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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.