In the span of nine days, the Oakland Raiders have traveled over 10,000 miles, more than seven NFL teams will travel throughout the whole season. That doesn’t include the win versus the New Orleans Saints in Week one. The Raiders have played three tough road games, and have come out with victories in all three of them. The whole team stepped up yesterday in the toughest game of the season, against the best team the Raiders have played so far.
Takeaways for the Oakland Raiders in Week Four
Rookies Making Their Mark
General Manager Reggie McKenzie sure knows how to pick ‘em. From the 2013 NFL Draft, to this year’s, McKenzie continues to load up the team with great picks. The rookies from the 2016 NFL Draft are stepping up and some of them weren’t even expected to play.
The Raiders first round pick, safety Karl Joseph didn’t play in the first two games, for whatever reason that was. He had a nice debut in the Tennessee Titans game in Week 3, and made his second start versus the Baltimore Ravens yesterday. He has embraced his role quickly and so the question remains: why wasn’t he starting in Week 1? That is a question only the coaches can answer, but Raider Nation can be happy that he is starting now and making an impact.
One of the biggest problems in the first two weeks was Oakland’s inability to cover the middle of the field. Tight ends and slot receivers were open entirely too much. The coaching have made better adjustments and Joseph has been given most of the responsibility to take care of those match-ups. He has done a really good job of containing the tight ends and wrapping them up with no extra yards. Joseph has been all over the field and made his presence known in coverage, defending the run, and rushing the passer.
Another change the coaching staff made was replacing middle linebacker Ben Heeney for this year’s sixth round pick out of Colorado State, linebacker Cory James. He is undersized, like Heeney, but he has done a fine job as the starter.He had his best game yet against the Ravens, recording 15 total tackles to go along with a forced fumble and a tackle for loss.The Ravens were able to run the ball really well, so he has got to do a better job of stopping the running back closer to the line of scrimmage. Other than that, James has done really well in coverage and making plays as the starter.
A few other rookies have made their presence known as well. Running backs DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard have helped Latavius Murray stay fresh and all three running backs have done a really good job playing the backfield so far. One rookie that did not play well was seventh round pick Vadal Alexander. He’s probably better suited playing as a guard because of his size and slower feet, but he has been inserted in at right tackle because of the injuries to the offensive line. He needs to have quicker reactions to the fast defensive ends he’s pitted against. Alexander was called for three holding penalties and also for a false start. He has to play better and learn the tackle position quickly so that the Raiders can continue to keep quarterback Derek Carr clean.
Carr, Crabtree, Clutch
Speaking of the clutch king, did anyone else see Derek Carr complete yet another fourth quarter comeback win? The Oakland Raiders were up 21-12 after Carr threw his third touchdown pass of the day to wide receiver Michael Crabtree, which was Crabtree’s second. But the Ravens came back strong with two touchdowns and a two point conversion that gave them a 27-21 lead. This is where Derek Carr is at his best. When the speed of the game increases, when the Raiders sorely need a score, Carr comes through and his go-to receiver is Crabtree. His record speaks for himself, with yesterday giving him his second fourth quarter comeback of the year, his seventh of his career, and six since the start of last season, the most of any other quarterback.
It is fun to say Carr to Cooper, but Amari Cooper and Carr haven’t developed the chemistry Carr and Crabtree have. Crabtree has been more reliable in the receiving game and Carr seems to trust him more. The good thing is that Carr trusts all his receivers to make the catch. He doesn’t stop throwing to a receiver if the receiver drops a pass or two. But when it’s time for a drive that the Raiders need to score, Carr and Crabtree continue to connect well. In the Raiders last drive, Crabtree caught three passes from Carr for 49 yards and the game winning touchdown. Earlier in the game he caught two more touchdown passes. Michael Crabtree has caught 26 passes this year and 21 of them went for first downs. That gives him the best first down percentage on receptions, tied with Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans. Amari Cooper has a higher ceiling than Crabtree. He’s younger and more talented. But for now, Michael Crabtree is Derek Carr’s favorite target, and as long as the Raiders keep winning, everyone is okay with that, except for Amari Cooper’s fantasy football owners.
The Punting King
Ray Guy. Shane Lechler. Marquette King. The Oakland Raiders have been blessed with elite punters, and that is nothing to scoff at. The Raiders re-signed King to a long term deal this past offseason that made him the fifth highest paid punter in the league, and gave him the second most guaranteed money. He continues to earn that money every week. People get caught up in stats and highlights and all of that, but one of the most underrated aspects in the game of football, is field position. Field position is so important in football, and the Raiders have a weapon in Marquette King that continues to help the team with his ability to pin the opposing team inside the 20. King is second in the league with 11 punts inside the 20, and every game it looks like he possesses the strongest punting leg in the league. It seems like he shows more passion and enthusiasm punting the ball than any other punter in the NFL.
Several times during the season, the opposing team has started to gain momentum by scoring, then forcing the Raiders to punt quickly, and then get the ball back. But King is able to counter that momentum by punting from the Raiders 30 to 40 yard line and forcing the opposing offense to start inside their own 20, and many times inside the 10 yard line!
The Raiders have played three road games, traveling across America more than some NFL teams will travel all year. In road games, field position is even more important because the odds are stacked against the away team. Fatigue sets in, and the opposing team’s crowd gets loud and makes life extremely difficult to snap the ball and call plays. Traveling so far and so long creates fatigue and the Raiders have to win the field position chest match to help combat the fatigue the players are feeling. King is a valuable asset and his ability to win the field position battle for the Oakland Raiders has helped them so much in starting 3-0 on the road.