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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 vs. Falcons

Full game stats here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week 2 Final: Falcons 35, Raiders 28

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Game 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. Packers

Pass Offense: Once again, when Derek Carr has an off day, at least he finds ways to make up for it as the game progresses. Carr dug the Raiders an early hole, with two interceptions in the first quarter that quickly gave Green Bay a 14-0 lead. But he finished the day with 23 completions in 47 attempts for 276 yards, with two touchdown passes to Amari Cooper that were both brilliant examples of the touch Carr has, and the trust he and Cooper have already developed. Cooper became the first Raider receiver to reach 1,000 yards since Randy Moss (who?) in 2005, and the first Raider rookie ever to reach that mark.

It’s a strong indicator of the sheer talent Cooper possesses that you already feel like if he has a bad game (he had no catches last week) he’ll make up for it in the next outing, as he did today, finishing with 6 receptions for 120 yards. Michael Crabtree also had 6 receptions for 70 yards, one a fantastic catch on an underthrown third-down pass that Crabtree came back for to extend the drive. The final drive of the first half, to almost completely erase the 14-point deficit, was a thing of beauty, a flawlessly executed two-minute drill with some nice features that Bill Musgrave really should use more often.
Grade: B-

Rush Offense: Latavius Murray had 21 carries for 78 yards, with a long of 22. Overall, Murray performed well, and had several nice runs. Between that and the generally poor field and weather conditions, it’s a bit baffling why Musgrave didn’t push the run game a bit more, and maybe mix Taiwan Jones and Roy Helu (yes, and Marcel Reece and Jamize Olawale) into the offense. We’ll explore this more at the end of the season, but I feel strongly that one of the bigger missing pieces to the offense is the failure to keep a more even pass-run ratio — for today’s game it was greater than 2:1.
Grade: C+

Pass Defense: Aaron Rodgers finished the day with 204 yards on 22 completions, out of 39 attempts, with one touchdown and one interception. Rodgers was completely stifled in the first half, but began to find his footing in the second half, as the Raiders offense sputtered and gave him more chances. TJ Carrie had an especially bad day, missing tackles and coverages and drawing unnecessary penalties. But the most glaring error was on James Jones’ 30-yard touchdown reception, where the coverage was so blown that all the Packers receivers were wide open. Khalil Mack notched another sack to add to his league-leading total, though he didn’t register after Mario Edwards left the game with an injury. Ben Heeney also had a sack and made some solid plays. The kid is a keeper.
Grade: B

Rush Defense: The Packers gained a grand total of 104 rushing yards on 27 attempts, though that average was skewed by James Starks’ 25-yard gallop late in the game. Eddie Lacy finished 11-23 with no touchdowns, which is pretty good since Lacy had put up big yards for the Packers in their last few games. The only real drop was early in the game, after Carr’s first interception, when Jon Kuhn ran through effortlessly for the Packers’ first touchdown.
Grade: B+

Special Teams: Sebastian Janikowski made both of his field goal attempts (which were short) and both of his extra points. Marquette King continues to have some really nice moments with his punts, pinning Green Bay against the Black Hole a couple times.

The return game is still one of those deals where you wish the returner would just take a knee in the end zone, instead of bringing it out to the 17-yard line, or bringing it out 30-35 yards and losing 10 on an illegal block to the back. Virtually every decent return the Raiders have had this season — and there have been only a few to begin with — has been shortened because of some stupid penalty. Remember that one year when Jacoby Ford had some really good returns, and was actually something of a threat, and gave the offense good field position? That was a good year.
Grade: B

Coaching: As much as I complain about things that the offense and defense are doing or not doing week-to-week, I do hope that the coaching staff remains intact in the off-season. Good teams have continuity, and the Raiders need that as much as they need more talent in the right spots. Ken Norton, Jr.’s defense is doing more with less, week after injury-riddled week. Bill Musgrave really needs to better utilize all the offensive tools he has at his disposal, but again, that catch-up drive after recovering James Starks’ fumble was one of their best all year, flawless in pacing and execution.

Consistency is the big key here, and that’s tough to do with a young team that has a bunch of key injuries. Jack Del Rio and his entire coaching staff have done a great job in keeping the team competitive in every game, even against playoff contenders like Green Bay. The next step is in solidifying the core of the team, giving Latavius Murray a complementary running back to take some of the load, utilizing the tight ends more, and rebuilding the defensive backfield through free agency and the draft.
Grade: B

Game Grades: Raiders at Broncos

Pass Offense: Derek Carr had 12 completions in 25 attempts for just 139 yards. But he also had two touchdown passes, to Seth Roberts and Mike Rivera, and both plays were excellent. The fake screen that culminated into the TD pass to Rivera in particular showed how inventive the offense can be with all the tools at their disposal. Despite being targeted six times, Amari Cooper had no catches, but was double-covered most of the time.
Grade: C+

Rush Offense: Almost completely nonexistent, only 31 yards of rushing offense were generated on just 19 carries. Part of this happens to be due to the Raiders ending up with just 24:02(!) time of possession, part of it is that Denver’s defense is just that good. But the fact is that Latavius Murray came into this game as the leading rusher in the AFC, and you wouldn’t have known it today.
Grade: D+

Pass Defense: If you look at the numbers, you might not get the full picture: Brock Osweiler finished 35-51-308 with no interceptions. But he also had no touchdowns. Khalil Mack had all the sacks for the Raiders, five in all, reminding viewers of Derrick Thomas and Lawrence Taylor at times, bursting through Denver’s offensive line like a force of nature. Only Demaryious Thomas and Vernon Davis had over 50 yards receiving for the Broncos. Considering Denver had over 36 minutes of possession time, the Raiders’ defense did a very respectable job.
Grade: A-

Rush Defense: The rushing defense had a field day, allowing just 34 yards on 21 carries. Dan Williams in particular did an excellent job of stuffing ball carriers Ronnie Hillman and Juwan Thompson. This was the kind of defense where you wonder where they are on the “off” weeks.
Grade: A-

Special Teams: Marquette King, never much of a “coffin corner” kicker, landed five of his ten punts inside Denver’s 20, making all the difference in the game. One of those punts led to the Broncos starting within their 5, leading to the safety, while another led to Emmanuel Sanders’ fumble and Jon Condo’s recovery at the 10-yard line. Maybe King has caught on to Shane Lechler’s method of kicking high-flying, hard-to-catch knuckleballs. Whatever the case, those two plays are why the Raiders won this game, pure and simple. Jeremy Ross had one nice punt return for 22 yards, otherwise the return game in general is still a groaner.
Grade: A-

Coaching: Count this one as a coup by the coaching staff. Ken Norton, Jr.’s defense continues to gather momentum and consistency, while Bill Musgrave, whose offense was inert in the first half, deserves credit for changing up his approach in the second half, and capitalizing nicely on the opportunities created by special teams. The fake screen leading to the go-ahead touchdown pass to Mike Rivera was fantastic, and showed the potential that this offense has, even when Amari Cooper is having an off day. Head coach Jack Del Rio continues to keep the team prepared, focused, and resilient, even after a phenomenally bad offensive first half. A very respectable outing against the likely #2 playoff seed.
Grade: B+

Week 14 Final: Raiders 15, Broncos 12

Full game stats here.

Another wild and woolly division rumble, another tale of two halves. On the one hand, the Raiders ended up with -12 offensive yards for the first half; on the other hand, they rebounded well in the second half, thanks to some much-needed help from special teams and Khalil Mack.

Mack has already established himself as a force to be reckoned with, and paired up perfectly with Aldon Smith earlier in the season. But Mack proved he can do it by himself just fine, sacking Brock Osweiler five times, plowing through Denver’s offensive line with ease.

This matchup turned out to be another one of those where one side of the team — in this case, the defense — performed well, while the offense mucked it up most of the day. In this case, that’s understandable, as Denver’s top-rated defense is turning out to be one of the all-time great lineups. And Amari Cooper’s mini-slump continues, in the midst of a season where he is still a legitimate contender for Offensive Rookie of the Year. But the bottom line is that this team is finally on the right track, that they’re not letting a lousy first half undermine them in the second half, that they can compete with any other team and play a full 60.

Each of the final three games (Green Bay, San Diego, and Kansas City) presents opportunities for the Raiders to show up in all facets, and prove that they can be an elite team in the coming seasons. They still need another solid free agency period and draft in the coming off-season, but Oakland continues to show that they’re moving in the right direction.

Game Preview: Raiders at Broncos

With Peyton Manning on his last legs (so to speak), Denver has turned to Brock Osweiler and a top-rated defense to maintain their playoff chances. Osweiler is huge (6’8″, 250#) and has a strong arm, and has been carrying a clipboard behind Peyton Manning for a couple years now. With receivers like Demaryious Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, and a solid running game in CJ Anderson and Ronnie Hillman, you’d think Denver would pose a more serious offensive threat. Yet they seem content so far to let Osweiler be a standard-issue “game manager” type of QB, while their buzzsaw defense keeps opposing offenses in check.

The Raiders are all but mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, but still have some opportunities to show that the rebuild under Jack Del Rio has made them competitive again. While their performance in the last month’s worth of games has been underwhelming, it’s been more a case of a failure in one phase or another, good offense and bad defense or vice versa, rather than being completely overmatched. If the Raiders can hold Von Miller and give Derek Carr enough time to find Cooper and Crabtree, they might be able to regain their mojo.

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+