Oakland Raiders Week 15 : Pressures, Hurries, and Knockdowns
The Raiders' playoff hopes took a huge blow last weekend, as they were unable to sustain early dominance and essentially gave away a 38-31 win to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
One encouraging thing from this game was that the Raiders, who typically do not travel well to the East Coast, showed none of the usual malaise or rust after a cross-country plane ride. They came out on fire and took the fight to the Jags, and entered the locker room with a 17-7 lead.
Jacksonville, though, put up 31 points in the second half, made big plays when it mattered, and held the Raiders when they needed to.
Although San Diego's decisive victory over the San Francisco 49ers last night wasn't the death knell for the Raiders playoff chances, it didn't help. The Raiders are in a position where they must win out and get some help in order to have a chance to be playing for the division in week 17 in Kansas City.
The Raiders hold every meaningful tiebreaker over the Chargers, and the divisional record over the Chiefs. But, being two games back with three to play is a precarious position, and that's where the Raiders currently find themselves.
Because their playoff hopes are still alive, and because they want to end a dubious string of seven straight 10+ loss seasons, this team will remain focused, with no worry of a late season swoon or packing it in.
Coach Tom Cable, OC Hue Jackson and the majority of players are talking playoffs. They know that they aren't dead yet, and they won't give up until they are for sure. In fact, unlike Raider teams of recent vintage, this team simply doesn't give up and fights to the very end. That was evident in the comeback effort that unfortunately fell short in Jacksonville last week.
This team has improved in so many ways over recent squads, but they still must learn to close games out better and keep their focus for a full sixty minutes. With that in mind, here is this week's pressures, hurries, and knockdowns.
Pressures : Run Defense
Last week, I pointed out that the Raiders rush defense had vastly improved over the past five weeks or so. After starting the season out giving up typical Raider run defense numbers, they tightened up in the middle and held four of their previous five opponents under 100 yards rushing.
Well, on Sunday, the old problems reared their ugly heads yet again.
The Raiders did a great job of containing Maurice Jones-Drew; but had no answer for Rashad Jennings. When MJD was in the game, the play calling reflected that, and the box was heavily covered.
When Jennings entered the game, the Raiders relaxed and fell back into soft coverage, exposing their underbelly. And Jennings took a serrated knife and sliced that soft underbelly up like so much chum.
Jennings aside, the team did a great job of stopping the run for the majority of the time. However, it was once again the big play that returned, and ultimately cost the Raiders the game.
As was the problem earlier in the season, the Raiders gave up two touchdowns on the ground of 30+ yards; Jennings, in fact, had one of 74 yards in which he ran from one side of the field to the other, could've easily been knocked out of bounds or subsequently tackled on at least three occasions, and generally just made the Raiders defense look like a bunch of poor tackling JV players.
So the Raiders, once again, stopped the Jags for about 90% of the game on the ground. But it was the other 10% that killed them, and cost them the game. The big play needs to be mothballed once again for the Raiders to have a shot at winning out.
The run defense is under pressure because over the last few weeks, the Broncos have been throwing significantly less as Knowshon Moreno has been running wild, finally healthy in his second year.
The Broncos had no run game to speak of in the first game; not just because it got ugly fast, but because, well, they had no running game.
But in recent weeks Moreno has been one of the most productive backs in the NFL not only running, but catching the ball as well.
The Raiders have difficulty stopping the pass out of the backfield, and with Rolando McClain questionable again, the run defense and short-passing coverage are both going to suffer.
If the Raiders can't stop the run, then they may find themselves in the embarrassing position of losing to a division rival whom they whupped by 45 points earlier this season.
Pressures : Coaching
This isn't limited to one coach, or even one side of the ball. This is a team effort. Although prepared to play, fired up, and bringing intensity last week in a tough road contest, there were some coaching decisions and such that were head-scratchers, and that made a significant difference in the outcome of the game.
First, Cable's decision to challenge Jennings' 74 yard touchdown, when it was clear that he did not step out of bounds, was foolish. Cable based his decision to challenge not on video evidence, which did not show enough clear proof to overturn the call, but on his own observation. You see, a few Raiders thought Jennings stepped out on their sideline, and they had an excellent view.
So despite not being advised by his replay officials, and despite a lack of clear visual evidence to overturn the call, Cable threw the challenge flag. This was his second challenge; the first, the challenging of a Garrard interception, was successful. Had the Jennings challenge been successful, Cable would've been given a third challenge.
But it was obvious that it wasn't going to be successful; and it wasn't. That cost the Raiders twofold: first, they lost the challenge, and could no longer challenge the rest of the game. Second, they lost a timeout, which would later prove huge on the last drive of the game.
Well, on the ensuing kickoff, Jacoby Ford fumbled, and the Jags recovered in the red zone. On that drive, Garrard capped it by hitting Mike Sims-Walker in the back of the end zone. Despite clear evidence that his right foot was out of bounds, and despite Nnamdi Asomugha pointing that out to the official who was RIGHT THERE, it was improperly ruled a touchdown.
Because Cable had wasted his last challenge on the Jennings play, he could not challenge an obviously horrible call, and therefore the touchdown counted. What that did was put the Jaguars up 28-24 as opposed to having Josh Scobee attempt a very makable field goal that would have likely tied the game at 24.
Then, when the Raiders were down 31-24 and marching for the tie, Jason Campbell got hurt for a play and had to leave for a series. Kyle Boller came in, marched the team down the field, and got to a 3rd & 2 on the Jacksonville 45.
The time and circumstances of the game, plus the down and distance, made this a four down situation. Everyone knew it; and instead of running the ball with Michael Bush or Darren McFadden, who had been averaging over 5 yards per carry, on EITHER play, OC Hue Jackson called two consecutive pass plays for a guy who hadn't seen a single snap all season.
Surprise! Boller threw a pick, the drive stalled, and although the Raiders later tied the game, they had no time left at the end as a result of a poor and misplaced challenge, some baffling play calling, and poor clock management at the end by both the staff and quarterback Jason Campbell.
These guys are under pressure to make better decisions that have game-changing implications. Period.
Pressures : Raider Nation
This game is blacked out again, as Raider Nation stepped up to the plate for the Chiefs game (as a result of the ramifications - and some cost effective promoting by the team) but now things have returned to normal.
Despite the improvement of the team, fans continue to stay away from the Coliseum. Now, that can be attributed to a few factors, namely the economy in California is still struggling, the stadium itself is falling apart and there are things to do outside in a climate like Oakland that aren't available on a Sunday in December in a place like, say, Chicago.
But after the improvement the team has made this season, it was hopeful we'd sell out the rest of the year. As I said, the above factors make it understandable as to why we have not, and I feel Raider Nation are the greatest, most supportive and most loyal fans around.
So the pressure is on you, Raider Nation. Or at least those of you that attend this Sunday's game. Each game this year is still very important, and we need the crowd to reflect that. I know it's not fair, but I also know how much you all rock and that you're up to the task.
So despite the fact that there won't be as MANY of you at the game, I'm impressing upon you to make it sound like a sold-out stadium. Make the Broncos quiver; make them wish they stayed in Denver. Make Timmy Tebow cry Uncle Urban.
Make us proud.
- Jason Campbell looked more comfortable behind center than I've seen him at any time this season, and it showed in his play. He was calm, poised, and unhurried, and played very well
- Richard Seymour, after playing like the Defensive Player of the Year in the early goings, has been somewhat invisible since slapping Big Ben. We need him to step it back up if we want to win out
- Despite the fact that the Chargers won last night and play the Bengals and Broncos to close the season, they are not guaranteed the division. The Chiefs are still in the driver's seat, and the Raiders can still crash the party if the chips fall right
- Right now as we see it, the Chargers are 8-6; the Chiefs 8-5; and the Raiders 6-7. That means the Raiders are two games back of the Chiefs and 1 1/2 of the Chargers. If the Raiders win this weekend and the Chiefs lose, that's SD 8-6, KC 8-6 and Oakland 7-7. We need San Diego to lose at least once in the next two weeks, and Kansas City to lose at least once; and that's IF we win all three games
- Tough, but doable. The hardest thing is seeing the Chargers lose to either the Bengals or Broncos; but anything is possible
- At least we are in a position to talk about meaningful games in December, and that's a HUGE step in the right direction
Knockdowns : Jacoby Ford Is an Infallible Superman
I'm not going to dwell on this one. I love this kid, and he's been an inspiration this season; a small player who fights for the ball and plays large and with a big heart for his stature. He's made big play after big play repeatedly, with no mistakes, and electrified this team.
His fumble in the third quarter was a momentum killer, and cost the Raiders the lead. Nobody was sicker about it than Ford was, the poor kid so despondent after the game he barely spoke. He had friends and family at the game, to the tune of about 30 or so, and wanted nothing more than to impress. Perhaps he pressed; regardless, his perfection was lost in this game.
Ford has still surpassed anything we could have reasonably hoped, and I love this kid and look forward to seeing him make plays in the silver and black for a long time.
But he was cultivating somewhat of a mystic aura, seemingly able to will himself into making plays and not prone to the trappings of rookiedom. It was a little unrealistic, and I at times found myself expecting too much from the kid as a result of his heroics.
We now know what we should have all along; Jacoby Ford is a great player, but he's not perfect.
Now he can relax and get back to making big plays as easily as most of us breathe.
Knockdowns : The Raiders Come Out Flat on The East Coast
The Raiders have been bad in the eastern time zone, there is no two ways about it. Blowouts in Tennessee and Pittsburgh earlier this season, and numerous others during the lost years of the past seven seasons attest to that.
Even though this was a huge game for both teams, many people felt that the Raiders would struggle, being that they would be playing at 10 a.m Pacific time and certainly more weary than usual for a Sunday contest. As I said, recent results bear out that philosophy in spades, so it's not as if it were an unfair hypothesis.
However, Coach Cable decided last week to try something different. He essentially moved the team's itinerary while they were still in California up by three hours starting Tuesday (I think) to simulate the time change.
Well, it apparently worked, because the Raiders were fairly dominant in the first half against the Jaguars. They scored on their second possession after holding Jacksonville to only their 10th three and out of the season, and built a 17-7 halftime lead that could've been even larger had they been able to capitalize in the red zone.
The second half was a different story, with the Jags coming out firing and the two teams trading blows until a tired Raider defense allowed an untouched MJD to waltz in from 30 yards out for the game winning score.
The Raiders though, for the first time in a long while, came out the more inspired and fired up team in an East Coast tilt, and took the fight to their hosts for the entire first half.
It's unfortunate that the game shook out the way it did, but the play of the team during this particular game, when juxtaposed with other East Coast games that were just flat ugly, is another encouraging sign that they are headed in the right direction.
Since when did the Raiders ever do anything easy?
Coming into this season, being 6-7 after thirteen games, and 4-0 in the division with a season sweep of the Chargers, a blowout decimation of the Broncos, and an overtime win over the Chiefs that briefly gave us first place in the division would've sounded pretty sweet.
But after that blowout win over the Broncos was followed by another blowout of the Seahawks and then the OT thriller over the Chiefs, this team looked like they were poised to strike at the heart of the AFC West.
The bye week killed the team's momentum, though, and they came out uninspired in two lopsided defeats to the Steelers and Dolphins. Had they beaten Arizona with a makeable field goal, held off a terrible 49ers team, or kept the momentum against the Dolphins, they would control their own destiny due to their divisional prowess thus far.
But nope; unable to beat some of the teams they should have beaten under the circumstances, and letting another one slip away against the Jags last weekend, the Raiders now find themselves needing a lot of help to get into the playoffs.
I am still very happy with where this team has come to this season, but I am a little disappointed we didn't put ourselves in a better position at this point, as it's been very achievable. However, this team has come light years from last season, look like a team that can win any week when clicking in all phases, and are learning how to win (and how to learn from tough losses) just like young teams need to do.
It's do or die time now. One more loss, and the season is over. Win out, and get some help, and good things can happen. We must now have faith; I truly believe this team can win out, but it's a matter of getting some help from some very mediocre NFL teams the next couple of weeks.
Regardless, I'm happy that we can even THINK playoffs in December, no matter how remote the possibility. The fact that it's within the realm is nice, and there's no doubt in my mind this team is motivated to finish strongly and put their fate in the hands of the football Gods.
Another blowout of the down and out Broncos this Sunday would be an excellent start.
Thanks as always for reading everyone; have a safe and happy holiday with your loved ones. Comments as always are welcome and appreciated.