For starters, new head coach Dennis Allen deserves a whole lot more credit than he has gotten this week for a number of reasons. Through a barrage of criticism following the Week 2 blowout, Allen reinforced the troops and got himself his first career win.
As I’ve already noted in another piece, a big part of the Oakland win was their ability to limit penalties (they currently sit at third in the league in penalty yards pregame). In Week 3, Oakland committed just three penalties for 25 yards, and none of them ended up being too costly.
The second reason for praising Allen is his incredible game management abilities this week. There’s nothing worse as a fan than watching your team come down the stretch in a close game and realizing that your coach has stupidly burned a timeout or two, leaving the team out to dry in the waning moments.
In this weekend’s game, however, Allen held on to all three timeouts throughout the second half, and while it didn’t end up mattering a whole lot, he deserves credit for doing so.
In another first for Allen, he was also successful on his first career challenge in the first half of Sunday’s win—and it came at a huge point in the game. Facing a 3rd and 9 in their own territory, Pittsburgh appeared to complete a 22-yard pass to Heath Miller downfield for a first down.
Upon further review, however, it was determined that the ball hit the ground and the Steelers were forced to punt.
The final feather in Allen’s cap this Sunday was a pair of brilliant play calls that worked in varying degrees.
The first took place with just over four minutes remaining in the first half and Oakland trailing 14-7. Facing a fourth and two from the six yard line, Allen sent his team out with the apparent intention of going for it or at least drawing Pittsburgh offside.
Instead of relying on the oft-tried hard count, however, Allen utilized a unique formation shift that lured Pittsburgh into the neutral zone and gave the Raiders an automatic first down.
On the very next play, Oakland tied the game up with a touchdown.
The second call that impressed me from Allen on Sunday was an onside kick attempt early in the third quarter—though it proved unsuccessful. After an Oakland touchdown cut the lead to three, Sebastian Janikowski attempted an onside kick that caught the Steelers completely off guard.
Unfortunately, the ball bounced through the hands of a Raiders player and out of bounds, giving Pittsburgh the ball in excellent field position.
Despite the lack of success, however, the effort and courage inspired appreciation.
For all of these reasons and more, Dennis Allen more than earned the star of the week recognition.
Not to be discounted by the fact that he shares the award this week, however, is outside linebacker Philip Wheeler.
Wheeler, a newcomer from Indianapolis this offseason, has made an exceptional impression on Oakland fans and coaches alike this season with his effort and intensity from start to finish.
Sunday was no exception.
Wheeler finished the game with a team-high 11 tackles, but most importantly he forced two critical fumbles and recovered one during Oakland’s improbable comeback.
While the defense struggled to stop the Steelers throughout the day, their ability to force turnovers turned out to be the difference, and Wheeler deserves a lot of credit for that.