Raiders rewind: conservative play-calling leads to lots of third downs

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Raiders faced 17 third downs on Sunday and failed to convert on 11 of their final 12 opportunities, leaving the defense winded as the game wore on.

A 24-14 loss to a playoff team from a year ago doesn't sound so bad.

Then again, you'd have to have quite a spin job to believe that statement is fully accurate. For starters, you'd be ignoring the fact that the same playoff team listed above was win-less coming into Sunday. You'd also have to gloss over the fact that Oakland left the first quarter with a 14-0 lead at home.

All of a sudden, a 24-14 loss sounds a heck of a lot worse.

For many, the loss belongs on the shoulders of quarterback Matt Flynn — the man filling in for Terrelle Pryor while he recovers from a concussion sustained last week. While I'm tempted to agree with that placement of blame, I think Flynn suffered as much from a conservative game plan as he did from anything else.

From the get-go the game plan was obvious: don't put the game in Flynn's hands. That meant lots of running plays on first and second down, setting up short third-down opportunities so Flynn didn't have to make any difficult throws.

In the beginning, that strategy worked well.

On their first two drives, Oakland faced four third-downs and converted three of them, including a third-and-seven conversion that resulted in a 21-yard touchdown pass. In fact, Oakland's second touchdown capped an impressive 10-play, 80-yard drive.

The only problem with this strategy is that eventually, the likelihood of converting 75-percent of your third down opportunities will catch up with you.

After converting their next third down opportunity, Oakland finished the game failing to convert on 11 of their last 12 third down conversions. This conservative game plan is fine when the team is converting on thid down, but when you put your team in that many difficult situations, it's nearly impossible to win.

In reality, Flynn threw the ball fine. Aside from the pick-six — which was a tough pill to swallow — Flynn finished 21/32 for 227 yards for a QB rating of 83.7.

Where Flynn killed the Raiders, however, was his pocket presence — especially on these key third downs. While fans have gotten used to the mobile and athletic Pryor, seeing the immobile Flynn take seven sacks (four on third down) and fail to create anything with his feat was painful.

His lack of mobility is actually what makes the game plan so curious.

Why put an immobile quarterback in so many situations where an entire drive is dependent on a single play — especially a blitz-heavy play like third down? Any time the Raiders were left with third-and-long, Flynn was facing a blitz that he was unable to escape from — a trait that ultimately did the Raiders in.

While some might look to blame the defense for their inability to come up with stops late in the game, consider how often they were on the field in the second half. In Oakland's final seven drives, they averaged just over four offensive plays (excluding special teams) per possession.

Once again, the product of a gameplan that left Oakland heavily reliant on converting third-downs.

As I said earlier, I think part of the blame falls on Flynn, but part of it also belongs on the coaching staff. This isn't the first time I've wondered whether they've put this team in the best position to win for fear of being too aggressive.

Flynn struggled, sure, but why not open up the playbook a bit more in the second half — after the team failed over and over again on third down — and allow Flynn to throw the ball down-field?

While Rashad Jennings played admirably, the strength of the offense lies in the play-making ability of their receivers — guys who instead were suffocated with slant routes, screens and curls.

Any loss is tough to swallow, but blowing a 14-point lead at home to a win-less team makes it extra bitter. Then again, I guess there's always next week.

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