This week the Raiders and the fans are pretty high on what happened on the field at Qualcomm on Sunday. And well they should be, because through three quarters, it was some of the most dominating football this team has had in many years.
A quick recap is the Raiders scored on their first seven possessions. They didn't punt the ball for the first time until the seven minute mark of the third quarter. And the defense held the Chargers to six points until early in the fourth quarter, where the Raiders had a 37-6 lead.
That's when the Raiders offense went conservative and made a few dumb mistakes while the defense let the Chargers have the short stuff in the middle of the field in the hopes that the Chargers would eventually be stopped or simply run out of time.
There was one drive in which the Raiders looked to have stopped the Chargers on fourth down, but the officially called two defensive penalties on the Raiders. One for a holding penalty on Charles Woodson in which he literally wasn't even near anyone he could possibly have held, and the other was a pass interference on David Amerson which looked to just be a great play by him. It was a pretty sketchy call, especially when you consider the phantom holding penalty on Woodson.
The penalty gave the Chargers the first down and they would score on the drive. In fact, they scored on all three of their fourth quarter drives to pull within one score. Had they recovered the onside kick, the Chargers would have had a chance to tie the game which was just 15 minutes before that expected to a blowout Raiders victory. The Raiders recovered and held onto the win 37-29.
There were many heroes in this one, so let's get to it.
When the Raiders needed big plays, Cooper delivered. His first catch went for 15 yards came on the heels of a 13-yard run by Taiwan Jones in which Cooper laid a key block. Those plays set up the Raiders second touchdown. His next catch went for six yards to put the Raiders at the 20-yard-line and they added their second field goal of the day. After that, the real show began.
Midway through the second quarter, up 20-3, the Raiders set up in third and 14. At the snap Derek Carr dropped back and saw Cooper had beaten his man up field. He knew Cooper would have just the safety to compete with so he put it in the air in what he described as a "please catch it" ball. Cooper leapt in the air above the safety and pulled down the pass for 44 yards. The Raiders would get a third field goal out of it for a 23-3 lead.
Before the Raiders were done with the Chargers in the first half, Cooper had more spectacular play in store. This time he did it with his legs. He took a pass at the line on a bubble screen, got a couple blocks and did the rest. He shot down the field, making several potential tacklers look silly as he went 52 yards to pay dirt. It gave the Raiders a commanding 30-3 lead just before half time.
Cooper added a fifth catch early in the third quarter to finish with 133 yards and a touchdown. That's an incredible 26.6 yards per catch. His day put him over 500 yards receiving (519) in just six games.
The Chargers took the ball first in this game. And yet with just over two minutes off the clock in this game, the Raiders were already up 7-0. That's because on third and two from their own 19-yard-line, Malcolm Smith hauled in a tipped pass from Philip Rivers and returned it to the 2-yard-line, setting up the Raiders first touchdown of the day. And in rival games like this, it's always important to start fast.
Smith was everywhere in this game, as was evidenced by his team leading 11 tackles (11 solo), two passes defended, and a sack. The Chargers got the ball back after that opening score and went three-and-out with Smith making a tackle on a short catch on second down.
Early in the second quarter, with the Chargers at their own 24-yard-line, Smith got pressure up the middle on Rivers which forced an ugly throw that DJ Hayden picked off to give the Raiders the ball again in scoring position. They added a field goal. The Chargers would again go three-and-out on their next series, and again Smith had a tackle on a short catch on second down.
The last drive of the day that the Raiders actually stopped, came late in the third quarter and it was Smith who knocked the pass down in tight coverage on third down. He wasn't done, though. On the second play of the fourth quarter, he shot up the middle to sack Rivers for a 9-yard loss.
Nearly all of the plays Smith actually surrendered in this game came on the Chargers' final drive when the defense was set up to allow the Chargers to have the short/middle of the field. That's not to excuse him, because he probably should have made a play anyway, but it's important to note, because he was lights out the rest of the day.
Carr's first big signature game came in week two against the Ravens. This one was arguably even more significant because it's a repeat performance. And in some ways a step up, which is saying a lot considering how great his game was against the Ravens.
His line in this game was 24 of 31 for 289 yard, 3 touchdowns and no interceptions, giving him a passer rating of 137.7 - the second best rating of his career.
As for most of this team, he put up most of his stats in the first three quarters. His first highlight reel throw was a perfect strike to tight end Clive Walford for a 23-yard touchdown to put the Raiders up 17-3 early in the second. Later in the second, on third and three, he rolled out and showed his wheels to scramble for first down. On the very next play, he hit Amari Cooper behind a wall of blockers and Cooper took the pass 52 yards for a touchdown.
The Raiders got the ball to start the second half and drove for a score. On the drive, Carr threw for Amari Cooper along the left sideline, putting it where only Cooper could get it and he pulled it in for a 16-yard gain. Two plays later, Carr saw Clive Walford on a seam route had the linebacker turned around and threw a laser for a 19-yard gain. The next play, it was Crabtree's turn to show his YAC on a screen pass from Carr and it went for a 25-yard score.
With the Raiders up 37-6 at that point, the offense got conservative. The victory was preserved, however, and in large part due to a combination of big passes and smart play from Carr.
Usually when we see Mack on the Ballers list, it's his pass rush abilities that got him here. This time it's for his all-around game. He dropped in coverage a bit more in this game than we have seen him this season and he was outstanding (of course).
But first he had a run stuff. It was the play just before the interception on the Chargers' first possession to set up third down. Later in the first quarter, he showed off his coverage skills, blanketing a running back to force an incompletion.
Late in the second quarter, he ended a Chargers drive when on third down, he rushed up the middle and was held. That put the Chargers in third and long and Mack made the tackle on a short catch to force a punt. The Raiders would score a touchdown on the ensuing possession as well as their first of the third.
On the Chargers' first series of the third quarter, Mack bull rushed into the backfield to force an incompletion. Then on third down, Rivers rolled right and Mack was in coverage on that side, forcing Rivers to throw the ball away to avoid a sack. He was flagged for intentional grounding and the Chargers punted.
Crabtree shook off an early drop - his first of the season - to lead the Raiders in receptions (6). Two of those catches came on the Raiders' first full drive to put them in position to add a field goal. His third catch came right before the Raiders second touchdown. His fourth catch went for nine yards on third and 8 and set up the team's fourth score. He fifth catch was a 25-yard touchdown off a screen for the Raiders' final score of the day. His final catch came late in the fourth quarter. It went for nine yards on third and nine to give the Raiders their only third down conversion of the fourth quarter. It helped the Raiders bleed more time off the clock when they needed it most.
This is the kind of performance we expected from Hudson when the Raiders made him the highest paid center in the league. Not only was it a flawless game for him, he added a couple of eye-popping blocks as well. His first big block was on the final play of the first quarter. He blocked downfield to allow Latavius Murray to break off a 17-yard run. The Raiders finished the drive with their second touchdown.
His biggest play came late in the second quarter and it made all the highlight reels. Amari Cooper took a pass at the line on a bubble screen and Hudson set his sights on taking out the safety. The big man ran down field and completely obliterated the safety. Jack Del Rio was sure to recognize the block during questions about Cooper's fantastic 52-yard touchdown. That touchdown was made possible by that Hudson block.
Stacy McGee, Dan Williams
McGee is starting in place of Justin Ellis and earning his place in the lineup. He was a bubble player before the season and has played well enough that he should probably get snaps even when Ellis returns. Williams continued to prove he is a stout run defender with surprising pass rush abilities.
Between the two of them, the Chargers run game was going nowhere. Each had two stops. McGee added a pressure and also forced a holding penalty. Williams had four pressures of his own. The Chargers gained a total of 90 yards on 21 carries.
That interception to begin the game was made possible because Carrie had tight coverage to defend the pass and tip it in the air. In total he gave up just two catches on five targets. But he was also a major factor as a punt return man. On five returns, he averaged 10 yards per return. His first return went for 12 yards to the 46-yard-line. He later had an 11-yard return to the 48-yard-line. In the third quarter he had an 18-yard return into Chargers territory to the 49-yard-line.
If there were ever a game in which you'd think Murray would get a lot of carries, it was this one. The Chargers have one of the worst run defenses in the league and the Raiders were up big early. And yet he was given just 15 carries. He made the most of those carries, though, gaining 85 yards (5.7 ypc) and a touchdown. He scored the Raiders first touchdown from one yard out. Then he broke off a 14-yard run on the Raiders' next drive and a 17-yard run on their third scoring drive. He added a 24-yard run in the third quarter. After three quarters, he was averaging 6.8 yards per carry.
Clive Walford - He was targeted twice in this game and both resulted in fantastic catches. One for a 23-yard touchdown and the other for a 19-yard gain in which he caught the ball through the defender. It was Walford's coming out party.
Taiwan Jones - Made several nice runs that flashed the tremendous speed he has hitting the hole. He averaged 11.7 yards per carry on 3 carries and also had a 16-yard catch.
Sebastian Janikowski - All of his three field goals were of the chip shot variety, but he made all three. He also either kicked touchbacks or deep enough that they weren't returned past the 20.
Neiko Thorpe - He gave up two catches on four targets. This included a pass defended on third down to stop the Chargers' second series, and an assisted tackle short of the first down on the Chargers' third series.
Based on his interception and finishing second on the team in tackles (10), it seems like he would be a Ballers. But giving up 10 catches on 12 targets tells the other side of the story.
Rivers went after Hayden on the first play of the game for a 7-yard catch. He gave up an 11-yard catch later, on the Chargers first scoring drive to put them in field goal range. On the Chargers' next scoring drive at the end of the first half, Hayden's man got behind him in a soft spot in the zone for a 23-yard catch to put them in field goal range.
In the third quarter, he made a tackle on a 15-yard run, but not until he'd been dragged the last five yards. He gave up a 9-yard catch late in the third quarter on the Chargers' first touchdown drive. On the Chargers' final drive of the day, Rivers went after Hayden several times. He completed 3 of 4 passes at Hayden for 21 yards. Hayden defended the other pass.