Game Grades: Raiders at Titans

Full game stats here.

Pass Offense: Statistically a stronger game than the final score might indicate. Derek Carr had 24 completions on 37 attempts for 330 yards, 3 TD and no interceptions. The offensive line continues to provide superb protection for Carr, allowing only one sack this game, and just 14 total on the season so far. (Carr’s quick release and ability to read blitzes doesn’t hurt in that department either.) Amari Cooper bounced back from a mini-slump (for him) with 7 receptions for 115 yards. Seth Roberts had a career day with 6 receptions for 113 yards and 2 touchdowns. Michael Crabtree didn’t post many yards (4-19), but made them count, with a nifty 7-yard touchdown grab in the front corner of the end zone. Mike Rivera only had two catches, but both of them were clutch.

Considering Tennessee’s formidable pass rush and the heavy rains throughout the game, the Raiders’ ability to make their pass package work is all the more impressive. The only blemish on the day was Derek Carr’s lost fumble of a snap late in the fourth quarter, but again the weather accounts for 99% of that.
Grade: A-

Rush Offense: The running game still needs some work, though the Raiders at least committed to it more than they have been lately. Latavius Murray gained 59 yards on 22 carries. Jamize Olawale had just 2 carries for 17 yards, but they were both impressive carries, and helped boost the meager YPC average to just over 3.0 yards. As good as the Titans’ pass defense may be, their run defense is in the middle of the league, and between that and the weather, it’s a bit of a surprise that the Raiders weren’t able to make more out of their running game. Backup center Tony Bergstrom has done well while starter Rodney Hudson nurses his injured ankle, but Hudson is a better run blocker, and should improve the rushing attack when he returns.
Grade: C

Pass Defense: For the most part, the defense did pretty well in containing Marcus Mariota, who ended up going 17-37-218-3-2. Khalil Mack registered two sacks on Mariota, and the rest of the team harassed him throughout the day, pressuring him into making bad throws and capitalizing on it. Tight end coverage continues to be an issue, as Delanie Walker had 6 receptions for 91 yards, and backup TE Craig Stevens burned the Raiders for a 20-yard TD catch, his only catch of the day. David Amerson had a nice interception to offset a special teams turnover a few plays earlier, and Nate Allen sealed the game with his interception. Amerson looks like he’s replacing DJ Hayden as starting corner.
Grade: B+

Rush Defense: This has been the biggest area of concern the last few weeks, and they showed up today, allowing just 44 yards on 18 running plays total. It helps that the Titans have no legitimate running back threat on the roster, though Mariota is as good a scrambler as you’ll find among NFL quarterbacks right now. A very solid effort, and hopefully a sign that the defense will be able to figure out how to deal with the suspension of Aldon Smith, which left a considerable hole in the run defense.
Grade: A

Special Teams: They had a nice block of Ryan Succop’s first extra point attempt, which nearly turned into a return as well, but was brought back because of a forward pass on the return. The kickoff and punt return game continues to be dismal; new returner Jeremy Ross lost a fumble at one point (fortunately David Amerson picked off an errant throw by Mariota a few plays later), and when Ross did have a decent return, it was because of blocking or holding, and thus got penalized. This has been the story with special teams all year — defensively, they are solid and aggressive; offensively, they’re usually better off just fair catching or taking the touchback. Janikowski looked ready to attempt a 65-yarder toward the end of the first half, but head coach Jack Del Rio wisely decided that given the weather conditions and the close score, it was a risk not worth taking.
Grade: C+

Coaching: A very solid game plan, in which coach Del Rio and OC Bill Musgrave crafted a more balanced attack designed to chew up clock time and exploit the Titans’ defensive secondary as opportunities arose. After two games in which the Raiders’ time of possession ended up substantially under 30 minutes, this game found them nearly at the 35-minute mark by game’s end. About the only quibble — but it’s a fairly serious one — came near the end, on the Raiders’ comeback drive. At the Titans’ 32-yard line with just under two minutes to go, on 4th-and-8 they attempt a high-risk bomb to Andre Holmes, who is generally third or fourth on the depth chart. It was just sheer luck that the refs decided to flag B.W. Webb for holding on Amari Cooper (but then, it’s entirely likely that Cooper was Carr’s first option, but was forced to check down to Holmes).

Still, a win is a win, and when the team needed it the most, they got it. The Chiefs, who started the season 1-5 and looked destined for a top 5 draft pick, have won their last five games and suddenly look like the biggest threat to the Raiders in the final five games. Hopefully the Titans game will serve as the slumpbuster Oakland needed to get back to their winning ways and move forward.
Grade: B+

Week 12 Final: Raiders 24, Titans 21

It took a major break to make it possible, but at least Oakland knew what to do with that break. On a 4th-and-8 play on their attempted comeback drive at the end of the game, Derek Carr fired a desperation pass to Andre Holmes, who while being big, fast, and talented, has not exactly proven to be that game-breaker you look for to save the day.

No matter, as Tennessee corner B.W. Webb was flagged with what could charitably be described as a questionable holding call on Amari Cooper, across the field from where the ball was thrown, and the Raiders got a fresh set of downs. Again, the big leap here is that when they were bad, the Raiders couldn’t have capitalized on that good fortune if you had handed it to them on a silver platter. Now they are.

Amari Cooper definitely picked up where he had left off the last couple games, getting open and making fantastic catches, and moving the team downfield at will sometimes. Seth Roberts stepped up in a major way, sealing the comeback with a great end-zone catch, capping a day where he made clutch plays throughout.

As the team hits the homestretch, with two of their last five games against the suddenly resurgent Kansas City Chiefs, this was a much-needed win in which both offense and defense played pretty well, and managed to overcome some key weather-related mistakes by the end.

Game Preview: Raiders at Titans

It would have been understandable if, after the losses to Pittsburgh and Minnesota, fans looked at the next two games, road games against terrible Detroit and Tennessee teams, and chalked them up as easy wins, or at least less challenging. Well, the Lions showed up last week and the Raiders didn’t, so we all saw how that went down.

So the Titans game becomes one that not only cannot be overlooked, but is an opportunity for Oakland to right itself after a nasty three-game losing streak, and preserve some hope for a possible wild-card berth. Even though players, coaches, and fans all seemed to accept from the beginning that this would be a rebuilding season, and that playoffs were not a realistic expectation, the Raiders’ back-to-back dominant victories against the Chargers and Jets suddenly changed those expectations.

The main goal this year was for the team to be competitive, and in every game. And aside from the season opener, that goal has been getting accomplished. But the last three losses have been frustrating, and the last two especially have been characterized by listless offense and inconsistent (at best) defense. The Raiders are going to miss Aldon Smith, who turned out to be an excellent pickup for the team, but Khalil Mack continues to develop practically game-to-game, and David Amerson plays like someone who’s ready to move up from nickel back into a starting CB role.

As the Titans get Marcus Mariota going as their franchise QB, the team’s main strength is their pass rush, tied for 4th in the league with 31.0 sacks, with 13 of those coming in their last three games. They may be 2-8, the worst team in the worst division in the league, but they still have some defensive weapons, the weather forecast calls for 100% chance of rain, and the Titans are trying to break a 10-game home losing streak, dating back almost a full calendar year.

The Raiders still need to get a better balance to the offense, not necessarily a perfect 50-50 pass-run ratio, but the roughly 2.5:1 ration they’ve had the last couple games is killing their time of possession. Amari Cooper has had some drops, but also has already proven himself to be a very capable receiver with a great work ethic, and Derek Carr has confidence in him, so he’s due for a nice bounce-back game. Maybe not this game, if it rains too much, but you never know.

Game Grades: Raiders at Lions

Pass Offense: Derek Carr had a lousy day, going 13 for 25 for 169 yards, with no TD or INT. Only Michael Crabtree had more than two receptions, with 6 for 50 yards. Amari Cooper continues to drop passes, and is now second in the league in drops, behind Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans. Cooper ended up with one reception for four yards. The only positive note in all this is that only one sack was allowed, but even that was at a critical moment.
Grade: D

Rush Offense: Latavius Murray had just 28 yards on 13 carries. Jamize Olawale went 4-12, while Taiwan Jones and Marcel Reece each gained two yards, on one and two carries respectively. That adds up to 20 carries for 44 yards. There is not a team in this league that is going to win with that kind of rushing total.
Grade: D-

Pass Defense: The pass defense managed somehow not to give up any passing touchdowns, and sacked Matthew Stafford four times. However, Stafford still went 22-35 for 282 yards, and his main receivers (Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate, and Theo Riddick) each neared 100 yards (88, 73, and 72 yards respectively), suggesting some difficulty in knowing who to cover. Tight end Eric Ebron dropped a very catchable touchdown pass, which was a lucky break. This unit is already missing the disruptive presence of Aldon Smith.
Grade: C-

Rush Defense: Not great, but easily the best outing in a few weeks, holding running backs Ameer Abdullah and Joique Bell to 12-44 and 6-22 respectively. It turned out to be Matthew Stafford who beat them with his legs, and at the worst times, following up an 18-yard scramble with a 5-yard TD run. Again, Smith’s contributions to this phase of the team cannot be overstated, and the defense will have its hands full with Marcus Mariota next week.
Grade: C-

Special Teams: Janikowski made both his field goal attempts, including one for 56 yards, and his sole extra point. Marquette King broke off a nice 66-yard punt at a critical point in the game. The return game continues to be practically nonexistent. At least they shut down the Lions’ return game as well.
Grade: C+

Coaching: Not only is this the third straight loss for the team, after two impressive wins against solid teams, but the Lions are arguably the worst team the Raiders have faced so far this season. True, Detroit comes off an impressive win in Green Bay, and really is not quite as bad as their record suggests, but still. They are not a good team, they will be lucky to finish 6-10.

The Raiders looked sluggish on offense and lackluster on defense. They don’t make useful halftime adjustments, not to mention in-game adjustments. They refuse to take a balanced pass-run ratio; the only reason this game was 25-20 in pass-run is because they only had the ball for just under 24 minutes. The remaining six games on the schedule (@ TEN; vs. KC; @ DEN; vs. GB; vs. SD; @ KC) would be entirely winnable for a good team; only the Packers and Broncos are above .500, and both are going to end up limping into the playoffs. Again, the concern is not so much about making the playoffs this season, as much as showing progress and being competitive, producing a solid core to make a real playoff run next year.

Here’s how you’ll know when the Raiders have really turned the proverbial corner — when they stop playing down to the level of the opponent, and just come in and beat the crap out of bad teams. That’s what they did with the Chargers and Jets, and should have done with Detroit. This is definitely one of those games that the team and coaches will look back on at the end of the season and know they should have won. In a conference where only four teams are above .500, and five teams are at 5-5 right now, the opportunity is there right now for the Raiders to jump the curve and grab a wild-card spot this season, instead of next season. It just depends on them getting their act together and playing like they did against the Jets, and in San Diego. They’ve shown they can do it, they just need consistency.
Grade: D

Week 11 Final: Lions 18, Raiders 13

Full game stats here.

I don’t know if it’s something about big-cat teams or what, but the Raiders turned in their worst all-around effort since the season opener against the Bengals. Really, it’s a wonder the Lions didn’t beat them more badly, and if they hadn’t been a 2-7 team still learning their new offense under a guy named (seriously) Jim Bob Cooter, it probably would have been more of a beatdown. The offense seems listless and inept, while the defense did a decent job in the first three quarters, only to have the inevitable late-game letdown, allowing Matthew Stafford (who is not exactly Steve Young when it comes to scrambling) to lumber five yards for a game-winning touchdown.

Every loss seems to hinge on the failure of one or both units, and this time it was the offense’s turn. They did not have an answer for Ezekiel Ansah or Stephen Tulloch. They could not get anything going, either running or passing. Maybe the Lions, fresh off winning at Lambeau Field for the first time in nearly a quarter of a century, just wanted it more.

Whatever the case, this was a lackluster effort that did the team no good. Right now, it’s less about playoffs and more about progress, and after losing three straight against increasingly flawed teams, we’re not seeing the progress anymore. Admittedly, the Jets and Chargers are both half-assed teams, but the Raiders dominated those games, just beat those teams into submission (for the first three quarters anyway). But neither the Vikings nor the Steelers are significantly better than the Jets, and the Lions are nearly as bad as the Chargers. It’s one thing to lose in a solid effort, quite another to derp it up against a 2-7 team that will be lucky to win six games by the end of it all.

Amari Cooper had an especially bad day, and he seems like he has the work ethic to pick it up and pull it together. The real problem is that the coaches and team failed to have a contingency plan. Then again, since the offense only had the ball for 23:58, they really didn’t have enough time to come up with one.

Game Preview: Raiders at Lions

It’s hard to believe that the Raiders and Lions have played just twelve times, beginning with the Thanksgiving Day game in 1970, but it’s true. The most recent face-off was the pre-Christmas debacle in 2011, in which the Lions embarked on a 99-yard comeback drive at the end of the game, during which then-DC Chuck Bresnahan made two fatal decisions:

    Using a prevent defense, which as we all know just prevents you from winning;
    Putting Rolando McClain on Calvin Johnson, then in his prime.

Now, Johnson seems to be a shadow of his earlier All-Pro self, and the team is floundering in general at 2-7. This is typically the type of game the Raiders tend to overlook, and they still need to work on getting rid of the road jinx, but as long as they pull the usual basics together, they should be able to win this one.

Game Grades: Raiders vs. Vikings

Pass Offense: Derek Carr went 29-43 for 302 yards, with 2 TD and 2 INT. The numbers are respectable enough, and the touchdown receptions by Andre Holmes and Clive Walford were both pretty impressive. But that last interception, on what could have been a comeback drive late in the game, was a killer. Amari Cooper seems to be struggling a bit, after several strong showings. Mike Rivera continues to work his way back into Carr’s roster of targets, notching 6 receptions for 46 yards.
Grade: B-

Rush Offense: Latavius Murray averaged a solid 4.0 yards per carry, with 12 carries for 48 yards. Jamize Olawale had 5 carries for 24 yards. Both decent averages, but that was the entirety of the running game. The Raiders ended up with a time of possession of just 26:59, and about a 2.5:1 pass-run play ratio. As long as the team is continuing to gel, and especially the defense tries to get consistent on their many issues, it is critical that the Raiders strive for a 50-50 pass-run attack, which means somewhere around 30 carries per game. Whether this comes mostly from Murray, or a combination of Murray, Roy Helu, and Marcel Reece, is up to the coaches, but it’s an effort that will pay dividends in building a balanced offensive attack that not only scores points and wears down opposing defenses, but keeps the Raiders’ own defense fresh and consistent.
Grade: D+

Pass Defense: The pass rush was actually pretty solid, holding Teddy Bridgewater to just 140 yards and 1 TD (14 completions in 22 attempts). Aldon Smith and Khalil Mack continue to be a force, each getting a sack. Mario Edwards also had a sack, and is making strides in filling in for Justin Tuck, who is on injured reserve. David Amerson needs to be used more often.
Grade: B

Rush Defense: Another failure to contain an elite running back, as Adrian Peterson romped for 203 yards on 26 carries, including that backbreaking 80-yard run at the end. Considering this is essentially the same unit that completely shut down the Jets’ potent rushing attack just a few weeks ago, it’s baffling to see such a huge reversal, but there it is.
Grade: D-

Special Teams: Aside from giving up that 93-yard kickoff return to Patterson at the end of the first half, special teams continue to be decidedly mediocre. Sebastian Janikowski made both his extra point attempts, and had no field goal tries. Marquette King had something of an off day, averaging 40.3 yards on his 6 punts, with a long of 50 yards. Taiwan Jones averaged 24 yards on his 6 kickoff returns. Oakland had the right idea in attempting to address the return issues in this year’s draft; unfortunately they went for a player (Andre Dubose) who refused to participate in the combine because of concerns about his ACL. Guess what happened to Dubse in training camp?
Grade: D+

Coaching: This was an opportunity to bounce back from a wrenching road loss, and the coaches seemed ill-prepared in setting the team up for success. It’s baffling to see that Jack Del Rio and Bill Musgrave don’t seem to recognize that the best way to compensate for the deficiencies in defensive talent is to maintain a balanced offense. If anything, the Raiders could take a tip from how the Vikings played it, and lean on the running game a little extra. Instead, Derek Carr had 43 pass attempts, while Murray and Olawale combined for just 17 carries. Murray needs at least 15-20 carries, with the rest of the rotation pulling in another 10-15 carries. Especially with Michael Crabtree getting banged up and Amari Cooper getting a case of the drops, the wise thing to do is have about 25-30 carries per game, minimum.

Rod Streater appears to have played his way off the team, the same way Denarius Moore did last year. Whatever the reasons, the bottom line is that with all the holes in the defensive secondary, if Streater is done, then cut him already just to free up the roster space for a defensive back to work into the rotation. These are the little things that separate playoff teams from also-rans.
Grade: C-

Week 10 Final: Vikings 30, Raiders 14

Well. That was something, not sure what. From the Vikings’ first touchdown being scored by the son of former Raider Riki Ellison, you just knew this was going to be an odd game. And Oakland kept it close in the first half, but that 93-yard kickoff return touchdown by Cordarelle Patterson near the end of the half seemed to just take the wind out of the Raiders’ sails. The offense was strangely dormant until it was too late, and Derek Carr found out the hard way about trying to force one in (poor choice of phrase, I know). Topped off with an 80-yard touchdown run from Adrian Peterson, to give him a total of over 200 yards on the day, and once again, the Raiders seemed to not quite know what had hit them.

The next two games are on the road, but against two of the worst teams in the league, Detroit and Tennessee. Rather than worrying about getting that wild-card berth, the Raiders just need to concentrate on putting together complete games in all phases. It’s hard to say which is worse — last week’s game in Pittsburgh, where a solid offensive outing was undone by the defense’s complete inability to account for the Steelers’ two best offensive players, or today’s matchup where the defense still couldn’t get it done, but the offense didn’t really show up either.

Game Preview: Raiders vs. Vikings

The Vikings are good again, with Adrian Peterson back in the lineup and Teddy Bridgewater, picked just four slots ahead of Derek Carr in last year’s draft, developing into a solid quarterback. Minnesota also has a solid defense, ranking in the top ten in points, pass yards, and total yards allowed.

After last week’s close but nasty loss in Pittsburgh, the Raiders needs are clear — defense, defense, defense. Stop someone, anyone, everyone. Get a good pass rush on Bridgewater, contain AP, keep a balanced offensive attack, and there’s no reason Oakland can’t beat a likely wild card team. This could be a nice game for the Raiders to bounce back in front of a home crowd.

Game Grades: Raiders at Steelers

Pass Offense: Derek Carr was superb, going 24-44 for 301 yards, with 4 TDs and one interception. That interception and a several drops were the only flaws in an otherwise excellent outing for the Raiders offense. Michael Crabtree led the receiving corps once again, with 7 receptions for 108 yards and 2 TDs, both of which were fantastic throws and catches. Amari Cooper had a strong day as well, with 7 receptions for 88 yards and one touchdown. Tight ends continue to be an afterthought, with four total receptions for the three TEs, though Clive Walford did have a 1-yard TD reception.
Grade: B+

Rush Offense: Latavius Murray broke off a nice 44-yard run early in the game, and ended up with 17 carries for 96 yards before leaving the game in the third quarter. Jamize Olawale had a sweet 19-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to get the Raiders back in the game. Murray’s fumble deep in Raider territory early in the third quarter was fortunate in getting overturned, even though the subsequent punt got blocked anyway, and his later fumble, on the tackle that knocked him out of the game was recovered by the Steelers. Taiwan Jones also fumbled one of his two carries, and was lucky not to have it recovered by Pittsburgh (though his other fumble on a kickoff return did get recovered by them). A solid outing marred by poor ball security from multiple players.
Grade: C+

Pass Defense: Antonio Brown had a career day against the defense, piling up 180 yards on 10 catches just in the first half, and finishing with a team record 17 receptions for 284 yards. Brown is certainly one of the elite receivers in the league, but the Raiders acted as if they’d never heard of him, and insisted on playing single man coverage on him most of the time, even as he kept burning them. It didn’t matter whether D.J. Hayden or David Amerson lined up on Brown, and a clearly banged-up Charles Woodson was able to provide only so much support up top. Martavis Bryant also had a highlight-reel catch and run for a touchdown late in the game, making Hayden and Woodson both whiff on tackles. They failed to make even modest adjustments at halftime to contain Brown, and completely failed to hold the line on the Steelers’ final game-winning drive. Aldon Smith had the team’s lone sack, knocking Ben Roethlisberger out of the game. Amerson had the team’s sole interception.
Grade: D

Rush Defense: The defense also had no answer for DeAngelo Williams, who had 45 yards and 2 TDs on 14 carries in the first half, and finished the day with 27 carries for 170 yards, including a 53-yard scamper from the Steeler 7-yard line to spark a touchdown drive. Antonio Brown gained 22 yards on a pair of end-around runs, meaning that not only did Brown account for over half of the Steelers’ 597 offensive yards, but that he single-handedly burned the Raiders’ defense for a total of 306 yards on 19 touches.
Grade: D

Special Teams: This is a tale of two squads: on Pittsburgh’s returns, the gunners did a great job containing the dangerous Jacoby Jones on kickoff and punt returns, holding him to a 20-yard average on kickoff returns, and a measly 1-yard average on his two punt returns. Antonio Brown’s fumble on his single punt return was a terrific play on the part of Taiwan Jones, even if the offense failed to capitalize on it, and it didn’t quite make up for Jones’ own fumble on a 4th-quarter kickoff return, which led quickly to a Steeler touchdown. On the other side of it, though, the Raiders’ own return game was mediocre at best; in addition to Jones’ fumble, Marcus Thigpen also lost a fumble, and Oakland averages on kickoff and punt returns was just as bad as Pittsburgh’s. One of Marquette King’s punts got blocked and went only 24 yards (and that thanks only to a lucky roll). The return game continues to be the area that should be easiest for the Raiders to fix, for the most immediate impact. Until they are able to do so, every return is going to be one of those white-knuckle affairs where you wait for something to go wrong or just not add any value to field position.
Grade: C

Coaching: Except for the failure to adjust coverage on Brown, it’s hard to hang this one on the coaches, who continue to draft strong, aggressive game plans that punch early and often, and utilize the players’ strengths well. Failure to execute and hang on to the ball could be attributed to focus and preparation, but the fact is that the Steelers are a solid team with an opportunistic defense that hits hard and creates turnovers. The lapses in the secondary are more a problem of shortage of talent and rotating injured players in and out almost constantly, than an issue of scheme, though again the baffling insistence on single-covering Brown stands out.

The main thing is that the coaches are also responsible for the team competing hard throughout, staying resilient and bouncing back from large point deficits. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave is clearly having fun with Carr, Cooper, and Crabtree, recognizes the massive potential of those players and uses them with creativity and confidence. Only three remaining teams on the Raiders’ schedule (Vikings, Broncos, and Packers) have records above .500, and Green Bay and Minnesota both appear to have serious vulnerabilities that Oakland can take advantage of. The coaches have done a good job in keeping the team ready and rolling and competitive, and there’s good reason for optimism that they will bounce back well from this and head for a wild-card slot at this rate.
Grade: B