The Raiders' first playoff game in over a decade was a bittersweet moment. It should have been an exultant exclamation point to the fantastic and memorable season that signalled the Return to Greatness for this franchise. The 12 Wins in 2016 were more than the past two seasons combined and was good enough to be tied for 3rd most in the NFL behind only New England and Dallas (and tied with Kansas City).
In nearly any other season, 12 wins would have been enough for an AFC West championship and the RaiderNation would have been able to spend a week celebrating that accomplishment. The team would have had an extra week to get healthy and to prepare for a home playoff game.
But unfortunately, in this strange season, the KC Chiefs won more regular season games than they have since 2003 and knocked the Raiders off the perch and forced them to play on Wild Card Weekend; even worse, this team would have to go on the road and play at the 9-7 Houston Texans.
It was about as bad a situation as possible.
Even without All-Everything JJ Watt, the Texans' defense is--and has been--formidable all season, in part due to future superstar Jadeveon Clowney's health and emergence and Whitney Mercilus' continued development and dominance as well as the fantastic play of their entire defensive secondary that may as well be called "No Fly Zone Part II".
The Texans' pass defense ranked 2nd in yards allowed with 3226 yards, 246 behind #1 Denver. They only had 31 sacks, 1.9 per game avg, (T-24th) which was 11 behind Denver (who ranked 3rd with 42 sacks). Imagine that if Houston could generate more pressure, their pass defense would be even more impressive.
3226 yds, 201 per game (2nd in NFL), 20 TDs (T-5), 11 int (22), 5.8 NY/A (4), 31 sacks (T-24)
Strength-on-strength, even at full health the Raiders would be hard-pressed to win, but so many factors set up to make the Raiders' the underdog :
- Playoff atmosphere on the road
- Limited Gameplan after 1 week of practices for Connor Cook
- Full playbook not available to Cook
- Timing and Chemistry of the offense
- Facing Top Defense, including #2 ranked Pass Defense
- LT Donald Penn out with injury, replaced by Menelik Watson
What the Team needed
In order for the Raiders to win this game, one of three things would have to happen :
- A great team effort where everyone rises up and plays at or near their best
- A superhuman singular effort that takes over the game (ie., Connor Cook emerges as The Iron Chef Oakland)
- The Houston Texans play spectacularly poorly and give up the game
Failing that, the Texans' offense could afford to prepare as most teams did when facing the Raiders circa 2006 : play conservatively, don't turn the ball over, score a few points, and wait for the Raiders' offense to implode.
What Connor Cook needed from his teammates
"It's not important that you play well; it's important that we win." (Al Davis to Jim Plunkett)
This meant that Plunkett was to be part of the team and not the focal point of it. In 2016, in order for that same sentiment to apply to Connor Cook, the offense would have to protect him; the offense would have to be effective enough so that Cook could function within the constructs of the offense.
The team needed some early success to help establish confidence and continuity. If the offense could execute early on and get a few first downs and perhaps score and if the defense could manage a three-and-out, it takes pressure off everyone and lets the younger, more nervous or excited players gets settled in.
Even better, if the team could manage a big play on offense or defense, it could jump start the team, infuse the players with "We Can Win"-type energy, and put doubt into the Texans' minds.
Unfortunately, it did not work out like that.
- First 3 offensive drives
- 10 total plays, 13 yards, 1.3 avg, 1 first down, 1 int
- Connor Cook's very first possession started at the Oakland 7 and was a 3-and-out.
- Which also carried over into the rest of the game.
- 15 total offensive drives
- Average NFL game has 11 offensive drives
- 12 drives of 5 plays or less
- 6 drives of 3 plays (5 three-and-out + 1 three-and-int)
- 9 drives that net-gained 5 yards or less
- First 3 defensive drives
- 13 plays, 50 yards, 3.8 avg, 3 first downs, 10 points
Luck can play a role in the way certain things play out and in this game, where the on-paper matchups favor the Texans, The Raiders really could use some breaks. Some luck, some calls, some good mojo. Just something.
On this day, fortune did not favor the Raiders.
- Osweiler's fumbled snap recovered by HOU
- Muffed punt bounced immediately to a Texan who ran it for a net gain
- Crabtree OPI could easily have been a non-call, especially since on replay, it actually shows that Crabtree misses the intended push off.
- Mychal Rivera OPI could easily have been a non-call.
- David Amerson Pass Interference in End zone was an iffy call and could easily have been a non-call.
- Marquette King running into the Punter could (should?) easily have been called a roughing the punter call.
- 1 batted pass that went up in the air and landed incomplete between defenders instead of interception
- Malcolm 2 int opportunity that got away from him
Connor Cook desperately need the running attack to be at least be effective--and hopefully be dominant like Week 9 v Denver--particularly on 1st and 2nd down.
Cook needed advantageous down and distance and a play-action fake that drew defensive attention.
What he got was nearly the opposite. The Texans' run defense was ranked 12th in the NFL in yards with 1595 per game and a 4.0 per carry avg.
In the Week 11 matchup, the Raiders were only able to generate 20 carries for 30 yards, 1.5 avg. with Latavius Murray shouldering the burden and only managing 12 for 33, 2.8 avg.
This game was better, but not by much and certainly not by enough :
- On the first TD drive, Latavius Murray carried the ball 4 times for 31 yards, 7.8 avg.
- DeAndre Washington had one nice run for 14 yards
- Other than that, the rushing attack produced 16 rushes for 19, 1.2 avg
- The running attack basically was ineffective.
- Often put Connor Cook in clear passing situations, which benefitted the Texans' defense
Protection needed to hold up
The game is extremely fast for any rookie, but for a rookie QB starting his first game, it was going to be faster than the Millenium Falcon doing the Kessel Run. To get much out of Cook, it would be imperative to give him not only time, but a very clean pocket.
And that means keeping superstuds Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus off of him. That task would go to Menelik Watson and Austin Howard.
- Connor Cook was sacked 3 times and harassed much of the day
- On the first sack, Menelik Watson allowed DJ Reader (a 6'3", 335 lbs NOSE tackle) to break inside on him and get to Cook
- Watson struggled with Clowney all day
- Mercilus had 2 sacks
- Rest of the OL also struggled to keep Cook clean
Playmakers needed to make plays
Cook needed help from all the big playmakers and for all the other players to step up. Throwing quick screens and having them go for big yards or for a player to break open and get clear for an easy throw or for a RB to get some chunk yards would really make things easier on the rookie QB.
Unfortunately, outside of a few plays, the exact opposite often happened.
- Crabtree made a couple of nice plays early, but critical drop on 2nd-and-9 killed the drive and the offense sputtered after that
- So many crucial drops. The players who needed to play big played like it was their first playoff game. And almost each of their drops was a crucial one and changed the game situation dramatically
- Michael Crabtree
- Seth Roberts
- Amari Cooper
- DeAndre Washington
- Perhaps the only receiver who really stepped up was Andre Holmes. When Crabtree went out of the game due to the concussion, Andre Holmes stepped in and made catch after catch.
- To be fair, the opportunities for the players to make plays were extremely limited because the offense struggled and many of Cook's passes were significantly off the mark. In order for the team to have a chance, though, players needed to step up whenever the opportunities presented themselves.
Field position would play a big role. Beneficial field position takes so much pressure off the offense, while extremely poor field position can force the playcalling to get extremely conservative. Typically the playbook opens up near midfield.
Field position is a factor of the return game, defense, and also the punting/coverage units. There was one fantastic return by Jalen Richard; on that drive, the Raiders scored a TD. But most of the day, the Raiders were struggling with field position.
- General field position
- 8 possession started at the 25 or closer
- of those, 4 of them were inside the 20
- of those, 2 were inside the 10
- Connor Cook's first series started at the 7 yardline
- Marquette King had an inconsistent, boom-or-bust type day
- 45.7 avg looks good
- 31, 62, 37*, 56, 38, 53, 43, 41, 40, 56
- 37 yarder was a Pin Punt to the HOU 5
- 5 punts of 43 yards or less
- Had a near pin punt inside the 5 that was played perfectly by Taiwan Jones and Andre Holmes, but Keith McGill ruined it
Going into the game, the team knew that Connor Cook and the offense were likely to struggle and so the defense would need to rise up and play its best game of the year if the team were to win.
They needed to play well against a sub-par (and potentially very poor) Houston offense.
Overall, the defense did well and were excellent in some aspects, but also had a few too many weaknesses.
- Sean Smith/Brynden Trawick on the first touchdown.
- Containment of Brock Osweiler, even when the defense got pressure, Osweiler managed to get free.
- Sean Smith coverage confusion on TD, quick slant for an easy touchdown and it appears Smith expected safety help either surprised by Reggie Nelson's blitz or expecting rotation by Brynden Trawick
- Assignment breakdown on Osweiler's rollout TD. Mack has to cover the releasing TE and Cory James is late to take the QB. The QB naked bootleg was a problem earlier in the year, but in recent games, the defense had adjusted to it. Regressed for a play this game.
- Needed to limit penalties
- Only had 3 penalties, but they were each important
- 3 penalties, 27 yards, 3 first downs
- 2 Defensive Holding (Karl Joseph, David Amerson)
- 1 Defensive Pass Interference (David Amerson)
- Excellent run defense
- The defensive front played strong against the Texans' OL and was able to stuff most runs at or near the line of scrimmage. Stacy McGee's return and Jihad Ward moving to the bench may have been key to the improvement.
- 38 rushes, 108 yards, 2.8 avg
- 8 rushes of 0 yards or less
- 28 rushes of 3 yards or less
- 7 rushes of 5 yards or more
- Longest rush was 19 yards
- Mack was all over the place and playing inspired defense.
- 11 tackles, 7 for 1 yard or less
- He just could not get to Osweiler
- Needed to pressure the QB
- Mack drew one holding penalty
- Interior DL allowed comfortable pocket for Osweiler to step up into
- Lots of blitzes to try to pressure
- Needed interior DL to step up
- Mario Edwards, Stacy McGee, Denico Autry, Dan Williams, Justin Ellis to have a great game
- They performed very well v the run
- Could not get much pressure in pass rush
- And also struggled to contain Osweiler on key plays
- Needed some Turnovers
- Much of the year, this defense's success came from taking the ball away
- Strip sack, interception, forced fumble. Something.
- In the end, 0 takeaway (and three giveaways)
- X Factor
- Brynden Trawick made some splash plays in the run game
- Most of the best plays were against the run
- Some overlooked nice plays in the passing game, but they get overshadowed by the few big, successful plays the Texans' had.
What the team needed from Connor Cook
The team needed Cook to function within the offense, to stay clean, and play safe. Once the game started to get away a little bit, the offense needed Cook to stay calm and be able to make the solid throws that presented themselves.
- A key throw to Crabtree was just a little bit too low (though on replay, it looked TO ME, that the ball bounces off Crabtree's hand and never hits the ground...)
- Several throws were out of sync and either too far in front or too far behind the receiver
- A few throws were so far off, it was hard to tell what the read was
- A few throws were high, including one to Amari Cooper that looked like Big Play/Maybe TD that instead went for the interception
The offense did Cook no favors, by often putting him in precarious passing situations and often dropping the ball, but Cook also struggled.
The No Huddle was an interesting prospect because it limits the defense's substitutions and play calls and can potentially lead to easier reads for the young QB. But, it is also complicated and may have been too limited for Cook's preparation and experience.
In the end, the Raiders needed just about everything to go their way in order to win and that did not happen. In fact, most of the opposite happened. The entire team, offense, defense, and special teams looked out of sync. At times, they looked intimidated or confused or nervous. Sometimes it seemed like some players may have been pressing a bit, trying to do too much.
I certainly hoped for much more. At the very least, I was hoping for a good showing that would be something that the team could build upon.
Perhaps the best thing to come out of this was the experience of playoffs on the road and getting beaten like this.