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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

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+

Game Preview: Raiders at Titans

It would have been understandable if, after the losses to Pittsburgh and Minnesota, fans looked at the next two games, road games against terrible Detroit and Tennessee teams, and chalked them up as easy wins, or at least less challenging. Well, the Lions showed up last week and the Raiders didn’t, so we all saw how that went down.

So the Titans game becomes one that not only cannot be overlooked, but is an opportunity for Oakland to right itself after a nasty three-game losing streak, and preserve some hope for a possible wild-card berth. Even though players, coaches, and fans all seemed to accept from the beginning that this would be a rebuilding season, and that playoffs were not a realistic expectation, the Raiders’ back-to-back dominant victories against the Chargers and Jets suddenly changed those expectations.

The main goal this year was for the team to be competitive, and in every game. And aside from the season opener, that goal has been getting accomplished. But the last three losses have been frustrating, and the last two especially have been characterized by listless offense and inconsistent (at best) defense. The Raiders are going to miss Aldon Smith, who turned out to be an excellent pickup for the team, but Khalil Mack continues to develop practically game-to-game, and David Amerson plays like someone who’s ready to move up from nickel back into a starting CB role.

As the Titans get Marcus Mariota going as their franchise QB, the team’s main strength is their pass rush, tied for 4th in the league with 31.0 sacks, with 13 of those coming in their last three games. They may be 2-8, the worst team in the worst division in the league, but they still have some defensive weapons, the weather forecast calls for 100% chance of rain, and the Titans are trying to break a 10-game home losing streak, dating back almost a full calendar year.

The Raiders still need to get a better balance to the offense, not necessarily a perfect 50-50 pass-run ratio, but the roughly 2.5:1 ration they’ve had the last couple games is killing their time of possession. Amari Cooper has had some drops, but also has already proven himself to be a very capable receiver with a great work ethic, and Derek Carr has confidence in him, so he’s due for a nice bounce-back game. Maybe not this game, if it rains too much, but you never know.

Game Grades: Raiders at Steelers

Pass Offense: Derek Carr was superb, going 24-44 for 301 yards, with 4 TDs and one interception. That interception and a several drops were the only flaws in an otherwise excellent outing for the Raiders offense. Michael Crabtree led the receiving corps once again, with 7 receptions for 108 yards and 2 TDs, both of which were fantastic throws and catches. Amari Cooper had a strong day as well, with 7 receptions for 88 yards and one touchdown. Tight ends continue to be an afterthought, with four total receptions for the three TEs, though Clive Walford did have a 1-yard TD reception.
Grade: B+

Rush Offense: Latavius Murray broke off a nice 44-yard run early in the game, and ended up with 17 carries for 96 yards before leaving the game in the third quarter. Jamize Olawale had a sweet 19-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to get the Raiders back in the game. Murray’s fumble deep in Raider territory early in the third quarter was fortunate in getting overturned, even though the subsequent punt got blocked anyway, and his later fumble, on the tackle that knocked him out of the game was recovered by the Steelers. Taiwan Jones also fumbled one of his two carries, and was lucky not to have it recovered by Pittsburgh (though his other fumble on a kickoff return did get recovered by them). A solid outing marred by poor ball security from multiple players.
Grade: C+

Pass Defense: Antonio Brown had a career day against the defense, piling up 180 yards on 10 catches just in the first half, and finishing with a team record 17 receptions for 284 yards. Brown is certainly one of the elite receivers in the league, but the Raiders acted as if they’d never heard of him, and insisted on playing single man coverage on him most of the time, even as he kept burning them. It didn’t matter whether D.J. Hayden or David Amerson lined up on Brown, and a clearly banged-up Charles Woodson was able to provide only so much support up top. Martavis Bryant also had a highlight-reel catch and run for a touchdown late in the game, making Hayden and Woodson both whiff on tackles. They failed to make even modest adjustments at halftime to contain Brown, and completely failed to hold the line on the Steelers’ final game-winning drive. Aldon Smith had the team’s lone sack, knocking Ben Roethlisberger out of the game. Amerson had the team’s sole interception.
Grade: D

Rush Defense: The defense also had no answer for DeAngelo Williams, who had 45 yards and 2 TDs on 14 carries in the first half, and finished the day with 27 carries for 170 yards, including a 53-yard scamper from the Steeler 7-yard line to spark a touchdown drive. Antonio Brown gained 22 yards on a pair of end-around runs, meaning that not only did Brown account for over half of the Steelers’ 597 offensive yards, but that he single-handedly burned the Raiders’ defense for a total of 306 yards on 19 touches.
Grade: D

Special Teams: This is a tale of two squads: on Pittsburgh’s returns, the gunners did a great job containing the dangerous Jacoby Jones on kickoff and punt returns, holding him to a 20-yard average on kickoff returns, and a measly 1-yard average on his two punt returns. Antonio Brown’s fumble on his single punt return was a terrific play on the part of Taiwan Jones, even if the offense failed to capitalize on it, and it didn’t quite make up for Jones’ own fumble on a 4th-quarter kickoff return, which led quickly to a Steeler touchdown. On the other side of it, though, the Raiders’ own return game was mediocre at best; in addition to Jones’ fumble, Marcus Thigpen also lost a fumble, and Oakland averages on kickoff and punt returns was just as bad as Pittsburgh’s. One of Marquette King’s punts got blocked and went only 24 yards (and that thanks only to a lucky roll). The return game continues to be the area that should be easiest for the Raiders to fix, for the most immediate impact. Until they are able to do so, every return is going to be one of those white-knuckle affairs where you wait for something to go wrong or just not add any value to field position.
Grade: C

Coaching: Except for the failure to adjust coverage on Brown, it’s hard to hang this one on the coaches, who continue to draft strong, aggressive game plans that punch early and often, and utilize the players’ strengths well. Failure to execute and hang on to the ball could be attributed to focus and preparation, but the fact is that the Steelers are a solid team with an opportunistic defense that hits hard and creates turnovers. The lapses in the secondary are more a problem of shortage of talent and rotating injured players in and out almost constantly, than an issue of scheme, though again the baffling insistence on single-covering Brown stands out.

The main thing is that the coaches are also responsible for the team competing hard throughout, staying resilient and bouncing back from large point deficits. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave is clearly having fun with Carr, Cooper, and Crabtree, recognizes the massive potential of those players and uses them with creativity and confidence. Only three remaining teams on the Raiders’ schedule (Vikings, Broncos, and Packers) have records above .500, and Green Bay and Minnesota both appear to have serious vulnerabilities that Oakland can take advantage of. The coaches have done a good job in keeping the team ready and rolling and competitive, and there’s good reason for optimism that they will bounce back well from this and head for a wild-card slot at this rate.
Grade: B

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

Game Preview: Raiders vs. Jets

The Jets, with a new coach and some quarterback issues, are surprisingly good so far this season, already appearing in the top ten rankings of many observers. This is primarily due to their top-3 defense and rushing attack. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has beaten the Raiders with three other teams (Buffalo, Tennessee, and Houston) and looks to become the only QB to do that with a fourth team. Fitzpatrick’s numbers are nothing to write home about, but what the stats don’t record is how he keeps drives alive, keeps his offense in the game, and doesn’t make dumb mistakes. Since Geno Smith got cold-cocked in the locker room at the beginning of the season and has been out since with a broken jaw, Fitzpatrick has kept the team going in a division where the Patriots seem determined to make every other team pay for their (the Patriots’) transgressions.

The Raiders are riding high after pummeling the Chargers, and looking to prove themselves as legitimate contenders, sooner rather than later. Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree have brought out the best in Derek Carr, and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave has done a stellar job in tailoring the offense to the players’ strengths. This should be a good game, with every chance for Oakland to win against a highly touted opponent.

Game Grades: Raiders vs. Broncos

Pass Offense: Derek Carr had 26 completions in 39 attempts for 249 yards, with 1 TD and 1 INT, which are pretty respectable stats against Denver’s defense. The offensive line gave up four sacks, however, the worst of which was a whiffed block by right tackle Austin Howard that caused Carr to fumble the ball away. Amari Cooper was held in check; Michael Crabtree was the only Raider receiver to gain over 50 yards (4-54).
Grade: C

Rush Offense: Not much to speak of, as there were only 24 carries for 66 yards total (Latavius Murray went 13 for 39). The Broncos clearly were not going to give anything up on the ground, so Oakland had to devote most of their energies to short passing attempts. Again, while the team made a very solid and respectable effort against a team with a Hall of Fame QB, All-Pro WR, and one of the best all-around defenses in recent years, a stronger rushing attack will give them better balance and consistency.
Grade: D

Pass Defense: Peyton Manning went 22 for 36 for 266 yards, but had two interceptions (both to Charles Woodson) and no touchdowns, a rarity for Manning, who is having an off year so far. Just as impressively, considering how badly the Raiders have been getting burned by tight ends, Denver TE Owen Daniels had no receptions. Putting LB Neiron Ball on Daniels was a good move that paid off, and should be continued. Emmanuel Sanders had 9 receptions for 111 yards, but Demaryious Thomas went only 5 for 55. Manning was also sacked twice.
Grade: B+

Rush Defense: C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman combined for just 18 carries for 43 yards. The defensive line has benefited already from the addition of Aldon Smith, who disrupts just about every play he’s involved in, as well as the continued improvement of Khalil Mack. At the rate these players continue to gel, they will impact games later in the season.
Grade: A-

Special Teams: Seabass had an off day, missing two of his three field goals, which makes all the difference in the world in a game decided by six points. And you can’t even blame it on the damned infield dirt, since the A’s are done and the field is all turf now. Marquette King averaged 50.8 yards on his four punts, with a long of 61 yards. Every time I see Amari Cooper back to return a punt, my heart stops and my stomach tightens up, waiting for the inevitable crushing hit, but Cooper’s sole punt return went for a nice 18 yards.
Grade: C-

Coaching: The coaching plan for this game was simple — keep the game close, and any damage to a minimum. The Broncos’ defense is fast, dangerous, and opportunistic, and even a past-his-prime Peyton Manning is better than most quarterbacks in full stride. The best way to neutralize that defense would be to have a powerful rushing attack and some nice screen plays in their pocket, but having neither of those things, the Raiders settled on a controlled short-passing game, which was pretty effective for the most part. This was just one of those games that hinged on a few crucial breaks, none of which went the Raiders’ way. But the coaches deserve credit for keeping the team focused and prepared against a division-leading rival stacked with talent. There’s no such thing as a moral victory, but this is definitely one of those losses where the team can see how close they came, and make a few adjustments going forward. A very respectable effort.
Grade: B

Game Grades: Raiders at Bears

Full game stats here, play-by-play here.

Pass Offense: Derek Carr had a rather average outing, going 20-33 for 196 yards, 2 TDs and an interception. Amari Cooper was held to four catches for 49 yards, but his touchdown catch in the back of the end zone was a thing of beauty and field awareness (as well as a fantastic throw by Carr. Michael Crabtree continues to be the free-agent steal of the year, notching five catches for 80 yards. The tight ends continue to be an afterthought, as Lee Smith and Mychal Rivera combined for four catches for 26 yards. Spreading the ball around to the backs (Murray, Helu, and Reece) helped but not enough.
Grade: B-

Rush Offense: It’s strange how, in such a close game, Oakland only had 22 total carries by running backs. The talk had been of how the Raiders had always won when Latavius Murray had at least 15 catches, but that was clearly too small of a sample size, as his 16 carries for just 49 yards did very little to keep Oakland in contention. It didn’t help that Murray clearly had an off day, between turning the ball over and getting stuffed on a critical 3rd-and-2 near the end of the game. A final time of possession of just 26:38 may have been the deciding factor.
Grade: D+

Pass Defense: It’s hard to argue with three sacks, two forced fumbles, and an interception, yet the results don’t lie. Cutler went 28-43-281-2-1, not exactly superstar numbers but not bad for someone who played hurt. Tight ends continue to burn this unit at will; Bears TE Martellus Bennett tuned them up all day, with 11 catches for 83 yards, including a TD catch where he was embarrassingly wide open, and a crucial 4th-and-5 catch right before the two-minute warning to keep Chicago’s final drive alive. That last play is ultimately what made the difference between a win and a loss, there’s no way to sugarcoat it. This is exactly why the offense needs to not settle for field goals.
Grade: C-

Rush Defense: They actually did a respectable job here, as Matt Forte had 25 carries for 91 yards (3.64 ypc) and no touchdowns. Jeremy Langford and Jacquizz Rodgers added just three carries for seven yards total. Aldon Smith in particular had a solid game, making critical tackles and stops.
Grade: B

Special Teams: Sebastian Janikowski made both of his field goals and both of his extra points. Marquette King finished with a 45.0 average on his five punts, including two beauties that forced Chicago to start drives within their own 10-yard line. The decision to use valuable players such as TJ Carrie and Amari Cooper as punt returners finally bit the team in the rear, as Carrie was injured on one of his two returns and left the game. As Carrie seems to be the most consistent playmaker among the Raiders’ cornerbacks, it likely made Cutler’s job that much easier.
Grade: B+

Coaching: Head coach Jack Del Rio and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave found out the hard way about playing not to lose, as the Raiders’ final offensive drive, which ended conservatively in a go-ahead field goal, left the Bears way too much time to respond with their own game-winning field goal. It makes sense that with a young, rebuilding team, the coaches would want to stay conservative and try to hold leads to the end. But as the secondary is the team’s biggest vulnerability, that has to be factored into fourth-quarter offensive strategy. It didn’t even necessarily need to be a touchdown drive, just one more first down would have made a huge difference, and two more first downs would have sealed the game. And they need to figure out another solution to the return game, as they cannot afford to lose players like Carrie or Cooper. But as always, all is forgiven if they can pull it together and knock off Denver this Sunday, before heading into the bye week.
Grade: C-

Game Preview: Raiders at Bears

The Raiders are (for them) riding pretty high on two exciting wins, including one on the road, and in the Eastern time zone at that. The win in Cleveland removed the whammy of at least five significant losing streaks for the team. It would be understandable, especially heading into a matchup with the team most rankers regard as the league’s worst right now, if the Raiders got ahead of themselves a bit, and looked past this game to next week’s home stand against the Broncos.

But head coach Jack Del Rio, with his rather hokey but effective “keep chopping wood” approach, seems unlikely to let the team do that. Even a bad Bears team is always tough at home, and Del Rio is going up against his former boss in Denver, John Fox. Chicago DC Vic Fangio built a mighty D in San Francisco, and while he doesn’t have nearly the talent to work with that he did with the Niners, he’s still a wily strategist who will do his best to stuff Latavius Murray and confuse Derek Carr with disguised blitzes and stunts.

In the end, this should be a game for the Raiders to tighten things up as they head home for what would be a chance to tie for the division lead in the AFC West. As we’ve seen in the two victories, where Oakland jumped to early leads and had to fight to hang on for wins, they have trouble putting opponents away. That’s something you expect from a young team trying to gel and learn how to win. It’s something they’ll continue to refine as the season progresses, because good teams aren’t going to let them get away with it.

But let’s face it — the Bears are bad, really bad. They’re bad with Jay Cutler, and even worse without him. The Bears have a chance because parity and any given Sunday, but as long as the Raiders keep playing the way they have been, there’s no reason Oakland shouldn’t win this one convincingly.

Keys to Victory

Run like hell: The numbers don’t lie — the Raiders have won every time Latavius Murray has had at least 15 carries. Give the man his touches, mix in Marcel Reece, Taiwan Jones, and Roy Helu, Jr.
Use the tight ends: So far this position has been pretty quiet, with the three TEs (Rivera, Smith, and Walford) having just 8 catches for 36 yards between them. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave has been pretty good at being creative and adaptable in his game plans, no doubt Carr will be using them more as the season progresses.
Cover their TEs: Conversely, opposing tight ends have dogged the Raiders’ linebackers and secondary. Cleveland tight end Gary Barnidge, who in seven full seasons had 48 catches total, had a career day last Sunday, with six catches for 105 yards and a touchdown. Chicago’s Martellus Bennett is the Bears’ leading rusher, and is easily the best TE the Raiders have faced yet this season. It will be a challenge to keep Bennett contained, while not leaving talented WRs Alshon Jeffery and Eddie Royal wide open.

Game Grades: Raiders at Browns

Full game stats here.

Pass Offense: Derek Carr turned in another strong performance, notching 20 completions in 32 attempts (62.5%) for 314 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Amari Cooper had an impressive first half, but a lackluster second half, with a midfield fumble in the fourth quarter that gave the Browns an opportunity to close the sizable lead the Raiders had built up. Still, it’s a small blemish on an otherwise good day for Cooper, who finished with eight catches for 134 yards and no touchdowns. Seth Roberts was second in receiving, with 3 receptions for 36 yards and one touchdown. Marcel Reece had a 55-yard reception. Andre Holmes had a single 3-yard catch for a touchdown.
Grade: A-

Rush Offense: It took a while for the running game to get going, but once it did, it helped the Raiders chew up the clock and move the ball downfield. Latavius Murray had a career day with 26 carries for 139 yards, including a 54-yard rumble, and one touchdown. Taiwan Jones had 2 carries for 16 yards, and Marcel Reece had one carry for one yard. The more balanced offensive approach made a difference in the Browns defense looking winded late in the game.
Grade: B+

Pass Defense: On the one hand, after not having any sacks the first two weeks, the Raiders had five sacks (among four players) of Josh McCown, including two for Khalil Mack, who is emerging as a force to be reckoned with. On the other hand, McCown finished up 28-49-341-2-1, and tight end coverage continues to be an issue, as Browns TE Gary Barnidge led the team with 6 receptions for 105 yards and an easy touchdown. DJ Hayden continues to struggle with coverage and tackling, letting Travis Benjamin twist him around for an end-zone lunge late in the game. It’s a good thing the offense is clicking, because the cornerbacks are going to let opponents hang around and come back. Charles Woodson’s game-ending interception was a relief, as the Browns’ final drive, which started at their own 1-yard line, had marched up the field at will up that point.
Grade: C+

Rush Defense: As Cleveland found themselves in an early hole, they only ran 14 times total between Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson, for just 39 yards. Still, that 2.8 YPC average is significant, and shows that DT Dan Williams in particular has added to the defensive line’s run-stopping ability.
Grade: B

Special Teams: Sebastian Janikowski continues his streak, going 2/2 on field goals and 3/3 on extra points. Marquette King had a bit of an off day (for him), with 4 punts for a 37.0 average. King’s final punt, thanks to an acrobatic play by Taiwan Jones and a break from the refs (the replay showed Jones’ foot hitting the end zone just as the ball rolled off his fingers), was critical in pinning the Browns at their own 1-yard line to start their final drive. Amari Cooper showed that punt returning may not be his strong suit, gaining 9 yards on one and losing the same number on his other return.
Grade: B-

Coaching: Head coach Jack Del Rio and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave crafted another strong, aggressive game plan for today’s matchup, mixing passing and running plays almost equally (32-30 pass-run ratio). Defensive coordinator Ken Norton, Jr. makes the most of what he has with the roster talent, using the front seven creatively at times to force Josh McCown to scramble or throw off his back foot. On the Raiders’ final offensive possession, after the midfield recovery of Travis Benjamin’s muffed punt return, the play calls were somewhat perplexing, in that the Raiders seemed content to run down the clock with running plays, but then tried a pass play on third down, instead of running down the clock to the two-minute warning, and possibly giving Sebastian Janikowski a better chance at a field goal to put the Browns away. These are the sorts of things that will be a problem against better teams down the schedule, such as the Packers and Chiefs. But the key to their two victories so far have been in building early leads and hanging on enough to win in the end. If they can pull it off against Denver in a couple of weeks, the team may be turning a corner after all.
Grade: A-