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Game Grades: Raiders @ Chargers

Full game stats here.

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.
Grade:  B

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.
Grade:  B

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.
Grade:  B

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.
Grade:  A

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.
Grade:  A

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.
Grade:  B+

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

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 Grades: Raiders at Chiefs

Pass Offense: Derek Carr had 21 completions in 33 attempts, for 194 yards, one touchdown, one interception, and two fumbles. Carr finished the season just 13 yards shy of becoming the first Raiders QB to reach 4,000 yards since Rich Gannon in 2002. Offensive line issues continue to define the final part of the season for the team, as Carr took six sacks today, ending the season with a respectable total of 31 sacks. However, 19 of those sacks came in the final five games, and 10 of those were in the two Kansas City games. In both Chiefs games, Carr showed difficulty in figuring out Bob Sutton’s aggressive, man-coverage defensive scheme. Michael Crabtree once again proved to be the reliable outlet for Carr, with a great 31-yard grab for the team’s only offensive touchdown. Amari Cooper was still banged up, held to just 20 yards on two receptions.
Grade: D

Rush Offense: Normally we don’t add in Carr’s scrambles to the rushing yards total, because they are usually not designed runs, but broken passing plays. Might as well add Carr’s two runs for 12 yards this time around, since even then the Raiders’ grand total comes to a measly 48 yards on 16 total carries. Latavius Murray was rarely used and mostly shut down, gaining 31 yards on his 11 carries, with a long of 9 yards. Roy Helu was the only other ball carrier, with 3 carries for 5 yards and a long of 3 yards.
Grade: F

Pass Defense: Alex Smith ended his 2015 season with just 7 interceptions, but two of them were in this game, and David Amerson took his in for a pick-six. With Charles Woodson retiring, Amerson is the best remaining player on the Raiders’ secondary right now. The Raiders held Smith to just 14-24-154, but he also had two passing touchdowns. Considering the Raiders defense was on the field for almost 35 minutes, it could have been worse.
Grade: B+

Rush Defense: When Alex Smith couldn’t damage the Raiders with his arm, he victimized them with his legs, racking up 61 rushing yards on just nine carries, frequently at critical third-down points. Spencer Ware also had a field day, going 16-76 with a touchdown. Charcandrick West got into the festivities as well, gaining 34 yards on 13 carries. Jeremy Maclin’s 18-yard end-around pushes the grand total up to 189 rushing yards, a real step back for what had been an improved run defense. But again, 35 minutes on the field and very little offense, and that’s what happens.
Grade: C

Special Teams: Sebastian Janikowski made his lone 29-yard field goal attempt, and both extra points. Marquette King had a (for him) off day, averaging just 35.6 yards on his 6 punts, although one of them was a 57-yarder. Taiwan Jones had a 70-yard kickoff return. Kick coverage continues to be solid, giving up nothing longer than 14 yards.
Grade: B-

Coaching: While the Raiders this season have shown themselves to be much more competitive in general and against division opponents, both Kansas City games were by far their weakest division efforts. For whatever reason, they appear unable to handle Chiefs’ defensive coordinator Bob Sutton’s scheme and packages. As Denver and San Diego appear to be fading in the AFC West for at least the next couple seasons, it becomes even more critical for the Raiders to figure out the Chiefs and adapt. This will require developing a much more balanced rushing attack, and a complementary back to Latavius Murray. The days of the 35-carries-per-game workhorse running back are over; ideally Murray should get around 20-25 carries max, and the other RB should get 10-15. The 2:1 pass-run ratio today (33 pass plays, 16 running plays) is a surefire indicator of where the offense’s deficiencies lie. An adaptive game plan, especially after what happened in the first Raiders-Chiefs matchup on December 6, would have taken some of the load off Carr and spread it around in a jumbo-formation running package, to slow down the Chiefs’ front seven.
Grade: C-

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

Game Preview: Raiders at Steelers

I mentioned before that in their dominating victories over the Jets and Chargers in the last two weeks, the Raiders caught some significant breaks in each game, and that the mark of truly good teams is that they know how to take advantage of those breaks when they come along. The Raiders came into each game playing crisp, focused ball, and the breaks just made it that much easier to roll their opponents.

So in heading into Heinz Field — always a tough place — this Sunday, the Raiders catch yet another break, in that Steelers RB LeVeon Bell, arguably the key component in their offense, is out for the rest of the season. DeAngelo Williams is also a very good running back, averaging just under 5.0 yards per carry, but so is the Jets’ Chris Ivory, whom the Raiders held to just 17 yards on 15 carries last Sunday.

Ben Roethlisberger is clearly still on the mend, but he and Antonio Brown are always a dangerous combination. Given the QB shuffling Pittsburgh has had to do far this season, it’s understandable that Brown is by far the team’s leading receiver, with 52 receptions for 718 yards and 3 TDs. But after that it’s a very steep drop-off; tight end Heath Miller is second with 27 receptions for 273 yards, and receivers Markus Wheaton, Martavis Bryant, and former Raider Darrius Heyward-Bey all linger between 209 and 257 yards.

Oakland has better balance as far as receivers, with Michael Crabtree’s stats very close to Amari Cooper’s, but also key contributions from receivers down the chain, such as Andre Holmes and Marcel Reece. Holmes only has six receptions on the year, for 107 yards, but three touchdowns, showing how effective his size and speed are when used. The o-line is providing great pass protection, as Carr has been sacked only 10 times in 7 games, and Carr’s confidence in Cooper and Crabtree have allowed him — and them — to progress very quickly as the season goes along. Really, you can see it from game to game.

The key here is really more about getting the road whammy off their back. On the one hand, the Raiders won in Cleveland for the first time in thirty years; on the other hand, they then went to Chicago and played down to the level of the opponent, and lost a squeaker. But the two games they’ve put together since the bye week have boosted them into the top ten power rankings, they are very healthy compared to most other teams right now, and are rolling. This is going to be another good game, and a very winnable one.

Game Grades: Raiders vs. Jets

Pass Offense: Derek Carr was just about flawless, going 23 for 36 for 333 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions. Amari Cooper was shadowed by Darrelle Revis most of the game, and was held to five receptions for 46 yards and no touchdowns. But Michael Crabtree, who continues to shine as one of the Raiders’ best free-agent pickups in years, picked up the slack with seven receptions for 102 yards and a touchdown. Andre Holmes burned Antonio Cromartie on a terrific 49-yard run-and-catch for a touchdown, and Taiwan Jones turned a simple dump-off pass in the flat into a brilliant play-of-the-week scamper for 59 yards and a touchdown.
Grade: A

Rush Offense: Latavius Murray carried almost the entire workload in this game, and did it well — 20 carries for 113 yards, often keeping drives alive at key moments. Taiwan Jones had just two carries for five yards, but it’s more a function of how effective Murray was throughout the game.
Grade: A

Pass Defense: Like Philip Rivers last week, Geno Smith ended up with respectable numbers (27-42-265-2-1), but again most of that came long after the game had gotten away from them. Khalil Mack, D.J. Hayden, and Denico Autry each had a sack, and Charles Woodson (who else?) had an interception.
Grade: A

Rush Defense: Once again, the Raiders building up a strong halftime lead forced the opponent to become one-dimensional. The Jets had just 21 carries total, and three of those were by Smith and Fitzpatrick; in fact, Smith’s two runs for 34 yards total led the team. Featured RB Chris Ivory, who had been averaging nearly 100 yards per game and 5 yards per carry, gained just 17 yards on 15 carries. David Amerson, who was recently signed to bolster the secondary, laid an especially nasty hit on Geno Smith late in the game, as Smith was trying to run up the sideline.
Grade: A

Special Teams: Sebastian Janikowski made 2 of his 3 field goal attempts, and all of his extra points. Marquette King only had to punt three times, averaging 41.7 yards, with a 52-yard long. Taiwan Jones had decent kickoff returns, while T.J. Carrie had just 4 yards total on 4 punt returns. The return game is one of those areas that should be relatively easy to shore up, if a roster spot can be opened up to sign a specialist, and let Jones go back to gunner on special teams, for which he has made the Pro Bowl.
Grade: B

Coaching: During the broadcast of the game, one of the announcers mentioned that offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave had basically been working 12-14 hour days “cracking the code” on the Jets’ top-3 defense. Whatever Musgrave did, it worked in spades, as the Raiders attacked the Jets’ strong points and pushed them around all day. But Ken Norton, Jr.’s defensive squad has been pulling their weight as well, improving week after week, neutralizing the Jets’ offensive strengths effectively.

There are still areas of relatively untapped potential for the team, especially on the offensive side: Cooper and Crabtree have been so good that the tight ends still haven’t really been worked into the passing game; Murray is having some good games but there hasn’t yet been a complementary running back in the mix yet; and the return game could be beefed up a bit for better field position. That is not a complaint at all, but merely to point out that the team is really good right now, and could get even better without a lot of extra work or talent.

Not to look ahead too far, but should the Raiders manage to get into the playoffs this year — and given the state of the AFC right now, they seriously look like the fourth-best team in the conference — this game will be seen as a real turning point. This is the most complete, dominant start-to-finish game they have played in some time, last week’s beatdown in San Diego notwithstanding.
Grade: A