Rory’s Ruminations: Important Trends Developing in Oakland

Four weeks into the season and the Oakland Raiders finally produced their first victory.

It took overtime and the game ended with nearly 90 points, but in the end the Raiders were victorious 45-42 over the Cleveland Browns.

Throughout the course of the game, Raider Nation went through an emotional roller coaster experiencing huge peaks and valleys. By the time the epic was over, there were certain trends developing that future wins should be built around.

In-Game Adjustments

The victory over the Browns was a great example of persistence and the importance of in-game adjustments. Both the offense and the defense had points where they struggled, however when it mattered most, both sides of the ball stepped up and made plays.

Many fans will bring up the similarities between this game and wins from 2016. Those similarities are uncanny. The main key is ensuring the Raiders are playing complementary football where each side of the ball helps create success for the other. This was the first game we saw the Raiders perform that way.

Special Teams Was Special

One of the most frustrating failures for the Raiders early in this season had been the very poor special teams play.

Rich Bisaccia, the Raider’s special teams coordinator, is widely considered one of the best in the NFL. Punter Johnny Townsend had struggled this season failing to show off the leg that he was known for in college. Dwayne Harris had failed to make any considerable returns this season always leaving the Raiders with long fields.

After the Week 4 victory over the Browns, Football Outsiders has the Raider’s starting line of scrimmage per drive (average drive start), at the 27.63 yard line which qualifies for 19th in the NFL. This outcome is not entirely due to special teams play, but it is a decent indicator of whether or not the team has at least some productivity from the group.

For his performance Dwayne Harris won AFC Special Teams Player of the Week. Not only was he a tremendous presence as a gunner, but he also recorded 98 return yards on five punt returns including a 49 yarder that help set the Raider offense up for a score. What also helped drastically change this trend in Week 4 was the defense.

Defense Forced Turnovers

Gareon Conley will go down in history as the man who caught Baker Mayfield’s first touchdown pass in his first started game. Of course that is an unofficial stat, but his interception return for a touchdown was one of four turnovers forced by the Oakland Raiders. Included in this list are an interception to close out regulation time by Reggie Nelson, a strip sack by Maurice Hurst, and a fumbled snap recovered by Johnathan Hankins.

This was the first game where the defense made multiple impact plays. Although the defense also gave up some huge plays and failed to control the Brown’s offense overall, they did in fact make defensive plays when they had to be made.

Late in the fourth quarter when the Browns were trying to run the clock out, Hurst had a tremendous three plays in a row as a central figure preventing Carlos Hyde from picking up a first down on three consecutive runs. Week four was the worst overall defensive performance in terms of yards and points given up, but it was the best of the season creating impact plays.

Get the Ball to Amari

Two out of the first four weeks of the season Amari Cooper has gone over 100 yards receiving. In both games the Raiders either won or were on the verge of winning. That second stat is definitely more correlation than causation, but the Raiders are most effective when they are getting him involved.

In Amari’s first two seasons he had 262 targets, 2223 yards on 155 receptions, with 11 touchdowns and a 59% catch rate. Right now Amari is on pace for 120 targets, 1,080 yards on 84 receptions, with 4 touchdowns and a 70% catch rate. The catch is, in two of the four games Amari had five targets or less and only recorded a total of 26 yards in those two games.

Before the season started Jon Gruden stated that Cooper was going to be a focal point of the offense this season. That claim started on rocky ground in Week 1, but after four weeks the model is clear. By targeting Amari all over the field including specially designed plays with the sole intent to get him the ball, the Raiders maintain balance. Even if Amari is covered and the ball does not always get to him, simply reminding the defense of the threat he provides is enough to open opportunities elsewhere. There is no reason to make sure Amari is targeted like a number one receiver which is between 12 and 16 targets per game.

Marshawn Loves Shotgun

Here’s another statistical nugget:

The total number of runs from shotgun for Marshawn is 17. The reason why the Raiders are so successful running from shotgun is due to balance. Shotgun and also single back sets with either 11 or 12 personnel, are the sets where the Raiders maintain the best balance. When the Raiders go to two back sets, or big sets of any kind they almost exclusively run. The offense in those groupings becomes extremely predictable which ultimately harms the offense’s overall effectiveness.

Considering the fact that the Raiders are ranked second in the NFL in total yards and Carr has a career best in yards per attempt which means he is pushing the ball downfield, it is hard to criticize the job that Jon Gruden is doing. With that in mind, the Raiders are dangerous in certain looks and getting the ball to certain players. These are trends that defenses will notice and try to limit which means wrinkles will have to be developed. From everything we have seen offensively, there is no reason to believe that cannot happen.

Prediction for Week 5 Raiders @ Chargers

Phillip Rivers is one of the great Raider Killers of all time. He has a tendency to do incredible things and his offense is loaded with weapons. That said, the defense does not have Joey Bosa and the 49ers without Garoppolo were able to go blow for blow with the Charger defense. Yes Derwin James has been fantastic, but so has the Raider offensive line. Ultimately I think the Raiders go on a bit of a run here before the bye week. The score will not be indicative to how close the game actually is and even some garbage time points could inflate the end result. Raiders win 31-21.

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