Game Grades: Raiders at Titans

Full game stats here

Pass Offense: Derek Carr had a solid day, going 21-35 for 249 yards, with one touchdown and his first interception of the season (a deflection off Michael Crabtree). Carr continues to spread the ball around, hitting nine receivers in all this time, but mostly Crabtree, Cooper, Clive Walford and Seth Roberts. Roberts made up for an early drop with the game’s only TD reception. All of the main receivers had at least one drop, which hints at the larger potential this offense has once it clicks a little better a few games down the road. Still, while the execution needs to tighten a little, they got the job done.
Grade: B

Rush Offense: The running-back-by-committee approach is working well to keep the backs fresh and defenses guessing a bit. Latavius Murray (10-31-1) peeled off another great touchdown run, with a nice 22-yard downhill run through the heart of the Titans’ front seven. DeAndre Washington (6-57) is turning into a solid complementary runner, as is Jalen Richard (6-28). Ideally there would be a little more of a run-pass balance, especially with about a 5.0 YPC average, but again, they got it done. The interior o-line of Kelechi Osemele, Rodney Hudson, and Gabe Jackson is pretty much built for a power-running up-the-gut game, so there will probably be much more of that in the weeks to come, as the line continues to gel.
Grade: B

Pass Defense: This unit performed much better than in the first two games, holding Marcus Mariota to just 214 passing yards, barely 50% completions, no passing touchdowns, two interceptions, and a lost fumble. Sean Smith’s interception at the beginning of the 4th quarter was outstanding; he basically pulled the ball out of Rishard Matthews’ hands as Matthews was trying to secure the reception. Reggie Nelson also had an interception at the end of the first half that should have given the Raiders a shot at a field goal, but apparently the timekeeper forgot to start the clock at the beginning of that play, so the refs ruled that time had expired for the half by the time Nelson’s interception return was stopped. Sounds like they run a tight ship there in Nashville. Either way, Tennessee’s first drive and last few drives were too easy and nerve-wracking, but overall, they did a solid job of containing the Titans’ passing game and limiting Mariota’s choices.
Grade: B-

Rush Defense: Unfortunately, perhaps because the defensive team focused on improving against the pass, they performed worse against the run, surrendering 181 yards for an average of over 6.2 YPC. DeMarco Murray gashed the defense particularly well, rolling up 114 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. Khalil Mack had a tackle and an assist, bringing his total after three games to 7 tackles and 6 assists, although Mack is getting double-teamed pretty regularly.
Grade: C-

Special Teams: Sebastian Janikowski became the all-time leader for field goals over 50 yards, nailing his sole attempt from 52 yards, as well as both of his extra points. Marquette King had several booming punts, and continues to prove that a good punter adds a lot of value to the field position battle. Jalen Richard had a 14-yard punt return, and he and Taiwan Jones always seem to be on the verge of breaking off a big one, but it never quite happens (at least not without an accompanying penalty flag). But they’re not giving up any big returns either.
Grade: B-

Coaching: The defense needed to step up, and they did so, just enough to hold on to a win. It wasn’t pretty, but it was effective. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave continues to craft smart, aggressive game plans that take advantage of opportunities. Execution could have been a little better in this game, but the unit continues to improve and be effective.

Defensive coordinator Ken Norton, Jr. has more work to do with his team, but he has taken responsibility for their poor performance in the first two games, and gotten players to be more responsive, and make fewer mental errors in coverage.

Head coach Jack Del Rio had another opportunity to play riverboat gambler, as Latavius Murray got stuffed at the Titans’ 43-yard line for a 4th-and-1 heading into the two-minute warning. Del Rio wisely chose to punt, but King booted into the end zone instead of pinning Tennessee back with a coffin-corner kick. And then, of course, the defense made Mariota look like Joe Montana in a two-minute drill. It was a close call, one that could have been averted with better execution on the part of Special teams and defense. But Del Rio continues to show trust in those units, and hopefully they gain confidence and execute better because of that trust.

They’ll have their work cut out for them next week, with another cross-country road trip to Baltimore. But the Ravens are not what they used to be, and sharp, focused ball from all three units will give the Raiders a nice 3-1 record to finish off a fairly brutal schedule for the first quarter of the season.
Grade: B

Week 3 Final: Raiders 17, Titans 10

When the Raiders visited Tennessee last year, they needed a lucky break in the final minutes of the game to secure a win. Today was the same, except even more down to the wire, with TJ Carrie perhaps getting away with pressure on the Titans’ final play, getting a hand on Harry Douglas in the end zone, and preventing him from catching a tying (or winning touchdown).

The defense definitely improved, forcing three turnovers and holding the Titans to just 10 points. They seemed to get gassed in the second half, however, allowing Tennessee back in the game and getting picked apart at will by Marcus Mariota in the final drive.

Whatever the case, they got the job done, and showed real improvement in a critical area. Coming out of next week’s showdown in Baltimore with a 3-1 record would go a long way to establishing themselves as legitimate playoff contenders.

Game Preview: Raiders @ Titans

It’s a tale of three teams — two of them being the Raiders — as Oakland heads into Nashville to take on the 1-1 Titans.

The Raiders are clicking on offense so far:  1st in total yards, 2nd in rushing yards, 3rd in points, and 6th in passing yards. But the defense is nothing short of a train wreck: dead last in total and passing yards, 31st in points allowed, and only 20th in run defense.

Titans head coach Mike Mularkey has taken some guff for his self-described “exotic smashmouth” offense, but the fact is that Mularkey has two very good running backs in DeMarco Murray and last year’s Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry.

Neither back has had a chance to put up significant numbers so far, but Murray has a 5.2 YPC average on his 25 carries so far, and Henry is a big, bruising runner who could do some damage if the Raiders’ front seven gets caught unaware.

Tight end Delanie Walker will probably be the biggest receiving threat, followed by 5th-round pick at WR Tajae Sharpe, who has 11 catches for 109 yards in his first two games.

The Titans are a middling team at best, with neither offense nor defense in the top 10 or even in the upper half of the league for the most part. But the Falcons and Saints are even worse, and the Raiders lost against one and barely beat the other. Until Oakland defensive coordinator Ken Norton, Jr. gets the defensive unit whipped into shape, this is going to be a problem.

Game Grades: Raiders vs. Falcons

Full game stats here

Pass Offense: Derek Carr continues to be a model of efficiency, with going 34-45-299, with 3 TDs and no interceptions. Carr hit eleven receivers, topped by Amari Cooper with 5 catches for 71 yards. Cooper’s fantastic 50-yard catch-and-run late in the game was called back due to him stepping out of bounds prior to the catch. Michael Crabtree is clutch, going 4-31 with a TD. Clive Walford had a nice 31-yard TD rumble. The passing game is taking a while to get going, but once it does, it is proving difficult for opponents to stop.
Grade: B+

Rush Offense: Latavius Murray (8-57-1) and DeAndre Washington (6-46) each had decent days on the ground, each averaging over 7 yards per rush. Murray’s TD run was excellent. Unfortunately, with only 14 carries and 103 yards between them, it just showed they probably should have been used more. Jalen Richard got stuffed, with just 17 yards on 7 carries. Offensive line coach Mike Tice has his hands full with the early run of injuries, and the sooner the line is healthy, the better the power-running game will be.
Grade: B

Pass Defense: Sean Smith got owned again, this time by Julio Jones, who played every other play, using the off plays to nurse his obvious injuries. Jones racked up 106 yards and  touchdown with just 5 receptions. It’s probably just a good thing he wasn’t 100%. Matt Ryan went 26-34-399-3-1, very close to the numbers Drew Brees rolled up on the defense last week. David Amerson had a nice interception in the end zone to kill a Falcons drive. Stacy McGee had a nice sack on the Falcons’ first possession. I don’t know if opposing offensive coordinators are figuring out DC Ken Norton, Jr’s strategy or what, but the tendency so far is to have a solid, playmaking defense on the opponent’s opening drive, and then get picked apart for the rest of the afternoon. The Raiders have spent too much money upgrading their defensive backfield to be getting this kind of performance.
Grade: D-

Rush Defense: Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman totaled 139 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries between them, averaging almost 5 yards/carry. Many of these runs came later in the game, as the Raiders’ defense was getting gassed after getting picked apart all day, and leaning pass at that point. Coleman’s 13-yard TD run was ugly, right through the heart of the front seven. Khalil Mack has been a non-factor in the two games so far.
Grade: C-

Special Teams: Something of an off-day for this unit. Marquette King averaged just 34.3 on his four punts (although his first one was a beautiful 64-yarder). King’s net average got nuked when Eric Weems busted off a 74-yard return, which King himself had to stop with a horse-collar tackle to prevent a TD return (the drive ended with a field goal, so it was well worth it). Janikowski made all four of his extra points, but shanked his 56-yard field goal attempt from the dirt. Taiwan Jones had an end-zone touchback bounce off his chest, forcing the offense to start from the 2-yard line. Returns continue to be nothing to write home about.
Grade: C

Coaching: Raider greats abounded at the home opener, from John Madden to Ted Hendricks to Ray Guy to Willie Brown. But the magic just wasn’t there in the end. As disappointing as this loss is, there’s nothing here that can’t be fixed, and there are plenty of bright spots.

The offensive game plan was solid and well-executed for the most part, and OC Bill Musgrave continues to craft an offensive system that utilizes the players’ strengths well. Playing catch-up has not been something this offense has been well-suited for, but today and last week they showed that they can if they have to. Obviously, the goal of DC Ken Norton, Jr. is to get his players tighter so they don’t have to. But the adjustments don’t seem to be happening, or at least are not effective. Key players are not executing very well.

Jack Del Rio made not one but two gutsy fourth-down calls, one which worked and one which didn’t. The first one, at the goal-line, was essential and paid off. The other one took place at midfield, with under seven minutes remaining, and strongly implied the same thing that last week’s two-point call did:  Del Rio does not believe is defense is clutch enough to win games, and he is correct in that belief. Neither the Falcons nor the Saints are going to the playoffs this season, and this defense has performed dismally against both teams. It is only because those teams’ pass defenses are as bad as the Raiders’ that the offense was able to catch up and make things close. Against Carolina or even Kansas City, this team is going to get eaten alive at this rate.

The next two games are on the road, in Tennessee and Baltimore. The defense has to pull it together and start holding back opposing offenses, or it is going to be a long season for everyone.
Grade: C

Week 2 Final: Falcons 35, Raiders 28

Say what you will, this year’s team does not lack in pure entertainment value so far. We got a little bit of everything today, but ultimately lost what should have been a very winnable game.

After Atlanta’s first two possessions, the Raiders’ defense simply couldn’t stop the Falcons, who passed and ran seemingly at will. Free-agent CB Sean Smith continues to be a liability in coverage. Even with a bum wheel, WR Julio Jones had Smith in his back pocket all afternoon, burning him time and again with quick and obvious inside breaks. Even the fluke defection caught by Atlanta WR Justin Hardy was within Smith’s power to prevent.

He’s not DeAngelo Hall cat-chasing-a-laser-pointer bad, but Smith was signed specifically to be the key player in the defensive backfield. He’s made a couple of decent tackles, but is getting burned quite a bit already.

Signs of life late in the game were extinguished when Amari Cooper had a fantastic 50-yard catch-and-run TD called back because he had stepped out of bounds prior to the reception. After the loss of down put the Raiders at 4th-and-2 at midfield, Jack Del Rio went for one more gutsy call, this time to no avail.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Del Rio’s guts in making these play calls. But it’s difficult already to shake the feeling that he’s making them at least in part because he feels like he can’t trust his defense to hold the opponent. And he really can’t so far.

The offense continues to click, and show the ability to play catch-up in the 4th quarter, something it was not very effective at previously. But the defense has got to step up and get it done, and stop leaving the offense in a late-game hole.

The expectations might have been a little high. It’s not that the Raiders can’t or won’t reach the playoffs this year — they can and should. But good teams, solid playoff teams, don’t keep letting mediocre teams build two-touchdown leads on them, and have to scramble back frantically in the fourth quarter.

They can’t all be nail-biters; good teams have their share of methodical, plodding games, almost boring in their relentless efficiency. That was definitely not the case today. This should have been like the Jets game last season, and instead it was a rerun of last week’s Saints game, without all the lucky breaks.

Game Preview: Raiders vs. Falcons

This early in the season it’s tough to do much in the way of previews, as there aren’t yet enough trends to spot anything really predictable.  The good news is that Oakland currently is #1 in offensive rushing; the bad news is that they’re dead last in passing and total yards defensively. Obviously, both rankings will probably change after the next game.

Coming off a wild finish in New Orleans last week, the Raiders should put up a solid home opener against an Atlanta team that got tuned up for 281 yards and 4 TDs by Jameis Winston and the Bucs.

The Falcons’ main weakness — pass defense — mirrors the Raiders’ own. New CB Sean Smith got torched repeatedly by Drew Brees, so Matt Ryan will be itching to test Smith out with Julio Jones, Mohammed Sanu, and Tevin Coleman. Jones and Sanu each had aTD in Tampa Bay last week, and Coleman racked up 95 yards on 5 receptions.

Atlanta only managed 52 rushing yards (including 10 from Ryan), so they may be vulnerable in the running game, as well as their pass defense.

Already the Raiders’ offensive line is in trouble. Right tackles Menelik Watson (groin) and Matt McCants (knee) are both doubtful, and center Rodney Hudson (knee) and RG Gabe Jackson (knee) are both listed as questionable. RB and special teams ace Taiwan Jones (concussion) is also listed as questionable.

With a victory, Oakland would start 2-0 for the first time since 2002, and beat Atlanta for the first time since 2000.

Game Grades: Raiders at Saints

Full game stats here

Pass Offense: Derek Carr had 24 completions in 38 attempts, for 319 yards and 1 TD. Carr spread the ball around effectively, to eight receivers in all. Amari Cooper led the squad with 6 catches for 137 yards, including a nice 43-yard catch-and-run. Michael Crabtree was 7-87, as well as fantastic catch on the go-ahead two-point conversion with just fifty seconds on the game clock. Seth Roberts made up for a critical drop on the final drive by catching the Raiders’ only passing TD to win the game.
Grade: A-

Rush Offense: The Raiders had a pretty good day on the ground. Rookie Jalen Richard was the unexpected star of the running game, with just three rushes but for 84 yards, including a 75-yard breakaway TD run. Latavius Murray went 14-for-59 and a touchdown. FB Jamize Olawale had just a single run, but it was a nice 2-yard punch into the end zone to comeback from what had been a 27-13 deficit in the 4th quarter. Derek Carr had a couple of decent drive-sustaining scrambles, and rookie DeAndre Washington had a few short relief runs.
Grade: A-

Pass Defense: Drew Brees passed at will on the Raiders’ secondary going 28-for-42 for 423 yards and 4 TDs. WRs Willie Snead and Brandin Cooks racked up yards on free-agent CB Sean Smith. Snead had 9 receptions for 172 yards and a touchdown, while Cooks went 6-143-2, including a 98-yard TD in which Cooks simply sprinted past Smith for a toss-and-catch from Brees from his own end zone. Jihad Ward had a nice fumble recovery from sacking Brees on the first possession of the game, thanks to an assist from Bruce Irvin, who had the game’s only sack. DJ Hayden came in for Smith in the second half and actually had some solid coverage and tackles, as did safety Reggie Nelson. With the loss of D Mario Edwards, Jr., this unit is going have to step up its pass rush to give the vulnerable secondary a better chance.
Grade: D+

Rush Defense: Only 88 net rushing yards were surrendered, and no touchdowns, so statistically a solid effort. Mark Ingram led New Orleans with 12 carries for 58 yards, but his long for the day, a 17-yard rumble in which he carried half the front seven deep into the red zone late in the game to set up another short TD pass from Brees, was embarrassing. Still, 88 yards and no TDs. That’s something for them to build on.
Grade: B-

Special Teams: As the Raiders attempted three 2-point conversions (making two), Sebastian Janikowski made his lone extra point and both his field goals. Marquette King continues to establish himself as one of the league’s premier punters, counting a 62-yard long as well as sticking the Saints on their own 2-yard line, among his four punts for the day. The Raiders’ return game was nothing to write home about, but the special teams did a fine job in keeping Saints returner Marcus Murphy’s averages low as well, just 17 yards avg. (long of 26) on kickoffs, and a 5-yard avg. on the two returnable punts.
Grade: B

Coaching: We’ll get to the specifics shortly, but right off the bat, Jack Del Rio turned this game into a team statement at the end with his decision to go for two to lead 35-34 with 50 seconds remaining, rather than tie the game up with a PAT kick. Not only did Del Rio show some serious BALLS in making that call, he showed a lot of trust in his players, who were down 24-13 going into the 4th quarter, and roared back with 22 points in the final period.

The way this season’s schedule lays out is tough, and if the team is going to live up to the heady expectations everyone is placing on them, they needed first to win the season opener, which they haven’t been able to do much this century so far. After getting battered at home by the playoff-bound Bengals in last season’s opener, it was important to not come out of the gate short and get pushed around again to start a new season. The entire offense showed great poise and focus in mounting the comeback, if they didn’t get much help from the defense, who couldn’t stop Drew Brees and his receivers.

Even so, DC Ken Norton Jr. kept making adjustments and substitutions, occasionally getting to Brees, but continuing to try to crack the code on the Saints’ solid o-line and Brees’ quick release. There are new players in key areas, and they are clearly still gelling with one another. They managed to stop Brees enough on the final drive to force the Saints to attempt a 61-yard field goal. If Brees had had ten more seconds, there might have been a different outcome, but he didn’t and that’s what matters.

The entire coaching staff deserves credit for keeping the team in the game on a tough road trip to start the season. But again, Jack Del Rio gets the Balls Out award for the week just for having the guts to give it a shot. The old saying goes that you’re a genius when it works, and a fool when it doesn’t. But right when I saw they were going to go for it, before the play went off, I felt like win or lose, Del Rio deserved credit just for throwing the punch. (And of course, Carr and Crabtree made it all happen with an outstanding throw and catch.) The fact that it was successful just made it that much more of a statement for the team.
Grade: A

Game Preview: Raiders at Saints

Oakland definitely looks like the better team on paper. New Orleans is coming off a subpar season, with one of the league’s lowest-ranked defenses. They still have most of that high-powered offense though, with Drew Brees re-upping his contract for big money. Free-agent pickups Sean Smith, Bruce Irvin, and Reggie Nelson are going to earn their money. This will be a chance to see just how much the Raider D have improved, and if the core offensive stars are ready for a new run. I’m optimistic about this season, but this game could end up in a high-scoring shootout.

2016 Raiders Schedule Breakdown

2016sched01

2016sched02

We’re all glad that the Raiders are everyone’s sleeper pick for the playoffs this year, but if the schedule makers weren’t trying to make that as difficult as possible, they sure made it look like they were. Three road trips to the Eastern Time Zones in the first eight games, including one in the first four games, plus New Orleans for the season opener and Tennessee in Week 3. Three of the final four games are the division road matches. The Week 11 game against the Texans will be played in Mexico City, but counted as a home game.

Usually my motto is “win at home, win the division,” because if you just do those things, you’re automatically 11-5. But this year the Raiders will have to be effective on the road, and able to get off to a quick start, both in each game and in the season overall. They’ve made some nice moves in free agency and the draft, nothing splashy or spectacular, but definitely solid moves, especially on defense. Free agents Bruce Irvin and Sean Smith should help greatly, and second-round draft pick Jihad Ward made an impression in camp and preseason.

This should be a fun season with lots of impact players. GO RAIDERS!