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Poor Pass Coverage Giving Oakland Raiders Little Margin for Error

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistOctober 5, 2015

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 04: Marquess Wilson #10 of the Chicago Bears hauls in a pass on the last Bears possession of the game in front of David Amerson #29 of the Oakland Raiders at Soldier Field on October 4, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bears defeated the Raiders 22-20. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Oakland Raiders should prepare to score 28 points or more to offset poor pass coverage and provide a legitimate chance at victory. That’s not an exaggeration in a pass-happy league with a bold emphasis on scoring.

In today’s league, the term "defenseless receiver" exists, which didn’t apply decades ago. Wideouts have more leeway in running free downfield. Teams should cash in on rule changes that encourage more scoring on offense.

Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave must adopt an aggressive style of play-calling to strive for more touchdowns instead of field goals.

Oakland’s Week 4 matchup against the Chicago Bears illustrates a prime example of how conservative play-calling could essentially sell the offense and the team short on the scoreboard:

Oakland Raiders Play-Calling in Bears territory on Final Drive
TimeDownField PositonPlayResult
4:301Chicago 41-yard linePassIncomplete
4:262Chicago 41-yard linePass8-yard pass
4:213Chicago 33-yard lineRun3-yard run
3:411Chicago 30-yard lineRun4-yard run
2:562Chicago 26-yard lineRun4-yard run
2:503Chicago 22-yard lineRunminus-1-yard run
2:104Chicago 23-yard lineField Goal41-yard field goal
NFL.com

Musgrave made the error of waving the white flag once the offense entered field-goal range, knowing the Bears would have one more chance to score.

He made the decision to settle for a field goal, which gave the Raiders the lead by one point and put tremendous pressure on a weak pass defense.

The Raiders must play to win, instead of playing to hold onto a lead. Hindsight is always 20/20, but the Raiders didn’t have their No. 1 cornerback on the field.

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Bears kicker Robbie Gould had already nailed a 54-yard field goal earlier in the quarter. There’s a higher probability of keeping a team out of the end zone compared to holding an offense outside field-goal range. Musgrave decided to play it safe, and the plan backfired. 

Fortunately, the Raiders have the personnel on offense to push the envelope in the scoring department.

Commitment to Excellence

The NFL doesn’t measure moral victories, but there’s something to learn from every game regardless of the outcome. At times, the good becomes lost in defeat.

Quarterback Derek Carr put together another solid effort on Sunday. He completed approximately 60 percent of his passes, and the interception falls on running back Latavius Murray’s handsor lack thereofon a critical bobble in the flat.

Carr and wide receiver Amari Cooper connected for a 26-yard touchdown like a seasoned pair of veterans, sparking the offense after a lethargic first quarter. The NFL provided highlights:

NFL @NFL

The speed. The footwork. The 26-yard TD catch. And yes, it was a catch. Amari Cooper is a BIG problem #OAKvsCHI http://t.co/PA7H5HAMhd

Carr and Cooper have immediately jumped onto the same page as a formidable tandem for the Silver and Black. The young tandem should continue to grow as the season progresses, which gives Carr a go-to option in critical situations.

Musgrave can help this connection flourish by featuring Cooper in the clutch. On Sunday, he opted to steer clear away from the budding AC-DC connection in favor of a struggling rushing attack. 

The attention Cooper garners from coverage would benefit wide receivers Michael Crabtree and Seth Roberts in single coverage.

The margin for error on offense shrinks as the defense allows more points, but Carr has only thrown one interception this season, and poor decision-making caused it.

If Murray kept his eyes on the football, the narrative changes a bit with more talk on the improvement of the Raiders offense.

Silver Lining

Obviously, scoring points earns top priority, but how can the Raiders aid their leaky pass coverage?

Safety Nate Allen will return at some point midseason, until then, the defensive line has to pick up the slack by shrinking the pocket.

The Raiders registered three sacks against the Bears' makeshift offensive line and wounded quarterback. That’s good but not good enough. Without Carrie, the margin for error was reduced to nil for the pass rush.

On the final drive, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler had enough time to pick apart the Raiders' pass defense without an overbearing pass rush forcing him to make poor throws.

Edge-rusher Aldon Smith recorded a sack on the second play in the drive. Pro Football Focus’ Steve Palazzolo provided the footage:

Steve Palazzolo @PFF_Steve

Khalil Mack pressure leads to Aldon Smith clean up sack https://t.co/APS5zT6Etp

Unfortunately, the Bears' offensive line held steady thereafter.

The Raiders have notched eight sacks in the last two games, which shows the ability to put decent pressure on the quarterback. However, the pass rush must swarm the pocket constantly, especially in critical situations to seal close victories.

Oakland cannot expect safety Charles Woodson to swoop in and save the day in every competitive battle down the stretch. The Raiders must limit the time an opposing quarterback has to scan the field and pick on certain cornerbacks.

The Raiders have three decent edge-rushers to get the job done, but one poor series could give away the game.

Black Cloud

Head coach Jack Del Rio and special teams coordinator Brad Seely stand on the black cloud alone at this juncture.

In four weeks, Carrie has returned six punts for a grand total of 38 yards—approximately six yards a punt. Del Rio and Seely should ask themselves one question: Should we continue to use Carrie on punt returns for six yards a pop?

Oakland’s pass coverage resembles an open door without Carrie on the field. Other starters around the league return kicks and punts, but none of them share the same situation as the Raiders.

Oakland cannot afford to lose Carrie’s value and versatility as a cornerback and blanket safety containing explosive receivers downfield.

The decision to allot reps to Carrie on special teams puts the secondary in a precarious situation. Woodson is still nursing a hurt shoulder, Allen remains sidelined for several weeks and cornerbacks D.J. Hayden, Neiko Thorpe and David Amerson have become target practice for opposing quarterbacks.

In fact, Cutler purposely targeted Amerson in the absence of Carrie as reported by Chicago Tribune reporter Rich Campbell:

Rich Campbell @Rich_Campbell

Bears picking on backup CB David Amerson with starter T.J. Carrie injured

Carrie’s status remains unclear. The Raiders may dodge the injury bug, but the starting defensive back shouldn’t return to his duties as a punt returner.

Steve Corkran of RaiderBeat.com tweeted another questionable move after Carrie went down with an injury:

Steve Corkran @CorkOnTheNFL

Amari Cooper replaces TJ Carrie on punt return this time, nets a few yards before going down. #Raiders lead 17-16.

The fact Cooper didn’t return punts in college elevates the level of confusion on that decision to use him as the backup for Carrie on special teams.

Short punt returns aren’t worth added opportunities for opposing teams to smash heads with key players. Special teams players often take the field with reckless abandon.

The decision to utilize the best players at their respective positions could cost the Raiders on either side of the ball. General manager Reggie McKenzie should open the checkbook and sign a true punt returner to bolster special teams and avoid catastrophe.

Follow Maurice Moton on Twitter for news, updates and intriguing discussion about the Oakland Raiders.

All statistics are provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com and Pro Football Focus unless otherwise noted.

Week 4 statistics and play-by-play analysis provided by NFL.com.

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