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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.

Week 17 Final: Chiefs 23, Raiders 17

Full game stats here.

Derek Carr is probably going to have nightmares about Frank Zombo during the off-season. The Chiefs LB, who barreled through the Raiders’ o-line twice to end the game in Oakland last month, made his presence felt today in Kansas City as well, forcing a Carr fumble on the game’s final drive that was just barely recovered by the Raiders, to no avail.

At the very end of both a lost season and a Hall of Fame career, the Raiders at least managed to make it interesting, but only after a lot of dullness and derp. Charles Woodson’s NFL career ended in the same stadium where it began, at Kansas City’s Arrowhead. On the Chiefs’ first two offensive drives, the Raiders pass defense made Alex Smith look like Randall Cunningham, scrambling and passing and scoring at will, racking up an early 14-0 lead.

The safety in the third quarter happened on a blocked punt from the end zone, when Ben Heeney missed his block, allowing King’s punt to be blocked trough the end zone. The Chiefs scored a touchdown easily after the safety free kick, opening up a 23-10 lead. Bad play on Heeney’s part, but overall throughout the season, he’s proven himself to be a player with huge potential, and with top-notch LBs like Del Rio and Norton as his HC and DC respectively, there’s no reason Heeney can’t be groomed into a premier linebacker as well.

On the other side of the ball, Chiefs DC Bob Sutton seems to have just the thing to halt the Raiders offense dead in its tracks. Derek Carr managed some nice throws here and there, but Sutton’s constant pressure kept him on his heels, unable to generate consistent, productive drives. David Amerson’s pick-six in 2nd qtr got the Raiders back in the game, but the offense was unable to capitalize. With Woodson retiring, Nate Allen’s status up in the air going forward if he can’t stay healthy, and DJ Hayden on the verge of being permanently demoted to nickelback, Amerson is turning out to be one of the players (along with TJ Carrie) they can rebuild the secondary around.

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 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 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

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-

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.

Week 9 Final: Steelers 38, Raiders 35

Full game stats here.

Pretty much anytime the Raiders and Steelers face off, you can count on a wild ride, and today’s game was no exception. Things started off promisingly, with the Raiders scoring just a few minutes into the game, thanks to a big run by Latavius Murray, followed by a fantastic throw and catch from Derek Carr to Michael Crabtree, who is proving to be the best free-agency pickup Oakland has had in years.

Again, in talking about getting breaks and taking advantage of them, the Raiders showed the distinction there, as they got a couple of important breaks (knocking Ben Roethlisberger out of the game, recovering a punt-return fumble by Antonio Brown at midfield) in the fourth quarter, but failed to take advantage of those opportunities. Poor ball security and a complete inability to cover Brown led to a team record day for Brown, and nearly 600 yards of offense for Pittsburgh, who desperately needed this game to remain in contention (as did Oakland).

The positives are that the offense continues to shine, and the entire team plays hard for the full 60 minutes. Even after falling behind by two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, the offense was resilient in getting them caught back up and evening the score before Pittsburgh’s final game-winning drive. The secondary is seriously banged up, but should improve with the return of Nate Allen within the next few weeks, and there are only a few teams with .500 or higher records left on the schedule.

Most of the AFC is terrible, which opens up realistic wild-card opportunities even at mid-season for teams like Oakland and Pittsburgh, who are neck-and-neck in the hunt. So this game will definitely haunt the Raiders down the road this season as a tiebreaker. But in the longer-term quest for legitimacy and turning the proverbial corner, even a close loss like this one showed that the Raiders’ stock is continuing to rise.