Game Preview: Raiders vs. Broncos

Despite a decent performance in Seattle last week, you have to be pretty pessimistic about the Raiders’ prospects in this matchup. Denver got lit up in New England last week, 43-21, and Peyton Manning and company are no doubt itching to take out some frustration on a weak mark. They’re loaded with talent on offense and defense, and the Raiders simply aren’t. So it’s as simple as a weather prediction — the forecast calls for pain.

Every game is still theoretically winnable, and this is no exception. But the keys here are what they have been all season — create turnovers, tighten up defense (especially run defense), and above all get a running game going. With healthy defensive playmakers like Von Miller and Demarcus Ware facing them down, the offensive line will have their hands full keeping Carr upright and helping the running backs get anything going against the league’s top-ranked rushing defense.

So the Raiders can win this; as the Patriots (who barely beat the Raiders in Week 3, 16-9) showed last week, the mighty Manning machine can be beaten. Unfortunately, Derek Carr is not Tom Brady (not yet!), and the team does not play the flawless, disciplined ball that Bill Belichick’s team plays. If the Raiders can stop with the dumb mistakes and penalties, the reckless turnovers, and maybe create a few turnovers of their own and really capitalize on them, they have a chance of being in this one. But if they play the way they have been all season, it’s going to be ugly.


Game Grades: Raiders at Seahawks

Pass Offense:  While Derek Carr performed poorly in the first half, throwing two interceptions (including a pick-6) and fumbling once (Raiders recovered), he made up for it in the second half, bringing the Raiders very close to what would have been one of the biggest upsets of the season so far. He’s not afraid to try deep throws, which is great, except they rarely seem to work out; the Raiders’ longest completion for the day was a 23-yard screen to Darren McFadden. The longest completion to a wide receiver was 17 yards to Andre Holmes. But without a running game, it’s about as good as can be expected. Grade: C-

Rush Offense:  Again, what running game? Whether it’s the running backs, the offensive line, or the coaches’ lack of faith (probably some combination of all those), Oakland has nothing resembling a rushing attack. This has put undue pressure on Carr to make things happen, often with bad results. 30 carries a game for 110 yards or so would be a modest goal to shoot for, and would make a world of difference in this offense (and therefore in the defense); instead the Raiders had 37 yards on 18 carries yesterday, including 2 runs by Carr for 9 yards. The team will not win until this improves. Grade:  F

Pass Defense:  The defense gave up just one play for more than 20 yards, a 39-yard catch-and-run to Marshawn Lynch that put the Seahawks in field goal range. Russell Wilson was held to 17 of 35 for 179 yards, one sack and two near-picks dropped by D.J. Hayden. Hayden also was flagged for pass interference on Seattle’s opening drive, a 36-yard penalty that set up their first touchdown. His coverage and tackling throughout the game were solid, however. T.J. Carrie continues to improve at his corner position. The ageless Charles Woodson made a superb stop for a loss on a screen attempt, sniffing it out right away. Seahawks were held to 7 of 18 (38%) on third-down conversions, as the Raiders markedly improve in that area for the second consecutive week. If they can pull it off against Denver next week, we’ll know they’re on to something good. Grade: B-

Rush Defense:  This was a tale of two halves for the Raiders’ rush defense — in the first half, Seattle ran Marshawn Lynch right up Oakland’s gut, and the Raiders had no answers; in the second half Lynch was held to 25 yards on 11 carries, but ended the day with two touchdowns. Russell Wilson had a 19-yard run, and Robert Turbin had a carry of 17 yards, but other than those two, the longest run allowed in the game was 11 yards. Still, a grand total of 149 rushing yards, just a week after they held a very good Cleveland running game to a mere 37 yards, is way too much, although some of those yards came near the end, with Seattle running down the clock and the Raiders defense gassed from being on the field for too long. Grade: C-

Special Teams:  T.J. Carrie had several solid punt and kickoff returns, and was fortunate that his one fumble, at the end of a great return but at a point where Oakland was already down 17-3, didn’t translate into any points for Seattle. The blocked punt in the 3rd quarter was a turning point, and set the stage for the Raiders to get back in the game. Marquette King continues to perform at a high level, averaging 46.2 yards on his 6 punts. Sebastian Janikowski made a field goal on the opening drive, and missed one from 53 yards shortly before halftime. Grade:  B+

Coaching:  Tony Sparano continues to get more out of the team than Dennis Allen was able to; despite muddling through yet another lost season, they are playing hard, and with effort and passion against a superior team that most people assumed would blow the Raiders out (the spread was 14½ points). Jason Tarver is getting what he can out of an injury-riddled defense, and they have kept the Raiders in games over the last month. Offense is a tougher call — while Greg Olson is certainly a competent coordinator who is doing what he can with the talent they have, he won’t commit to a run game, he won’t use Reece or Murray to any significant extent, and he calls a baffling run-pass ratio of plays. Once again, the stats do not lie:  41 pass attempts versus 18 rush attempts (2 of those by Carr). This unbalanced approach results in drive-killing dropped passes, questionable reads, interceptions, and the defense being on the field an average of nearly 35 minutes per game. If they can balance the offense out better, and lean on players to minimize mistakes and penalties, they will see results. Grade: C

Week 9 Final: Seahawks 30, Raiders 24

Well, by now the Nation is frustrated with these “moral victories,” but after digging themselves into a major hole, trailing 24-3 at halftime after three turnovers (including a pick-six thrown by Carr), the Raiders nearly managed to catch up. This game was winnable, they just couldn’t quite pull it off. Horseshoes and hand grenades.

Full game stats here

The good news is that the team continues to play hard under Tony Sparano. After a terrible first half, Derek Carr came back out in the second half and played well, showing that he is capable of overcoming a bad start. He’s still a rookie, and so makes rookie mistakes sometimes. But he also shows a remarkable level of maturity and poise. If the Raiders could actually win some games, Carr would have an outside shot at a Pro Bowl berth.

And that’s where the bad news is — Oakland is simply unable to contend or compete consistently at even an adequate level, much less an elite level. Darren McFadden continues to run hard, with passion and purpose. McFadden had four receptions, including a nice 23-yard screen pass that was the longest offensive play of the day for the Raiders. However, in the running game, McFadden gained just 20 yards in 13 carries. Maurice Jones-Drew had an even worse day on the ground, with just two carries for -2 yards.

This has been a consistent theme all season, the complete lack of a ground game. Whether they’re playing against teams with solid run defenses like Seattle or the Jets, or against Cleveland’s league-worst run D, the result is always the same — fewer than 20 total carries, for an average of about 65 yards per game. This has put an awful lot of pressure on Carr, who has done his best with a resolutely average group of receivers.

The offensive line has performed very well in pass protection, allowing Carr to be sacked only 8 times in 8 games. But it’s not enough to overcome their complete inability to create holes for the running backs. Both McFadden and Jones-Drew showed bursts of speed and the ability to break tackles on their pass receptions yesterday, so the running game issues can’t entirely be on their age.

The coaches also need to commit to the running game, throw Latavius Murray and Marcel Reece into the mix more (Reece had a single carry today, for 10 yards). The Raiders average 18 carries per game; with the groups of backs it has, and a rookie QB with no true #1 WR, that number needs to be closer to 30 if they’re going to compete.

The defense was as mercurial as ever, allowing Lynch to run at will in the first half, but holding him to just 25 yards on 11 carries in the second half. Russell Wilson had an off day, but without Golden Tate and Percy Harvin, Wilson has been forced to adapt to his next tier of receivers, who are good, but not quite as good as Tate and Harvin. DJ Hayden had an interesting day, to say the least, racking up substantial penalty yards in the first half and dropping two sure interceptions in the second half, but also providing solid coverage and tackling throughout his first start coming back from injury. Hayden has a way to go to show the game-breaking potential that made the Raiders want to draft him high in the first round, but at least he’s heading in the right direction.

The schedule doesn’t get any easier, with a pissed-off Denver squad coming to Oakland next, followed by a trip to San Diego and a Thursday night game against the surging Chefs. Even the “lesser” teams remaining on the schedule, such as the Rams and Bills, are going to be tough for this squad to compete, much less defeat. As long as Sparano keeps them playing hard, and they can overcome the mistakes and generate even an average running game, they stand a chance of winning a couple down the homestretch, and avoiding the embarrassment of a winless season.

Game Preview: Raiders at Seahawks

Even though the Seahawks are the reigning champs, and their stadium is one of the toughest places in the league to play, every game is winnable. And the Seahawks are nowhere near as dominant as they were last season; in the last few weeks, they were upset by the hapless Rams, and barely beat the Panthers. While they are keeping details on the Percy Harvin trade quiet, the fact that they essentially dumped their most explosive receiver hints at least some possible locker room issues.

Perhaps more importantly, and what really gives the Raiders an outside shot at this game, is that Seattle is really banged up. Key starters such as Russell Okung, Kam Chancellor, and Zach Miller are out for this game. Of course, their backups are still probably better than most of the Raiders’ starters, but still. The likelihood of rain may also help to keep it close.

The professional prognosticators are expecting a blowout, of course, but there’s a good possibility that the Raiders can stay in this. They probably won’t win, but as long as they show up and play hard, they shouldn’t get embarrassed either.

Keys to Victory

Run defense.  Oakland’s run D did a fantastic job last week, shutting down Cleveland’s 6th-ranked running game and forcing Brian Hoyer to throw more. Marshawn Lynch will be much tougher to bring down regularly, but if they can at least contain him, Russell Wilson will be forced to throw more often than he would like.

Create turnovers.  For as much extra time as the defense has spent on the field in almost every game this season, they have generated precious few turnovers, coming into this game at -7. Cleveland won last week mostly because of two fumbles, one a drive-killer by McFadden, and later by Carr deep in his own territory, setting up an easy score to seal the game for the Browns. Obviously turnovers are crucial to winning any matchup, but against an elite team like Seattle, they’re an absolute must.

Eliminate dumb mistakes.  Drive-killing penalties; turnovers caused by poor throws, poor routes, and poor ball security; and a failure to generate a poor run game. All of those things, in addition to the inexplicable lack of impact talent, are driving the team’s chances into the ground, game after game. Every week, the coaches and players talk about the Raiders beating themselves; they need to actually do something about it.