Kansas City Chiefs vs. Oakland Raiders: Full Report Card Grades for Oakland
If you didn't know the teams' records, you might have thought that this was a game between two playoff contenders. In a game that saw momentum swings and big plays by both teams, the Raiders matched the Chiefs blow for blow and ultimately proved to be the better squad on the field on Thursday night.
The Oakland running game finally came alive, and it proved to be the difference in the game. All season, the offense's biggest problem had been the inability to stay on the field, sustain drives and score points. But that wasn't the case against Kansas City.
The defense once again stepped up and had a big game. More importantly, the offense finally held up its end and matched the defense's production. The result was an exciting and hard-fought win.
Here are the grades for each position group and a breakdown of what the Raiders did to get their first win of the season.
Derek Carr didn't have the best game of his rookie season against the Chiefs, going 18-of-35 for 174 yards and one touchdown. But he did have the most impressive and important drive of his early career.
After losing the lead in the fourth quarter that they had held onto for the entire game, the Raiders had given up all momentum to the Chiefs. The game was set up for an Oakland collapse to end the game. But with 9:03 left in the game and possession of the ball, Carr showed why so many believe him to be the answer at quarterback.
The rookie led the offense on a 17-play, 80-yard drive that took 7:21 off the clock. The drive culminated with Carr patiently waiting for the play to develop and then finding an open James Jones in the end zone for the game-winning touchdown.
While he orchestrated a fantastic game-winning drive, Carr almost cost his team the game at times. He threw a few dangerous passes that he should have held onto.
It might have been overaggressiveness, or it might have been sloppiness. Whichever it was, at least three or four passes could have been picked off. He was lucky to have them all bounce off a defender's hands before hitting the ground. Ultimately, he managed to avoid making any major mistakes.
It was also obvious how much more efficient Carr was with the support of the running game. If that keeps up, he's going to play much better throughout the rest of the season.
What a difference a rushing attack makes.
The Raiders scored three touchdowns on Thursday, and all of them were the direct result of the running game. After the season that they've had, it comes as no surprise that when running game was successful, it didn't involve Darren McFadden or Maurice Jones-Drew. This grade would be higher if not for the middle part of the game in which they both ineffectively carried the load.
The star of the game was Latavius Murray. After being relegated to special teams, he was finally given carries early and made them count. On only four carries, he totaled 112 yards and two touchdowns.
His performance last week guaranteed him more carries. His performance this week might have earned him the starting job.
When Murray was knocked out of the game with a concussion in the second quarter, the coaches went back to McFadden and Jones-Drew. Needless to say, that didn't work. The offense reverted back to ineffective possessions that went nowhere.
Fans have also wondered why Marcel Reece hasn't been a bigger part of the offense. On the Raiders' final possession, Reece stepped in for the inept McFadden and Jones-Drew, and the move paid off. He had six carries and was a major factor in Oakland's game-winning drive. It was by far Oakland's most impressive possession of the season.
Reece and Murray finished with a combined 12 carries, 149 yards and two touchdowns. McFadden and Jones-Drew combined for 28 yards and no touchdowns on 15 carries.
As it turns out, the Raiders do have a two-man option that works at running back. It's just not the two they thought it would be.
Mychal Rivera had a quiet day through the air, finishing with one catch for eight yards. But he was one of Oakand's most important players as his main contributions came from his blocking.
While he has always been seen primarily as a receiving tight end, he has slowly improved as blocker. He had his best game in this role on Thursday. He was strong at the point of attack and did a great job of using his mobility to get to the defender quickly and keeping him occupied.
Like Rivera, Brian Leonhardt had no impact in the passing game, but he too was a major factor as a blocker. The running game has struggled all season, but we now see that the biggest reason for this has been the lack of vision from the running backs.
With Murray and Reece in the game, the holes opened up, and the running backs exploited them. Both tight ends played a major part in making this happen.
Although the Oakland offense lacks consistency on the outside, it has a ton of potential. The Raiders needed a few good plays from the wide receivers—enough to move the chains and keep the defense honest. And the group delivered.
Andre Holmes is set as the team's No. 1 receiver even though he struggles to get open and come down with the ball. But against Kansas City, he provided just enough to make an impact.
Carr went to him often (10 targets), and Holmes looked dangerous, even when he didn't come down with the ball. His biggest play came on a dangerous throw. The defender had position in front of Holmes, but he used his 6'4" frame to jump, reach over the defender and pluck the ball out of the air just out of the cornerback's reach. This resulted in a huge 37-yard gain.
Once again, Brice Butler proved that he deserves to be on the field consistently. He had only two catches for 21 yards, but he is a sound route-runner and has good hands. The defense has to respect his presence, which can open things up elsewhere.
James Jones had another solid game (five catches, 47 yards), but his biggest contribution was his game-winning touchdown reception. Inside the Kansas City 10-yard line and with less than two minutes to play, he ran a fantastic route that absolutely lost the defender. Jones ran free into the end zone, where Carr hit him for the easy catch.
When it mattered most, he showed the veteran poise and professionalism to get the job done.
While the numbers aren't all that impressive, the wide receivers had an effective game. They kept the defense honest. They worked hard all game, made some plays and ultimately produced the winning score.
For the Oakland offense to have success against the Chiefs, the offensive line was going to have to perform well in protection and in run blocking. The unit succeeded in both areas.
Kansas City possesses a potent pass rush led by Justin Houston, who leads the NFL in sacks. The offensive line had to keep Carr on his feet, and it did so. Houston did pick up a sack, but Menelik Watson was effective against him most of the game. For the most part, Carr had enough time to read the defense, find receivers and make plays.
All season, the offensive line had been a primary suspect for why the running attack had been so bad. But the success of Murray and Reece proved one thing: The offensive line hasn't been the problem. The unit is opening up running lanes. The team just needed to right ball-carrier to exploit them.
Offensive lines are in the unenviable position of only getting attention when they make mistakes. They don't get nearly enough credit when they play well. But the Oakland offensive line deserves a lot of credit for this victory. Carr had time, and the running backs had lanes. These were provided by the big guys up front.
The defense set the tone for the Raiders on Thursday night, and the defensive line once again stepped up to help make that happen.
The defensive line lacks playmakers, but it has turned into a unit that can at least be effective. The starters and the reserves all see regular playing time and display tremendous effort on every down. The unit has also become effective against the run. Jamaal Charles averaged 4.2 yards per carry, but he totaled only 80 yards and had no touchdowns on the ground.
The unit has improved, and Justin Tuck has led the way. While he hasn't picked up many sacks, he's excelled at getting into the backfield and getting his hands on passes. The stats don't show how disruptive he is.
In perhaps the best feel-good storyline of the game, defensive tackle Antonio Smith was part of a winning effort for the first time in a very long time. The Ninja Assassin had personally lost 24 games in a row dating back to last season when he was a member of the Houston Texans. It was great to see him finally throw off that burden.
The defensive line didn't pick up a sack against Alex Smith, but it did constantly make him uncomfortable enough to disrupt the passing game. It was a big reason why the Chiefs, the league leaders in third-down efficiency, converted only two of 14 attempts on third down against Oakland.
A unit's impact on a game isn't always evident in the box score. That was true for the defensive line on Thursday night.
Once again, it was the Oakland defense that set the tone for the team. And once again, it was the linebackers who set the tone for the defense.
Sio Moore, Miles Burris and Khalil Mack were all over the field. They didn't let up, and the numbers reflect this. Moore finished with 12 tackles (two for a loss) and a sack, and Burris had nine tackles (one for a loss). Mack's numbers aren't as impressive, as he finished with only three tackles, but he was constantly in the backfield and in Smith's face.
The highlight came in the game's final minute when Moore picked up a huge sack that put the Chiefs in a 4th-and-12 situation. He had the quarterback stopped, and Mack came in to help clean things up. But they almost negated their own big play with an inexplicably long and ill-timed celebration. Fortunately, an alert timeout call by Tuck saved the defense from an embarrassing penalty.
In a season of good performances for this unit, this was the most impressive because of how disruptive and productive the players were. This was true both against the run and in the passing game. It seemed like no matter what the Kansas City offense did, an Oakland linebacker was there and ready to make a play.
Like the defensive line, the Oakland secondary has found a way to produce positive results. Despite missing several key players, the unit as a whole had an impressive performance.
No one on the Raiders roster wanted a win as badly as Charles Woodson. After the game, he said that he needed it "like I needed to breathe," via SI.com's Chris Burke, and his performance showed it. He played like a man possessed, flying around for four quarters en route to an eight-tackle performance that included a sack and three tackles for a loss.
According to TheScore.com's Arun Srinivasan, the sack makes him the only player in NFL history with at least 50 interceptions and 20 sacks.
D.J. Hayden has been a favorite target of critics, and some have already labeled him a bust. But those assessments have been proved grossly inaccurate. He has been stellar since his return, and he was impressive once again against the Chiefs.
Hayden has exhibited an ability to stay with any receiver he's defending, giving them little-to-no room to make a play. When the receiver does make a catch, Hayden has shown great closing speed and tackling, giving up nothing after the catch. He, along with Woodson, set the tone for the secondary.
Every member of the secondary stepped up. It was going to take a group effort, and that's what the unit produced.
Sebastian Janikowski had another quiet game, but he did hit from 40 yards on his one field-goal attempt. Kickers regularly go long stretches without much action, and they have to be ready to produce when their number is called. Janikowski did just that.
Marquette King averaged plenty of distance on his six punts (49.3 yards per attempt), but he was off for much of the night. His punts didn't have enough air under them, and he also out-kicked his coverage. This led to a good return day for the Chiefs' Frankie Hammond, who averaged 24 yards a return on two attempts.
The problems in coverage extended to the kicking game, where Oakland gave up an average of 37.7 yards on three kick returns. The big yardage on kick and punt returns constantly gave the Kansas City offense good starting field position.
Special teams were also responsible for giving up the momentum that the offense and defense had established. Up 14-0 n the second quarter, Denarius Moore fumbled a punt, and the Chiefs recovered at the Oakland 11. Fortunately, the defense held Kansas City to a field goal to minimize the damage.
Oakland's special teams had been the most consistent phase. But against the Chiefs, it proved to be the team's biggest liability. Fortunately, special teams stayed away from any game-changing mistakes and didn't give up any points. But they will need to tighten things up moving forward.
Interim head coach Tony Sparano has steadfastly stood to his stance of not interfering with his coordinators. While that's honorable, it hadn't led to a win. Finally, after six tough losses, the coordinators rewarded his confidence.
If there is an MVP award for the Oakland coaches, it has to go to defensive coordinator Jason Tarver. The defense playing well for a game or two could be seen as an aberration. But by this point, it's evident that Tarver has found something that works.
The defense has by far been the team's best unit since the bye week, and that was once again the case against Kansas City. The unit held the Chiefs offense in check for much of the game on the ground and through the air.
Offensively, the team benefited from Murray's breakout performance. But offensive coordinator Greg Olson was once again tested when Murray went down with a concussion. It wasn't until Reece stepped in as the primary ball-carrier on the final drive that the offense one again found success.
It looked as if Olson would stubbornly stick to his game plan, whether or not it was working, and he did so from the second to the fourth quarter. But in a surprising move that was a long time coming, he went away from McFadden and Jones-Drew on the final drive. He gave the ball to Reece instead, and it made all the difference.
The performances of Murray and Reece shed light on the primary reason for Oakland's struggles this season. With an effective running game, the offense stayed on the field and scored points, the defense spent less time on the field and special teams were able to control field position.
McFadden and Jones-Drew have been the problem. The coaches have to be held accountable for not making the switch sooner and for not trying something to fix an element of the team that was obviously broken.
But they did on Thursday, and the entire team performed better because of it. More importantly, it led to the team's first win.
|Positional Unit||Overall Grade|
The Raiders have been close in several games, but they hadn't figured out how to get over the hump. The problem now is clear: the running game.
The defense and special teams had done enough to win, but the offense failed to score points every game. And the primary reason for this ineptitude was the lack of a rushing attack.
Even if you hadn't watched any Oakland game this season, this one alone provided all the evidence you need. On five drives with Murray and Reece on the field, the Raiders scored 21 points. On seven drives with McFadden and Jones-Drew, the offense scored three.
What had been missing for the Raiders was offensive efficiency. They finally found that on Thursday night, and it led to the team's first victory of the season. Now, the Raiders have to stick with this approach. Murray and Reece have to be the primary backs from this point forward.
It was a long wait between wins, but that made it that much sweeter.
Unless otherwise noted, all stats taken from ESPN.com.
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