'Explosive' plays define Raiders' lost season


'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…

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

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

Raiders snap count: Riley over James; Murray a feature back

Raiders snap count: Riley over James; Murray a feature back

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Malcolm Smith was fully recovered from a quadriceps strain, ready to assume his typically extensive workload at weakside linebacker.

That allowed the Raiders to make a personnel change in the middle. They started relative newcomer Perry Riley at middle linebacker over rookie sixth-round pick Cory James, a young player forced into action due to Ben Heeney’s ineffectiveness and health.

Riley has six seasons and 72 starts to his name, given the Raiders experience at a position expected to make reads and checks and communicate information to teammates before the snap.

Riley fared well in that spot in Sunday’s 33-16 victory over Jacksonville, with a pair of tackles in 100 percent of the defensive snaps. He was Pro Football Focus’ highest-rated Raiders defensive player, with positive marks against the run and pass.

It was uncertain how much Latavius Murray would play in his return from turf toe, but the Raiders did not attach a short leash. Murray played 42 snaps and had 20 touches in this game.

He was the feature back in this one, a new approach after the Raiders used a near-even split with DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard. That wasn’t the case this time. Washington got the start but played just 13 snaps and six touches. Richard only had two touches in limited action.

Murray sparked the Raiders run game, with 18 carries for 59 yards and two touchdowns. The work left him no worse for the wear, a positive sign for a team that needs Murray running strong.

Let’s take a look at the entire Raiders snap count:

72 – OL Donald Penn, OL Gabe Jackson, OL Austin Howard, OL Rodney Hudson, QB Derek Carr
71 – OL Kelechi Osemele
68 – WR Amari Cooper
50 – WR Michael Crabtree
49 – TE Clive Walford
47 – WR Seth Roberts
42 – RB Latavius Murray
25 – FB Jamize Olawale
17 – WR Andre Holmes, Mychal Rivera
13 – RB DeAndre Washington
12 – OL Matt McCants
11 – OL Denver Kirkland
5 – WR Johnny Holton
4 – RB Jalen Richard
1 – OL Jon Feliciano

67 – CB Sean Smith, S Reggie Nelson, CB David Amerson, LB Perry Riley
66 – S Karl Joseph
63 – LB Malcolm Smith
60 – DE Khalil Mack
57 – LB Bruce Irvin
52 – CB DJ Hayden
42 – DL Denico Autry
34 – DL Jihad Ward
21 – LB Shilique Calhoun, DL Justin Ellis
20 – DL DL Darius Latham, DL Dan WIlliams
7 -- DL Stacy McGee
4 – S Keith McGill
2 – CB TJ Carrie

29 – Darren Bates, Nate Allen
25 – Andre Holmes, Jamize Olawale
24 – Shilique Calhoun
23 – Johnny Holton, Mychal Rivera
16 – Cory James, Sebastian Janikowski
14 – Antonio Hamilton
13 – Jon Condo, Marquette King
12 – Clive Walford
11 – Jon Feliciano
10 – Jalen Richard
9 – DJ Hayden, Karl Joseph
7 – Matt McCants, Denver Krikland, Gabe Jackson, Kelechi Osemele
6 – RB DeAndre Washington, Donald Penn
4 – TJ Carrie, Dan Williams, Darius Latham, Denico Autry, Bruce Irvin, Khalil Mack
3 – Justin Ellis
1 – Jihad Ward, Amari Cooper, Austin Howard
NOTE: Snap counts taken from official NFL game book

Notes: 'Carr to Crabtree was special' in Raiders' win over Jaguars

Notes: 'Carr to Crabtree was special' in Raiders' win over Jaguars

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Raiders receiver Michael Crabtree was a non-factor in last week’s loss to Kansas City, an aberration of the highest order this season.

It proved to be just a one-game lull.

Crabtree was an offensive catalyst yet again Sunday in a 33-16 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars. He had eight receptions for 96 yards and a touchdown, including a long bomb that changed the game.

Quarterback Derek Carr went big on 3rd-and-5 late in the second quarter, sending a perfectly-arched ball down the right sideline that Crabtree caught over his shoulder at full gallop for a 56-yard gain that set up the Raiders’ second touchdown in five minutes.

Crabtree got it, again on third down, using a quick slant just beyond the goal line.

He refused to speak with the media again, but those around him were again wowed by his impact on the game, especially when Jaguars corner shadowed and largely shut Amari Cooper down.

“Michael Crabtree made some incredible plays today for us,” Del Rio said. “…Throughout the game he came up big for us and I thought he play really, really well for us. Obviously our quarterback is a good player. He did a good job for us hooking up with different receivers, but today Carr to Crabtree was special.”

King shows speed: Raiders punter Marquette King doesn’t have to run much. Players at his position usually don’t, except as a last resort when chasing a return.

King ran forward this time, prompted by a uncharacteristically poor Jon Condo snap. He didn’t have room to punt so he took off running, converting a 4th-and-24 with a 27-yard run down the sideline. It was a move that showed great athleticism, one he

“I just picked the ball up and started running,” King said. “After I passed the orange sticks, I got a little light-headed and realized ‘I’m really running the ball right now.’ It’s been since high school that I ran from the punting formation. I came in as a wide receiver for Fort Valley State and was really good at punting so they stuck with me.”

King ran out without getting hit – a plus in the coaches minds – and extended a drive that ended with a game-icing touchdown from Latavius Murray.

Too many field goals: Sebastian Janikowski had four field goals on Sunday night, which isn’t always a positive sign for the Raiders offense. They let too many touchdown-scoring chances escape, which bothered offensive players despite the fact they scored 33 points.

“When we’re in the red zone, we want points,” Murray said. “That’s most important, but we need touchdowns over field goals. We have a lot of work to do and we’ll keep striving to get seven points over three.”

Winning turnover battle: The Raiders forced three turnovers against Jacksonville and didn’t give up any.

David Amerson had an interception. So did Reggie Nelson. Andre Holmes recovered a punt muffed by Rashad Greene. That’s a recipe for success, something that’s become common for this Raiders team.

They’ve forced three turnovers without coughing it up three times this season. They’ve ended up with a plus turnover ratio six times in seven games.

Notes: Raiders LB Bruce Irvin recorded his fourth forced fumble of the season against Jacksonville, which are the most by a Raiders since Nick Roach equaled that total in 2013. …DE Khalil Mack had his second sack in as many games, and now leads the team with three. … Nelson nabbed his second interception this year and has 32 since 2007, a total that leads all active safeties. …RB Latavius Murray has five touchdowns in seven games, the highest total in that span since 2005. … The Raiders are 4-0 on the road, a mark that hasn’t been matched since 2000.