In the NFL, there's no such thing as a disappointing win or good loss. The Raiders earned a victory in an imperfect, sloppy and hard-fought contest—none of those adjectives show up in the win column.
Oakland stands as a 5-6 team still in the playoff hunt with a division rival and current AFC Wild Card team next on its schedule. Its Week 13 matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs is nothing less than a statement game for the Raiders.
Doubt has crept back into the psyche of Raider Nation, but the opportunity to extend the season remains within reach.
NFL GameDay @NFLGameDay
The latest AFC playoff picture: https://t.co/jnoexPUUkm2015-11-30 01:13:49
Commitment to Excellence: Carr Trusting Receivers
We could analyze quarterback Derek Carr’s three-touchdown performance, but it’s the trust in his players that made this particular victory possible.
All week, news clippings and chatter about wide receiver Amari Cooper’s drops circulated as a concern for Raiders offense. During the week, Carr answered those critics with confidence in his rookie wideout in a weekly press conference.
On Sunday, he targeted Cooper with conviction. The rookie came out and put together another solid performance, catching seven passes for 115 yards against a top-tier secondary.
He also broke into the record books and will be remembered as one of the most productive rookies in franchise history.
Amari Cooper is breaking records. #OAKvsTEN https://t.co/l8smN0NHTS2015-11-29 21:28:25
Cooper will drop a few passes, but he’s going to offset and outweigh those miscues with spectacular moments as a bona fide playmaker.
Carr also cycled through his reads to find an unassuming playmaker in Sunday’s outcome. Wide receiver Seth Roberts played the best game of his short career, catching six passes for 113 yards and two touchdowns—including the game-winning score.
In the locker room, head coach Jack Del Rio gleefully handed the game ball to Roberts for his stellar performance.
OAKLAND RAIDERS @RAIDERS
1-0 this week. Game ball: Seth Roberts. #Raiders https://t.co/GzfYkv1c5l2015-11-29 21:27:59
Roberts has definitely earned Carr’s trust in critical moments as a two-time recipient of a game-winning touchdown catch.
Silver Lining: Giving Up on Hayden? Amerson Up Next?
General manager Reggie McKenzie certainly hoped cornerback D.J. Hayden would transition from an oft-injured struggling cornerback to a solid starter in the league. That optimism took a major hit on Sunday.
The coaching staff’s patience with Hayden temporarily ran its course, as he watched from the sidelines in a reserve role against the Titans.
Scott Bair @BairNBCS
Neiko Thorpe in for the nickel. DJ Hayden not even involved defensively2015-11-29 18:12:58
In an expanded role, cornerback David Amerson displayed his skill set as a solid defender on the perimeter.
In some aspects, Amerson has outperformed his fellow cornerbacks by a wide margin, per Silver & Black Pride's Levi Damien.
Levi Damien @LeviDamien
David Amerson has 19 passes defended on season. As many as DJ Hayden (6), TJ Carrie (7), and Neiko Thorpe (6) combined #Raiders2015-11-29 22:43:47
Amerson’s solid performances may force McKenzie to swallow the bitter truth about his struggling first-round pick in Hayden. It stings to swing and miss on a top-15 pick, but the Raiders have potentially found a player to compensate for the poor selection.
For a cornerback, it’s tough to regain confidence after losing traction on a starting position. With that said, cornerback Neiko Thorpe’s rough outing gives Hayden a chance to step in on nickel packages going forward.
Black Cloud: Rushing Offense Hitting a Wall
As previously discussed, the Raiders limit their offense by placing the onus on running back Latavius Murray to carry the rushing offense.
In sloppy conditions, the Raiders leaned on the third-year running back to shorten the second half with positive runs against the No. 18-ranked run defense.
The Titans aided the Raiders with some penalties, but Murray failed to rev up the engine to the Tay Train. The running backs accumulated 79 rushing yards on 26 carries for the game.
Many point to center Rodney Hudson’s absence as the culprit regarding Murray’s struggles, but the starting running back has failed to surpass 65 rushing yards in seven out of 11 contests—averaging four or fewer yards per carry in six of those games.
|Latavius Murray's Season Productivity|
|Week||Carries||Yards||Touchdowns||Yards Per Carry|
The Raiders' inability to run the ball, especially in critical moments, goes beyond missing their starting center, per Associated Press writer Josh Dubow:
Josh Dubow @JoshDubowAP
Latavius Murray ypc by quarter for #Raiders: 4.6 in 1st, 4.5 in 2nd, 5.4 in 3rd, 2.0 in 4th2015-11-24 03:50:46
The Raiders have a good starting running back, but he's not good enough to shoulder the load on his own.
Essentially, Oakland doesn’t have a closer in the backfield or a running back willing to bounce carries outside the guards on a consistent basis.
As a result, defenses sniff out Murray’s predictable tendencies. When leading by a small margin, the Raiders fail to close games by keeping the clock ticking on manageable second and third downs.
As spectacular as the passing offense could become, the Raiders need to integrate a second impact running back or put more trust in fullback Jamize Olawale to handle more than five carries per game. Without a complementary ball-carrier to Murray, Oakland’s full potential on offense falls short of elite.
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Oakland Raiders Week 12 play-by-play and statistics courtesy of NFL.com.