Before the Raiders officially embark on the stretch run of their season, let’s take a look back at the first half (well, technically half plus one, but whatever) performances that helped the Raiders jump out to a 7-2 record.
A 6-time Baller and 2-time Top Baller, Derek Carr has come out on a tear. He didn’t ease into it either, outdueling Drew Brees and the Saints in the season opener. In that game he led the Raiders to 35 points including the game winning drive in the final seconds which included a gutsy call to go for two to win it instead of an extra point to tie. He converted on a pass to Michael Crabtree and was rightfully named the Clutch Player of the Week.
Returning home in week two, he would be unable to outduel Matt Ryan and the Falcons as he did Brees and the Saints. But his efforts kept the Raiders close, even driving them for a tying score late in the third quarter to put it at 21-21. His numbers reflect his efforts; going 34 for 45 (75%) for 299 yards, 3 touchdowns with no interceptions for a passer rating of 115.0.
Two weeks later, it was Joe Flacco who Carr would look to better. Just like the opener in New Orleans, Carr and Co. went into Baltimore and came out with a one-point win. Carr used Crabtree extensively, including a gorgeous 23-yard game-winning touchdown strike to come away with the 28-27 win.
The following week, the Raiders would face their first division opponent of the season with the Chargers coming to town. It was also another top flight opposing quarterback Carr would look to add to his collection. Even though the Raiders swept Philip Rivers and the Chargers last season, it’s important to never count him out.
Carr brought the Raiders roaring back in the second half, starting with a 64-yard touchdown bomb to Cooper. The onslaught continued, with the Raiders scoring on four consecutive possessions, three of which were for touchdowns. The go-ahead touchdown saw Carr change the play at the line and on fourth and two, he threw a perfect 21-yard touchdown strike to Crabtree.
Week 8 in Tampa he was Top Baller with a franchise record 513 yards, 4 touchdowns and no interceptions. Due to an NFL record 23 penalties on the Raiders, those numbers still saw the Raiders in overtime. The penalties continued through overtime, taking late into the extra period before Carr hit Seth Roberts over the middle for a 64-yard touchdown to put us all out of our misery.
Prior to the Raiders’ bye week, Carr was fifth in the league in passing. His 2505 passing yards is now seventh. His 17 touchdowns is top ten and only Russell Wilson has fewer interceptions (2) than Carr (3) with over 300 pass attempts.
A good looking rookie season that was upended by an ankle injury has gave way to an even more impressive sophomore campaign. He has begun this season as a five-time Baller after being a four-time Baller at this point last season. Coop’s season burst out the gates with a new career high 137 yards in the season opener. That included a late touchdown to spur their comeback win in New Orleans.
In week five, he set another career-high with 138 yards receiving in the team’s first division win of the season over the Chargers.
The following week, in the Raiders’ worst game this season, Cooper was the team’s only bright spot and therefore the only Baller. He had a tremendous first half with nine catches on nine targets for 117 yards and would finish with 129 yards on 10 catches.
In the team’s week 8 win in Tampa, they had the opposite situation. Coop was the forgotten man in the first half before blowing up in the second half. In that second half alone, he had 10 catches to finish with 12 catches to set yet another career high with 173 yards and a touchdown.
Last week he continued his good work, though most of the yards the Raiders’ offense picked up on his targets were due to Broncos’ defenders being flagged for interfering with him. A couple of those were in the end zone to put the ball at the one-yard-line. It didn’t show up in the stats, but the result is similar and that’s what matters.
Speaking of stats; Cooper is third in the league with 843 yards receiving, putting him on pace for 1500 yards on the season. He made the Pro Bowl as an alternate last season with 1070 yards.
A four-time Baller and one-time Top Baller, King continued to up his game each season. He was Pro Bowl caliber last season and should he continue his play thus far, should break through this year. In week three, he had 3 of his 7 punts stopped inside the 20 along with a 72-yard punt that had a holding penalty tacked on to begin the Titans’ drive at their own 10-yard-line.
The following week in Baltimore, his punting was directly responsible for the Raiders first touchdown. After pinning the Ravens at the 8-yard-line with his second punt, he put them against their own goal line at the 5-yard-line. Unable to move the ball, they would punt out of their own end zone. Due to the close quarters, the punt was partially blocked. This helped give Jalen Richard some open field to get up the speed and he returned the punt almost right back to wear King’s punt originally landed and the Raiders scored the touchdown on one play. In total, half of his 8 punts were stopped inside the 20. That made a huge difference in the one-point victory.
In the team’s week 7 win in Jacksonville, the extremely rare occurrence happened: A punter was named Top Baller…and it was in a win.
With the Jaguars having pulled it to 26-16 on a late touchdown drive, the Raiders needed to close it out. At that point their efforts were more to drain clock and they went three-and-out. In fourth and 24, King came back on the field for the final time. The snap was low and skipped across the turf, where he fielded it, but didn’t have time to get the punt away, so he evaded a rusher, tucked it and took off up the right sideline for 27 yards. It gave the Raiders a fresh set of downs, and with the new life they finished off the drive for a game-clinching touchdown.
It was quite a turnaround from what could have been a disastrous turn of events. Had King missed the ball, it would have been easily scooped up for a Jaguars touchdown that would have pulled them within three points. But the former wide receiver dug it out and made a big play that ultimately resulted in a touchdown and a 17-point lead. He also finished the game averaging 54.6 yards per punt on five punts and an astounding 50.6 yard net.
Last week against the Broncos in prime time, King put himself on the map with several big punts, including two in a row to start the second half that were downed at the 2-yard-line. His dances to follow made him a national sensation and the buzz could prove to be the thing that punches his ticket to the Pro Bowl.
The first Top Baller of the season. His first big run block of the season helped paved the way for Latavius Murray to score from six yards out to put the Raiders up 10-3 in the first quarter. That game, the right tackle position was a complete disaster. Austin Howard was inactive and Menelik Watson went out injured followed by Matt McCants. This forced some shuffling which had Osemele move outside to left tackle. It didn’t seem to matter, though.
The running backs still ran behind him with success including a Jamize Olawale score from two yards out to bring them to down 19-24, and again for Jalen Richard to burst up the middle for a 75-yard run to set up the tying score at 27-27. Then Osemele simply provided superb pass blocking to allow Carr to complete the comeback win.
Osemele was a Baller three more times, including last week when he was a huge presence to help the Raiders put up 218 yards on the ground and pummel the Broncos.
The first five weeks, Mack didn’t appear to be a major factor. He was by no means a liability, that’s for sure. In fact, he was still named a Baller once in the week four win over the Ravens due to the pressure he was putting on Joe Flacco which rendered a very good passing attack to pedestrian.
As of week 7 against the Jaguars, Mack was officially back on track. He had found his way and began terrorizing blockers for run stuffs, pressures, and sacks. He had a run stuff to stop a drive, a pressure to force Blake Bortles to throw the ball away to end a drive, another run stuff to stop a drive, and then a sack to end a series that had the Jags punting from the back of their own end zone. He finished with 1.0 sack, 2.0 tackles for loss, and 2 QB hits.
He kicked it up a notch in week 8 in Tampa. That was Carr’s crazy 513-yard, 4 TD game. In any other game this season, Mack’s performance would have been worthy of being named Top Baller. Mack was so dominant that in just the first two series, he had already played himself into Baller territory.
He was all over the place on those two series, setting the tone of fear in the eyes of Jameis Winston all day. Mack held his gap to allow a tackle for loss, was held on third and 4 while bull rushing his blocker right into Winston’s lap and finished things off by teaming up to stop Winston for one yard on his scramble attempt. The second series, he got a big hit on Winston followed by one of his two sacks on the day.
In the overtime period, Mack added two run stuffs and a forced fumble which the Bucs recovered. Winston’s 8 completions for 89 yards in the final three quarters and overtime had a lot to do with how rattled he was from the pressure Mack was putting on him. Mack finished tied for the team lead with 7 tackles (6 solo), 2.0 sacks, 2.0 tackles for loss, 4 QB hits, and a forced fumble. Cripes.
Last week, Mack once again, pushed the envelope of what you thought possible. This time he WAS the Top Baller. The defense limited the Broncos to just over 18 minutes on the field. In that time, Mack once again, put up 2.0 sacks. One of those was a strip sack which he also recovered. Appropriately, it was Mack who got pressure on Trevor Siemian that led to an errant throw that was intercepted to end the game. And of course, Mack also had his share of run stuffs. He was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week. I expect a few more of those as the season goes along.
Early in the season, Crabtree was Derek Carr’s favorite target, especially in crucial situations. Carr went to him for the game-winning two-point conversion in the season opener. The next week, he caught a game-tying touchdown on fourth and goal from the 2-yard-line. Crabs continued his clutch play in week three, with several big time catches and would lead the team with 8 catches for 102 yards.
His outstanding play continued the next week when he was named Top Baller. Crabtree was a monster in this one. Double coverage, single coverage, zone, man, it didn’t matter. When Derek Carr needed him, he came through. He had a key third down catch and caught the Raiders’ second touchdown of the game to go up 14-3, then caught another touchdown in the fourth quarter to put the Raiders up 21-12. The Ravens took the lead again at 27-21 but Crabtree’s three catches for 49 yards and his third touchdown of the day on the ensuing drive took the lead back for good.
He added another touchdown in week 7 and leads the team with 6 receiving touchdowns. He is on pace to possibly have his best season as a pro and just his second career 1000-yard season.
He doesn’t get a lot of love on a week to week basis, but it’s important to recognize the work Musgrave has done this season. The offense has been the bread and butter of this team all season. He and Derek Carr are working together like hand and glove. This has resulted in him becoming more flexible; allowing Derek Carr to change the plays at the line more often.
The offensive consistently features extra blockers in pass protection and run blocking. This has played a major role in allowing Derek Carr to survey the field and find the receiver of his choice. That extra blocker also keeps the tackles from being on an island against speed rushers and open up running lanes. It has worked out well for the offense.
In addition to the schemes he has drawn up, he has made some very noticeable halftime adjustments that have worked out well. He has been criticized for starting off slow or not going conservative late instead of going for the kill. Sometimes that criticism is valid. Other times it’s too simplistic and doesn’t take into consideration the importance of a balanced attack. The Raiders must establish the run whenever possible.
That was never more evident than their week nine win over the Broncos. That second half featured the Raiders running it down the Broncos throats. They discovered that over the first half and used what they learned with great success in the second half. It’s not how you start, but how you finish that matters. In that regard, the Raiders have finished strong in nearly all of their wins this season.
Donald Penn – As mentioned, he has gotten some help from additional blockers. But he has held his own as a pass blocker even when he has no help. Protecting Derek Carr’s blindside has been crucial to the success of this team.
Seth Roberts – Roberts has had several clutch catches, including four touchdown catches. He is also a very good blocker.
Latavius Murray -- His 3 touchdowns last week brought him to 8 rushing touchdowns on the season. That leads the team and is tied for fifth in the league.
Jalen Richard – The undrafted rookie is averaging 6.5 yards per carry. He is now the team’s primary return man; averaging 10.3 yards per punt return and 24.9 yards per kick return.