This game was a punctuation on the season which has been mostly a disappointment. Partly to blame is a 2016 season that was filled with so many breaks and last minute successes that had the everyone (including yours truly) far too optimistic. Some regression could have been predicted in even the best case scenario (and was by some) and this season was clearly not the best case.
Perhaps fittingly this game was against the Dallas Cowboys who have endured a similarly frustrating year for some similar reasons (QB and OL play both down from previous year). The winner of the game limps on with meager hope of surviving on a week-to-week basis, while the loser starts thinking about 2018. And with two teams this problematic, it’s not surprising that it came down to the last "real" scrimmage play and one-yard dictated the margin of victory.
The first offensive series perfectly sums up the Raiders' season. After the Sean Smith interception, the Raiders offense takes the field and ...
- 1st-and-10. Vadal Alexander checks in as 6th offensive lineman along with Lee Smith and Jared Cook. Marshanw Lynch gains 8 on G Counter play where Alexander crumples Tyrone Crawford off the edge, Gabe Jackson pulls and kicks out Jeff Heath, and Lee Smith crashes down and picks off Sean Lee.
- 2nd-and-2. 2 TE formation. Lynch loses 3 on an Outside Zone play that the Cowboys play perfectly.
- 3rd-and-5. Empty backfield with 5 receivers (3 WRs, 1 TE, and 1 RB are all lined up as receivers). Quick slant to Michael Crabtree is nearly picked off.
Interesting, for those complaining about 2017 Raiders not using 6 OL very much. (a) In 2016, the use of (mostly) Denver Kirkland as the 6th OL was motivated by need because Lee Smith was on IR. (b) Vadal Alexander was 6th OL on the first play of each of the first two series. Note: Donald Penn was injured on the 2nd play in the 2nd series.
In the end, most fans were left with two images burned into their minds; the folded index card and the Derek Carr fumble. I suppose by now everyone has expressed their own thoughts about these two incidents so here are mine:
Index Card: I'm not that bothered by it. I think Gene Steratore did a disservice with his theatrics to bring out the card in the first place. This could have gone either way and honestly it looked like the tip of the ball was just at the line mark. It also did seem on the replay that it was a little pessimistic spot and may have been moved forward had it been reviewed (though you never know with these refs). In a way, it feels like karma for the Houston game last year.
The Fumble: I don't fault Carr for his play. He was not holding back and going for the win and if Jeff Heath was 1 step late, I think Carr gets the pylon for the TD. Yes, it would have been smarter to just run out of bounds with the first and the Derek Carr of 2 weeks ago would have done that. In 2016 when the Raiders got most of the breaks, Carr would have managed to hold onto the ball as he went out of bounds.
The Rule: It is definitely a strange rule, but one that is not particularly obscure; many ardent NFL fans know about it. I presume it's a holdover from some perceived action that could occur on these types of plays, though honestly I do think the rule would be better off just returning it to the offense at the spot of the fumble as with any other out of bounds forward fumble.
As an aside, the fumble rule that will really get fans exploding if/when it gets called is when it happens from the team's OWN endzone. That rule states that if a ball is fumbled forward and out of bounds, it's a safety IF the impetus of the ball going forward is by the offensive team, but if it's by the defensive team, the offense gets the ball where it went out of bounds.
Lost in much of the game was that the defense fought admirably and their performance should have been enough for a win, but Special Teams and the Offense let down. But even at that, the Offense flashed and showed some life and some indication that the talent on this team is at least better than what's been shown in 2017.
This isn't to say that the defense is great. Far from it, but they have taken big strides forward.
Note: Sacks under Pagano: 14. 5 (Den), 3 (NYG), 4 (KC) , 2 (DAL). Turnovers under Pagano: 6. 1 (Den), 2 (NYG), 1 (KC), 2 (DAL). This equals the 14 sacks, 6 TO’s in previous 10 games under Ken Norton Jr. And it seems like a few players have had a resurgence in the last 4 games like Sean Smith and Bruce Irvin.
The last two games are important for the defense to (a) determine if John Pagano is the answer at Defensive Coordinator for next year, esp if Vic Fangio is free as expected (b) instill the defensive scheme among the players that will return next year (also provided Pagano returns) (c) get young players key playing time at positions, notably Nick Morrow, but possibly Karl Joseph at Free Safety (d) get final evals on borderline young players like Jihad Ward and Darius Latham (e) evaluate potential free agents like Denico Autry and Justin Ellis
There's some hope for the defense, but there's also some talent gaps.
- The biggest play of the game may have been Cole Beasley downing Sean Smith on the second interception, negating a Pick 6.
- The second biggest play of the game may have been Dallas' fake punt after the defense forced a 3-and-out.
- Losing Donald Penn hurt, but this is what near future holds for Oakland. Must find a replacement. Is it David Sharpe?
- Isaac Whitney. He was illegal twice. It's hard to play if you can't line up correctly. This is a reason why he's Practice Squad. But also interesting that he's getting reps over Holton now.
- Running Outside Zone against a Dallas defense that practices against the best Outside Zone team in the NFL may not have been a good play.
- Jihad had 1 or 2 nice plays, but so many very poor ones. I was taking wait-and-see with him, but his lack of progression this year is very disappointing.
- Quick slants between Carr and Crabtree should be automatic at this point. Timing should not be an issue. Wonder if these two are getting enough reps in practice. This is another question about organization/structure/scheme by the Offensive Coordinator : making sure key plays are kept sharp via practice.
- On Dallas' first TD, they were lined up at the goalline. On the defensive right side, Jihad Ward and Denico Autry were lined up side-by-side. Dallas ran right between them for the TD
- Generally, it seems like Pagano has been using Autry farther outside and as a 1-gap slasher and he has been thriving. I never really liked Autry inside even though sometimes (eg., Denver) he’s been disruptive there.
- Run defense looks like early 2016 with how the interior DL were getting blown out. Coincidentally(?), Jihad Ward started this game. But Treyvon Hester and Justin Ellis are not without blame.
- Why did Dallas slow down their rushing attack? Only 14 rushes by the RBs in the first half and 9 in the second.
- Nick Morrow had some nice plays, Witten's pass breakup, Tackle for Loss on toss play, and the nice pressure on the blitz. But also looked like a rookie out there sometimes, particularly on reacting to the QB.
- On Dak Prescott's TD scramble, Bruce Irvin was Spying him. When Khalil Mack was triple teamed in the middle, Bruce had to pick a gap. Dak escaped to the other one.
- When Cris Collinsworth mentioned that Sean Lee had the Raiders' calls, it reminded me of when Greg Biekert had all of Peyton Manning's and was calling out the plays beforehand.
- Dallas’ S Jeff Heath made two game saving plays. Pushing Carr out of bounds, but before that he broke up the pass to Crabtree.
Wasted Opportunities :
- 39 yard FG missed
- TJ Carrie's dropped INT
- Fake Punt for first down
- Missed 3rd down wide open slant to Crabtree
- Derek Carr hurries his throw on a blitz even when Marshawn Lynch picked it up
- Jared Cook key 3rd down drop
- Giving up 40 yard catch to Dez Bryant a few plays after the 4th down conversion
- Xavier Woodson-Luster's holding penalty on Cordarrelle Patterson's kick off return TD.