Game Grades: Raiders vs. Chargers

Pass Offense: Derek Carr had 23 completions in 38 attempts, for 204 yards, one touchdown, and one interception that led to the Chargers’ first touchdown. To be fair, the right side of the offensive line has been in flux for the better part of the last month, with Jamarcus Webb and rookie Jon Feliciano filling in the RT and RG slots since Austin Howard and Khalif Barnes went down. This has led to 13 sacks over the last four games (counting this one), while Carr had been sacked just 12 times total in the first 11 games. Amari Cooper’s lingering foot injury doesn’t help matters, though Michael Crabtree’s 3-yard TD catch was outstanding, and Seth Roberts stepped in nicely at critical moments once again.
Grade: C-

Rush Offense: Good, but not great. Latavius Murray gained 79 yards on 19 carries, including a sweet 22-yard TD run. Derek Carr gained 30 yards on four scrambles, and Charles Woodson lost three yards on his late-game end-around, which was still very cool. This is yet another area the Raiders need to address in the off-season, finding a solid complementary back for Murray.
Grade: C

Pass Defense: They were good when it counted the most. Philip Rivers went 31-49-277, with one touchdown pass and no interceptions. The Raiders’ only sack on Rivers was a pivotal one, with Denico Autry taking Rivers down in the end zone in the quarter for a safety, and effectively turning the momentum of the game.
Grade: B

Rush Defense: San Diego totaled 72 yards on 25 carries, averaging just under 3.0 yards per carry. Better yet, when you break down the numbers, they become even more respectable: Donald Brown had 14 carries for just 17 yards, with a long of 5, and while Danny Woodhead broke off a 27-yard carry, he ended up with 11 carries for 55 yards, meaning that the rest of his carries averaged just 2.8 yards. Since getting tuned up by Adrian Peterson back in Week 10, the run defense unit has stepped up their game.
Grade: B+

Special Teams: Marquette King is emerging as the star of this unit. King averaged 49.8 yards on his eight punts, placing six of them inside the Chargers’ 20-yard line. Over the last several games, this has made a huge difference in letting the defense key off on opposing quarterbacks frantically trying to get out of their own end zones. Two safeties in three games is no coincidence; it’s completely due to King nailing the ball deep without getting a touchback. Sebastian Janikowski made his extra point attempt, and both field goals (including a 50-yarder). Taiwan Jones had several nice kickoff returns.
Grade: A-

Coaching: Whether at home or on the road — but especially at home — the Raiders have started out flat in the second half of the season. Whether this comes down to game planning or motivation or both is up for speculation, but we’ve all seen the results. No doubt much of the reason can be attributed to a young team with a lot of key injuries. But if you’re going to give Jack Del Rio and the coordinators a hard time for those issues, you also have to give them all credit for finding ways to keep them resilient and playing hard for the full 60 minutes. Derek Carr has been in a bit of a slump lately, making it easy to forget he’s only in his second year, but he also bounces back quickly and well, and manages to climb out of the holes he’s dug lately. These are the kind of things that show how Del Rio and Bill Musgrave have become adept at managing the natural highs and lows of any game, and keeping Carr and the offense in the game as much as possible. A solid draft and maybe a few key free-agency signings should propel this team into the playoffs next season.
Grade: B

Week 16 Final: Raiders 23, Chargers 20

Full game stats here.

With both teams out of contention, there’s just as much chance for a game to turn into a free-for-all as a sleep-fest. And this one began as the latter, and ended as the former.

It started out poorly enough, with Derek Carr getting picked early in the game yet again. This time, unlike last week against Green Bay, he managed to stop digging that early hole, and the Raiders found their way back into it. The defense still has trouble stopping Danny Woodhead, but managed to hang in there long enough to gut it out. The late end-around attempt with Charles Woodson, even though it didn’t work, was a nice gesture and a fitting tribute to a great all-time Oakland Raider.

As this was definitely Woodson’s final home game, and possibly the team’s final home game in Oakland, it seems appropriate that this would turn out to be an exciting finish against an original AFL rival. Good game, and a good opportunity to assess the team’s needs as it heads into the off-season.

Game Preview: Raiders vs. Chargers

Lots of things in play for this Christmas Eve matchup — did the Chargers play their final home game in San Diego last Sunday? Will the Raiders be playing their final home game in Oakland on Thursday? Will this be the final division game between the two teams (since if the Raiders and Chargers both move to the same Los Angeles stadium, one of the teams would have to change divisions)?

The short week, the holiday, and the weather certainly won’t help either team. The four-touchdown performance by Danny Woodhead against the Dolphins on Sunday leaves him either exhausted or invigorated, and with the Raiders luck, probably the latter. But aside from their performance against Miami, the Chargers just seem worn out, beaten down, ready for the season to end. If the defense continues doing what they’ve been doing, and the offense can generate just a little bit of consistency and luck, this should be a smackdown similar to the one the Raiders inflicted on the Chargers a couple months ago.

Game Grades: Raiders vs. Packers

Pass Offense: Once again, when Derek Carr has an off day, at least he finds ways to make up for it as the game progresses. Carr dug the Raiders an early hole, with two interceptions in the first quarter that quickly gave Green Bay a 14-0 lead. But he finished the day with 23 completions in 47 attempts for 276 yards, with two touchdown passes to Amari Cooper that were both brilliant examples of the touch Carr has, and the trust he and Cooper have already developed. Cooper became the first Raider receiver to reach 1,000 yards since Randy Moss (who?) in 2005, and the first Raider rookie ever to reach that mark.

It’s a strong indicator of the sheer talent Cooper possesses that you already feel like if he has a bad game (he had no catches last week) he’ll make up for it in the next outing, as he did today, finishing with 6 receptions for 120 yards. Michael Crabtree also had 6 receptions for 70 yards, one a fantastic catch on an underthrown third-down pass that Crabtree came back for to extend the drive. The final drive of the first half, to almost completely erase the 14-point deficit, was a thing of beauty, a flawlessly executed two-minute drill with some nice features that Bill Musgrave really should use more often.
Grade: B-

Rush Offense: Latavius Murray had 21 carries for 78 yards, with a long of 22. Overall, Murray performed well, and had several nice runs. Between that and the generally poor field and weather conditions, it’s a bit baffling why Musgrave didn’t push the run game a bit more, and maybe mix Taiwan Jones and Roy Helu (yes, and Marcel Reece and Jamize Olawale) into the offense. We’ll explore this more at the end of the season, but I feel strongly that one of the bigger missing pieces to the offense is the failure to keep a more even pass-run ratio — for today’s game it was greater than 2:1.
Grade: C+

Pass Defense: Aaron Rodgers finished the day with 204 yards on 22 completions, out of 39 attempts, with one touchdown and one interception. Rodgers was completely stifled in the first half, but began to find his footing in the second half, as the Raiders offense sputtered and gave him more chances. TJ Carrie had an especially bad day, missing tackles and coverages and drawing unnecessary penalties. But the most glaring error was on James Jones’ 30-yard touchdown reception, where the coverage was so blown that all the Packers receivers were wide open. Khalil Mack notched another sack to add to his league-leading total, though he didn’t register after Mario Edwards left the game with an injury. Ben Heeney also had a sack and made some solid plays. The kid is a keeper.
Grade: B

Rush Defense: The Packers gained a grand total of 104 rushing yards on 27 attempts, though that average was skewed by James Starks’ 25-yard gallop late in the game. Eddie Lacy finished 11-23 with no touchdowns, which is pretty good since Lacy had put up big yards for the Packers in their last few games. The only real drop was early in the game, after Carr’s first interception, when Jon Kuhn ran through effortlessly for the Packers’ first touchdown.
Grade: B+

Special Teams: Sebastian Janikowski made both of his field goal attempts (which were short) and both of his extra points. Marquette King continues to have some really nice moments with his punts, pinning Green Bay against the Black Hole a couple times.

The return game is still one of those deals where you wish the returner would just take a knee in the end zone, instead of bringing it out to the 17-yard line, or bringing it out 30-35 yards and losing 10 on an illegal block to the back. Virtually every decent return the Raiders have had this season — and there have been only a few to begin with — has been shortened because of some stupid penalty. Remember that one year when Jacoby Ford had some really good returns, and was actually something of a threat, and gave the offense good field position? That was a good year.
Grade: B

Coaching: As much as I complain about things that the offense and defense are doing or not doing week-to-week, I do hope that the coaching staff remains intact in the off-season. Good teams have continuity, and the Raiders need that as much as they need more talent in the right spots. Ken Norton, Jr.’s defense is doing more with less, week after injury-riddled week. Bill Musgrave really needs to better utilize all the offensive tools he has at his disposal, but again, that catch-up drive after recovering James Starks’ fumble was one of their best all year, flawless in pacing and execution.

Consistency is the big key here, and that’s tough to do with a young team that has a bunch of key injuries. Jack Del Rio and his entire coaching staff have done a great job in keeping the team competitive in every game, even against playoff contenders like Green Bay. The next step is in solidifying the core of the team, giving Latavius Murray a complementary running back to take some of the load, utilizing the tight ends more, and rebuilding the defensive backfield through free agency and the draft.
Grade: B

Week 15 Final: Packers 30, Raiders 20

Full game stats here.

Two consecutive passes, two interceptions leading to 14 points for the opposition. Today we learned that the Raiders can fight their way back from self-inflicted damage pretty darned well, and that the banged-up defense still puts up a pretty good fight against an elite QB. Missing the playoffs was not really an issue; with the Jets and Steelers both winning, it would have taken some minor miracles the next couple weeks for the Raiders to have been in the hunt even if they had won today.

The last two games will be about identifying which pieces to take forward into next season, where playoff expectations will be very real, and seeing where there will be holes to be filled by free agency and draft in the off-season. The defensive backfield is a mess of injuries and botched assignments — the blown coverage on James Jones was bad enough, but the replay showed that all the deep receivers were pretty wide open, Rodgers just happened to pick Jones. But for the most part the D continued to play well. Again, it was the offense that seemed strangely inert, and at the worst possible times.

Just a heads-up, we’ll do another live-blog for the final game of the season in Kansas City on 1/3/2016. Drop in for a cold brew and chime in!

Game Preview: Raiders vs. Packers

I’ve been waiting for this one all year, and not just because my wife is a lifelong Packers fan who literally helped pull Aaron Rodgers’ wisdom teeth. Interconference matchups don’t typically mean much, but hopefully the Raiders take seriously the head-to-head history against the Packers. Oakland is 5-6 in regular season against Green Bay, winning the first five matchups and losing the last six. In other words, the Raiders haven’t beaten the Packers since 1987. Only one of those losses has been by fewer than 13 points, and four of them were by at least four touchdowns.

The last time the teams played each other, just over four years ago, could be summed up in a single play: leading 31-0 with 4:22 in the 2nd quarter, the Raiders forced a fumble on Rodgers and returned it to the Packers’ 10-yard line. Rodgers whined to the refs about the tuck rule (remember that turd of a rule?), and not only got the fumble overturned to an incomplete pass, but got a clipping penalty on Lamarr Houston. So there’s a well-deserved ass-kicking due here, and hopefully the team looks at this as an opportunity to take a playoff contender down a couple notches.

Oakland’s o-line is banged-up, with right tackle Austin Howard out for the rest of the season, and center Rodney Hudson questionable. But the Packers’ entire line is wounded, leaving them ripe for Khalil Mack to repeat his all-world performance from last week. Rodgers’ Lambeau crybaby routine won’t work in Oakland, and if Mack can get into the backfield enough, look for David Amerson and C-Wood to make some serious plays in the defensive secondary. Amari Cooper had a nice bounce-back week in Tennessee, after his lousy performance in Detroit, so maybe he can replicate that tomorrow against an 11th-ranked (but again, banged-up) pass defense.

Game Grades: Raiders at Broncos

Pass Offense: Derek Carr had 12 completions in 25 attempts for just 139 yards. But he also had two touchdown passes, to Seth Roberts and Mike Rivera, and both plays were excellent. The fake screen that culminated into the TD pass to Rivera in particular showed how inventive the offense can be with all the tools at their disposal. Despite being targeted six times, Amari Cooper had no catches, but was double-covered most of the time.
Grade: C+

Rush Offense: Almost completely nonexistent, only 31 yards of rushing offense were generated on just 19 carries. Part of this happens to be due to the Raiders ending up with just 24:02(!) time of possession, part of it is that Denver’s defense is just that good. But the fact is that Latavius Murray came into this game as the leading rusher in the AFC, and you wouldn’t have known it today.
Grade: D+

Pass Defense: If you look at the numbers, you might not get the full picture: Brock Osweiler finished 35-51-308 with no interceptions. But he also had no touchdowns. Khalil Mack had all the sacks for the Raiders, five in all, reminding viewers of Derrick Thomas and Lawrence Taylor at times, bursting through Denver’s offensive line like a force of nature. Only Demaryious Thomas and Vernon Davis had over 50 yards receiving for the Broncos. Considering Denver had over 36 minutes of possession time, the Raiders’ defense did a very respectable job.
Grade: A-

Rush Defense: The rushing defense had a field day, allowing just 34 yards on 21 carries. Dan Williams in particular did an excellent job of stuffing ball carriers Ronnie Hillman and Juwan Thompson. This was the kind of defense where you wonder where they are on the “off” weeks.
Grade: A-

Special Teams: Marquette King, never much of a “coffin corner” kicker, landed five of his ten punts inside Denver’s 20, making all the difference in the game. One of those punts led to the Broncos starting within their 5, leading to the safety, while another led to Emmanuel Sanders’ fumble and Jon Condo’s recovery at the 10-yard line. Maybe King has caught on to Shane Lechler’s method of kicking high-flying, hard-to-catch knuckleballs. Whatever the case, those two plays are why the Raiders won this game, pure and simple. Jeremy Ross had one nice punt return for 22 yards, otherwise the return game in general is still a groaner.
Grade: A-

Coaching: Count this one as a coup by the coaching staff. Ken Norton, Jr.’s defense continues to gather momentum and consistency, while Bill Musgrave, whose offense was inert in the first half, deserves credit for changing up his approach in the second half, and capitalizing nicely on the opportunities created by special teams. The fake screen leading to the go-ahead touchdown pass to Mike Rivera was fantastic, and showed the potential that this offense has, even when Amari Cooper is having an off day. Head coach Jack Del Rio continues to keep the team prepared, focused, and resilient, even after a phenomenally bad offensive first half. A very respectable outing against the likely #2 playoff seed.
Grade: B+

Week 14 Final: Raiders 15, Broncos 12

Full game stats here.

Another wild and woolly division rumble, another tale of two halves. On the one hand, the Raiders ended up with -12 offensive yards for the first half; on the other hand, they rebounded well in the second half, thanks to some much-needed help from special teams and Khalil Mack.

Mack has already established himself as a force to be reckoned with, and paired up perfectly with Aldon Smith earlier in the season. But Mack proved he can do it by himself just fine, sacking Brock Osweiler five times, plowing through Denver’s offensive line with ease.

This matchup turned out to be another one of those where one side of the team — in this case, the defense — performed well, while the offense mucked it up most of the day. In this case, that’s understandable, as Denver’s top-rated defense is turning out to be one of the all-time great lineups. And Amari Cooper’s mini-slump continues, in the midst of a season where he is still a legitimate contender for Offensive Rookie of the Year. But the bottom line is that this team is finally on the right track, that they’re not letting a lousy first half undermine them in the second half, that they can compete with any other team and play a full 60.

Each of the final three games (Green Bay, San Diego, and Kansas City) presents opportunities for the Raiders to show up in all facets, and prove that they can be an elite team in the coming seasons. They still need another solid free agency period and draft in the coming off-season, but Oakland continues to show that they’re moving in the right direction.

Game Preview: Raiders at Broncos

With Peyton Manning on his last legs (so to speak), Denver has turned to Brock Osweiler and a top-rated defense to maintain their playoff chances. Osweiler is huge (6’8″, 250#) and has a strong arm, and has been carrying a clipboard behind Peyton Manning for a couple years now. With receivers like Demaryious Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, and a solid running game in CJ Anderson and Ronnie Hillman, you’d think Denver would pose a more serious offensive threat. Yet they seem content so far to let Osweiler be a standard-issue “game manager” type of QB, while their buzzsaw defense keeps opposing offenses in check.

The Raiders are all but mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, but still have some opportunities to show that the rebuild under Jack Del Rio has made them competitive again. While their performance in the last month’s worth of games has been underwhelming, it’s been more a case of a failure in one phase or another, good offense and bad defense or vice versa, rather than being completely overmatched. If the Raiders can hold Von Miller and give Derek Carr enough time to find Cooper and Crabtree, they might be able to regain their mojo.

Game Grades: Raiders vs. Chiefs

Pass Offense: You almost have to grade on a curve here, as the first three quarters were solid if not great, capped by a dismal fourth quarter. Derek Carr finished the day 31-48-283, with 2 TDs and 3 INT. Amari Cooper led the receiving corps with 4 catches for 69 yards and no touchdowns, though Michael Crabtree had a 25-yard TD catch. The scoring drive to open the game was well-constructed and executed, but the offense kept stalling after that.

Carr spread the ball around (11 receivers total) and made some nice throws in the first three quarters, but suddenly got a case of happy feet as Chefs DC Bob Sutton changed up pressure packages on him, resulting in three ugly interceptions, including a pick-six by former Raider Tyvon Branch. The icing on the cake was on the Raiders’ final offensive drive, forced to pass, as linebacker Frank Zombo stormed through for two consecutive sacks. In the first 11 games, the offensive line gave up just 14 sacks; today they surrendered four to Kansas City, even without Justin Houston.
Grade: C-

Rush Offense: Latavius Murray gained 86 yards on 20 carries, with a long of 35 yards, and scored a touchdown, though his two fumbles didn’t help the cause. With Taiwan Jones injured, there doesn’t seem to be much halfback depth beyond Murray, as Roy Helu had no carries (but did have a nice 15-yard catch-and-run late in the game). Fullbacks Jamize Olawale and Marcel Reece continue to produce on the rare plays they get used, which just makes you wonder why they don’t get used more. The Raiders really do have an abundance of offensive weapons, so it’s hard to use all of them every game, but using the fullbacks and tight ends more would force defenses to single-cover either Cooper or Crabtree more often than not.
Grade: C

Pass Defense: The defense put pressure on Alex Smith (16-22-162-2-0) all day. Smith still has not thrown an interception since Week 3 in Green Bay, but the Raiders sacked him four times, including two from Khalil Mack. Charles Woodson forced and recovered a fumble from Travis Kelce with a textbook rip at a critical point in the game, and Woodson recovered another fumble by Jeremy Maclin, forced by Malcolm Smith. Maclin made up for his lost fumble later in the game however, notching 95 yards and 2 TDs in 9 receptions. This was due as much to field position from Derek Carr’s interceptions as a failure on the part of the defense.
Grade: B

Rush Defense: Run defense was respectable with Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware combining for 61 yards on 16 carries. Alex Smith broke off a 19-yard run on a crucial go-ahead drive, but totaled 23 yards on 5 runs.
Grade: B

Special Teams: Maybe it’s the prolonged absence of Taiwan Jones, but whatever the case, coverage for this unit remains mediocre at best. Jeremy Ross at least gives some consistency to the return game, but the rest of the unit doesn’t open holes for him, so his averages are average at best. Chiefs returner Frankie Hammond had a 29-yard punt return late in the game to give his team better field position. Sebastian Janikowski had an off day, to put it kindly, missing one of his three extra points, as well as clanking his lone (40-yard) field goal attempt off the post. Twelve games in, and aside from some decent punting by Marquette King, and not giving too many long returns, the special teams unit just does not add any value to the offense’s starting field position. Which is, you know, a fairly significant part of their job.
Grade: D

Coaching: Yet another one that’s tough to hang entirely on the coaches. The defensive plan actually worked pretty well for the most part, as Ken Norton, Jr.’s defense played fast and aggressive, pressuring Alex Smith and forcing turnovers. Bill Musgrave’s offense, however, seemed one step behind Chiefs DC Bob Sutton’s aggressive defense, especially in the final quarter, as Sutton clearly noticed something either with Carr or his protection, and was able to exploit it.

The bigger picture, though, is that the team as a whole believes in the philosophy and system that Jack Del Rio is implementing, and continue to play hard, if not always well. As their playoff hopes fade, the goal for the final four games is to shore up inconsistencies, and play hard enough to be in all of them right up to the end. After the horrific last few seasons they’ve had, to end the season at 7-9 or 8-8 would show real progress, especially with budding superstars like Carr, Cooper, and Mack improving throughout the season.
Grade: B