No one is going to argue last Sunday’s loss was another bleak showing in a long line of them for the Oakland Raiders. Still, there was a silver lining in the disheartening defeat.
A trio of Raiders managed to shine in what was otherwise a pile of excrement. One was a rookie, another a sophomore and lastly a veteran.
Shalolm Luani: The seventh-round pick out of Washington State not only made his first career start at strong safety, he played all but one of Oakland’s defensive snaps (68 of 69) against Buffalo. That was surprising.
What wasn’t shocking was his mixed-bag outing. Luani racked up seven total tackles (six solo) and a pass deflection and came close to nabbing the Raiders’ first interception of the season. But he also had lapses in coverage — namely on Andre Holmes’ 36-yard catch for the Bills — and whiffed on tackles — something he had a penchant for doing as a Cougar safety. Pro Football Focus tallied five targets for Luani with three catches for 52 yards allowed.
Yet, he played fast and was around the ball. Encouraging sign for a rookie.
“I can’t mess up,” Luani noted. “They expect me to come in and play. They expect me to make plays. Before every play, I just gotta think about what I gotta do and just improve … I feel like I did pretty good. I still wasn’t satisfied with how I performed, but there’s a lot of room for improvement.”
Just how much more playing time Luani receives the rest of the way is up in the air. A healthy Karl Joseph regains his starting spot and with second-round pick Obi Melifonwu slated to make his season debut against Miami, Luani may be relegated to special teams work. But Luani has earned snaps and should keep reserve safety Keith McGill entrenched on kick coverages.
Cory James: When NaVorro Bowman was signed, James quickly asked the veteran linebacker what time would film study be. Those sessions must have been something fierce.
The second-year linebacker from Colorado State was a man on fire against Buffalo racking up a team-high eight solo tackles, three of which were behind the line of scrimmage. James displayed the speed, instincts and tackling ability that made him a stalwart middle linebacker and defensive end in college. He diagnosed and shot the gap to bring down elusive Bills running back LeSean McCoy in the backfield. And his ability to fill the hole forced runners into the waiting arms of teammates.
James is currently tied for third on the team in total tackles (42) and he’s missed a game and some naps due to injury.
NaVorro Bowman: The eighth-year veteran has been a steadying presence at middle linebacker for Oakland. Against Buffalo, Bowman had a team-high 11 total tackles (seven solo and 1.5 drops for loss). While no longer a fleet-footed all-around coverage linebacker, Bowman still has the spunk to lay down the funk.
Honorable mentions: Michael Crabtree (5 catches for 83 yards); Bruce Irvin (4 tackles, 2 for loss); Lee Smith (1 catch, 21 yards).
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— RaiderRamble.com™ (@TheRaiderRamble) October 29, 2017