It took four weeks, but Jon Gruden finally squeezed one out for his first win in what felt like “100 years” according to the coach who took off 10 seasons to broadcast on Monday Night Football.
The Raiders barely resembled the team that lost 3 straight to start the season. Sunday against the Browns was the first game in 2018 the Raiders failed to score on their first offensive drive. After all its not how a team starts but how the team finishes. This Raider team showed they internalized the message of finishing by doing 3 things for the first time in 2018.
Win the turnover battle
Coming into Sunday the Oakland Raiders were ranked dead last in turnover margin often cited as the most predictable metric for winning games. Their fortunes shifted however and the defense was able to capitalize on the inexperienced Baker Mayfield’s struggle to protect the football.
Of course Gareon Conley puts a giant exclamation point on the play by showing excellent reaction time and acceleration to take the interception into the endzone for a defensive touchdown. But before any of that, Marcus Gilchrist makes a solid break on the route forcing Mayfield to attempt a throw into a tight window. Gilchrist does enough here to disrupt the catch while Conley was a beneficiary of being in the right place at the right time. Good to see the former first round pick finish on this rep.
Later in the game Mayfield and his center are not on the same page. There could be any number of reasons why or whose fault but its impossible to tell without being in a meeting room. Any team with a rookie quarterback will have these types of plays.
The Raiders finished the game +2 in turnovers, intercepting Mayfield twice and recovering 2 fumbles.
Spread the wealth
This game was not without its missed opportunities, a few Amari Cooper misfires come to mind. Derek Carr and his receivers however, displayed a new level of chemistry. Each game before the week 4 matchup has “featured” one receiver getting the lion’s share of targets. However week 4 was completely different with Carr connecting for TDs and big plays each with Jared Cook, Amari Cooper, and Jordy Nelson all hauling in TD catches.
This scoring pass to Cooper is high level execution on the part of Derek Carr. He first scans the left where he sees a cover 2 concept taking away the vertical route to Cook. There is a weak-side linebacker who drops into the zone; creating an opening for the routes on the frontside. Carr decides to steps up in the pocket and come back to the right side.
Carr isn’t done moving defenders with his eyes yet. First he sees Amari Cooper running the first of two slants towards the area where the weak-side linebacker vacated his zone. Second Carr glances at the second slant run by Jordy Nelson. This opens up just enough room between the two hook defenders to fit a ball in for a Cooper touchdown. Yes, it does take that level of concentration and execution to score in the NFL.
But Derek Carr wasn’t just dazzling defenders with his eyes, he was also shooting lasers like this ball on a rope to Jordy Nelson. Carr recognizes the defense is in cover 2 and looks the middle linebacker off before rifling one to Nelson.
So not only did Carr connect with multiple receivers for scores, he showed proved 2 things; his acumen for Gruden’s scheme and his willingness to stand in the pocket and deliver strikes into the teeth of the defense.
Third down stops
The Raiders had plenty of 3 and out drives to start their 0-3 start, but they were mostly in the 1st half of those games. The Bronco’s loss featured a similar element of down to the wire football but this time the Raiders defense was finally ready to make stops when it mattered the most. Through 3 weeks the Raiders defense has almost disappeared in the final minutes allowing teams to run the score up.
This week continues its theme of bizarro Raiders because Sunday was the complete opposite. This time the Raiders struggled to get off the field in the 1st half but tightened up in the 4th quarter and overtime when it really mattered the most.
No play was more crucial than when the Raiders defense stopped Carlos Hyde short the the first down with less than 2 minutes left to play. There was uproar about the refs giving the game to the Raiders because of this call. But this time the refs got it right as Hyde’s elbow touches down with the ball just inches short of the first down.
This stop allowed the Silver and Black to march down the field for the go ahead game tying scores.
And in the overtime period, the Raiders defense stepped up in a major way. First Frostee Rucker breaks through the line on a twist for a pressure on Mayfield who throws and errant pass into the dirt.
Then Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie vaporizes a hapless receiver who forgot to sit in between zones, luckily the refs pick up their flags and its 3rd and 5.
Rashaan Melvin in the play above does a great job to locate his receiver in a scramble drill. It gets more difficult for a defender to stay with the receiver the longer the QB has the ball. Melvin trails the receiver downfield but gains position when Mayfield floats the ball. The Raiders corner is able to get his head around for a pass break up the force a punt and what would be the Brown’s last possession of the ball game.
The defensive line did a great job of disrupting Baker Mayfield and not just in sacks and pressures. Raiders defensive lineman recorded pass deflections, fumbles, fumble recoveries and sacks on the Browns rookie signal caller. The disruption up front had a huge impact on the game.
Marshawn Lynch scored in all 3 losses but fails to score in the Raider’s win. But don’t let the boxscore fool you. Lynch’s runs against the Brown’s set the tone for the intensity the game would be played with. Lynch rumbles to over 100 yards rushing and was the most consistent weapon for the offense.
Carr might not have done enough to fully silent his critics but standing tall in the pocket, pushing the ball downfield, and being patient were common complaints associated with Carr. The Raiders QB led his team to a victory despite a slow start. Carr finished the day with 426 yards passing and 4 touchdowns.
The referees are getting a lot of slack in this game. But the worst calls were against the Raiders. Arden Key was called for the weakest roughing the passer penalty in recent memory and one ref blew a quick whistle on Marshawn Lynch which really just means the man doesn’t love football.
Enjoy some highlights.