Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
It's a special Christmas edition of Ballers & Busters. This week I will giving the gift of Baller nods to those who were nice and Buster coal in the stockings of those who were naughty. Just like Santa, I made a list. I don't check it twice. I just try and make sure I got it right the first time.
I am running out of superlatives to describe how much he has stepped up for this defense. Dude never takes a play off. His bleached, two-tone hair is on fire on every play and the offensive lineman trying to block him has no extinguisher for it.
In the first half, he got pressure on Cam Newton on several occasions. On one drive late in the second quarter, he was in on a gang sack on Newton which prompted his hissy fit in which he kicked Tommy Kelly in the face. Later in the drive he had a run stuff at the line followed by a pressure to force Newton to throw the ball away. The drive ended two plays later with a missed 48-yard field goal.
He had another pressure in the second half which nearly resulted in an interception as well as a couple of tackles for loss. The final tackle for loss was on the second to last play for the Panthers and forced a 51-yard field goal.
Chekwa was forced into the game with the injury to Phillip Adams. He played all of eight snaps on defense along with his plays on special teams. The Raiders forced two turnovers in the game and he was responsible for both of them. The first came early in the third quarter when he forced a fumble on the punt return to give the Raiders the ball at the Panthers' 32-yard line. The second was the final play of the third quarter in which he batted down a Newton pass which was intercepted by Miles Burris. That play gave the Raiders the ball at the Carolina 18-yard line and they converted it into a field goal. Those two turnovers were the best chance the Raiders had to win this game.
He, like Chekwa, was an injury replacement. He came in for the injured Tyvon Branch. And like he has a couple times this season, he made the most of his opportunity. Jason Tarver was using Mitchell like a Cam Newton seeking missile in this game. He would send him on a blitz now and then just to send Newton a message. Mitchell hit him to help force and incompletion a play before the infamous face-kicking incident. Then in the fourth quarter, he hit him again to force an incompletion and a few plays later hit him again. This time Newton was hopping mad. He got his skirt all dirty and didn't like that this is a contact sport so he hit the official and yelled at him. After Newton's unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, Mitchell got in on the tackle short of the first down which had Newton pouting his way back to the sideline. Since Newton will be fined heavily for his actions, in a way Mitchell not only hurt him on the field, he aided in allowing Newton to hurt his own pocketbook. Well played, sir. Well played.
It wasn't a perfect game for Burris. He missed a couple key tackles including one that would have sacked Cam Newton for a safety. But he also led the team with 7 combined tackles. He added a half sack, QB hurry, pass defended and an interception as well which set up one of the two field goals. His shared sack helped end the Panthers' first drive. His pass defended came in the third quarter and he nearly intercepted it. He got another chance on the next drive and this time he held onto the ball to intercept Newton for the first time in his last 176 passes.
He had five punts in this game and four of them were fair caught inside the 20 yard line. The one punt that wasn't fair caught traveled 61 yards in the air to the 18 yard line and returned 14 yards where Chekwa forced the fumble to give the Raiders the ball back. Panthers drives off punts started at the 12, 16, 8, and 9 yard lines for an average drive start at the 11 yard line. Amazing.
It is hard to ignore the way the Raiders defense has been performing of late. The Chiefs game could have been written off as a good defense playing great against a terrible offense. But the performance of the defense in this game was more than the sum of its parts. They were executing the scheme and in most cases they were doing their jobs. The few mistakes were those made by missed assignments and poor tackling. Those mistakes have been few of late and Tarver deserves some credit for that.