-1) stand out, but what the numbers don’t show is that they were able to make things happen when they needed to. The key play here, of course, was Carr’s sole TD pass to Jones with 1:42 left to win the game. That final drive especially showed that the team was striving to hold together, and made a number of critical plays against a very good Kansas City defense that had just beaten the reigning Super Bowl champs last week, and flattened the surging Patriots earlier this season. Not spectacular, but again, they got it done when they needed to. Grade:  B

Rush Offense:  You almost need a different grade for each of the running backs. With just four carries, including a 90-yard rumble that brought back memories of Bo Jackson, Latavius Murray proved that he deserves much more consideration for a larger role in this offense. It’s a huge deal that, in a moribund running game, against a defense that hadn’t given up a single rushing touchdown all season, Murray breaks off two rushing touchdowns in the first quarter. If Kurt Coleman hadn’t taken Murray out of the game with a helmet-to-helmet concussion, who knows how many yards Murray could have rolled up at that rate? McFadden had a couple of decent carries, but ended up with 12 runs for 29 yards total. Jones-Drew continues to get stuffed with every attempt, finishing with 3 runs for -1 yards. Marcel Reece was clutch in the end, with Murray out with a concussion, finishing 8-37 with a 9-yard run at a key moment in the final drive. The Raiders ended with 8 rushing first downs, and 30:05 time of possession, both key stats that they needed to win any game.

As far as the running backs go, Jones-Drew is a great player, a fine person, and is clearly giving it everything he has. Personally, I was excited for him to come to Oakland; as a local, it was clear that his love for the team, the area, and the fans was sincere. And his legendary block on Shawne Merriman is just as much fun to watch the thousandth time as it was the first. But the numbers don’t lie — Murray has 14 carries for 166 yards this season, while MoJo has 36 carries for just 69 yards, a measly 1.9 average. Take away MJD’s 4-30 performance in the first Charger game, and he’s 32-39 total, just 1.2 yards per carry. Here’s hoping he has a breakout game to turn all that around, but it appears less and less likely, for whatever reason. In general, until the Raiders have a back run 15-20 times several games in a row (McFadden went 18-59 in New England, but no other back has more than 14 rushes in a game so far), it’s too soon to anoint anyone as the money back, but Murray and Reece seem to find the holes that Jones-Drew and (to a lesser extent) McFadden struggle with. Grade:  B+

Pass Defense:  While Alex Smith’s two touchdown passes, to Fasano and Charles, came in unconscionable lack of decent coverage, for the most part the pass defense did pretty well, forcing Smith to run and scramble for his life at key moments. Another key statistic that the defense has done well in changing is opponents’ third-down conversion rate — while they were on track to set a record in the first part of the season, Kansas City went 2-14 on 3rd down, continuing the recent trend of making key stops. That this has taken place against elite quarterbacks and receivers, with depleted linebackers and cornerbacks, points to the players’ resiliency, and the creativity of Jason Tarver’s scheme and play-calling. The defensive stand after Denarius Moore fumbled a punt at the 10 yard line, holding the Chiefs to a field goal, was outstanding, and may have ultimately made the difference, in what turned out to be a 4-opint game. Charles Woodson had a terrific game in particular, with three tackles for a loss, and a sack, becoming the only player to have 50 interceptions and 20 sacks. Grade: B 

Rush Defense:  Jamaal Charles finished with 19 carries for 80 yards and no rushing touchdowns, second-lowest in total yards and yards per carry since the first few weeks of the season for him. The Chiefs were ranked 4th in the league in rushing (141.2 yards/game), and ended up with 96 yards total. Overall, the defense did a much better job of stuffing the run than they have against other opponents with elite running backs. Grade: B 

Special Teams:  Between the dumb penalties, muffed punts, and poor return coverage, special teams (aside from the kickers) were the weak spot in this game. Not only did they give up too many yards to Kansas City’s kickoff and punt returners, but the penalties on the Raiders returns need to stop. One of the big reasons this offense has difficulty getting traction is that it keeps having to start at its own 10-yard line, because of an illegal block to the back penalty. It’s these small, seemingly insignificant details in fundamental execution that frequently make the difference between winning and losing. Denarius Moore continues to be a liability as a punt returner, even when he doesn’t fumble. Grade: D 

Coaching:   It took longer than it should have, but give Tony Sparano and Greg Olson credit for finally using Murray and Reece in the running game, with the positive effect most fans assumed it would have. It’s no coincidence that the pass-run ratio (37-28) was much more balanced than the 3:1 or even 4:1 ratios previous games have had. The outcome is a more balanced time of possession (Raiders had the ball 30:05), and a defense that isn’t exhausted by the 4th quarter. Give credit to the team as well for sticking with the coaches; heading into a game against a superior opponent after not having won in a year, it would be understandable if they had given up and folded. The Raiders still definitely need to use their coming high draft picks and huge salary cap surplus wisely to upgrade their talent, but there’s a lot of potential in players like Latavius Murray, Sio Moore, and Khalil Mack, and if they continue to play with the kind of heart and passion they showed against the Chiefs, they have a decent chance in every remaining game down the homestretch. Except the final game in Denver — the only way they have a shot in that one is if the Broncos start Brock Osweiler to keep Peyton Manning fresh for a playoff run. Grade:  B+

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