Oakland Raiders Defense Keeps Team Alive for Overtime Victory in Home Finale

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistDecember 25, 2015

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 24:  Philip Rivers #17 of the San Diego Chargers gets sacked in the endzone for a safety by Denico Autry #96 of the Oakland Raiders in the third quarter of their NFL game at O.co Coliseum on December 24, 2015 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Although not pleasing to the eye, the Oakland Raiders relied on their defense to remain competitive and earn a victory over the San Diego Chargers.

The Raiders didn’t have the firepower to consistently drive down the field with explosive plays. Benson Mayowa’s 40-yard fumble recovery put the Raiders offense on the Chargers' three-yard line late in the fourth quarter:

Earlier in the season, the Raiders couldn’t win games with an inefficient passing offense. Now, they’ve earned two gritty victories within the last three outings. Oakland’s ability to win ugly provides another formula for success as the team progresses.

The Raiders’ flashy passing attack has appeared on SportsCenter highlights and stirred excitement in the Bay Area, but an improved defense will propel this team into playoff contention in the upcoming seasons.

Commitment to Excellence: Latavius Murray 

Running back Latavius Murray should relish in his accomplisment, eclipsing 1,000 rushing yards in his third season. 

Let’s consider Murray’s progression as a ball-carrier through his career.

He missed his entire rookie campaign with an ankle injury. In 2014, he earned significant snaps in the second half of the season as a raw talent. Now, he’s the third-leading ball-carrier in the league, and the AFC’s leading rusher with 1,035 yards on the ground. 

Typically, Murray fizzles out in the second half of games due to his heavy workload. He ranks third in rush attempts (255), which explains his drop-off in production as the game progresses. It also highlights the importance of a solid No. 2 running back. 

Murray put the Raiders offense on his back in the first half, churning out chunks of yardage against the Chargers’ aggressive front seven. His contributions as a receiver (five catches, 38 yards) also played a vital role in keeping the offense on the field. 

He logged 117 total yards from scrimmage and 4.1 yards per carry in one of his best performances this season.

Silver Lining: Derek Carr

According to Associated Press writer Josh Dubow, opposing defenses have capitalized on all of Derek Carr’s interceptions at home.

In 2015, Carr struggled in friendly confines and typically put the defense in precarious situations. That scenario played out against San Diego on Thursday.

Chargers defensive end Kendall Reyes tipped a pass; San Diego’s offense scored on the ensuing drive. It’s unfair to place everything on Carr, but he must avoid risky throws and unnecessary penalties. He committed two infractions—including a delay-of-game penalty on third down in the overtime period. 

On the positive side, Carr looks comfortable as a ball-carrier scrambling outside the pocket. He's logged a combined eight carries for 72 yards in the two previous outings.

Carr’s willingness to pick up first downs on the run could help him avoid poor throws and limit throwaways when there’s tight coverage. 

A running quarterback in a spread offense could exploit holes up the middle or toward the sidelines when playing against aggressive linebackers, as shown in offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave's design on Thursday.

Black Cloud: Offensive Line

The Chargers front seven bombarded the Raiders offensive line with power, speed and nifty pass-rush techniques.

Offensive guard Jon Feliciano struggled with Chargers linebacker Melvin Ingram and committed three penalties—the Chargers declined two of the infractions.

On Thursday, Feliciano logged his second NFL start. The rookie will likely experience more teaching moments as he progresses into a potential starter. 

Right tackle J’Marcus Webb committed three penalties, and the Chargers enforced two of the violations. The sixth-year offensive lineman will likely hit the free-agent market in the offseason. He struggled as an interior lineman, and he cannot handle solid pass-rushers on the perimeter. 

Carr felt pressure from his blind side. On a few occasions the Chargers pass-rushers overpowered left tackle Donald Penn to collapse the pocket. The veteran tackle resorted to holding in an embarrassing effort on a particular play in the overtime period.

The front office will make a decision on extending Penn or allowing him to walk during the offseason. Thursday’s performance didn’t help his cause to remain with the Raiders. He must finish strong against the Kansas City Chiefs in the season finale to build a case for a one- to two-year extension.

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

All statistics are provided by Pro-Football-Reference.comPro Football Focus and Team Rankings unless otherwise noted.

Raiders' Week 16 play-by-play provided by NFL.com.

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