'Explosive' plays define Raiders' lost season

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'Explosive' plays define Raiders' lost season

ALAMEDA -- A constant theme throughout his 42-minute sit down with seven reporters last Friday was Reggie McKenzie lamenting the Raiders' trend of giving up big plays at, well, big moments.

The Raiders first-year general manager pointed to them as a major reason for the team's slide, which went from a four-game losing skid to five with Sunday's 20-17 defeat to Cleveland.

"Big plays kill us on defense," McKenzie said. "It's hard to win when you're giving up big plays on defense."

The Raiders define an "explosive play" as one that gains at least 16 yards throughout the air, 12 yards on the ground. Such explosive plays, though, have actually defined the Raiders this season.

And really, you could say the Raiders' best game this season was in a loss, at Atlanta.

"If I could put my finger on it, I would fix it myself," McKenzie said. "But, when you look at tape, how we attacked Atlanta, how we stopped the run, how we did not give up big runs, when you count the number of big plays in that game, you can start with that, and how we played on defense. That's why we were in that game."

Indeed, the Raiders limited the Falcons to five explosive plays in that last-second, 23-20 loss, four passes and one run. And none of the plays ended as a touchdown.

"But since then, if you look at game by game, and see the big plays, now, our D-line is not getting knocked around the ball, we're stout up front," McKenzie said. "But when you talk about run game, run defense, the one thing that you worry about is getting knocked around up front. And our guys are not. But the bottom line is, the gaps. I mean, yeah, that's fixable, but you can't let it happen. So, that's part of it right there. That and a big pass play, especially on third down, when you think you can get off the field. Too many of those since then. Especially in November."

Defensive tackle Tommy Kelly used to refer to it as the stop, stop, boom phenomenon. And it continues to this day.

"After you stop them and have a great play, good play, then all of a sudden, Wham, seven points. Easy," McKenzie said. "Kind of knocked the wind out of you, especially a team like this. We’re not at that level where we can continue to overcome (that) time and time again."

In the Raiders' five-game losing streak, the defense has surrendered a total of 49 explosive plays, 32 passes and 17 runs. Of these plays, nine have been touchdowns, with five by air and four by ground.

"We just have to work together to understand why and how (it happens)," said Raiders defensive coordinator Jason Tarver. "We have to take better angles down the field, is some of it.

"They’ve happened in zone, they’ve happened in every call known to man. It’s a continuing process to have the guys understand where their help is and have guys understand how to take angles and go from there. Sometimes younger players, when they come out of the stack or different things, don’t necessarily take the correct angle based on what’s going on."

Conversely, the Raiders have had 34 explosive plays, 27 passes (five TDs) and seven runs over the last five games.

"We're not good enough to just give guys, let alone points, but just to give them big plays like that," McKenzie said. "I'm looking for the offense to not just move the ball but score some points, get better in red zone, get better on third down, keep the chains moving, score points. More consistent special teams play, especially in coverage. I'm looking for a lot of things, but I'm looking for some wins."

A look then, at the Raiders and explosive plays through 12 games…

EXPLOSIVE PLAYS
Passes of 16 yards or more, runs of 12 yards or more

San Diego game (Lost, 22-14)
Raiders – (5) 5 passes, 0 runs
Chargers – (4) 4 passes, 0 runs

Miami game (Lost, 35-13)
Raiders -- (8) 8 passes (TD), 0 run
Dolphins – (10) 4 passes, 6 runs (3 TDs)

Pittsburgh game (Won, 34-31)
Raiders – (7) 5 passes, 2 runs (1 TD)
Steelers – (8) 8 passes (1 TD), 0 runs

Denver game (Lost, 37-6)
Raiders -- (6) 5 passes, 1 run
Broncos -- (12) 9 passes (2 TDs), 3 runs

Atlanta game (Lost, 23-20)
Raiders -- (11) 10 passes (1 TD), 1 run
Falcons -- (5) 4 passes, 1 run

Jacksonville game (Won, 26-23)
Raiders -- (6) 5 passes, 1 run
Jaguars -- (3) 3 passes, 0 runs

Kansas City game (Won, 26-16)
Raiders --  (9) 5 passes (1 TD), 4 runs
Chiefs -- (6) 2 passes, 4 runs

Tampa Bay game (Lost, 42-32)
Raiders -- (6) 6 passes (1 TD), 0 runs
Buccaneers -- (10) 4 passes (1 TD), 6 runs (3 TDs)

Baltimore game (Lost, 55-20)
Raiders -- (5) 5 passes (1 TD), 0 runs
Ravens -- (11) 10 passes (2 TDs), 1 run

New Orleans game (Lost, 38-17)
Raiders -- (12) 9 passes, 3 runs
Saints -- (10) 5 passes (1 TD), 5 runs (1 TD)

Cincinnati game (Lost, 34-10)
Raiders -- (4) 2 passes (1 TD), 2 runs
Bengals -- (8) 4 passes, 4 runs

Cleveland game (Lost, 20-17)
Raiders -- (7) 5 passes (2 TDs), 2 runs
Browns -- (10) 9 passes (1 TD), 1 run

TOTALS
Raiders -- (86) 70 passes (8 TD), 16 runs (1 TD)
Opponents – (97) 66 passes (8 TDs), 31 runs (7 TDs)

Marshawn Lynch excellent fit for Raiders scheme, ailing Oakland fan base

Marshawn Lynch excellent fit for Raiders scheme, ailing Oakland fan base

Marshawn Lynch is a Raider. He announced that fact on Twitter in his own unique way Wednesday, completing a month-long process from initial interest to final signature.

The Raiders gave him a new contract and traded Seattle for his rights, allowing the Oakland Tech High grad and Cal alum to come out of retirement and play for his hometown team.

That’s good news for Raiders fans on several fronts. He fills an immediate need at running back created when Latavius Murray left for Minnesota.

It temporarily tempers, though certainly doesn’t extinguish, rage about the Raiders relocating to Las Vegas.

[RATTO: Here's to hoping Marshawn Lynch upstages the NFL Draft]

Owner Mark Davis hopes to move his team when a new stadium is complete in 2020. 

Lynch won't be there. Lynch won’t represent Vegas. He’s an Oakland Raider, playing for the city he champions at every turn. Lynch regularly gives back to this community and might be its most popular native son right now.

Lynch missed playing football, but he wanted to represent his hometown. That was clear in his tweet. He explained it this way: “I’m really from Oakland doe like really really really from Oakland doe…town bizness breath on me.”

He’ll celebrate joining the Raiders on Thursday with a block party and autograph signing in Oakland.

Lynch will give East Bay fans something to cheer for that won’t be shipping off to Vegas in a few years.

Nothing can cure the pain of an NFL team leaving Oakland a second time. Wins are ibuprofen, giving short-term relief to an ailing fan local base. He can certainly help the Raiders provide that.

The Silver and Black needed a big, physical primary rusher to pair with elusive, yet smaller backs Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington.

Lynch is that guy. There’s no question he’s a football fit.

Lynch is a strong interior rusher from several different formations. He could run well behind fullback Jamize Olawale, as a lone shotgun runner or in jumbo packages with quarterback Derek Carr under center and behind a hulking Raiders offensive line.

While new offensive coordinator Todd Downing will add some wrinkles to an existing scheme, the Raiders employ a versatile system that could suit Lynch’s many strengths.

Lynch ranks among the toughest, most aggressive backs of his generation and one of the best resisting tackles.

He averaged 4.3 yards per carry and 2.8 yards after contact per rushing attempt in his career, according to analytics site Pro Football Focus.

Lynch led the NFL with 245 broken tackles between 2013 and 2016 – 56 more than the next guy -- and he didn’t even play last season, per PFF.

He led the league with an unreal 3.1 yards after per contact in 2014, his last year fully healthy. He played just eight times in 2015 due to an abdominal injury that required surgery.

Lynch is completely healthy after his year travelling the world, doing charity work and expanding his clothing line, but effectiveness is always questioned of running backs over 30. Lynch turned 31 last week. He heads into his 10th season without having been hit in a while, and many believe he can produce like few others his age have in the NFL.

He’ll take the lion’s share of carries in a three-man rotation with Richard and Washington. He reportedly gets an extra $2 million if he's just the second Raider since 2010 to reach 1,000 yards. There’s motivation to push for that and other incentives in the deal. If Lynch is in vintage Beast Mode and fans are happy, the Raiders will gladly pay the extra freight.

Here's to hoping Marshawn Lynch upstages the NFL Draft

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AP

Here's to hoping Marshawn Lynch upstages the NFL Draft

Marshawn Lynch is going to upstage the NFL Draft for a few moments by announcing his signing with the Oakland Raiders Thursday.

The problem with this is obvious. He can’t upstage it all day long.

The NFL Draft is one of those events that demeans all who come in contact with it, because it basically extols the three virtues the owners find most inspiring – dishonesty, bullying and treachery. Between everyone lying about everything they do, making players submit to the most revolting reputational indignities, and just good old-fashioned broken promises like, “If you’re there at 119, we’re taking you, oh wait, we suddenly hate you and your skill set,” the draft is largely a festival of misery.

Not universally, mind you. Some players love it, especially the ones who hit the lottery, get picked higher than they thought they would and go to the perfect team for their talents and temperaments. That’s not the usual road, but there you go.

But mostly, nah. And we’re not even getting into the cavalcade of media self-anointeds who think they know what they’re talking about but only serve to remind us that not everybody is a fun companion in a bar.

Now the disclaimer: If you like the NFL Draft, fine. Wallow in every minute of it with our blessing. It'll keep you from all level of other mischief, and it is relatively harmless fun if you can deal with the aesthetic unpleasantries to which we just referred. Just understand that you are spending 356 minutes of party prep for three days of partying and six days of cleanup. It's a hamster wheel of fun, but it is a hamster wheel.

But then there's Marshawn Lynch, who overcame being one of those draft casualties (because Buffalo didn’t work for him, and he didn’t work all that well for Buffalo, either), is coming out of retirement to be traded and then rendered a Raider in the time still allotted for them to reside in Oakland. As a distraction, this will play well enough. It sure beats DeMarcus Cousins being traded by Sacramento during the NBA All-Star Game.

I suppose this is a heart-rending tale of one man’s loyalty to his city (the right place at the right price), although there is the naggingly worrisome component that going back to football won’t be good for his overall health. It is the risk he runs, to be sure, and one can only assume that he has made a clearheaded choice, but this is not a spot that treats its recidivists well.

That’s recidivists, as in “folks who walked away happily, then found out they needed it too much for their own good.”

Frankly, there is no good reason not to want this to turn out well for Lynch (the Raiders can take of themselves with or without him, and within two years will do exactly that), but it is a case of bucking some daunting odds in what is too often a zero-sum game. That’s a level of risk that should make anyone queasy.

But it is what Marshawn Lynch wants, risks and all, and as a grown adult he should get the opportunity few are afforded – to chase and catch his dream until it stops being a dream and becomes a chore.

If it works out for the Raiders as well, fine. Lynch isn’t the one who will put them over the top in a conference dominated by three teams – New England, the Patriots and Bill Belichick – but if he finds the athletic closure he seeks, it ought to be good enough for the rest of us.

Especially if it even momentarily minimizes the rest of the hot rhetorical/gasbaggy mess that is Draft Night. If nothing else, here’s hoping Marshawn Lynch is the star of the night. That’s not the way to bet, of course, but a person can hope.