The term "tale of two halves" likes to be thrown around from time to time when a team's first and second halves completely differ from one another. That statement could probably be used to describe the Raiders offense a few times this season. Their offense typified that ideal in this game.
The Raiders got out to a 21-3 lead midway through the second quarter and it looked like they would run away with the game easily. It was the play of the defense that impressed Dennis Allen the most, though. So much so that he relied almost entirely on them in the second half.
"I thought our defense was outstanding," said Allen. "I thought they were outstanding all game long. A couple of times they got put in some tough situations, to turn the ball over right before the half which can't happen and our defense goes right back out there and stops them. They did a great job. They made a lot of plays.
It is true the Raiders didn't execute as well in the second half. But Dennis Allen admittedly went with an offense in the second half designed to not make big mistakes to give the game away.
"I knew what type of game this was gonna be," said Allen. "Points were gonna be hard to come by, our defense was playing extremely well, I didn't want to do anything that was going to give them an opportunity to get back into the game. We wanted to be able to run the ball, we wanted to get some quick, short passes out but when we call these short passes, we gotta be able to complete some short passes so we can keep the clock running. We just gotta do a better job and understand certain situations and managing situations."
That game plan nearly backfired on them as the Steelers came back in the fourth quarter to score 15 points and pull within a field goal of tying it. It also set a new Raiders record low for yards in the second half.
The Raiders had a total of 34 yards in the second half. It is the lowest second half total in a Raiders win since 1991, when the stat began being tracked. Their previous low was 35 yards in 2006 in a win over (drum roll) the Steelers.
The Raiders handed the ball off to Darren McFadden up the middle time and time again to no results. The Raiders had a total of one first down in the second half after having 12 in the first half. McFadden had eleven carries in the second half for 17 yards. All the while, Terrelle Pryor had a total of 6 pass attempts.
Pryor came out swinging to begin the game with a big record-setting 93-yard run on the first play from scrimmage. He also had some good passes as well to put the Raiders in position for two touchdowns. But he threw two interceptions, though one was not his fault, and those turnovers may have contributed to Dennis Allen and Greg Olson opting to play it safe in the second half. Pryor wanted to keep putting the game on his shoulders.
"Yeah, but it's tough," said Pryor. "We're up 21 and our defense is playing great. With Darren, one of the best backs I believe in the NFL, we just got to -- our coach, we thought we could run the time out. It didn't work the way we thought. We weren't staying on the field. We were getting in third down and long. It's very tough to throw the ball third down and long. I believe they're No. 1 in the NFL in third and long. It's hard to run on first and second and do that, throw on third. But I think strategically the coaches thought, hey, if we run the ball and pick up some first downs and keep the clock running, I believe that's what the strategy was. At the end of the day we won."
True. In the end, the conservative approach didn't give up the game. But they also had a lot of help from two chip shot missed field goals (35, 36) by Steelers kicker Shaun Suisham. One could only hope that had he made one or both of them, the Raiders would get aggressive again to see to it the game was out of reach. But turning it off and on is much easier said than done. Had Suisham made even one of those field goals, their late touchdown and two-point conversion would have tied the game.
Yes, I know, a win's a win. But Dennis Allen realizes the Raiders were playing with fire and escaped without getting burnt.
"We still gotta learn how to finish better," said Allen. "You get a team and you're 21-3... Now listen we all knew this was the Pittsburgh Steelers, they're not gonna throw in the towel, they're not gonna give up, but when you have that type of lead, you gotta have that killer instinct and we've gotta come out and be more effective in the second half of the football game."
We know the Raiders defense can more than hold their own. But they can't always be expected to do it alone. From here on out, the offense is going to have to show they can come up with some big plays to finish out games as well.