Turning The Corner?
Raiders 20 - Falcons 23
The expectations were low for Raider fans going into the hostile Georgia Dome facing the undefeated Falcons. The Raiders offense had been sputtering and the D got torn up 3 consecutive weeks by the Dolphins, Steelers, and Broncos. My biggest concern was the secondary getting exposed by Jones & White and a listless pass rush. I was hoping for a competitive game and upset victory but wouldn't have been shocked by a blowout.
Although this was a tough loss to swallow, I was very encouraged, and quite frankly, surprised by the level of execution of the players and shrewd gameplanning by the the coaching staff. The defense did a tremendous job creating 3 interceptions, getting off the field 7 of 9 times on 3rd down conversion attempts, and creating constant pressure and disruptions for QB Matt Ryan.
One of the key developments in the gameplanning was getting LB McClain off the field in obvious passing downs and going to a very effective nickel package. First the Raiders needed to shut down the run (55 total rushing yards). Second, the DBs in harmony with a strong pass rush, needed to play more aggressive coverage and take a few chances. Huff, Hanson, and Branch had critical interceptions that created excellent field position for the Raiders. The Raiders defense did an excellent job holding the Falcons to 7 total points in the 1st half.
One part of the game that truly sticks in my craw is the end of the game. After playing aggressive, effective D for 59:00 minutes, why on earth did the coaching staff put the D in a prevent, Charmin Soft D with :58 and a tied 20-20 game? When the Raiders rushed 3 men and played soft zone, I knew the Falcons would have a better than decent chance to win the game at the end.
The other part of the game that is hard to digest is the Palmer pick 6. The Raiders were in the driver's seat, facing a 3rd and 6 from the Falcons 28 with 2:55 in the game, tied at 13-13. This was a 10-14 point swing and game changer. Instead of the Raiders taking the lead, the team faced a 7 point deficit with 2:40 on the clock. Clearly this was a throw and decision that CP3 wished he had back. What I admire about Palmer was how he responded to this setback by marching the team down for a game tying TD drive. This showed leadership and character. Palmer was highly accurate and poised throughout the game (23-33, 353) and the offense was balanced, potent, and diversified (474 offensive net yards).
The best takeaway from the game, in my mind, is the passion and warrior spirit demonstrated by the team. The key question moving forward is whether or not the team can build on this performance and continue to make progress. The sign of true progress will be more consistent efforts from week to week. Does the team build on the positives or was the overall performance, effort, and preparation an aberration?
Next Week: JAX Jaguars visit Oaktown