Monday, November 28, 2011

Golden Boots

Raiders 25 - Da Bears 20

The Raiders 2 longest tenured players, Sebastian Janikowski and Shane Lechler, booted the team into the win column on Sunday.

SeaBass and Lechler, both drafted in 2000, came up big in a game where the Raiders struggled in the red zone (1-5) and field position was critical.

The offensive unit made just enough explosive plays (Bush-47 yard reception; Myers-24 yard reception; Murphy-47 yard reception) to put up enough points while the D kept the Bears at bay by creating 3 INTs and consistent pressure on Hanie (4 sacks; 6 pressures; 7 QB hits). The final piece to a total team effort and win was an outstanding day for the specials teams led by SeaBass and Lechler.

SeaBass set a franchise record with 6 FGs (40,47,42,19,37,44). For the season, SeaBass is 22 of 24 (91.7 accuracy) and ranked #6 in the league. His 22 made FGs is ranked #5 in the NFL.

Lechler had a franchise record 80 yard punt in the 4th quarter (video link) and had a net average of 49.2 yards for the game. Currently, Lechler is the #1 punter with an average of 51.5 yards per punt and #7 in the league averaging 40.4 net.

These 2 grizzled veterans are a tremendous advantage in the kicking game and the best combination in the entire NFL.

Up Next: On the road at Miami

Monday, November 21, 2011

Victory vs. Vikes - Good, Bad, and Ugly

Raiders 27 - Vikings 21

The game yesterday had an odd ebb and flow to it. After surrendering an early 7-0 lead to the Vikings, the Raiders scored 27 unanswered points. It seemed like the Vikings completely fell apart immediately after RB Adrian Peterson was injured.

In the ensuing 2nd quarter of play, the Raiders had 3 possessions and 3 touchdown drives. With :51 left in the 3rd quarter, the Raiders had a very comfortable 20 point lead.

At this juncture in the game, the momentum shifted in the Vikings direction. Instead of closing out the Vikes, the game truly hung in the balance with the Raiders up 27-21 with 3:01 in the game and the Vikings with the ball.

The best way I can describe the Raiders' performance yesterday is "Good, Bad, and Ugly" with the end result an important victory to stay on course in capturing the AFCW division. 10 games into the season, at 6-4 and in the driver's seat in the division, there is a need to establish more consistency from quarter to quarter, half to half, and game to game. Most importantly, this team needs to ramp it up in the 4th quarter of play and put their collective foot on the opponent's throat.

- Raiders defensive pass pressure; 5 sacks (Sheppard on a corner blitz; 2 for Kelly, 2 for Bryant) 6 QB pressures, and 5 QB hits. DT Desmond Bryant, filling in for the majority of snaps for
Seymour, had his best game of his career. The next man up (Bryant) stepped up.

- Hue Jackson's playcalling; I like that Hue stuck with the run for 4 quarters instead of following the conventional wisdom of airing it out against an inexperienced, poor secondary. The Raiders rushed the ball 40 times and passed 23 times. It was also nice to see TE Kevin Boss targeted for 6 balls and coming up with 5 important receptions. Boss is an excellent receiver, a huge target for Palmer, and should be incorporated more in the red zone playbook.

- Michael Bush; Bush is the model for a consistently productive RB. He had his 2nd straight 100+ yard game on 30 carries compiling 109 yards on the ground. In the last 4 games, Bush has 461 total rushing yards.

- Jared vs. Jared; Jared Veldheer did an amazing job on the best pass rusher in the NFL, Jared Allen. Veldheer made Allen completely anonymous on the field (2 tackles, 0 sacks, 0 pressures, 0 QB hits).

- Takeaways (3 INTS; 2 fumble recoveries); Safey Giordano stopped a deep drive by Minnesota and returned the INT for 42 big yards. DT Kelly showed nice hands on a tipped pass securing an INT that led to a short field FG. CB Routt had a critical, game saving INT in the end zone.

- Closing out the game with less than 6 minutes in the game, RB Bush coughed up a fumble. Bush hadn't fumbled since 2009 but this fumble allowed the Vikes to close a 13 margin to 6 and give (no pun intended) them new life.

- Pass Protection of everyone not named Veldheer; The Raiders OLine had provided solid, consistent pass protection all season long giving up only 11 sacks in the previous 9 games. In this game, Palmer was sacked 4 times and hit 8 times.

- QB Containment; QB Christian Ponder had 5 runs for 71 yards on busted plays. The Raiders LBs did a poor job tracking Ponder's scrambles and made it far too easy for him to pick up big, chain moving chunks of yardage.

- Penalties; what else is new? The Raiders had 12 costly penalties for 117 yards. Take away a few of the these inopportune, bone-head penalties, and the Raiders would have had a "W" on cruise control. Instead, the penalties reared their ugly head to breath life into the Vikings.

- 4th Quarter Drought; In the last 5 games (3-2), the Raiders have scored 0 total points in five consecutive 4th quarters.

The Raiders caught a major break when Da Bears (7-3) visit Oakland with QB Caleb Henie behind center. Starter Jay Cutler suffered a broken right thumb vs. San Diego.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Raiders Follow The Blueprint

Raiders 24 - Chargers 17

Thursday night's game was a tough challenge for the Raiders. It was a character driven and character defining game in many ways. The key to a successful night was the Raiders dominating both sides of the line of scrimmage and staying true to their formula for success.

I appreciate and admire the 2011 team's resiliency. There have been a number of games this season where the team's character and commitment has been tested. After a heart crushing 2nd half collapse to the Bills, the team responded with a convincing bounce back victory vs. the Jets. After the loss to the Patsies and loss of owner Al Davis, the Raiders had an inspiring and emotional win at Houston. Going into the game there was a litany of built in excuses (short week, injury filled roster, new players getting up to speed) that ultimately fell on deaf ears as the Raiders physically dominated the Chargers.

* Establish the run early and often.

When the Raiders utilize the rushing attack as a hammer, it wears down the opponent and sets up big plays in the passing game. When the opponent commits 8 defenders in the box to contain the Raiders rushing attack, play action pass is more effective and there are more favorable 1 on 1 match-ups for the receivers. An opportunistic, big play passing attack to score points and stretch the field is built on the shoulders of the running game.

More Bush: Michael Bush had a Herculean performance against the Chargers rushing the ball 30 times for 157 yards for a 5.2 average plus 1 TD. He also had 3 receptions for 85 yards. With Bush as the primary RB the past 3 games, he has racked up a total of 352 yards on 66 carries for a robust 5.4 average. Bush's elusiveness and speed (for a 250 lbs. RB), his ability to read blocks, make decisive cuts, and shed initial contact are his key attributes. He is also a sure handed pass catcher who is especially effective on delayed screen plays. The one area that he needs to improve upon is his pass blocking skills. His whiff on a pass block led to Palmer's 1 INT.

Bush's productivity in the 1st quarter (78 yards rushing) was the platform for QB Carson Palmer to have an efficient (12-20, 299 yards, 2 TDs) night in the passing attack. Palmer's handle and command of the Raiders offense has grown leaps and bounds in 2 short weeks. Palmer looked very comfortable in the pocket and was precise with his passes. The connection and trust between Palmer and Denarius Moore has also gained traction very quickly. Moore, drafted in the 5th round, had an electric night with 5 receptions for 123 yards and 2 TDs.

* An effective 4 man defensive pass rush that creates consistent QB pressure while using the blitz at key junctures in the game to ratchet up the pressure and become less static or predictable.

The Raiders defensive front 4 absolutely annihilated the Chargers OLine and caused Rivers discomfort, 6 sacks, 10 pressures, and 6 hits. Kamerion Wimbley had a monster game with 4 sacks and was such a disruptive force that the Chargers were forced into double-teaming him for most of the night. Safety blitzes from Branch, Mitchell, and Giordano were used judiciously and effectively to mix things up and keep Rivers on guard.

* Containing the run and minimizing the big chunk yardage on the ground.

Defending the run has been a weakness of the Raiders for too many years to count. There is a real "Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde" quality to this year's run defense. In Oakland's 5 wins this year, the defense allowed an average of 69.6 yards. In Oakland's 4 losses, the number swells up to 209.3 yards per game.

Run to win, pass to score, the QB must go down hard, and stop the run at all costs ... this is the core essence of the Raiders formula for success. The key for the Raiders to go to the next stage of progress and win the AFC West is centered on establishing more consistent team performances from week to week.

Up Next: 11/20 at Minnesota with the arduous task of slowing down RB Adrian Peterson.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Raiders Get Tebowed

Broncos 38 - Raiders 24

The Raiders suffered their 2nd consecutive embarrassing loss at the hands of a divisional opponent. The worst part of losing this critical game is how the Raiders defense allowed QB Tim Tebow to execute a college style offense tailored to his strengths without making the proper adjustments.

The Raiders defensive front 7 had no answer for Tebow running the ball out of the shotgun (12-118-9.8) or RB McGahee gouging the interior line (20-163-8.2-2 TDs). With KC inexplicably getting trounced by Mia and SD losing a shoot-out to GBay, the Raiders let a golden opportunity slip away midway through the 3rd quarter with a 24-14 lead. Instead of taking command of the division, the Raiders allowed Denver 24 unanswered points.

A huge part of Denver's success in the 2nd half was their ability to run the ball between the tackles. For the day, the Broncos racked up a total of 299 yards rushing on 38 carries at 7.9 yards a pop. The absence of MLB McClain was very evident and noticeable.

QB Palmer showed good improvement (332 yard passing, 3 TDs) by using the bye week to get a better handle on the Raiders offense. However his 3 interceptions counter-balanced some of the good things he did in leading the unit throughout the game.

I'm optimistic that Palmer will continue to get more comfortable with the offensive game plan and personnel and do a better job in minimizing the # of costly INTs. The defense will need to rebound quickly facing a prolific Chargers offensive unit on a short week. It will be a challenging and interesting final 8 game push to see what this 2011 team is all about.