No, not everything was fixed in the Raiders win over the Broncos but there was some encouraging signs. It was has been a disappointing season, the Raiders showed some life on both sides of the ball.
Sometimes a change does everyone some good. It appears the Oakland Raiders decision to part ways with former Defensive Coordinator Ken Norton Jr. paid some immediate dividends in the team’s 21-14 win over their AFC West rival Denver Broncos in Oakland yesterday.
The improved play of the defense – against a struggling offensive squad – wasn’t the only bright spot as the Raiders pulled within one game of division leading Kansas City, who lost yet again. That means the Raiders are tied with Los Angeles for second in the division – just one game back and a game against each on the road.
Here are my three key takeaways from yesterday’s big win in Oakland.
- The Pagano Effect – A term coined by my podcast partner Scott Winter, the change in leadership on the defensive side of the ball certainly was evident most of the day. While the backfield struggled late, after the injured Paxton Lynch gave way to Trevor Siemian, overall the squad was flying around the ball all day. The Raiders held Denver to a season-low 219 yards of total offense and recorded a season-high five sacks. Pressure on the quarterback has been lacking but not yesterday. Some you can attribute to the opponent but there was a renewed vigor on the defense without a doubt. Denico Autry recorded his first multi-sack game of his career, NaVorro Bowman and Khalil Mack were involved the entire game lending the senior leadership the shaken defense needed. The Raiders’ defense held the Broncos’ running backs to 30 yards rushing on 13 carries and no Denver receiver gained more than 50 yards in the air during the game. Oakland’s defense allowed just 54 yards in the first half, the fewest in a first half since giving up just 17 to the Kansas City late in the season in 2012. How much had to do with new Defensive Coordinator John Pagano? Plenty.
- Imagination on Offense – Ok, there’s still a long way to go for this unit to get back to where it was, but many of the sets and play calling by Offensive Coordinator Todd Downing were encouraging. It starts with running back Marshawn Lynch who has been vastly underutilized the past several weeks. Lynch, who carried a season-high 26 times for 67 yards, was in the game when he needed to be (mostly!). This created matchup issues for Denver and led to several completions down field and allowed Downing to open up the playbook and allow Derek Carr to do what he does best. There were more slot plays for Amari Cooper (before his injury), and the combo of Seth Roberts and Johnny Holton lost their case of the drops and made big receptions on key plays. Carr finished the game with a passer rating of 136.3, marking the fifth time this season he has surpassed the 100.0 barrier. During his career, the Raiders are 15-3 when Carr finished with a rating of at least 100.0. Running back Jelan Richard, slash-back Coradelle Patterson, and tight end Jared Cook all came up big in their own ways making it a complete team effort. Again, there was inconsistencies and some focus issues (Crabtree fight, etc.), but overall the team moved forward. That was key for the home stretch.
- Confidence – Now, that all said, there’s still plenty to fix on both sides of the ball. Losing Cooper to injury, and Crabtree to an ejection, hurt the team overall. The Raiders were able to overcome it and it’s uncertain how long Cooper will be sidelined and how long Crabtree maybe suspended by the NFL. Winning without them does give others confidence they can overcome adversity.
The rest of the season is tough for the Raiders. They have a dangerous game against the hapless New York Giants at home next week before a massive divisional tilt against leader Kansas City. For this team to make a legitimate run at the AFC West crown, and a playoff spot, focus and execution are more important than ever.
Yet, this team, who has no business being in a divisional championship race let alone the playoff hunt, is knee-deep in the thick of it.
We’ll see if they can build on the Broncos win and start to live up to the potential that made them, at one time, a Super Bowl favorite.