Why the Oakland Raiders Must Fight to the Finish

Christopher Hansen@ChrisHansenNFLNFL AnalystDecember 7, 2013

Dennis Allen could be on the hot seat if the Raiders lose their final four games.
Dennis Allen could be on the hot seat if the Raiders lose their final four games.Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Oakland Raiders have held the lead at the half of seven games this season, but they have only won three of those games. The Raiders have crumbed in the second half, leading many to assume the coaches are doing a poor job of adjusting at halftime.

When the Raiders take the field Sunday in New York to play the Jets, there could be something at stake. How the Raiders finish over the final four games may determine if head coach Dennis Allen returns next season, and winning would elevate Oakland’s record to a somewhat safer 5-8.

With three tough division games over the final three weeks, the Raiders might not get a better chance to close out a game and avoid finishing the season on a six-game losing streak than this week against the Jets. If the Raiders can’t get a win this week, Allen's job could be in serious trouble.

As successful as Allen has been at changing the culture in Oakland, it has yet to translate into more wins. While there may be extenuating circumstances for Oakland’s poor season, Allen still needs every win he can get.

The Raiders have thrown away too many games this season; wins Allen could have used to solidify his job. If talent is the issue, Allen needs to figure out a way to squeeze a little more out of them late in games, so his team can finish strong.


Analyzing the Problem

The Raiders have a point differential of plus-45 in the first quarter this season—the second-best mark in football. The Denver Broncos' first-quarter point differential of plus-49 leads the NFL, and the Seattle Seahawks, Carolina Panthers and San Francisco 49ers round out the top five.

That’s pretty good company, but a game consists of four quarters and not just one.  Unlike the Raiders, the Broncos, Seahawks, Panthers and 49ers all maintain their top-five status in point differential in the second, third and fourth quarters.

So what’s going on?

Point differential is composed of two parts—offensive points scored and points allowed by the defense. Oakland’s offense has scored 86 points, and the defense has allowed only 41 points in the first quarter this year, but things have gone south in a hurry in the second, third and fourth quarters.

Data via Pro-Football-Reference.com
Data via Pro-Football-Reference.comChris Hansen

The offense has scored 76 points in the second quarter, which is a very small drop-off in production. Unfortunately, the defense has taken a dive in the second quarter, having allowed 102 points. Over 12 games, 102 points equals nearly nine points per game allowed in the second quarter alone.

In the second quarter, the Raiders have netted a negative-31 points but still go into the half with a slight advantage of 14 points (1.2 per game on average) thanks to their first-quarter performance. The offense has not been the problem in the first half, but the defense seems to start dragging.

Raiders Scoring By Quarter
StatisticFirst QuarterSecond QuarterThird QuarterFourth Quarter
Points For86714040
Points Against411026295
Point Differential4514-8-63
Point Differential Change45-31-22-55

In the second half, things get even more interesting, as the offensive production drops off a cliff. The Raiders have scored just 80 second-half points all season, which are divided equally between the third and fourth quarter.

The defense seems to be able to make a small adjustment in the second half, as the Raiders have allowed just 62 points in the third this season. Unfortunately for the Raiders, the defensive performance has been way too inconsistent.

The Raiders have allowed 95 points in the fourth quarter—15 more points than the offense has scored in the second half all season. The Raiders have a point differential of negative-77 in the second half of football games in 2013. 

The fourth quarter happens to be the quarter in which the offense and defense have both struggled, so it makes sense why the Raiders have had trouble closing out games. There are, however, some things the Raiders can do to try to break the cycle.


Breaking Good

One the things the Raiders can do to break these troubling trends is to defer the kickoff and start on defense. The Raiders are 3-2 when kicking off to start the game and 1-7 when receiving the opening kick.

Opening the game on defense could help the Raiders reverse some of their ugly late-game trends.
Opening the game on defense could help the Raiders reverse some of their ugly late-game trends.Al Bello/Getty Images

That might not seem statistically relevant, but consider that one of the losses when the Raiders kicked off the start the game was when Matt Flynn was starting at quarterback. The other game was last week’s loss to the  Dallas Cowboys, and the Raiders forced a fumble that they returned for a score.

By kicking off first, the Raiders give a struggling offense more opportunities in the second half, and instead of having good first and third quarters, the defense should be better toward the end of each half. 

Obviously, the Raiders may not always win the toss, but most opponents will opt to receive. The pace of the game is just different when you kick first, and that has been helping the Raiders so far this season.

Getting the ball to start the second half can be a game-saver or help a team close out its opponent early. Rarely is it a bad thing unless the other team jumped out to a huge lead in the first half.

At some point, the talent on the roster is still going to have to get better, but until it does, the Raiders have to do everything in their power to win games. If deferring the kickoff could help, why not try it?  


Save the Haymaker

The Raiders start fast on both offense and defense, which indicates the coaches are good at designing game plans. The coaches deserve a lot of credit for coming up with plays, schemes and situations that enable a group of players that are low on talent to be successful.

Offensive coordinator Greg Olson needs to save a haymaker for the fourth quarter when the Raiders have a chance to close out the game.
Offensive coordinator Greg Olson needs to save a haymaker for the fourth quarter when the Raiders have a chance to close out the game.Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Offensive play designs and defensive wrinkles that the Raiders have deployed early have been effective, but opponents are also adjusting quickly. It’s tempting to throw all your punches early and take a lead, but sometimes you have to save the haymaker or at least a few jabs. 

Saving a couple scripted plays for the first drive of the second half might help the offense get going. This isn’t adjusting as much as it is trying to jump-start a sluggish offense. 

By the fourth quarter, the Raiders don’t have much fight left in them right now. This is a classic sign of an old team, a young team or a team that just lacks talent on both sides of the ball. The Raiders may have an odd combination of the three.

The Raiders clearly don’t have an answer to the problem, and sometimes the right answer is just to do something different. Making wholesale changes at this point in the season in unrealistic, but making some tweaks and changing the flow of the game could have just the impact the Raiders need to make keeping Allen an easy decision.