What a difference a bye week can make! The Oakland Raiders certainly brought everything they had and the kitchen sink in Sunday afternoon’s match-up against the undefeated Atlanta Falcons. Although the atmosphere among Raider Nation on Twitter seemed to be one of heartbreak after Falcons K Matt Bryant kicked the last-second 55-yard FG for the 23-20 win, from what I saw everyone’s reaction was hopeful all game long.
I am certain that the Falcons didn’t anticipate such a confidence the Raiders brought with them to the Georgia Dome. After four straight weeks before the bye, the Raiders did not have a single INT; that all changed Sunday. Oakland’s defensive secondary (which had been struggling up to this point in the season to say the least) came to play, picking off QB Matt Ryan three times throughout. My reaction was that Ryan and the Falcons offense approached this game being too relaxed, thinking that they would just dink and dunk down the field all game long, but unfortunately (or fortunately for us Raiders fans) they were caught off guard. The Raiders defense you saw out there on Sunday is exactly what fans have been waiting to see and we hope it continues; being able to hang with an up-tempo, undefeated team stride for stride for 60 minutes like they did was unexpected around the league.
I truly believe that if not for shooting themselves in the foot with yards lost to the flags (like a ghost of penalties past, if you will), this really was Oakland’s game to lose. They dominated on both sides of the ball, but more third-down conversions would’ve transpired if penalties had not brought back long gains. With that being said, there were still far more positives than negatives derived from this game.
Finally! Lots Of Silver Linings!
- The positive that stood out to me the most from Sunday’s game was, again, how on point the defensive secondary played. Consistency had been lacking up until two days ago; DB Michael Huff was having trouble finding his rhythm since having to play both S and CB back and forth the last few weeks due to the shortage in CBs lost to injury. Huff finally shined in this game and the second INT he snatched up came during a crucial offensive drive Atlanta was on, saving the Raiders on their own two-yard line. As Huff brought his A game, the rest fell into place it seemed.
- Effective use of the WRs that I saw was something I have been waiting to see since training camp back in July. Almost every receiver was in the mix: DHB (limited as he was covered like white on rice), returning WR Derek Hagan, (R) Rod Streater, and of course Denarius Moore. There’s nothing like watching a Carson Palmer deep-ball being thrown up to Moore, who we all know can go up and get it (like a dog playing fetch) and that’s exactly what Moore displayed late in the first quarter. The man-power is there to convert on third-down or to just establish completions; they’re getting there and it shows week by week.
Although Ryan wasn’t sacked often, a Raiders D-line pass rush was finally born in Week 6! Ryan struggled with his completions, connecting a few times with star WRs Roddy White and Julio Jones at key moments in the game, but it didn’t happen as often was I was anticipating.
- Falcons and future HOF TE Tony Gonzalez was contained and did not manage to score his 100th career TD. As I had mentioned in my preview, Gonzalez scored so many TDs against Oakland while playing in Kansas City that I thought it would be fitting if he had hit a milestone against the Raiders. Luckily the D knew better and took his influence out of Atlanta’s offensive strategy.
- Adding to the D-line pass rush, it also shut down Falcons RB Michael Turner – even with his one short TD, Turner literally became a non-factor, crushing the dreams of fantasy football owners everywhere, including myself.
- QB Carson Palmer continues to be one of the most underrated at his position in the AFC, in my eyes. He posted over 350 yards on Sunday (a surprise to many when I mention that), so the skill is definitely there. Specifically in this game, his stats were overshadowed by the pick-six he threw late in the fourth quarter, but he did rally back driving the Oakland offense back down the field to tie. It very much resembled what I saw in the second-last offensive drive against Pittsburgh in Week 3 – calculated, authoritative and accurate. Very pretty stuff.
- With the help of RB Mike Goodson, the run game is slowly but surely coming to fruition. Of course RB Darren McFadden is the target of any defense Oakland will meet this year (and so far those defensive lines have found a way to stuff him), but he’s starting to find those holes to burst through again. The Raiders’ O-line needs to be more aggressive, creating those gaps and providing the blocks DMC needs to break one. When you watch the way McFadden runs, he does it with purpose and he runs hard; he has absolutely no problem taking a hit, straight-arming a man twice his size, or fighting for yards after contact, but in order to see his explosive, power-back nature that Raiders fans are used to again, he’s going to need a bit of help.
A Few Opportunities
- With DT Tommy Kelly being double-teamed the last few games that I’ve noticed, DE Lamarr Houston and veteran D-line captain DT Richard Seymour need to pounce when an opportunity arises. Unfortunately with Kelly being contained the way he is, they both will need to fight that much harder together.
Special teams on both sides of the ball have seemed to improve, but P Shane Lechler drove me insane on Sunday kicking those shorter punts into the end zone. There isn’t a doubt he has a leg, but it isn’t allowing his teammates to try to pin the Falcons back further than 20 yards out.
- It’s going to happen soon enough (I can feel it in my bones), but DMC has to break out at some point. The focus needs to be on blocking for him at this point, because I can tell he’s itching to be set loose.
- PLEASE! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, O-LINE, STOP HOLDING! To be able to convert on third-down, to keep the ball moving and to extend the time of possession on the offensive side of the ball, penalties need to become few and far between like they did when, ahem… the replacement refs were around.
- When the O-line suffers, the number of K Sebastian Janikowski long FG attempts suffer along with it. The Raiders O-line needs to gain back that trust once more.
With every ounce of bias in my being, as a Raiders fan you can’t not appreciate what you saw on Sunday. A lot went in mentally preparing for a blowout, but the Raiders came out short by a FG and probably ruined a lot of Pro Line bets in the process.
Ahead for the Raiders are three of what ESPN would consider “winnable” games… for the opposing teams, that is: vs. JAC, @ KC, vs. TB. As it stands right now, Oakland is favoured by four when Jacksonville comes to visit this weekend. By no means am I underestimating any team on the schedule this year, even Jacksonville. As precedent over the last three to four years has shown, the Raiders don’t do as well when they are favoured, but as long as they bring the same level of intensity as they did in Atlanta and cut down on the yards lost to penalties, it should be a mark chalked up in the win column. Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville’s most lethal weapon, is playing this season without training camp and without preseason. His numbers haven’t soared as they usually do at this time of the year, so he may not be at his best.
The Raiders still cannot take any chances and will need to come prepared at every position. Preview to come!