It took nearly two full months for Mychal Rivera to assume a more active role in Oakland’s offense. For the Raiders to have any shot at salvaging their season and making a possible playoff run, the rookie tight end has to be even more productive.
Oakland’s offense has been in need of a reliable threat to complement the inconsistent wide receiver duo of Denarius Moore and Rod Streater. Rivera, a sixth-round draft pick, is finally stepping forward despite being listed behind veteran Jeron Mastrud on the depth chart.
After a slow start to the season, in which he caught just 12 passes in the first seven games of his NFL career while being used primarily as an extra blocker, Rivera has blossomed over the last three weeks into a steady and solid downfield receiver. He had his best game as a pro during the Raiders’ Week 11 win over the Houston Texans.
In that game, Rivera caught a season-high five passes from rookie quarterback Matt McGloin and scored on a 26-yard touchdown reception midway through the third quarter to put Oakland ahead for good.
That capped an impressive stretch for the young tight end, who has caught 11 passes over the last three weeks. It’s also an encouraging sign for the rest of the offense.
Since 2007, the Raiders have put a premium on getting their tight end heavily involved in the passing game. Four times in the last five seasons a tight end has led Oakland in receptions.
Rivera isn’t likely to continue that trend this year, but he can still have an impact on the Raiders’ fortunes in the passing game.
All too often this season, quarterback Terrelle Pryor hasn’t had someone he could dump the ball off to if a play broke down. Running backs were staying in for extra pass protection, and tight ends were too busy trying to help the patchwork offensive line keep it together by serving as an extra blocker.
That wasn’t true against the Texans. Moving forward, it’s a good pattern to follow.
Freed up to be more involved in the passing game, Rivera did a good job finding creases in Houston’s coverages. Because opponents are so quick to try and double either Moore or Streater, the tight end is in a lot of favorable matchups.
More to the point, Rivera offers Pryor and McGloin the luxury of having a safety net for when plays break down. He’s caught at least two passes in all but two games this year and has been as consistent as any of the wide receivers.
Yet, Rivera played just 32 snaps against the Texans, his fewest since Week 2.
Who has been more valuable as a receiver?
Heading down the stretch, Rivera has to play more and stay involved in the passing game. Defenses will continue to focus on Moore and Streater, which should leave Oakland’s tight ends in some favorable one-on-one matchups.
Rivera is deceptively quick for a tight end, which is why he’s been able to get open so easily. He’s also got good hands and has dropped just two passes thrown his way so far.
By getting Rivera in games and having him run short-to-intermediate patterns, defenses will have to play more closely to the line of scrimmage. He’s also a mismatch against linebackers, and if a safety comes up to help, it really weakens the back end of the pass defense.
The key is for Rivera to continue to work and for the Raiders offense to emphasize what he does best.
Any information and quotes used in this and any report by Michael Wagaman were obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted.