Pass Offense: Derek Carr had a sub-par day statistically, going 19-for-30 for 213 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. What the numbers don’t tell you, though, is what a terrific throw and catch (by Crabtree) that TD was, or that even though Amari Cooper had only one reception for 28 yards, that throw was basically through a keyhole, as Cooper was well-covered on the play. Or that Carr hit ten different receivers on those 19 passes.
Carr still has some issues with his finger, but his throws and decisions were much better than last game, so it must be getting better. And though he was sacked twice, that brings his grand total to 15 in 14 games. The downside is that the offense is still not doing a very good job of capitalizing on field position and opponents turning the ball over in their own red zone.
Rush Offense: Nothing great, but nothing terrible either. Latavius Murray had some ball-control issues early on, fumbling out of bounds and then fumbling in San Diego’s red zone a few minutes later. But those were early enough in the game that Murray was able to recover fine, finishing with 81 yards on 13 carries, including a bruising 33-yard rumble late in the game. Jalen Rchard and DeAndre Washington contribute small but important yards.
Pass Defense: Aside from letting Travis Benjamin get way behind them in the first quarter for the Chargers’ first touchdown, the Raiders did a solid job in containing San Diego’s potent passing attack. Rivers was held to 17-30-206-2-1, that interception (by Reggie Nelson) sealing the game for the Raiders. Bruce Irvin sacked Rivers twice and Denico Autry sacked him once.
Rush Defense: The Raiders did a terrific job shutting down San Diego’s running game, allowing only 73 yards total on 22 carries between Kenny Farrow and Ronnie Hillman, forcing two fumbles by Farrow, one of which was recovered in San Diego’s red zone for a go-ahead field goal. No rushing TDs allowed, and the longest run of the day was Hillman for 17. The front seven had great penetration and pursuit on the Chargers’ o-line all day.
Special Teams: Janikowski went 4-for-4 on his field goals, as well as the extra point on the Raiders’ only TD. Marquette King only had to punt three times, for a 43.3-yard average with a long of 64. Even better, they contained San Diego’s return game extremely well, allowing a couple of 20-yard kickoff returns and little else. In a game decided by three points, it’s little things like that which can make the difference in the end.
Coaching: You can’t argue with success, nor can you argue with an 11-3 record and the first playoff berth in well over a decade. Head coach Jack Del Rio deserves consideration for Coach of the Year for the resilience and toughness he’s instilled in this team. Bill Musgrave continues to craft sharp game plans that utilize the strengths of the players, and imaginative play-calling for the most part. Ken Norton’s defense is coming together, though the cornerbacks still need to step it up.
If there’s one quibble, it’s that the offense needs to execute better and take advantage of turnovers and field position. San Diego had several 3-and-out possessions early on, giving the Raiders the ball at around the 50, and they kept getting field goals. Same with the fumble by Farrow in the 4th quarter, which was an opportunity to put them away, instead of settling for yet another field goal. That’s what cost them the game last week in Kansas City, getting two turnovers on back-to-back possessions in the space of a couple minutes, deep in Chefs territory, and only getting a single field goal out of it. That part has to improve if they’re going to go deep in the playoffs.
Still, they’re back in the playoffs at long last, doing it their way, and not giving in or backing down. And it’s because the coaching staff has brought the best out of them, and given them solid game planning and coordination to beat opponents.