What a first half of the season for the Raiders. No wins to speak of yet, which hadn't happened since 1962, the season before Al Davis took over the team. So, certainly not in my lifetime and not in the lifetime of Ballers & Busters. That made it unique in that I was unable to place more weight on performances that led to a win. Only to say they played well despite the loss in each instance.
Even still, B&B must go on. Here are the best and worst of the first half of this travesty that is the Raiders 2014 season.
Raiders rookie number five overall pick game in and almost immediately made a huge impact. In just week two, he was already named Top Baller. Overall he was a Baller five times over the first eight games, four of those times he was Top Baller.
In an otherwise demoralizing week two home opening loss to the Texans, Mack showed up big time. The linebackers overall had a poor showing, but Mack was an exception. He had six solo tackles. He was also getting good pressure on the quarterback. The result was his blocker getting called for holding, a quarterback hit to force an incompletion, a batted ball at the line, and a tackle for loss.
He was Top Baller again the following week in a tough defensive effort in Foxboro. In that game he had 7 tackles (3 solo), most of which were run stuffs. He also forced Tom Brady into an incomplete pass with the Patriots in third and goal at the two-yard-line. Later his laid another hard hit on Brady to force another incompletion. He also had a run stuff on third down in the first half, and a tackle for a 3-yard loss to begin the second half.
He was back in the Top Baller spot in week 7 against the Cardinals. He had a run stuff on each of the Cardinals first three drives, beginning with a tackle for a five-yard loss. His second tackle for loss came on the first drive of the third quarter. On the next drive, on third and 16, Mack got the edge on Jared Veldheer who was flagged for holding to set up third and 26. Mack had four run stuffs on the Cardinals drive alone, one for a loss and one for no gain. He, of course, led the team with 11 tackles (10 solo).
Just like he did in weeks two and three, Mack put together back-to-back Top Baller nods. And as good as he was against the Cardinals, he was even better against the Browns. Again, he went to work early. He was the drive killer on several occasions and the Browns were powerless to stop him. On the Browns first drive, he made the play on three of four plays -- a tackle for a loss, a tackle for no gain, and a pressure for an incompletion.
A couple drives later, the Browns had driven to the nine-yard-line. Mack ended it with had a tackle for loss and a pressure to force an incompletion. He stopped the next drive for a three and out with a run stuff. The Browns had two consecutive three-and-outs to begin the second half. The second one ended when on third and one, Mack pressured Brian Hoyer and hit him as he threw for the incompletion. He had another tackle for loss on the next series.
He kept it going last week with a productive game against the Seahawks. He made the very first play of the game for the Raiders defense with a run stuff for a two yard gain. He had two quarterback hurries in the game, both helped hold them to field goal attempts. The first one, they missed from 46 yards out, the second one came on third down and after flushing Wilson out of the pocket, he chased him down and laid a hit him, but he released the ball as he was going to the ground. He finished tied for second on the team with 7 tackles (4 solo).
Jones is the leading receiver on this Raiders team and Derek Carr's most reliable target. He was a Baller right from the season opener. It isn't all about the numbers either. He laid the key block on the Raiders first touchdown to Rod Streater. It was Jones who kept that opening drive alive when he made a catch on third down to move the chains. He capped it off with a late touchdown grab on a fantastic leaping grab, getting both feet just inbounds. Though he had just three catches for 34 yards, they were all key receptions.
Speaking of numbers, he had those numbers in week two when he caught nine passes for 112 yards and a touchdown, but was not named a Baller. That's because the only thing anyone really remembers about that game by Jones is the ‘Unholy Roller' (trademark). That was the catch he had late in the second quarter where he fumbled it, picked it back up, ran toward the endzone only to fumble it again and the Texans recovered it at the three-yard-line.
Jones was an Honorable Mention the following week in New England with three catches for 43 yards against Darrelle Revis.
The following week in London to face the Dolphins, Jones was named Top Baller with a team leading six catches on six targets for 83 yards. Among those catches were a one-handed 30-yard grab on the first play of the game that helped set up the Raiders game opening touchdown drive.
Jones returned to the Baller list following the bye week against the Chargers, again leading the team with 5 receptions for 56 yards and a touchdown. He also laid key blocks on two other catches of 12 yards and 47 yards.
At the tender age of 38, he is arguably the best defender on this Raiders team (though it isn't worth a debate). He is certainly the best defensive back on the team and his team-leading two interceptions from the safety position is proof of that.
His first interception came on the second possession of the season. And was it ever a glorious pick. Geno Smith saw his man and threw it to him, thinking no one was close enough to make a play. It certainly looked that way until Woodson did another of his Superman impressions and dove through the air to pick off the pass and keep it in his grasp. It gave the Raiders the ball in scoring position at the 28-yard line and they drove for a touchdown. He added several key run stuffs in that game as well and finished third on the team with 9 tackles (5 solo).
He was a Betweener in week four when he had a pass defended in the endzone and recovered a fumble in the end zone for a touchback. Then he was back in the Baller category in week 7 against the Cardinals where he has his second interception. He also added four run stuffs, and held his gap to allow another.
Sio was a Baller in the first gme of the season with a stop on Geno Smith at the goal line that resulted in a forced fumble by TJ Carrie. Moore would end four other drives with a tackle short of the first down, a strip sack resulting in a 12-yard loss, a pressure to force an incompletion, and a pressure resulting in a sack. Sio finished the game with three pressures, one sack, six stops, and led the team with 13 combined tackles (11 solo).
After missing a couple games with an ankle injury, Sio burst back onto the scene as a Baller in his first game back in week six against the Chargers. He made five stops in the game, three of which came at or within two yards of the line of scrimmage and led the team with 10 tackles (7 solo).
He again led the team in tackles in week 8 against the Browns. He was a man possessed in this one. Early on, he had a tackle for a loss of four, then had another one a couple drives later. He began the third quarter with a run stuff and did the same to begin the fourth quarter and got a hand on a pass on the next play. He had one more run stop on the next possession to finish with 9 tackles (8 solo) and two tackles for loss.
He jumped to Top Baller in week nine against the Seahawks. Some would like to fault Moore for allowing Marshawn Lynch to drive his way into the endzone on the Seahawks first touchdown. While I don't remove all blame from him, he was there for the stick and stood up Lynch, but go no help while Lynch got help from several teammates to push him into the endzone. He also had three tackles on that drive, including stopping Russell Wilson for a short scramble in the open field.
Sio was all over Wilson in this one, including a stop on the next drive when he sacked Wilson on second down and then pressured him into an incompletion on 3rd and 13. He ended another drive later in the game with a pressure on Wilson for an incompletion on third down. He also added a couple more run stuffs and again led the team with double digit tackles (11) and the only sack of the game.
Through the first eight games Sio leads the team in solo tackle (42), is tied for the team lead with 2.0 sacks. This despite missing two games to injury. He has posted double digit tackles in 3 of 6 his six games.
King was named as a Baller twice this season. He struggled early in the season, but by week four he seemed to have found his footing (so to speak). Four of his six punts were downed inside the 20-yard line. In fact, all four of those punts landed inside the 10-yard line (10, 9, 9, 6). One of the punts not inside the 20-yard line traveled 52 yards and was fair caught at the 37-yard line. His longest punt went for 57 yards. His worst punt of the day went 44 yards to the Miami 43-yard line and on the return, it was fumbled and recovered by the Raiders.
He was a Baller again in week 9 averaging an impressive 52.3 yards per punt with three of those downed inside the 20-yard line. One of those punts went 53 yards and was downed at the 2-yard-line. It was probably his best punt of the season. He also had a 56-yard punt stopped at the 14-yard-line, and a 54-yard punt stopped at the 9-yard-line. His only mistake was his longest punt of the day which went 59 yards in the air where he outkicked his coverage to allow 38 yards on the return to the Oakland 47-yard-line. his net was 46.2 with no touchbacks. And outside of that return, the Seahawks averaged negative one yard on punt returns.
He is currently ranked sixth in the league in net punting average, tied for fourth with 17 punts inside the 20-yard-line, and is tied for third with just one touchback -- all areas he had struggled with last season. He is also sixth in the league in yards per return (2.6) and leads the league with 20 fair catches. The next best is Falcons Matt Bolsher with 16.
Many of you probably think Carrie should simply be a Baller. I myself have said he has been the Raiders best cornerback this season. But his footprint on games is not yet large enough to push him into Baller status. He is on the right track, that is for certain. He was once named a Baller and twice a Betweener.
He was a Betweener in the very first game against the Jets in large part due to his forced fumble on the goal line against Geno Smith. He also later had a tackle for loss. But he missed a special teams tackle that allowed a big return, and missed a tackle on a drive that led to a touchdown. He also called for a fair catch at the 6-yard-line on a return. He would learn and improve as the weeks went on.
Carrie would get his only interception in week four against the Dolphins. That clinched his promotion to unseat Chimdi Chekwa as the team's nickel corner. He took the job and in his first start, he was named a Baller. It was week six against Philip Rivers and the Chargers. He gave up just one catch on the day and added two passes defended. He also had tight coverage on two other incompletions.
It was Tony Sparano's first game as head coach and he decided Carrie had also earned kick return duties on top of his punt return duties. He showed up well there too.
His first punt return went 19 yards to set the Raiders up at the 50-yard line. In the third quarter, he had a 36-yard kick return to give the Raiders decent field position at the 38-yard line. Next punt return to start the fourth quarter, he weaved through traffic for 11 yards to put them in business at the 50-yard line. The Raiders average drive start was the 31-yard line with just one drive starting inside the 20-yard line.
In week nine aganst the Seahawk, Carrie played great overall, but fumbled a return which kept him off the Baller list and landed him as a Betweener. He stopped the Seahawks second possession nearly single-handedly, with a pass defended and two plays later, pressured and hit Wilson to force and incompletion on third down.
He set out to make up for his earlier fumble on the ensuing kick return which he took for 42 yards to the Raiders 37-yard-line. With the good starting field position the Raiders were able to drive into field goal range before half. He had an even better punt return a bit later that went 27 yards to the Seattle 30-yard-line and the Raiders drove for their first offensive touchown off the short field.
Another young guy who is giving the coaches some hope for the future. He was named a Baller in his first start in place of the injured Lamarr Woodley. It was week eight against the Browns and he brought long overdue production from the defensive end position. On the Browns' second possession, they got a big 48-yard catch and run and it was Mayowa who chased down the receiver to make a touchdown saving tackle. He made sure they wouldn't punch it in with a tackle for loss a few plays later. He would add three more run stuffs in that game.
At that time Mayowa had the exact same number of tackles in six quarters -- 5 tackles (3 solo) - as Woodley had in six games as a starter. Mayowa has since added to his total with 8 tackles (4 solo) which would put him at 24 tackles (16 solo) over eight games to lead all Raiders defensive linemen. Not bad for a former undrafted waiver pickup just prior to the season.
The great hope of the Raiders as the potential franchise quarterback has had an up and down first half to the season, as one might expect. He was twice a Baller, 3 times a Buster, and once a Betweener.
He was thrust into the starting role due to Matt Schaub's elbow soreness and Carr struggled in his first start. After an opening drive touchdown, he went ice cold when he had to go off script. Even that drive almost didn't happen, as he had an easy interception dropped by the defender.
After two-straight failed drives, he again nearly had a pass intercepted on a drive that resulted in a third and 25. He also was not recognizing blitzes and the Jets were feasting on him because of it. After that he had drives that featured two-straight batted passes, a timeout to avoid a delay of game penalty, a one-yard pass on third and ten, another near interception, and a held ball sack. Carr added a late garbage time touchdown drive in this one to make it look more respectable than it was.
It was another rout in week two at the hands of the Texans. But this game, Carr stepped up to Betweener. Carr became the Raiders leading rusher on one play in which he sold the read option and took off for 41 yards. But three plays later he threw an interception which was returned 65 yards to the Oakland 24-yard-line. He again added a late garbage time TD in this one.
Week three saw Carr take another leap forward and he was named Baller for the first time. He showed great pocket presence in this game for the first time this season. In that game he went 21 for 34 (62%) for 174 yards. He led the team on three scoring drives for field goal and a late drive that nearly tied the game if not for a controversial holding penalty on a would-be McFadden touchdown run and a drop by Denarius Moore that led to an interception to ice it.
Following the bye week, the Raiders offense came out firing and Carr was named top Baller with a Raiders rookie record four touchown passes. On the third play of the game, he saw Andre Holmes had beaten Brandon Flowers on a go route and his threw a perfect strike to Holmes for a 77-yard touchdown. He would lead them on another scoring drive in the first half, featuring a 30-yard back shoulder completion to Andre Holmes, and a 6-yard laser to James Jones for the touchdown.
He came out in the second half and led the team for a touchdown on their first drive. Just like the first touchdown of the game, it was on the third play he connected with his receiver who took it the distance -- perfect strike to Brice Butler who streaked 47-yards for the score. Then after torching he Chargers through the air all day, the ground game opened up and Carr finished it off with his fourth touchdown pass of the day to Holmes.
With the Raiders defense unable to stop the Chargers, they came back to take the lead and the game ended with an interception as Carr made one last valiant attempt to win it. He did plenty. Carr's four TD passes matched his season total coming in along with career highs in every category including passing yards (282) and passer rating (107.7).
By week 8, some of Carr's weaknesses were being exploited and he was named a Buster for the first time since the opener. The Browns rattled him and he looked lost most of the day. He wasn't able to mount any kind of drive until midway through the second quarter and that drive ended when he missed a wide open Kenbrell Thompkins in favor of a covered James Jones to settle for a field goal. Poor clock management led to the Raiders being unable to score again before halftime.
Things got worse in the third quarter when Carr didn't see a free rusher come from the right side and was hit hard, causing him to fumble. The Raiders recovered. The next couple drives ended with Carr trying to force passes to covered receivers. He would cap it off with a 'butt fumble' redux, this time losing the ball and the Browns would score off the turnover to put the game away.
Things went from worse to worst last week when he was named Top Buster in a loss in Seattle. After a good looking game opening drive for a field goal, everything fell apart. He was steadily throwing to covered receivers and missing open receivers and those mistakes helped lead to throwing interceptions on two consecutive drives. The first one was returned for a touchdown, the second one was read easily by Richard Sherman to set up a field goal. He once again had two fumbles, one recovered, the other lost.
The Raiders were still able to manage 24 points in this game. The first touchdown came off a blocked punt recovered in the endzone, the second came off a big punt return and 23-yard screen pass, the third came too late to matter. Carr finished 24 of 41 for 194 yards, 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions with a passer rating of 66.5.
While Penn has played well overall as a pass blocker, it was usually his run blocking that has given the Raiders problems. He was a Baller in week two against the Texans when he gave up just one hurry in the game despite facing JJ Watt a good portion of the time. Luckily for him, he didn't have to face Jadeveon Clowney as well.
Week four against the Dolphins he was named a Buster. He gave up a run stuff on third down along with a big hit in Matt McGloin's back and then gave up a sack on the final play of the game.
Week 6 against the Chargers, he was back to Baller status as he kept Carr clean so he could light up the Chargers for four touchdowns. He even laid a few key blocks on runs as well as a downfield block on a bubble screen. It was his best game of the season.
He came back to earth the very next week against the Cardinals with some poor run blocking. He started by giving up a pressure on Carr, then twice giving up run stuffs and finished it off the way he began -- by giving up a pressure on Carr on third and ten to end the Raiders hopes of making any kind of comeback.
He came on strong the past couple weeks for the Raiders as Derek Carr's new favorite target. Prior to that, he was either not very involved or downright invisible. Such was the case in week 6 against the Chargers when he was targeted three times but was held to no catches with a drop.
These past couple weeks, he has led the team in receiving and was named a Baller for his efforts both times. Against the Browns in week 8 he led the team in catches (7) and yards (83). Among his catches were a fantastic one-handed grab in traffic for 22 yards that put the team in scoring position and another 22-yard catch on the final drive, this time on 4th and 11 to set the team up in first and goal at the 10-yard line.
His targets went up last week (11), as did his receptions (8). And though he had just 38 yards receiving, two of his catches were for touchdowns from one yard out.
His issue continues to be his run blocking which is contributing greatly to the Raiders low run totals.