The Oakland Raiders’ Week 7 win against the Kansas Chiefs was the most exciting Thursday night game in quite some time. I don’t think anyone went to sleep early that night, at least no one from Raider Nation.
It was an up and down emotional roller coaster: one minute Raider Nation was cursing at their TV screen, hating life, and a minute later, jumping up for joy. By game’s end, we saw a lot of positives, from wide receiver Amari Cooper coming to play to quarterback Derek Carr launching it all over the field and the newest inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman making his presence felt in his debut.
The game, however, could have easily ended in a loss for the Raiders and the fans and analysts alike would have focused instead on the negatives. A win is a great band-aid to cover up deeper issues that can haunt a team in the future. So in order to make sure the team stays on the winning track, we need to put our big boy pants on and take an honest look at last Thursday’s performance. Here are the things that stood out, both positive and negative.
Derek Carr and the Playbook open up
Coming into the Thursday night game, Raiders offensive coordinator Todd Downing was criticized for crippling the rushing attack, making Cooper disappear and predictive playcalling. Downing, however, changed the focus from inside zone and power runs to outside zone running plays. After six weeks, he took the high-powered offense from 2016 straight to the cellar ranking in the bottom five in almost all offensive statistical categories.
However, it looks like the offense has finally found their identity as Carr, Cooper, and the offense went off when the playbook was opened up. Here are some key stats from Pro Football Focus analyst Austin Gayle on the Raiders’ performance.
The #Raiders ran nine play action plays against KC in Week 7…
OAK ran just 12 play action plays in Weeks 1-6.#DowningListened
— Austin Gayle (@AustinGayle_PFF) October 20, 2017
#Raiders‘ Derek Carr attempted 10 deep passes (20+ air yards) against KC in W7…
He attempted 10 such passes in his first five games.
— Austin Gayle (@AustinGayle_PFF) October 20, 2017
OAK averaged 4.0 YPC on the seven power/counter runs they ran against KC, 2.25 yards more than what they averaged on outside zone runs. https://t.co/4IhnhaJOqd
— Austin Gayle (@AustinGayle_PFF) October 23, 2017
Amari Cooper gets his groove back
Some receivers can come out of a slump all on their own and others need to be force-fed to get the engine going. Cooper is apparently the latter. After a dismal start to the season, the Raiders’ offensive game plan included getting Amari the ball early and often. When getting the ball in the hands of your best wide receiver, good things are bound to happen. Cooper had 11 receptions on 19 targets for 210 yards and two touchdowns. He had a total of 39 targets in the previous six games combined, along with 146 yards and only 1 touchdown to boot.
NaVorro Bowman came to play
The Raiders finally have a ‘quarterback’ on defense, as Bowman signed on Monday and spent 40 hours between then and game day memorizing the playbook for Thursday’s contest. Bowman played 60 out of possible 62 snaps on defense, with an 82 overall grade per PFF, a remarkable feat considering how much time he had to get ready. Bowman was a monster playing the run and had a key quarterback pressure on third down late in the fourth quarter to give the ball back to the offense for a chance to win the game.
Coming into the game against the Chiefs, the Raiders had a young and banged up linebacker corps. Adding Bowman not only brought experience to the position, it also brought toughness, knowledge, and an All-Pro who can still play at a high level. It is an easily forgotten fact with an injury-riddled history that Bowman is still only 29 years old. In the long-term, having Bowman will do wonders for the linebacker corps in the locker room, which is made up of several key youngsters such as Marquel Lee, Nicholas Morrow, and Cory James.
Ineffective scheme in the secondary
I mentioned on Twitter before the game that the Raiders’ two main priorities defensively coming into the game should be to neutralize the Chiefs’ two “game changers” in speedster Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce. According to PFF, the top two graded players for the Chiefs in Thursday’s game were… wait for it… Hill and Kelce.
There is no cornerback in the league who can keep up with Hill when he blazes up the sideline. That is why I was scratching my head, confused when I saw Hill torch cornerback David Amerson down the sideline with no safety help. Safety Reggie Nelson was playing Cover 1. If you don’t know who Nelson is, he has been famous this year for moving like a 38-year-old, taking bad angles, leaving his zone and allowing receivers to go behind him while playing safety in Cover 1. So in all reality it wasn’t really surprising to see Hill get behind him too.
The Raiders coaching staff loves Nelson’s experience but going forward, it appears it would be more beneficial for the team if the coaches replaced him with rookie Shalom Luani. Yes, the experience is great, but experience alone cannot help you win games. Nelson’s bad play is not the only reason to start Luani though. Luani actually played well in the pre-season, as he covered well as a free safety and made impressive tackles playing near the box.
Lack of discipline by coach and players
If the Raiders did not win, one of the main plays that would have been talked about is the call to run a QB draw on 3rd and 10 with Carr, who happens to have a back injury. We might have to categorize this into the overthinking category. Perhaps Downing was trying to confuse the defense by running a play they would never think would be run. If you listened to the game, CBS color commentator Tony Romo took jabs at the play-calling all night. Downing took an important step in the right direction Thursday night but needs to keep growing in this area.
At the end of the QB draw play described above, which obviously did not work, Carr was hit late by Chiefs star CB Marcus Peters. This set off the Raiders offensive linemen and they immediately got in Peters’ face, which then prompted Marshawn Lynch to run from the sideline into the middle; not to defend Carr, not to make sure his offensive linemen didn’t get thrown out, but seemingly to make sure his cousin (Peters) on the other team didn’t get hurt or suspended. If this was a real fight I would understand Lynch helping his family member. So the question is, where does the loyalty lie?
A day after the game, former Raiders linebacker Bill Romanowski came on the Joe, Loe, and Dibs radio show on 95.7 The Game and said this regarding Marshawn:
“I heard that he was going to get in a fight and get thrown out of that game, premeditatively. I heard that.”
The entire interview can be heard here. True or not, the coach needs to step in and make everyone’s priorities clear.
Quality of play by the defensive backs
We have now seen both starters from last season struggle. Sean Smith is already benched for bad play and Amerson this year actually has a lower PFF grade than Smith.
The chart below shows that 2015 was the only good year for Amerson. He looks to be regressing right now as TJ Carrie has already replaced Smith. Is it time for Dexter McDonald to replace or at least take snaps away from Amerson? Hopefully, this mess in the backfield can get sorted out in time.