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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

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.

Week 10 Final: Vikings 30, Raiders 14

Well. That was something, not sure what. From the Vikings’ first touchdown being scored by the son of former Raider Riki Ellison, you just knew this was going to be an odd game. And Oakland kept it close in the first half, but that 93-yard kickoff return touchdown by Cordarelle Patterson near the end of the half seemed to just take the wind out of the Raiders’ sails. The offense was strangely dormant until it was too late, and Derek Carr found out the hard way about trying to force one in (poor choice of phrase, I know). Topped off with an 80-yard touchdown run from Adrian Peterson, to give him a total of over 200 yards on the day, and once again, the Raiders seemed to not quite know what had hit them.

The next two games are on the road, but against two of the worst teams in the league, Detroit and Tennessee. Rather than worrying about getting that wild-card berth, the Raiders just need to concentrate on putting together complete games in all phases. It’s hard to say which is worse — last week’s game in Pittsburgh, where a solid offensive outing was undone by the defense’s complete inability to account for the Steelers’ two best offensive players, or today’s matchup where the defense still couldn’t get it done, but the offense didn’t really show up either.

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

Week 4 Final: Bears 22, Raiders 20

Look, we can’t say we weren’t warned. Everything that’s been an issue for the Raiders so far — the inability to cover tight ends; settling for field goals instead of driving for touchdowns; getting points from turnovers — came to the forefront against what is (was) arguably the NFL’s worst team.

Full stats here, play-by-play here.

Going into this game, it was basically understood that no one should make too big of a deal out of it either way, especially if the Raiders had won. It’s interconference, against a mediocre team, there were a few bright spots, yada yada. But since they not only lost, but found a way to lose, you can at least say that this was a game that will dog them at the end of the season, just for rankings’ sake, that it was a game that they could and should have won, that it emphasized several glaring weaknesses that they are really going to have to work on if they’re going to take things to the proverbial next level.

This was always going to be a tougher game than it looked on paper, partly because it was in Chicago, partly because Jay Cutler, despite his flaws, was going to be tougher to beat than Jimmy Clausen. But again, these are the kinds of games that sort out average teams from truly good teams.

Onward and upward. Surely Jack Del Rio has the Raiders primed for an epic matchup against his former team, ready to tear Peyton Manning a new one, and head into the bye week on a really strong note. Keep your fingers crossed.

Week 3 Final: Raiders 27, Browns 20

Good game, right down to the wire, but a bit frustrating in some respects. It’s always a good day to walk away with a W, no matter how close, but before people start talking about turning a corner, it’s important to keep it in perspective. After a strong first three quarters, Oakland found a way to make a nail-biter out of what should have been a laugher, nearly blowing a three-possession lead. That’s the hallmark of young teams who haven’t learned how to finish games strong.

Some real bright spots to be worked on in the weeks to come, though — despite a midfield fumble in the 4th quarter that let the Browns get back in the game, Amari Cooper just gets better week to week. His route-running and after-catch moves make him a real offensive threat. The running game took a while to get going, but once it did, Latavius Murray broke off some great runs to extend drives.

Getting some sacks definitely helps as well, of course, but on a day where the secondary struggled as usual, it was somehow fitting that a banged-up Charles Woodson had the game-clinching interception, with Cleveland driving strong for what would have been a tying score. Linebackers Ray Ray Armstrong, who had the Raiders first sack of the game (and season), and Neiron Ball, who had a fumble recovery and a sack in the last five minutes of the game, really stepped up. Again, the key here is not so much the mistakes that let the Browns stay in the game, but that the Raiders continue to finish games, which they have done well today and last week.

How long has it been since the Raiders started off 2-1, ten years, twelve? How long as it been since they won two games in a row? I honestly can’t recall. Next week is another road game, against the Bears, who are terrible this season, then home against Denver, who are definitely not the team they’ve been the last few years. If the Raiders continue to play like they have against Baltimore and Cleveland, with poise and resilience, they could hit the bye week at 4-1.

Roster Moves

With all the injuries in Sunday’s debacle, the Raiders made several significant roster moves. Trading WR Brice Butler to the Cowboys frees up a spot to pull Taylor Mays back in to fill Nate Allen’s spot. TE Gabe Holmes was cut to make room for defensive lineman CJ Wilson, as Justin Ellis was also injured.

I guess we’re about to find out how resilient the team and coaching staff really are.

Pacman Fever

In case you weren’t quite sure about whether or not Pacman Jones is a punk and a prick, wonder no more. Jones, who should have been ejected from Sunday’s game when he sat on Amari Cooper’s chest at the end of a play, yanked Cooper’s helmet off and beat Cooper’s head against the helmet, was fined $35,000 by the league, and of course promises to appeal.

This is what Deflategate (or Ballghazi, or whatever the dumb name for it is) has gotten us — an impotent commissioner who resides mostly in Robert Kraft’s back pocket, that lets this kind of conduct go on against teams the league doesn’t like. Can you imagine what would have happened if Jones had done that to a Patriots or Packers player? For one, he would have actually been ejected. For another, a suspension would have at least been discussed, in conjunction with the fine.

Maybe we need to start up a crowdfunded effort to put a bounty on Jones’ cheap-shotting ass.

Collapse Across the Bay

I know I’ve said this before, but with the release of Aldon Smith, it bears repeating — can you think of another team that has had an off-season as catastrophic as the 49ers have gone through? They’ve lost their five best defensive players, head coach, #1 running back, and #2 wide receiver (who seems to be gelling just fine in Raiders training camp). They’re in arguably the toughest division in the league. Only an imaginative homer would think it’s going to be anything but a tough slog for them in the coming season.

As bad as the Raiders have been over the last 12 seasons, it’s been especially difficult the last few years, watching the Niners climb out of their own cellar and become successful again, while the Raiders continued to flounder. It’s starting to look like it’s going to be the other way around.

There are still some holes to fill, obviously, but the running game cannot possibly be any worse than it was last year, therefore we should see at least some improvement this year. Ken Norton, Jr. appears to be a fiery coach looking to make an impact in his first year as a DC, and Bill Musgrave should be able to improve on last year’s dismal offense. Things are starting to look up.

Win at home, win the division, make the team and the stadium a name to be feared again, and things will fall into place right away.