Good, Bad and Other Takeaways Before Steal City.

Good news, the Raiders won their opening matchup versus the Baltimore Ravens on Monday Night. It was an official blessing to the Silver and Black’s new home in Vegas.

Bad news, Vegas almost didn’t win. Even worse, Denzelle Good went down with a season ending injury.

Good suffered the injury in the first game of a new deal and role. He really stabilized the unit with his versatility the last couple seasons. The offensive line was also already a shallow group.

That means John Simpson should start again even if Richie Incognito returns. I still don’t know why Brandon Parker hasn’t gotten an opportunity to kick inside. 

Either way, the guards will be tested versus Pittsburgh veterans that include Cameron Heyward. Reviews about new starters Andre James and Alex Leatherwood were mixed. They made plays but also some curcial penalties and mistakes.

Josh Jacobs and Yannick Ngakoue both sustained long-term injuries too. Jacobs will miss this game but Ngakoue is expected to play hobbled in Week Two.

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Week One Flashbacks

Baltimore nearly sealed the game after the Raiders thought they won off a play that was stopped at the one. Carr threw a pick off a receiver a few plays later. There was a lost kicker too. 

Nonetheless, the Raiders won off a Zay Jones wide open catch. I told you these games against Baltimore usually come down to one play or the finish. 

Familiar rivals like Justin Houston and Sammy Watkins made big plays for Baltimore. Raiders fans will remember them from their days terrorizing us with the Chiefs. Latavius Murray also found the end zone after signing with the team just days before Monday Night.

All week since, Maxx Crosby and Carl Nassib earned praise after the win. Crosby registered enough sacks and TFLs to earn AFC player of the week. He was a constant force against the run and pass. Nassib helped get the ball back with a strip sack towards the game’s conclusion. Finally some turnovers! 

I’ve been critical of Nassib for a while now. He flashes on a play or two but hadn’t developed the consistency. Same for Maxx who struggled last year with more teams scheming for him. Both showed out when we needed them most. Don’t take away from Nassib making big plays in what was first regular season game since coming out. Nassib got his number called and delivered on the field while making history off the field.

More bad news came from the running game with Josh Jacobs getting hurt. He is ruled out versus the Steelers. That is a huge loss as the Raiders need to control the pass rush and clock with the run game.

Either way, Kenyan Drake earned a big contract for this exact reason. It wasn’t just to be an explosive, change-of-pace and gadget player. We knew a time would come where Jacobs needed rest and getting Drake was great insurance. It’s not like the Silver and Black haven’t employed multiple great rushers at the same time.

I don’t think any of us expected to need Drake this early but it is better than not having him. Hopefully, Jacobs doesn’t turn on too much McFadden PTSD with these lingering injuries. 

It wasn’t a particularly good game for either rusher. The best run play of the night came with Marcus Mariota earning 30 yards from his sub-package. The good news was Jacobs found the end zone a couple of times. 

On the other side of the ball, Yannick Ngakoue also sustained an injury. Many thought it would limit him this week and further. However, he practiced this week and he is expected to play versus the Steelers. 

If Ngakoue can’t go, the Raiders will need Clelin Ferrell. Ferrell was a healthy scratch versus the Ravens. 

The Raiders will need him and Solomon Thomas to prove those top-10 draft grades. Gerald McCoy also went down with injury last week. The vet was just gaining momentum and a role in the rotation. Ferrell and Thomas will be needed both inside and out moving forward.

Old School Rivalry

Every one reading this knows the ball hit the ground. However, many of these players in this week’s Steelers and Raiders showdown won’t remember the Immaculate Deception. In fact, there aren’t many familiar faces since the two franchise faced off in 2018. The most prominent returns are the two quarterbacks.

Derek Carr played well enough last week. He had one part where he had seven in completions. He almost sparked a riot on Raiders twitter after that INT. Carr redeemed himself with the winning TD. Otherwise, it was rewarding to see him take and convert shots down the field. I still don’t think the Raiders will win a Super Bowl if he is forced to through the ball 50 times.

That’s why the loss of Jacobs is pretty huge. The Steelers want to run the ball too. They didn’t complete many big shots versus the Bills last week, despite their slew of explosive receivers. Their offensive line is reloading. Big Ben Roethlisberger played well enough last week. At this point in his career, is Big Ben a game manager?

We will see versus the Raiders. Baltimore isn’t exactly loaded at any skill positions, yet they found success through the air and running the ball. Look for Pittsburgh to try and get their offense in rhythm with the run game and some more deep shots.

If the Steelers can contain the Raiders’ rush, that could spell some confidence for the Pittsburgh passing game. However, they’ll only go as far as the offensive line and run game goes. This should be an old school game with both teams trying to establish the run and dominate the trenches.

Versus the Steelers, the Raiders defensive line faces a cast of new faces. Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro and Andrew Villanueva once held down this offensive line. All those names are gone from Pittsburgh’s roster. 

Insert Trai Turner, Joe Haeg and JC Hassanauer. All experienced players written off by their former team. The Steelers swung last year’s starting right tackle to the left side. Point is, the Raiders should make Roethlisberger uncomfortable. He was sacked by the Bills twice last week. 

Najee Harris caught the attention of many fantasy owners before the season. However, he underwhelmed in his first game. Harris averaged less than three yards a carry. Pittsburgh should look to get him touches early and often. The Raiders surrendered rushing yards last week.

Pittsburgh rush defense wasn’t much better. They surrendered 65 yards to Devin Singletary. Again, Drake is going to be huge this week. Whatever team can establish the run will win this game.

The Steelers did sack QB Josh Allen three times. Pittsburgh also kept Stefon Diggs and the Bills receivers from scoring or completing a deep pass. This means the Raiders could have trouble completing the deep passes they converted on Monday Night.

The Vegas offense completed several passes over 20 yards to a variety of receivers. Can they do that with TJ Watt rushing on every play? 

The Major Key Versus Pittsburgh

Both teams should make big plays as both defenses can bend. The real test will be which defense lasts the longest and doesn’t break. Double critical that both defenses find a way to create turnovers and get stops in the red zone.

Ultimately, the deciding factor will be the run defense. Both teams have a slew of receivers they want to feature. However, the pass rush from both teams should neutralize that. Both secondaries seemed improved although it is early.

Regardless, the team that can get the run going will get the opposing defense on their heals. That also controls the clock and forces these offenses to take big shots. Well both teams want to convert big plays, I’m not sure either will be comfortable if they find themselves in a situation where they must force big shots if either one is down big.

Instead, I suspect both teams will setup their shots strategically of the run game. Both teams will benefit from protecting a lead and allowing their pass rushers to just get up field and create havoc.

Vegas is on the road though. They’re also down their best back. That means they will rely on big play passing game a bit more.

In the end, we’ll take beating the Steelers no matter what. Let’s protect that 16-13 all-time record. Plus, this game could have potential AFC Wild Card implications given the strength of both divisions and the added game this season.

Whatever quarterback can make a play without costing their team usually wins this game. Big Ben and Derek Carr have both had their shares of comebacks and big plays. They’ve also come up short or turned the ball over in big spots. None of that got anything to do with Sunday so whatever quarterback can balance the game managing with occasional gun slinging will win.

Whichever quarterback can use their run game to control the clock and pass rush will find themselves more easily converting downfield plays too. Coincidentally, an opposing offense playing catch up usually makes it easy on the leading team’s defense.

Bottom line, the Raiders need a win here to make everybody feel a little bit better about barely beating the Ravens. The world was watching and Vegas barely squeezed one out. This time a decisive win over an old rival could get all the haters to see the new commitment to excellence.

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Oakland Raiders: Keys to beating the Carolina Panthers

Last week, the Oakland Raiders nearly suffered a letdown. The Houston Texans led throughout the Monday Night Football matchup in Mexico City.

However, the Raiders found a way to win.

This week, the Raiders can not rely on the same heroics. Despite their record, the defending NFC champion Carolina Panthers (4-6) still have the reigning MVP, big receivers and a scary defensive line. Don’t forget Oakland’s only two losses this season came at home. Hence, this could combine for a huge Panthers’ road victory over the Raiders.

Here is the formula which should help Oakland protect their home-field

1) Pound the football

Oakland made their running backs relevant via pass attempts. Jamize Olawale and Jalen Richard both caught touchdown passes and Latavius Murray caught five passes for 59 yards.

Otherwise, Oakland only rushed for 30 yards on 20 carries. The Texans owned them in time of possession by more than 13 minutes.

Hence, Oakland must bounce back this week. The Raiders have one of the best offensive lines in football, and they face a great Carolina defensive line that is deep. It should be fun watching Kelechi Osemele and Kawann Short battle in the middle. Hopefully, the Raiders can take advantage of their versatility at the running back position with Murray, Richard and company.

Plus, Carolina will be without their all-pro run linebacker Luke Kuechly. This should open up some running lanes for the Raiders.

Expect them to get back to the ground game against the Panthers. This is the easiest way to limit Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton’s impact on the game.

2) Pressure Cam Newton

Raiders edge rusher Khalil Mack enters this game with a chance to get a sack in his sixth consecutive game. However, it won’t be easy against the forever mobile Newton.

Thus, it will be on the entire defensive line to contain Newton. It is well documented that Newton has problems with the way he is hit on the run and in the pocket. Therefore, Oakland must get into his head by pressuring and hitting him in legal ways. This will keep the Panthers’ rushing and passing attack out of rhythm.

Further, the Raiders must stay in their passing lines. Newton can extend plays with his feet, so the Raiders must not let him run around. The Raiders secondary makes too many mistakes, and the Panthers receivers are too big and fast. It could spell disaster if the Raiders do not pressure Newton and keep contain.

Granted, that is easier said than done.

3) Secondary must improve

The Carolina secondary has not been the same since losing Josh Norman to free agency. Therefore, the deep group of Oakland receivers should exploit the Carolina corners.

However, the Panthers could make this a shootout. We know the Raiders secondary makes mistakes via penalties and big plays. This week, they matchup well against the big-bodied receivers in Carolina. Raiders corners Sean Smith and David Amerson are just as big and skilled as Panthers receivers Kelvin Benjamin and Tedd Ginn Jr.

Hence, the Oakland secondary must improve. D.J. Hayden, Karl Joseph, Reggie Nelson, Malcolm Smith, and Perry Riley could all see matchups versus tight end Greg Olsen. Olsen is one of the best in the NFL.

Oakland can not let the Panthers keep this game close by giving up big plays in the passing game. No mistakes this week, guys!

The Oakland Raiders and Carolina Panthers play at 1:25 p.m. PST.

Oakland Raiders versus Tennessee Titans: Turn Up or Turn Down

The Oakland Raiders (2-1) played a better defensive game as they held onto a road victory over the Tennessee Titans (1-2). Here are some reactions from the week three win.

Turn Up: The Secondary

Rookie safety Karl Joseph led the team in tackles during his debut as a starter. Meanwhile, free agency acquisitions corner Sean Smith and safety Reggie Nelson both registered interceptions. Not to mention, D.J. Hayden made some key tackles. T.J. Carrie made some plays in coverage on the final game. Also, David Amerson led the team with four pass deflections.

The Raiders secondary finally showed some ability. They still need to turn up their abilities to make up for the first two games, where they gave up more than 400 passing yards. However, this game showed a glimpse of their potential. Oakland will need the secondary to improve because they invested a ton of money into the unit during free agency.

Turn Down: Opponents’ Rushing Yards

Oakland got exposed in the running game, again. This time, Tennesse registered 181 rushing yards. The Silver and Black struggled tackling the Titans’ big running backs DeMarcco Murray and Derrick Henry.

Rookie linebacker Cory James showed some positives in his first start. However, the team still requires improved play in the middle of their defense. That starts up front with defensive tackle play. The Raiders’ under-sized linebackers need the big defensive tackles to eat space. This way, James and others can use their speed to get downhill and attack the ball.

Turn Down: Dropped Passes

The Silver and Black only scored 17 points, but it was a successful outing on the offensive side of the ball. Oakland could have dominated the ball more with better execution from their pass catchers.

Quarterback Derek Carr completed 21 of 35 passes for 249 yards and a touchdown in the game, but his team went scoreless in the second half. Some of that goes on the shoulders of receivers who dropped too many balls. Amari Cooper, Clive Walford, Andre Holmes, and Seth Roberts all took turns at failing to complete receptions. Some of them were bad throws or good plays by the defense, but they need to make the catches when the ball is in reach.

Turn Up: The Rushing Attack

Again, Oakland still dominated the line of scrimmage by registering more than 100 rushing yards in the game. Nonetheless, most of that success came from a 22-yard run from Latavius Murray and a 30-yard run from DeAndre Washington. Take those away and the unit was much less effective. Just look at Murray’s pedestrian 3.7 yards per carry.

Either way, Oakland’s rushing attack should get better once they get one of their top-three tackles back from injury. Starting right tackle Menelik Watson went down with another injury in this game and Vadal Alexander put together a solid outing in his first extended performance during Watson’s absence. Regardless, it would be nice to see this unit stay at full strength.

 

Raiders Offensive Notes: Derek Carr, Amari Cooper, & Latavius Murray

 

Derek Carr

According to ESPN, quarterback Derek Carr averages 7.4 yards per pass. This puts him in the bottom-five of the leauge.

However, Pro Football Focus has him third in the league with an 83 percent adjusted completion percentage.

Carr also has a chance to become the second QB in Oakland history to throw for at least 900 yards, per ESPN also. Rich Gannon was the first to do it during his 2002 Super Bowl and league MVP run.

Can Carr maintain his accuracy and increase his yards per completion? Will he continue with the dink and dunk?

“I’m going to do what’s best for the team in those situations. Obviously, you want to push the ball down the field.” Carr said. “As long as we’re staying explosive, I think that that’s the main thing that we want.”

Latavius Murray

Latavius Murray has gotten only 43 percent of Oakland’s rushes due to the success of rookies DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard. However, Murray is doing more with less, according to ESPN.

Murray got 57 yards on 8 carries versus the Falcons. He is averaging 5.3 yards per carry in two games.

“Regardless of when I go in there and how many times I go in there, I just got to do what I got to do when I’m in there.” Murray said.

Overall, the runner is catching the ball better and doing everything better. Hence, PFF has him graded as the best tailback. Murray is also top-five in yards after contact.

“This year I’m just making sure I use my size to my advantage, breaking tackles, trying to run through guys,” Murray said. “I guess when that ball is in my hands, whoever is on the other side of the ball became the victim of Angry Tay.”

Amari Cooper

After a great rookie year, it appears Amari Cooper is taking the next step, according to The Mercury News.

He has 11 receptions for 208 yards, with an average of 18.9 yards per catch.

Head coach Del Rio said:

“There’s a benefit in the experience he gained. I think we know more about him now in terms of the toughness he brings, and I think he understands more in detail about how to take care of himself and how demanding a season is for an NFL player.”

Check out offensive notes here.

 

 

 

 

 

Oakland Raiders at New Orleans Saints: Quick Hits

The Oakland Raiders begin their season 1-0, after a thrilling 35-34 win over the New Orleans Saints.

The Saints led 17-10 at  halftime in the Super Dome.

Out of the second half, both offenses sputtered. Then the Saint hits on a deep pass that ignited them.

Oakland put together some drives also. Richard got a big-play that would lead to a tie game. Here are some big plays and points from the game.

  • Raiders defense started the game with Bruce Irvin strip sack which ended the Saints’first drive. This lead to Sebastian Janikowski kick.
  • Murray had 7 carries for 32 yards in the first half. Jalen Richard caught a pass. Taiwan Jones also got a carry but lost yards.
  • Amari Cooper setup first touchdown of the season. Cooper caught two passes before the Latavius Murray 11-yard touchdown run. Cooper made a sprawling catch at the five before Murray punched it in for 10-3 lead.
  • On defense, the secondary struggled in the first half. Sean Smith gave up a long pass play to rookie Michael Thomas. Brandin Cooks caught a touchdown pass with D.J. Hayden in coverage. Willie Snead tore up the Raiders from the slot. He caught a short touchdown pass on fourth down, but he consistently got open.
  • Raiders offense punts on first drive after halftime as they trail 17-10 but defense holds Saints to the same. Richard gets nice punt return negated by holding.
  • Sean Smith dusted by Brandin Cooks for 98-yard touchdown run. New Orleans takes 24-10 lead  in the third.
  • Crabtree came up big in the second-half. Raiders held to a field goal after a solid drive, Saints maintain a 24-13 lead.
  • Matt McCants goes down at right tackle. Oakland moves Penn to fill his spot. Kelechi Osemele plays left tackle and Jon Feliciano comes in at left guard.
  • Carr leads Raiders on a drive to start the fourth quarter. Finds Cooper on a deep pass after having lots of time in the pocket. Then throws a strike to Crabtree at the five. Jamize Olawale punches in the touchdown. The Silver and Black miss the two-point conversion, as the score is 19-24.
  • Saints answer with a field goal drive. Mark Ingrim dragging defenders and Drew Brees dodged Raiders pass pressure. A questionable P.I. call keeps the drive alive.
  • Richard busts 75-yard touchdown run that gives the Raiders a chance to tie the game. Carr then finds Cooper for two-point conversion. Game tied at 27.
  • New Orleans scores after a deep pass to Snead is fumbled but then recovered by a fellow-Saints receiver. Brees throws fourth touchdown as they go up 34-27.
  • Crabtree makes great catch on Raiders answering drive. Carr throws ball late, but Crabtree finds the ball. Raiders miss on some passes within the twenty. A pass interference call on Jalen Richard saves the drive on fourth down. Seth Roberts scores touchdown which ties the game at with less than a minute left. Crabtree catches two-point conversion to give Oakland 35-34 lead with :47 left in the game.
  • Willie Snead catches a couple of passes in the middle of the field for the Saints. New Orleans kicked a 61-yard-filed goal attempt which was wide right.

 

Ultimately, the secondary struggling almost cost them the game.Hayden had some penalties and Smith got beat. They also had some questionable tackling from their linebackers. Carr’s decision making was also late. However, he did enough to lead the Silver and Black to their first win of the season.

What a game?!

Oakland Raiders at New Orleans Saints: First Half Notes

The Oakland Raiders took on the New Orleans Saints for the first game of the season. The Saints lead 17-10 at home.

DEFENSE:

  • Bruce Irvin sacked and forced a fumble on Drew Brees which ends first drive. Leads to first points of the season off of Sebastian Janikowski kick.
  • Mark Ingrim gets 12 and 20-yard gains for Saints on the second series. Saints held to a field goal, which ties game at three all.
  • Tim Hightower gets run going again later in first. Willie Snead tears apart Raiders. Snead Catches a deep ball that puts them in the red zone. He then catches short fourth and goal touchdown pass to make game 10-10.
  • Saints go up 17-10 in second quarter thanks to Brandin  Cooks touchdown pass. He beat D.J. Hayden in coverage. Sean Smith also gave up the crucial play that put Saints inside the red zone. Michael Thomas catches a pass, then registers some yards after the catch.
  • D.J. Hayden gets defensive holding call that negates Bruce Irvin sack. Luckily, Raiders defense forces punt with a little more than a minute left in first half.

OFFENSE:

  • Latavius Murray gets the Raiders first touchdown of the year via an 11-yard run thanks to an Amari Cooper sprawling catch which put Raiders at the five-yard-line. It was Cooper’s second catch on the drive. Oakland goes up 10-3.
  • Jalen Richard made his first appearance with a catch in the first quarter. Meanwhile, Taiwan Jones loses eight yards on a carry later in the first half.
  • Derek Carr shows his scrambling ability in second quarter. Makes first down run and leaps for extra yards. However, this drive did not lead to points.
  • Menelik Watson goes down during Raiders final drive with about a minute left in the second quarter. He walks off the field on his own, but it looked like an ankle injury.
  • Cooper catches the final pass of the half via a hitch route.

Oakland must try to stop the run on defense. Hightower and Ingrim were having their way. On offense, look for Oakland to continue establishing the run. Hopefully, Watson’s injury is not serious. Backup right tackle Austin Howard got hurt last week, so he is inactive.