The first step in the Raiders’ quest to prove 2016 wasn’t a fluke has come to pass. They went into Tennessee against a tough Titans team and came out the winner. And unlike the majority of their wins last season, it didn’t take a 4th quarter comeback to do it.
As close and hard fought as this game was, the Raiders never trailed. The Titans tried to get tricky by onside kicking the opening kickoff, but the Raiders were prepared for that possibility and the strong hands and awareness of rookie safety Shalom Luani recovered it to give the Raiders a short field to start the game. They took it for a score.
It was a back and forth affair pretty much throughout the first three quarters. The Titans answered with a touchdown on their first drive to tie it at 7-7. The Raiders answered with a field goal, then a bit later the Titans tied it back up with a field goal.
Tied at 10-10 with under a minute left in the first half, the Raiders drove back into field goal range and took the lead into half time. The pulled away with another field goal in the third, but before the third quarter was done, the Titans drove for another field goal to bring it back to a 3-point game.
With the Raiders scoring a touchdown to begin the 4th quarter, they would pull away for good. The teams would exchange field goals and the Raiders would take the game 26-16.
The Raiders won by ten points. Twelve of those came on four Tavecchio field goals. Two of those were from 52 yards away and another was from 43 that put the Raiders up by two scores late. Had he missed any of those field goals, the Titans may well have been within one score on their final drive with a chance to tie it or even win it.
This was Tavecchio’s first ever NFL game and he was under tremendous pressure. He was given the nod the night before the game, replacing Sebastian Janikowski who was placed on injured reserve with a back injury. The Italian born lefty went 4 for 4 and made history as the first to ever kick two field goals of 50 yards or more in his NFL debut. It’s a story right out of his dreams.
It isn’t often a kicker gets Top Baller, but he earned it.
The first carry of the game went to Marshawn and he took it for 14 yards, despite a linebacker in position to stop it. Beast Most made a move and left him reaching at air. With the run established, the Raiders scored on two pass plays.
Lynch started the next drive with a 4-yard run. The Raiders drove to the 12-yard-line and Lynch picked up 5 more to put them at the 7-yard-line. In fourth and one at the 3-yard-line, the Raiders went for it. Lynch got the ball and instantly sidestepped a blitzing safety in the backfield and plowed for the first and goal. From there the Raiders passed the ball three straight times and failed to get in the end zone. Maybe sticking with Beast Mode would have made more sense.
After a second quarter break, Marshawn was back for the third quarter. His 7-yard run was their only yards on their first series. The next series, he got 16 yards on a screen. The following play, he lined up out left and the Titans didn’t cover him, but Derek Carr got over anxious and over threw what would have been an easy touchdown. They would settle for a field goal.
Lynch had two runs for 16 yards to start the next drive that ended with two big completions and a touchdown. The Raiders’ final drive Lynch had his biggest highlight run. He went up the gut where Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jurrell Casey was there waiting for him, unblocked. And Lynch completely destroyed him, lowering his shoulder into Casey’s chest and sending the 6-1, 305-pounder into a backward summersault. It was breathtaking.
The six yards on the run put the Raiders in field goal range while taking more time off the clock. Tavecchio hit the 43-yarder and the Titans were two scores behind with just 1:09 remaining. Game over.
It’s pronounced Vanderdoes, not Vanderdoesn’t. We’ve been talking about this rookie third round pick’s pass rushing skills throughout training camp and preseason. But not even I could have predicted he would perform this well against a stout Titans offensive line.
This young defensive tackle’s work didn’t show up in the stat line -- a perfect example of why Ballers & Busters exists in the first place. But he was making noise and creating havoc on the field where it mattered.
From the first snap, he sent a message. On the very first play, he got in the backfield to lay a hit on Marcus Mariota who just got the ball off for an incompletion. Later in the drive, he stayed strong in his gap to allow Khalil Mack to make a 1-yard run stuff.
His one tackle was came in the second quarter. It was a 2-yard run stuff. On that same drive, he had his highlight play in which he laid the wood on offensive tackle Jack Conklin, putting the All Pro on his back and rushing the quarterback. Mariota had to get rid of the ball and Karl Joseph defended it in the end zone to force them to settle for a field goal.
The Raiders would get just one sack in the game and it was made possible by Vanderdoes. He crashed the pocket, getting an arm on the slipper Mariota, who scrambled, but by then Justin Ellis and Mario Edwards had converged for the shared sack. Who creates sacks? Vanderdoes. Who comes out balling in his NFL debut? Vanderdoes.
Carr, Coop, Crab, Cook
Rather than try to put these four into separate Baller placements, let’s just put them together. What foursome they were in this game. It was pick your poison all game long with 16 of Derek Carr’s 22 completions going to Coop, Crab, or Cook.
The first drive saw Cook catch a 22-yard pass to put the Raiders in first and goal at the 8-yard-line. The next play, Coop caught the ball on a quick slant, broke a tackle drove the final five yards to paydirt.
It was Cook again with the big play on the next drive, catching a 12-yard pass on third and 6. Then Crabtree got in on the action, catching a short pass, breaking a tackle and sprinting for 25 yards. To end the drive, Carr tried to force it to Amari Cooper on three straight passes and had to settle for a field goal.
Carr went back to Coop to begin the next drive for a 14-yard catch and run. Cook added a 6-yard catch and Crab pulled in a nifty back shoulder grab for 17 yards. It was the Titans pass rush that ended that promising drive with two sacks.
With :43 seconds left in the half, Crabtree caught a pass and laid a vicious stiff arm to pick up 15 yards. On the next play Carr was flushed from the pocket, rolled right and hit Crabtree again for 8 yards, with him getting out of bounds to stop the clock. The final connection was to Cook for 5 yards to put the Raiders in range for Tavecchio to his first 52-yard field goal and send the Raiders into halftime up 13-10.
The fourth quarter began with the Raiders still clinging to a 3-point lead. Cook started it off with an 11-yard catch, Crabtree put the Raiders in the red zone with a perfectly executed back should catch in which he didn’t react to the ball until the last instant, not allowing the defender to make a play on it. That set up Carr’s dime to Seth Roberts who was bracketed by defenders for a 19-yard touchdown.
Carr finished 22 of 32 for 262 yards and 2 touchdowns with no interceptions for a 114.3 passer rating. Crabtree was his leading receiver with 6 catches for 83 yards. Coop was targeted 13 times, with just 5 catches for 62 yards and a touchdown. Some incompletions were his fault, some Carr’s. Cook caught all five passes thrown his way for 56 yards.
Sean Smith, David Amerson
These two were lights out in this game, which is something you may have expected from Amerson, but not necessarily Smith. The only catches Smith gave up was a 4-yarder, he was intentionally keeping in front of him and a 13-yarder on the final drive in which the entire defense was laying back to prevent the big play. Amerson allowed three catches. One was an absolutely perfectly placed pass and leaping grab by Corey Davis in which he had no chance to defend, one went for 11 yards, and the final one was a 13-yard catch on that same final drive in which the defense was allowing catches in front of them while protecting against the big play.
They both made positive plays as well, with Smith making the tackle on the 4-yard reception to set up 3rd and 6, fought through a block to stop a bubble screen for no gain, and had tight coverage on an incompletion. Amerson had coverage on an incompletion on third and 12 to force a puntand raced up to make the tackle on a run that was spread out right, forcing the ball carrier to try to hurdle him where Nicholas Morrow popped him for a loss.
Flawless day as usual for Osemele with no pressures allowed and many run blocks. Marshawn’ first run for 14 yards was behind an Osemele block. As were runs of 4 and 5 yards on the next drive – the latter setting the Raiders up in 2nd and five at the 7-yard line. Osemele was one of the blocks on a DeAndre Washington 13-yard screen that helped set up the field goal at the end of the first half as well as Marshawn’s 12-yard run early in their second touchdown drive and a block for a 9-yard Jalen Richard run on their final scoring drive to clinch the win.
Just Mack being Mack. He had a strip sack in this game, but it was negated by Bruce Irvin being called offsides. Even without it, Mack was a force. He had four run stuffs, including two in which he sliced into the backfield to stop it for a loss. He also batted down a pass at the line and added a pressure on third and goal from the six that flushed Mariota from the pocket and resulted in the Titans settling for a field goal.
Justin Ellis – Big man was a wall in the middle against a tough run team. He got pressure on the Titans’ first play of the game to help force an incompletion. Two times on that same opening drive he held his gap to allow a run stop. He and Mario Edwards Jr later shared a sack.
Karl Joseph – Led the team with 9 tackles (6 solo). Gave up some big catches, including the first third down conversion on the opening TD drive, another third down conversion on their second scoring drive. But he stopped the bleeding there, including a masterful leaping pass defended in the end zone to hold their second drive to a field goal.