The new era of Oakland Raiders football has officially started, but "excellence" is not a word many would attach to an eight-point loss to the visiting San Diego Chargers.
Oakland’s offense could only manage 14 points with Carson Palmer and Darren McFadden playing together in a regular season game for the first time. The special teams unit struggled much like it did during the preseason, and the difficulties were only magnified when long snapper Jon Condo was forced to leave the game with a head injury.
Perhaps the positive that came out of the game was the play of Oakland’s defense. The Raiders held the Chargers to one offensive touchdown and five field goals despite a huge field-position disadvantage.
The defense could not overcome numerous mental errors and miscues that cost the Raiders valuable field position. The team fumbled four times—one was lost, one resulted in negative yardage and the other two were bad snaps by replacement long snapper Travis Goethel, who hadn’t done any long snapping since high school seven years ago, according to Steve Corkran of the Bay Area News Group.
To make matters worse, the Raiders had another punt blocked and committed six penalties for 35 yards, including a pair of encroachment penalties by Tommy Kelly that twice extended a San Diego drive.
On a night when the Raiders could have used an explosive play or two to overcome the mental mistakes, there were none to be had. The Palmer and McFadden marriage appeared solid, but neither of them had many friends outside their relationship. McFadden touched the ball a total of 28 times, more than five times as much as any other offensive player.
The Raiders didn’t complete many passes down the field, and Palmer was content to dump the ball off to McFadden and let him do as much damage as he could. The Chargers limited the Raiders offense and forced two three-and-out drives in the pivotal third quarter. The Chargers would convert on two field goals and go up 16-6.
Palmer didn’t turn the ball over to the other team via interception, which is something he has struggled with throughout his career. Palmer also completed 69.6 percent of his 46 passing attempts for 297 yards and one touchdown. About the only thing missing from the game was a deep completion.
McFadden stayed healthy and produced 118 yards of offense. He was so heavily featured as both a runner and receiver that the wide receivers, tight ends and fullback Marcel Reece were almost forgotten. It’s pretty clear the Raiders are going to ride McFadden this season, and perhaps the 13 receptions are a sign they don’t want him banging inside with the offensive and defensive lines.
The defense performed well, considering the circumstances. The run defense allowed just 32 yards on 20 carries, which is a very positive sign for a Raiders team that hasn’t effectively stopped the run since the 2002 season.
A rebuilt Oakland secondary allowed Philip Rivers to dink and dunk his way down the field, but only allowed him to get it in the end zone once. The Raiders took away the deep pass and made Rivers uncomfortable enough in the pocket to force him to throw to his running backs. Half of Rivers’ completions went to running backs Ronnie Brown, Curtis Brinkley and Le’Ron McClain.
The Raiders’ defensive line made Rivers uncomfortable, but they had just one sack and didn’t do enough to force Rivers to make mistakes. It’s somewhat of a miracle Rivers wasn’t able to find more room in Oakland’s secondary, but if the Raiders don’t start to get more pressure, it’s only a matter of time.
Oakland’s special teams were terrible from the start. Taiwan Jones bobbled the opening kickoff and returned it only six yards to get the Raiders started. The Raiders also allowed a long punt return that was called back due to a penalty that had very little to do with the result of the return.
There was the long-snapping fiasco, with Goethel skipping two long snaps off the ground. Goethel’s only good long snap to Shane Lechler was blocked. The special teams were so bad it was drawing comparisons to the 2010 San Diego Chargers, a team that led the league in offense and defense and had a special teams unit so bad they missed the playoffs.
Perhaps no stat more accurately reflects the bad night by the Raiders than their struggles on third down. The Raiders were just 5-of-15 on third downs, which is a paltry 33-percent conversion rate. Much of that can be attributed to third downs that were 10 yards or more, but on at least two occasions, the Raiders also failed to pick up third downs shorter than three yards.
It was an odd game, because the Raiders did things poorly that they did well last year and did things well that they did poorly last year. It would be surprising if things didn't normalize a bit in future weeks.