Last week against the Houston Texans, the Oakland Raiders defense could do nothing right. In fact, it was the offense that kept the Raiders in the game. This week, against the AFC West Rival San Diego Chargers, the exact opposite was true.
On a day when the Raiders offense bordered on complete incompetence at times, the Raiders defense and special teams did enough to beat the favored Chargers.
The Raiders started the game strong. The defense held the Chargers to a three and out and forced them to punt from deep in their own territory. That's when I stopped questioning the inclusion of Rock Cartwright on the roster.
I was not a big fan of Cartwright during the preseason, but the way that he has played on special teams this year has been great and today was the topper. Cartwright came soaring off the edge to block the Chargers' punt into and out the back of the end zone for a safety.
On the ensuing free kick, the Chargers kicked the ball out of bounds, giving the Raiders excellent field position. The offense was only able to pick up eighteen more yards, but that was enough to get into field position for Sebastian Janikowski who nailed a 50 yarder.
On the Chargers' next possession, the Raiders defense again stuffed the Chargers' offense and forced them to punt from deep in their own territory. This time, it was Brandon Meyers who came off of the edge to block the punt. This time, however, Hiram Eugene picked the ball up at the five yard line and ran it in for the touchdown.
With 10:33 seconds left in the first quarter, the Raiders held a 12-0 lead over the Chargers and the stadium was rocking. It was all thanks to the Raiders defense and special teams, and the big plays didn't stop there.
On their next two drives, the Chargers marched their way inside the Raiders ten yard line. Both times, right as the Raiders looked like they just could not stop Phillip Rivers and the Chargers offense, the Raiders defense came up with huge plays.
On the first drive, the Chargers were trying to pound the ball in from the one yard line when Ricky Brown stripped the ball from Mike Tolbert and Mike Mitchell recovered it. On the next drive, Phillip Rivers was hit by Matt Shaughnessy on the five yard line and coughed the ball up. This time, Lamarr Houston was there to pounce on the ball.
Throughout all of this, the Raiders offense did nothing but give the Raiders kickers an extra practice session. Going into half, the Raiders trailed 17-15 and much of the excitement had been drained from the stadium. While the defense had an impressive first half, the Raiders fans knew that they could not keep it up if the offense did not start to contribute.
The third quarter started the same way the first half ended. The Raiders defense was doing its best to keep the high powered Chargers offense in check while the Raiders offense failed to produce. Then, in typical Raiders fashion of late, a quarterback change sparked the offense to life and lifted the Raiders to a win. This time, however, it was Jason Campbell who came to the rescue and as the result of an injury, not a coach's decision.
In a quarter and a half, Jason Campbell went 13-18 for 159 yards and a touchdown. Campbell engineered two long drives of 97 and 73 yards for touchdowns in the short time he spent in the game. However, the Chargers were not just sitting back, as they put two scoring drives together to keep the game close.
The Raiders took the lead with just over four minutes left in the game after putting together a long drive that took over eight minutes off of the clock. The Chargers got the ball back and immediately started moving down the field.
The Chargers had the ball in position to try a 50 yard field goal and looked like they might keep going when the Raiders defense again came up with a big play. The Raiders hit Phillip Rivers on two consecutive safety blitzes, the second of which resulted in a fumble that Tyvon Branch returned 64 yards for a touchdown to put the game away.
Thoughts About the Win
Raiders Were Again Plagued by Penalties and Poor Officiating
The Raiders finished the game with 12 penalties for 85 yards. The Raiders were lucky to over come these and still get the win, but that will not be the case every week.
However, a number of penalties called against the Raiders were questionable to say the least. Throughout the game, the officials looked as though they were trying to give the Chargers a home field advantage on every close call.
The incompetence of the officiating staff was confirmed when it took them almost fifteen minutes to decide whether or not a personal foul by the Chargers should be assessed on the kick off or on a retry of the extra point. They had the teams line up for an extra point try, then for a kick off, then back into extra point formation during that time.
Raiders Play Calling Was Questionable
The Raiders offense failed to get going early and it was in a big part due to the play calling. It appeared as though the Raiders were no longer confident in their run game with Darren McFadden injured. Too often in the first half, the Raiders looked to pass before running the ball.
It was not until the two long drives late in the game that the Raiders went back to the ground and pound strategy that had seen success in previous weeks. Bush finished the game with 104 yards and looked impressive. If the Raiders decided to ride Bush earlier in the game, they might have been able to pull away after putting up 12 unanswered points early.
Stanford Routt is Not the Answer Opposite Nnamdi Asomugha
Stanford Routt had a terrible game. He was beaten for big plays by every one of the Charger's receivers. To make matters worse, when he wasn't giving up big catches, he was being called for big pass interference penalties.
Phillip Rivers had a huge day through the air, totaling 431 yards and two touchdowns. That was in a large part due to the poor play from every corner back not named Asomugha. While Chris Johnson did not play well, it was Routt who helped the Chargers stay in the game.
Asomugha is an amazing talent, but he cannot impact the game if quarterbacks can just pick on the other side of the field. The Raiders defense is getting better but still has a long way to go before being tops in the league. finding a more reliable corner back to play opposite Asomugha will go a long way. Maybe its time to take a look at Jeremy Ware or Walter McFadden.