Winners and Losers of Oakland Raiders' Week 1 Performance

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistSeptember 11, 2017

Winners and Losers of Oakland Raiders' Week 1 Performance

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    The Oakland Raiders brushed off offseason criticism of their defense to hold the Tennessee Titans to one touchdown in a 26-16 victory on Sunday.

    The Titans started the game with a bold call for an onside kick. Safety Shalom Luani recovered, and the offense jumped off to a good start with a touchdown drive.

    As expected, the Raiders targeted rookie Titans cornerback Adoree' Jackson, who started for LeShaun Sims, but the USC product held his ground at times. On other occasions, wideout Amari Cooper squandered opportunities.

    Tennessee responded to Oakland's quick score, but quarterback Marcus Mariota's scamper to the end zone went down as the only Titans touchdown in the contest.

    Oakland held the lead through most of the game and finished with long and physical runs to seal the victory. The defense held Tennessee's rushing offense under 100 yards and kept the wide receivers away from the end zone.

    For the most part, the Silver and Black put together a complete game—not perfect, but the team remained solid on all phases through four quarters. We'll delve deeper into individual performances to highlight winners and losers from Sunday's victory.

Winner: PK Giorgio Tavecchio

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    The Raiders placed kicker Sebastian Janikowski on injured reserve on Saturday, which thrust Giorgio Tavecchio into the starting spot against the Titans. Until Sunday, he hadn't played in a single regular-season game but spent the past four offseasons with the team.

    Tavecchio may have injected ice into his veins. The 27-year-old nailed two 52-yard field-goal attempts. He also split the uprights on a 43-yarder, which gave the Raiders a two-possession lead in the fourth quarter.

    Raiders fans once praised Janikowski for his range on kicks as the record-holder for most conversions from 50 yards or more, but as The Athletic's Jimmy Durkin joked, Tavecchio started the journey to unseat the iron-leg king.

    In fact, Tavecchio became the first player since the merger to kick at least two 50-plus yard field goals in an NFL debut, per Josh Dubow of the Associated Press.

    It's one game, but Tavecchio's debut puts the front office at ease while Janikowski sits out for eight weeks on injured reserve.

Loser: OT Vadal Alexander

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    According to Pro Football Focus, the Raiders only allowed eight sacks last year; Vadal Alexander surrendered a fourth of that total in about 45 seconds on Sunday.

    The Titans sacked quarterback Derek Carr on back-to-back plays. On both occasions, the pass-rusher beat Alexander, who rotated with Marshall Newhouse on the right side.

    Newhouse spent most of the offseason on the blind side as a replacement for Donald Penn during a contract holdout. Nonetheless, the 28-year-old seamlessly moved back to the right in the third preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys. The Raiders may lean on the newcomer more so than the second-year player out of LSU for the foreseeable future.

    Alexander won't completely fall out of favor, but his snap count may drop until he's able to handle quicker pass-rushers off the edge.

Winner: RB Marshawn Lynch

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    Running back Marshawn Lynch added a missing ingredient to the offense, which became apparent on a 4th-and-1 call on the Titans' 3-yard line. Instead of kicking the field goal, head coach Jack Del Rio opted to hand off to Beast Mode to convert on downs.

    Lynch sidestepped safety Johnathan Cyprien for a first down to extend the drive, but Cooper couldn't secure a reception in the end zone for six points.

    Late in the fourth quarter, Beast Mode steamrolled 300-pound defensive tackle Jurrell Casey on a run up the middle. No disrespect to running back Latavius Murray, but it's the nastiness the backfield needed behind a mauler-type offensive line.

    Defenders will have to put their shoulder pads behind tackles and wrap up the Raiders' featured ball-carrier late in the game. Lynch won't take a quick dive or drop on a lazy shoulder bump.

    On his return to the league, Beast Mode ran the ball 18 times for 76 carries. Typically, his attempts should fall between 12-15, but he closed the game with multiple exclamation points on Sunday.

Loser: LB Bruce Irvin

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    It's seldom that you see linebacker Bruce Irvin put a subpar performance on film, but he didn't flash on Sunday until he committed penalties on consecutive plays.

    Irvin matched against a quality offensive line with Taylor Lewan on the left side. However, the talented pass-rusher jumped offsides and followed with a WWE-style bodyslam on tight end Delanie Walker, which drew an unnecessary roughness call. Broadcaster Tony Romo astutely pointed out that frustration for the first infraction may have led to the second flag.

    As an established veteran, Irvin will shake off the rough start and play with more poise going forward. Though as a figurehead in the locker room, coaches won't want to see self-inflicted miscues from their defensive leaders.

    Over the past two years, the 29-year-old linebacker has gained much respect among his teammates. He must remember to take the field as a good example—not a teaching lesson on what not to do on the gridiron.

Winner: TE Jared Cook

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    Many people raised their eyebrows when general manager Reggie McKenzie signed Jared Cook as the team's first free-agent addition. Now, it all makes sense. The 30-year-old tight end's skill set as a receiver should elevate the offense in 2017.

    Carr went to Cook on the first offensive drive for 22 yards. The tight end finished with five catches for 56 yards. Clive Walford didn't record a single catch. Offensive coordinator Todd Downing's tight end use will differ from that of his predecessor, Bill Musgrave.

    Expect Cook to become a go-to target in the red zone when Carr doesn't hand off to Lynch.

    Beyond his receiving ability, Cook also sealed a block for running back Jalen Richard to help secure the game late in the fourth quarter. The ninth-year veteran's blocking often goes overlooked, but the underappreciated component to his skill set will allow Downing to keep him in the game down the stretch to create lanes for ball-carriers.

Loser: DT Darius Latham

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    The Raiders didn't have many losers on the field, but defensive tackle Darius Latham didn't suit up for Sunday's game. Unfortunately for the second-year player, he may find himself on the sideline for several contests throughout the year.

    Oakland has great depth across the defensive line. Furthermore, Mario Edwards Jr. and Eddie Vanderdoes contributed to holding the Titans to under 100 rushing yards.

    Keep in mind Tennessee gouged Oakland's run defense for 181 yards in Week 3 last year with running backs DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry. Edwards missed that contest with a hip injury, and Vanderdoes played at UCLA.

    Edwards' return and Vanderdoes' presence should keep the front line solid against piercing ground attacks. As a result, Latham may not see a lot of snaps behind both defenders.

    Justin Ellis shared a sack, his first, because of the third-round rookie's pressure up the middle. Defensive tackle Treyvon Hester suited up for Week 1 over Latham. However, the two may interchange based on matchups going forward.

Winner: DC Ken Norton Jr.

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    In every Raiders chat, live forum and across social media, you'll see fans calling for defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.'s job. The defense didn't look sharp during the preseason, but that's not a good time to assess a unit. Coaches often use exhibition play to test schemes and focus on the basics in preparation for the regular season.

    Norton can step the podium at his next press conference full of pride. As mentioned, the defense allowed one touchdown in the first quarter and held the Titans to three field goals thereafter.

    Along with an effective late-game rushing offense, the defense stalled drives, clamped down on the passing attack on their side of the field and held the Tennessee running backs to under four yards per carry.

    Initially, the Raiders defense struggled to stop the Titans on third down, but the group improved in the second half. Norton and the fans should be pleased with only 16 points allowed on Sunday. Then again, it's also a bad idea to freak out over vanilla preseason defenses.

Loser: PK Sebastian Janikowski

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Even though Janikowski remains on injured reserve for a definitive eight weeks, it's possible he may not kick another field goal for the Raiders in 2017—or the rest of his career. 

    It's not an overreaction. Janikowski landed on injured reserve because of a slow-healing back injury. At 39, he's not going to recover like a man in his mid-20s. Furthermore, the Raiders' all-time leader in games played (268) is in the final year of his contract, per Spotrac.

    Even though Janikowski took a $1 million pay cut, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, it doesn't ensure he'll sign a new deal in the offseason.

    Additionally, it's illogical to bench a kicker who's nailing field goals for a 39-year-old on an expiring contract because he's loved within the organization. The NFL is still a business about wins and losses. If the field-goal unit isn't broken, don't try to fix it.

    Janikowski deserves much appreciation for his tenure with the franchise through the ups and downs. However, over the next seven weeks, Tavecchio may prove it's his time to shine with the Silver and Black.