It has been obvious for a while now that this Raiders team is much improved from last year's model. But up until now, that kind of statement was followed up by the words ‘but that isn't saying much.' After today, the Raiders left little question that is indeed saying a lot.
Two weeks ago, no one was sold on this team. They were 2-3 at the bye week, coming off tw0-straight losses, and were heading into what on paper appeared to be an offensive buzz saw in San Diego. Through three quarters, they dominated the Chargers, giving up big numbers in the fourth quarter to let the Chargers attempt to get back into it.
Even still, the Chargers had just two wins on the season, which is the same number of wins each of the teams they had beaten this season had. So, for someone looking for anything close to a definitive opinion on the talent level of this Raiders team still required more proof.
That proof would come in the following three weeks when they faced the Jets, Steelers, and Vikings, all of whom have at least four wins on the season and all of whom have been talking playoff runs. If the Raiders were to prove they could hang with the big boys, they would have to be able to beat at least one of those teams.
They settled that in the first of those three games with a decisive 34-20 win over the Jets Sunday to improve to 4-3 on the season.
If you are searching for a reason to discount what the Raiders accomplished today, you might point to the fact that the Jets were without their All Pro center and lost their starting quarterback on their opening drive of the game. That would make sense if the Jets' success hung upon their offense being good. It isn't.
Yes, the Raiders defense completely shut down Chris Ivory who had 17 yards on 15 carries and won the turnover battle with the Charles Woodson interception (the Jets were +9 in turnover ratio this season coming in). But stopping the Jets offense was not the major accomplishment. It was what the Raiders' offense did to the Jets NFL best defense that was the real eye opener.
The Jets came into the game with the top run defense in the NFL and the second best defense overall. Their defensive line is the best in the NFL, with David Harris at linebacker behind them, and Darrelle Revis in the secondary. And yet, Derek Carr was not sacked one time and wasn't intercepted either.
Even with all that defensive firepower, the Raiders had their way with the Jets defense. This run defense gave up an average of 72 yards per game coming in and the Raiders posted 118 yards yards on them. Just last week the Jets held the Patriots to a total of 16 yards on the ground with the running backs turning in zero total yards on five carries.
The Jets had been giving up 211 passing yards per game coming in. Until Tom Brady posted 337 yards and no interceptions last week, they hadn't had a QB throw for more than 250 yards on them and had forced a turnover in every game. Derek Carr threw for 333 yards and four touchdowns and the Raiders didn't turn the ball over once.
It would be pointless to try and go through all the guys who make up this team who are playing consistently good football because there are so many. It seems weird just saying that considering as recently as early this season, you seemed to be able to count on one hand to standout players.
Obviously it all starts with Carr, who has put together a few absolutely fantastic games this season. But it goes far beyond even what he is doing. Teams which rely heavily on the play of one player, even if it is the quarterback, tend to have fragile success. This team has had solid performers all over the roster on offense and defense along with a coaching staff which has steadily found the strengths of their personnel and utilized them well.
This isn't to suggest the Raiders are going to run the table or anything. They will face tougher match-ups this season. The next one could be next week when they head to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers. Facing the Vikings the week after is also still a tough match-up. For Jack Del Rio, it's important that the Raiders not get too high on themselves, adding "It's enough for today, but we have to push forward."
"We're a football team that has so much in front of us, so much to do, a lot of things that we will correct that need to be corrected, that need to be better going forward. I think it's awesome, I'm proud of our guys, our staff, our players, how hard we're working at the process of being good. Come out here relaxed and be prepared and play good football, that's what we did. And there's more to go. There are things that we have to do better as we go through the season. We will continue to keep the pedal down, keep grinding and look to be better."
What today's game does prove, however, is these Raiders are to be feared. They are a very good, well balanced team with a legitimate shot to win against just about any team in the NFL. It's a long time coming.