New Players and Used Concepts Save Raiders’ Season

There was an AC/DC reunion last Thursday night (even the drops made an appearance), as Amari Cooper was targeted early and often (19), amassing 11 receptions, 210 yards, a touchdown and AFC Offensive Player Of The Week honors. The Raiders coaching staff deserves credit for moving Cooper around the field, including in the slot as the target of 11 balls and coming down with six catches and a touchdown from there (PFF).

Jared Cook displayed a reappearing act of his own, looking like the tight end who was promised before the season. He ended the game with six receptions, 107 yards and two clutch catches on the final drive, including a 4th and 11 down the middle of the field and a deep outside ball where he out jumped two defenders and a teammate to set the Raiders up for a winning score from the one half yard line.

On defense, recently signed NaVorro Bowman played in 60 of 62 snaps and led the team with 11 total tackles, four run stops and a QB pressure from a well-timed blitz late in the game.

Team leaders step up in biggest moments

As the defense geared up for a season-saving three-and-out, Derek Carr watched intently from the sideline mentally preparing to lead the team in a two-minute drill. With a loss, the team would move to 2-5 (0-3 in the division), and rack up a fifth straight L to Kansas City (the last win coming in 2014 after an 0-10 start). Khalil Mack and the defense had other plans; the group played within themselves, did not allow easy plays and came up with a huge stop. It began with Bruce Irvin pushing, holding, and knocking Travis Kelce off his routes, and ended with Mack’s patented one-armed bull rush which knocked tackle Eric Fisher onto his heels and forced Alex Smith to his right and into the arms of Denico Autry. For Khalil Mack, it was business as usual, as he was once again stout against the run and recorded seven QB pressures on the night (Per PFF, Mack hasn’t earned a run defense grade below 79.4 in any game this season and stands at 90.6 overall in 2017).

Though the defense was not perfect – they continued to give up big yardage touchdowns of 64 and 63 yards, and allowed the Chiefs to convert 8/15 third downs; they did just enough to give the offense a chance to win the game late. Derek Carr notched his 13th career fourth-quarter comeback and put the naysayers in neutral as he threw for 417 yards and three touchdowns, including an 85-yard game-winning drive in the final two minutes. Carr held onto the ball for almost 3/4 of a second longer per snap than his year average (thanks to a pocket made for an SUV), allowing the receivers to get open down the field. Carr’s 10 deep throws (20+ yards downfield) were the most for any QB this season, and his receivers rewarded his trust by making big-time catches. The offense also ran nine play actions, three less than they had through the first six weeks of the season (PFF).

In the end, the Raiders were able to overcome Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs, something they hadn’t done in four straight contests. Yet, the question remains: can these Raiders beat almost everyone left on the schedule and make a run for the playoffs? For now, the team is not looking back; they’re “on to Buffalo” according to head coach Jack Del Rio. This much is certain: the Raiders will go as far as their best (and soon to be highest-paid) players will take them. They showed their will Thursday night when the team needed them most. At last, there is light at the bottom of the black hole.

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