This Oakland Raiders team is quite the enigma! It is unbelievable to me that this is the same team that started the year 0-10 that the home crowd has gotten to see for their last three home games. It is not so unbelievable watching the away version of this team for why they went 0-10, but this week was yet another excellent performance in front of the Raider Nation in Alameda County.
Khalil Mack. Did the Raiders really get this guy with the number 5 pick in the draft?! The motor on him is just outstanding, his power and quickness combination is obviously elite and he was a one man wrecking crew this week. His statline of 5 combined tackles and a sack do little to show the actual havoc he caused. He was constantly in Kyle Orton's face and consistently effecting the passes even when he didn't register a tackle in the stat column.
The difference between him being on the field and not being on the field was shown by the Bills final drive where Mack was unable to go because of cramping, Buffalo went right down the field in under a minute to score their final TD of the game. That score didn't matter in the game but it did show the necessity of getting another player opposite of Mack that is capable of being a force on either the opposite side of Khalil or when Mack is unable to be on the field.
The performance of Khalil Mack this season though goes beyond words. The excitement he brings, the dominance he displays, the hope he brings for what this defense is capable of for years to come are unexplainable. The Raiders have been waiting a long time, wasting a lot of high draft picks looking for a player like him. They have him now though, he is everything we fans hoped for and more.
Derek Carr was not quite the same elite performance as Mack, but he did play very well against a without a doubt elite defense. The Buffalo Bills defense had just had back to back dominating performances against Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers, but the rookie Carr took what he could get and flourished. He only completed 17-34 passes but he did so without committing a turnover while accumulating 2 TD passes as well.
Those numbers might not be gaudy, but they absolutely are proof of a successful outing by Carr. He has proven he has the ability to bounce back from bad performances which is one of the most important parts to playing Quarterback in the NFL. There are going to be bad plays, bad games, but coming back from them is where the heart of a champion really exists. Derek Carr has that, and he is giving us as much reason for hope in the future as Khalil Mack is bringing to the defense.
Carr has been especially impressive when he has help around him. Andre Holmes' HUGE catch on that 3rd and 22 showed why we were so excited for him coming into the season, though he hasn't lived up to those expectations. Kenbrell Thompkins 50 yard catch was also impressive. When players are stepping up around Derek Carr the Raiders are a very tough team to beat even down at the end of this lost season. More playmakers around Carr are only going to help this team succeed in the future.
Latavius Murray also is giving Raider Nation reasons to be excited. His stat line of 23 carries for 86 yards isn't that spectacular, but his ability to break big runs is the very reason for Derek Carr's success in this game. The defense had to respect Murray, they had to be ready for the run and therefore they could not pin their ears down to attack Carr. If the coaching staff had just started playing Murray earlier there is no doubt the Raiders would have had more wins this year.
That's not to say that Oakland would have been a playoff team with Murray starting the whole year, they wouldn't have been. With that in mind it was probably a good thing for the future that they waited to let Latavius loose, their draft position has already taken a big hit since his emergence. I would have taken the wins over the draft position, no question whatsoever about that, but having a higher pick is better in the long run.
The way that D.J. Hayden, Brandian Ross, and T.J. Carrie have been playing too must be mentioned. These are all three very young players and they all three have been playing very consistently and are showing to be parts of this team's future too.
Hayden got burned by Sammy Watkins early for the Bills first TD of the game, but even on that play he was able to make up a lot of ground and still be able to contest the ball but it was just perfectly thrown. His ability to come back after being burned on that play actually was very impressive, as was his punch out from behind on Robert Woods that was close to being a fumble.
On that almost fumble, T.J. Carrie was right there to pounce on the ball. His instincts have been the most impressive part of his play, and he too has shown to be a part of the future. He was rated by PFF (Pro Football Focus) as -0.5 on this day but his play throughout the season has him as one of the biggest steals of the draft.
Someone who had a positive grade from PFF though was once again Brandian Ross, he got a +1.1 grade. To think that this guy was one of the most maligned members of this team last year seems insane. His play this year,especially as of late, has been outstanding. He intercepted Kyle Orton late in this game and it should have sealed the win but the Raiders failed to capitalize on it. Another young guy, I am sure you are getting the point by now.
The point being that the young players on this team are developing, they are showing up big late in the season. This draft class has been the best I have ever seen from the Raiders, it is simply amazing. Reggie McKenzie is not out of the woods unfortunately, the new coach might require a new GM, but you have to give him credit for what he did this draft.
Kudos also must go to the man in the black shades, Tony Sparano. He has been outstanding for this team and has proven why so many people were excited to have him on this staff. He has little to no chance of retaining the head coach position but hopefully the new coach will keep him on staff in some capacity.
His insistence on the running game is late in the season, but it is the reason the Raiders won their last three home games. He has the players utmost respect and love, and above all else he has them competing every minute of the game. His work has been beyond impressive and it seems certain that he will be given a chance to be a head coach again one day, though that day being next year with the Raiders is still very unlikely.
Another great game against Denver next week could change that tune a bit though, no doubt about it. They already are guaranteed to finish at least .500 over the final 6 weeks of the season, but to finish 4-2 with wins against 4 playoff level teams could be impressive enough to warrant him getting a chance to coach next year. That is still very unlikely, but Tony Sparano at least deserves to be mentioned as a candidate considering what he has done to finish this season.
Playing the spoiler is not the role anybody wants at the end of the year, but the Raiders are playing that role well. They only have 3 wins on the season but all three were against playoff possible teams and the loss to the Raiders has doomed 2 out of the 3 teams so far with the Chiefs needing a lot of help to get in. These type of wins are huge for the youth in Oakland, they know they can play against the best teams in the league and still win. They need those wins to keep them motivated and hungry for the future.
On to Denver though, and hopefully it will be a competitive game. The Raiders have fallen flat on the road following their previous wins and it is of the utmost importance not to have that happen this Sunday. This is their last chance to show that they are learning how to win, a great performance against Denver in Mile High Stadium would be the perfect ending for the Raiders season.
Draft position was hurt with this win, and it would really be hurt with a Denver upset next week. I don't care, the wins matter more. Their confidence at an all time high to go into the off-season is more important than where they draft next year. Besides, Amari Cooper is the player to target and there is a good chance that he will be available even at number 5. Plus, Khalil Mack at number 5 worked out pretty dang well last year anyway!