Ken Norton Jr
When the entire defense is floundering the way the Raiders defense was Sunday (and indeed both the first two weeks) you look to the man in charge of it. These guys look lost and defeated out there. Opposing offenses always look one step ahead and the Raiders linebackers are running around just prior to the snap trying to figure out where they are supposed to be lining up.
The running backs eat up yards in chunks, the tight ends are constantly getting open, and the wide receivers are often either burning the Raiders corners in man coverage or finding huge ‘soft spots’ in the zone.
After picking up a total of 20 yards in the opener, Devonte Freeman ran for 93 yards on 15 carries (5.5 ypc) against this hapless Raiders defense. Tevin Coleman added 46 yards and a touchdown to the tally.
The three tight ends combined for 181 yards and a touchdown on 10 catches. Meanwhile Julio Jones was flawless, catching all five of his targets for 106 yards and a touchdown. And Matt Ryan looked like Drew Brees, completing 26 of 34 (76%) for 396 yards and 3 touchdowns with one interception for a 131.5 passer rating. Combined the Raiders gave up 535 yards of offense and 35 points. This a week after giving up 34 points and over 500 yards of offense to the Saints.
Basically, the Raiders defense is stopping absolutely nothing. They’re getting worked over in every phase of the defense. Late in the game, Jack Del Rio stepped in and took over defensive play calling. By then it was too late, and made no difference. These guys were already defeated both literally and figuratively.
Getting benched late in this one was their new middle linebacker. Week one it was Sean Smith who got benched and he got his job back this week. But Smith is more established. Heeney may have to earn his job back from rookie Cory James who stepped in at middle linebacker for the final 9 defensive snaps.
Heeney wasted no time, missing his first tackle in the game’s second play to give up a nine-yard run. He missed another tackle later in the drive to give up a 6-yard run. And, no, I’m not talking about the 7-yard run that was given up he was blatantly held but the officials missed it. He was just about invisible the remainder of the first half.
The Falcons’ offense started to heat up late in the third quarter and they went after Heeney to fuel it. On consecutive plays Heeney gave up a 24-yard catch to the running back and let the tight end get behind him for a wide open 34-yard catch. Three plays later, they scored the touchdown and the Raiders’ lead became a touchdown deficit.
Another Falcons touchdown drive, followed by Heeney giving up a 6-yard run to begin the next drive and Heeney’s day was done. He was pulled for Cory James after two plays of the Falcons’ final scoring drive.
Monday Jack Del Rio said “It’s time to see Karl” in reference to his top draft pick safety not seeing any time on defense so far this season. McGill’s game Sunday surely helped prompt that decision.
McGill had a great first game of the season. But he was a liability in this game; victimized time and time again by Falcons’ tight ends. That seems odd when you consider McGill was drafted as a corner, so coverage should be his strong suit and it should be a mismatch in his favor working against a tight end.
The second pass of the game went for 14 yards to tight end Jacob Tamme with McGill in coverage. Ryan went back to that match-up twice to start the Falcons’ first touchdown drive and both time McGill surrendered the catch – first for 13 yards and then for 19 yards.
It got worse too. The Falcons’ second play of the third quarter was a 44-yard completion to tight end Austin Hooper who McGill was supposed to be covering. If not for a David Amerson interception in the end zone, that too would have been a scoring drive. McGill was later among those who were blocked on the Falcons’ final touchdown run from 13 yards out.
Early on, Smith was the only one on the Raiders defense to make a play covering a tight end. His tight coverage on the TE stopped the Falcons’ first drive. It was a fleeting moment, though.
Later in the first quarter, he bit on a fake bootleg and ran away from the run that went right up the gut for 11 yards where he should have been. He then missed the tackle on the next play to allow a 6-yard run, and finished off the drive by giving up another 6-yard run, was part of a three-way “I thought you had him?” situation to give up a six-yard catch to the tight end, and again was out of position on a 16-yard catch by the tight end to ran uncovered off the line. The Falcons put their first points on the board with a field goal on that drive.
Smith played pretty well the remainder of the first half despite the Falcons adding a touchdown and a second field goal to go up 13-7 at the half. But again, it wouldn’t last long. The Falcons next touchdown was to tight end Jacob Tamme who got behind Smith for the 14-yard score.
The next touchdown for the Falcons, Smith actually defended, but the ball was tipped in the air where wide receiver James Hardy was waiting to catch it for the touchdown. Then it Smith was out of position on the Falcons’ final touchdown run from 13 yards out to give them 35 points. Smith’s final act was getting caught up in a pick play out left to give up 8 yards which put the Falcons in third and three. They converted the first down and ran out the clock to seal the victory.
Back in the starting lineup and back in the Busters. You were kidding yourself if you thought Smith’s issue in the opener was match-ups. He would get no relief from All Pro receiver Julio Jones. The Falcons’ first touchdown was Jones burning Smith on an inside move to score easily from 21 yards out.
Smith would give up an 8-yard catch to Jones on the Falcons’ touchdown drive early in the fourth. The very next play, Smith let Jones get open for a 48-yard catch to set them up at the 12-yard-line (though to be fair, Reggie Nelson should have been the one to make a play on the ball) and they scored the touchdown two plays later.
He would also give up a 20-yard catch to Jones that set up the Falcons’ final touchdown of the day on the next play. That’s four of Jones’ five catches for 98 yards and a touchdown given up with Smith in coverage.
Rodney Hudson, Gabe Jackson
These returning interior linemen haven’t been playing lights out like many expected they would. The Raiders second drive lasted just five plays because of pressures given up by Hudson and Jackson that resulted in runs being stopped for two and three yards respectively.
A drive late in the second quarter was stopped short when Jackson gave up a sack for no gain.
Hudson was called for a false start on the Raiders’ first drive of the third quarter. The following drive, Jackson was called for holding which brought back a nice run by Jalen Richard. Then on the first drive of the fourth quarter, Hudson gave up a run stuff for no gain.
The one good block I saw from either player was Hudson helping to open a hole for DeAndre Washington on his 26-yard run late in the second quarter.
Much like the defensive collapse falling on the shoulders of Ken Norton, the special teams issues must fall on Sealy’s shoulders. There were four huge mistakes made by special teams in this game.
First it was Taiwan Jones muffing the kick off through his arms following the Falcons’ first touchdown. He recovered it at the 2-yard-line, backing the Raiders up against their own goal line to start their drive. A drive that would not result in any points.
The second big special teams mistake was the very next time they took the field. Marquette King booted one 55 yards and Falcons’ return man Eric Weems fielded it. The Raiders special teams unit – and Brynden Trawick in particular – didn’t form containment, allowing Weems to get outside and take off up the left sideline. He went 73 yards before King tackled him. He was penalized for a horse collar tackle which put the Falcons offense in first and goal at the 9-yard-line.
The third mistake was the final play of the first half. The offense had driven to the 40-yard-line, setting up a 58-yard field goal attempt for Sebastian Janikowski. That’s supposed to be well within his range. Had he been off-target it would have been one thing. But he got no lift or drive on the ball, resulting in a low, dud that had no chance right off his foot.
The final play was after the Falcons scored early in the fourth to take the lead 19-14. They had to go for two go for a 7-point lead. The Raiders lined up with two interior linemen on the play – Denico Autry and Jihad Ward. They were spread out, leaving a huge gap in the middle. The call was an easy one. Looking at five on two, the Falcons double teamed Autry and Ward to part clear a gaping hole in the middle and Matt Ryan trotted through it for the successful conversion.
Jack Del Rio
He gets a lot of credit for his successful challenges that resulted in two first downs. He also gets credit for going for it on 4th and goal at the 2-yard-line, even though that’s exactly the call to make at that point – not nearly the gutsy call you make going for two when you’re down one.
But his decision to go for it on fourth and two near midfield was a pretty glaring mistake. There was 7:16 remaining in the game and the Raiders were down one score. That’s plenty of time to punt the ball away, get the ball back and try for the tie (or the win?). Not only was the decision a bad one, but opting to go with Jalen Richard in short yardage was also the wrong call. Del Rio admitted this yesterday, saying he wished he had gone with one of his “hammerheads” on the play such as Jamize Olawale or Latavius Murray.
Another instance where a day of good plays were neutralized by one bad one. Coop led the team in receiving, with 71 yards on 5 catches. It included a masterful 25-yard catch over the middle where he appeared to hang in midair to make the catch. The Raiders would score their first touchdown at the end of that drive.
His biggest mistake initially looked like his biggest play. With the Raiders down 28-21 midway through the fourth, Derek Carr escaped the pocket and ran out left. He saw Cooper along the left sideline and threw the ball to where Cooper could get it. And get it Cooper did, catching the pass and sprinting up the middle of the field for what looked to be the game-tying touchdown. But there was a flag. Illegal touching. No touchdown.
You see, Coop had gone out of bounds and come back in. At that point, he is no longer an eligible receiver. A replay shows the defender lead him out of bounds, which some argued should have been illegal contact. But Carr was out of the pocket so that means anything goes.
The only way Coop could have been an eligible receiver were if he had fought for his position on the field, was knocked out of bounds, and immediately came back onto the field of play. None of that happened. Cooper was easily led out of bounds, then stood there until his quarterback broke the pocket looking for an open man, before re-entering the field of play. Coop needs to show some aggression out there and stop letting defensive backs push him around.
He led the team in tackles. But that was mostly a product of how poorly the front seven were playing. Nelson is the last line of defense, so when he’s racking up tackles, that’s not a good thing. In coverage, however, he was a non-factor. That included the big 48-yard catch by Julio Jones which Nelson seemed to be in position to defend and just didn’t. On the Falcons’ final touchdown of the day, Nelson was dragged the final few yards of the 13-yard run for the score.
This veteran safety who led the NFL with 8 interceptions last year looks extremely frustrated with how the defense is playing right now. He is not the difference-maker that Charles Woodson was and the defense in front of him is not doing him any favors.