There are several things that don’t look great for the Oakland Raiders at this moment. Sitting at 5-6 with the suspension for Michael Crabtree this week and Amari Cooper in concussion protocol. Their defensive coordinator was recently fired and their offensive coordinator is coaching for his job. Not many would call huge their win against the Denver Broncos impressive.
Despite everything, here they are, still in range of a wildcard spot and just one game behind the Kansas City Chiefs for the AFC West lead. And they have things coming together that would make it possible to make a run into the playoffs too.
Interceptionless streak broken
This year, turnovers, especially interceptions, have been hard to come by. The Raiders set a record this year by going 10 games without an interception. Then Sunday, inside linebacker Navorro Bowman picked off their first of the season.
The secondary is starting to get to the ball too as one went through safety Karl Joseph’s hands. Expect Joseph to start to make plays like that as he keeps getting to the ball.
Bowman and the run defense
One of the more noticeable improvements the Raiders have made over the last few game is their play against the run. Bowman has made a big difference in the Raiders run defense since crossing the Bay Bridge.
In their first meeting with the Broncos without Bowman, the Raiders gave up 143 yards on 4.5 yards per carry. With him last Sunday, they only gave up 59 yards on 3.5 yards per carry.
The Raiders climbed to No. 12 in the NFL from the 20s over the last few games too. Stopping the run is good for the Raiders playing in inclement weather in December.
The disappointing pass rush is picking up for the Raiders these days. Khalil Mack, the 2016 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, needs help rushing the passer with all the triple-teams he’s taking. The Raiders went into Week 12 with 14 sacks, the second-fewest in the NFL.
Then Sunday, they picked up over a third of that (5) in one game against the Broncos. Mack was able to get through with a sack and Bruce Irvin came through with two. Denico Autry, who’s starting to get more shine these days had two himself.
It will help the Raiders cornerbacks a lot if they can continue rushing the passer well.
Cornerbacks filling out
Sean Smith and Dexter McDonald are playing well. According to Pro Football Focus, Smith has allowed seven catches for 47 yards on 13 targets on 105 snaps in coverage. Smith is No. 1 of 23 cornerbacks with over 100 snaps in coverage over the last three games (.45 yards per coverage snap).
McDonald is No. 5 in yards allowed per coverage snap (.26) among the 99 CB’s with 25 or more snaps in Weeks 11 and 12, allowing two catches for 11 yards on four targets. It Looks like the Raiders will get David Amerson and Antonio Hamilton back soon too. So the Raiders could have all five of their CBs instead of three down the stretch.
And they’re being put in position to succeed as defensive coordinator John Pagano is running more Cover-2 man, a scheme these CB fit. He’s also matching his CB’s up with opposing WR’s according to their attributes. Smith followed Demaryius Thomas, a bigger WR, and held him to five catches for 18 yards on eight targets.
Using Marshawn Lynch
The Raiders committed to the run Sunday, giving Marshawn Lynch 26 carries. He only got 67 yards out of it but that commitment made the Broncos put eight in the box to get more players around the ball so it opened up receivers Cordarrelle Patterson and Johnny Holton for deep balls.
Lynch showed he’s still one of the hardest running backs to tackle. According to Pro Football Focus, he forced five missed tackles and pushed the pile for yards after contact. But the Raiders need to use a power-based scheme to be more effective.
They averaged 3.75 yards per carry on outside zones, 3.92 yards per carry on inside man/zones and 4.19 yards per carry on power/counters. Lynch just needs holes as he ranks eighth in forced missed tackles (26) and tenth in yards after contact per carry (2.91) among backs with 90 carries or more this season.
The Raiders will be without WRs Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper at least for week 13. In their absence Cordarrelle Patterson and Johnny Holton stepped up against the Broncos Sunday to make big plays. Patterson had three catches for 72 yards including a 54-yarder to help put the game away. Holton had two catches for 53 yards including his own 47-yard big play.
To fill in for Crabtree, the team’s possession WR, the Raiders will use tight end Jared Cook. Cook is already the team’s leading receiver this season and the New York Giants have allowed 62 receptions on 95 targets for 768 yards and 10 touchdowns to tight ends this season. So look for Cook should have a huge day to make up for Crabtree.
Carr is back
Many say quarterback Derek Carr regressed because of the new offensive system he’s in. But I think it’s because he wasn’t psychologically back from his broken leg at the end of last season. You can see he was uncomfortable when the rush came and guys were falling around his feet, which is natural after his kind of injury.
So he didn’t perform as well as he did last year when blitzed or under pressure. But against the Broncos according to Pro Football Focus, Carr was pressured on eight times and was 5-6 for 115 yards with two sacks. And when blitzed, he was 8-12 for 140 yards.
Overall, Carr completed 75 percent of his passes for 253 yards, two touchdowns and 10.5 yards per attempt against one of the top defensive units in the NFL. So Carr looks like he has gotten over his injury psychologically now.
To go with their offensive line, the best in football, the Raiders have parts of their game coming along. They’re committing to Lynch and the run and it’s setting up the deep ball and Carr isn’t bothered by pressure the way he was earlier this season.
The defensive line is getting to the QB, and the CBs are playing much better and getting healthy. Opposing teams can’t run the ball down their throats anymore either. It looks like a lot is coming together for the team and we’ll see where it goes from here.