'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. Were 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."Theyve happened in zone, theyve happened in every call known to man. Its 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, dont necessarily take the correct angle based on whats 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 gamesEXPLOSIVE PLAYS
Passes of 16 yards or more, runs of 12 yards or moreSan Diego game (Lost, 22-14)
Raiders (5) 5 passes, 0 runs
Chargers (4) 4 passes, 0 runsMiami 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 runsDenver game (Lost, 37-6)
Raiders -- (6) 5 passes, 1 run
Broncos -- (12) 9 passes (2 TDs), 3 runsAtlanta game (Lost, 23-20)
Raiders -- (11) 10 passes (1 TD), 1 run
Falcons -- (5) 4 passes, 1 runJacksonville game (Won, 26-23)
Raiders -- (6) 5 passes, 1 run
Jaguars -- (3) 3 passes, 0 runsKansas City game (Won, 26-16)
Raiders -- (9) 5 passes (1 TD), 4 runs
Chiefs -- (6) 2 passes, 4 runsTampa 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 runNew 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 runsCleveland game (Lost, 20-17)
Raiders -- (7) 5 passes (2 TDs), 2 runs
Browns -- (10) 9 passes (1 TD), 1 runTOTALS
Raiders -- (86) 70 passes (8 TD), 16 runs (1 TD)
Opponents (97) 66 passes (8 TDs), 31 runs (7 TDs)

Raiders OTA observations: Conley, rookies must earn their stripes

Raiders OTA observations: Conley, rookies must earn their stripes

ALAMEDA – Rookies have been immersed in the Raiders system most of this month, but still have a lot to learn before training camp begins this summer.

There’s significant work ahead this spring during OTAs and mid-June’s mandatory minicamp, and young players will do so from the second and third teams. Even the highly touted ones.

First-round draft pick Gareon Conley played slot cornerback with the second unit and outside cornerback on the third during Tuesday’s OTA open to the media. It’s a position the slick, speedy cover man will vacate posthaste, but the Raiders prefer rookies earn their stripes.

“All of our young guys are going to earn their way,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “We have a good football team. We’re going to let them earn their way. We’ll let them compete. We’re early in the competition, so we’ll just go through the offseason and continue to get (Conley) involved and get him reps. These guys will ascend and take their positions as they earn it. We’re really happy with the way he’s started.”

The Raiders didn’t feature a single rookie on their first units Tuesday. Second-round safety Obi Melifonwu, fourth-round offensive tackle David Sharpe and middle linebacker Marquel Lee were featured on the second unit.

Here are some other observations from Tuesday’s OTA sessions.

-- Del Rio said Marshall Newhouse had the inside track to be the team’s starting right tackle. The versatile veteran worked there with the first team, joining a front five otherwise intact from a season ago.

-- Second-year pro Connor Cook, who switched from No. 8 to No. 18 this offseason, ran the second offensive unit. E.J. Manuel worked with the third team.

-- Inside linebacker Ben Heeney worked on a side field with a trainer during Tuesday’s practice, as he continues to rehab from surgery to repair an ankle broken early last season. Jelani Jenkins also did side work after practicing on Monday.

Cory James and Tyrell Adams worked with the first unit at inside linebacker.

-- Veteran running back Marshawn Lynch was limited to individual drills for a second straight day as the Raiders ease him back into football activity.

-- Offensive lineman Austin Howard is working his way back from offseason shoulder surgery, and only practice during individual drills.

-- Cornerback Sean Smith had offseason surgery, but was a full participant in Tuesday’s session.

-- Third-round defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes remains away from the Raiders complex due to an NFL rule preventing players from schools still in session to work with their teams. He won’t re-join the squad until training camp. Undrafted rookie Nicholas Morrow is in a similar spot, but will return next week.

-- Edge rusher Shilique Calhoun played last season at 250 pounds, but looks decidedly bigger now. He told the team website he’s up to 270 pounds.

 

Cooper seeks counsel from former All-Pro Lions WR, Raiders guest

Cooper seeks counsel from former All-Pro Lions WR, Raiders guest

ALAMEDA -- Todd Downing and Calvin Johnson go way back. The Raiders offensive coordinator got to know the retired Detroit receiver during four seasons coaching Lions quarterbacks, a relationship benefitted current Silver and Black receivers this week.

Johnson is in Alameda as a special guest and advisor for the first week of Raiders OTAs, offering tips and tricks learned during an excellent career.

“(Downing) thought it’d be a great idea for our wide receivers to just pick his brain and have him be around and give us a point here or there,” Del Rio said. “Talk about some of the things that he did so well in his career and how we might be able to have some of our guys learn from that. It’s great to have him out here.”

Amari Cooper gravitated towards Johnson, and has spent significant time picking his brain

“I’ve just been asking him a whole bunch of questions,” Cooper said after Tuesday’s OTA session. “How does he run certain routes? What was his regimen like? And how he was so productive? He’s a really cool guy. He’s been giving me some really great feedback, so he’s nice to have around.”

Johnson’s a unique talent, a difficult cover at 6-foot-5, 236 pounds. Cooper operates in a smaller frame and has different receiving strengths, but still found wisdom in working with Megatron.

“He just gave me some really good tips on like how I can run some of my routes,” Cooper said. “…he’s a different receiver than I am, obviously. But I really admire the way he high-points the ball and that’s something that I try to do as well.”

Cooper does most everything well, and has had a productive start to his NFL career. He’s just the third receiver in NFL history to exceed 70 receptions and 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons – Odell Beckham and Marques Colston are the others – and made the Pro Bowl after both campaigns.

He continues to tinker with his approach and offseason workouts, trying to finish seasons stronger and become an even more dynamic player. Cooper has no problem learning from others, especially the greats.

“I seek advice all the time,” Cooper said. “My rookie year, when I was fortunate enough to go to the Pro Bowl, I asked Adrian Peterson like when did he start working out, how did he go about his offseason. And I tried to pattern after him a little bit.”

Cooper is smarter and working better thanks to information absorbed from others, which he hopes will help him become a deadly weapon.

“I know he’s just scratching the surface of what he wants to accomplish in this league,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “Very prideful. Amari has always been very serious about the game and works hard at everything, really. His conditioning level and understanding what he needs to be able to do to play at a high level. Again, talking and having a guy like Calvin here as we’re getting started in these OTAs, to be able to share some of the insight of what he experienced playing that position is very valuable for us.”