Three things the Oakland Raiders did well in Week 12 against the Denver Broncos, and three things they didn’t.
Thanks to the struggles of the AFC West and the conference as a whole, the Oakland Raiders went into their Week 12 matchup with the divisional rival Denver Broncos still in position to get back into the playoff race.
Oakland was a mess coming into the game, having just fired defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. after a 33-8 thumping at the hands of the New England Patriots. Prior to that, they had rotated wins and losses in the previous four weeks.
Fortunately for the Raiders, the Broncos were also a mess coming into the game. Denver had lost six straight games and fired offensive coordinator Mike McCoy during the week. Now in his place was former Raiders OC Bill Musgrave, adding another wrinkle to what was already an interesting matchup.
In a game that had plenty of drama, here are three things that were positive for the Raiders, and three things that weren’t.
Pressure on the QB
When John Pagano was hired as an assistant head coach/defense in the offseason, the seat under Ken Norton Jr. became even hotter than it already was. Pagano was viewed as a potential defensive coordinator in waiting, and that came to fruition in Week 12.
However, seeing as the defense had struggled mightily, there wasn’t much hope that having Pagano at the helm would make much of a difference. After all, the group he primarily had worked with was the secondary, and they set a record for longest interception drought in NFL history.
But to his credit, Pagano did a bang-up job in his Raiders debut as defensive coordinator. Most notably, Oakland’s pass rush was aggressive and creative, and it paid dividends. As a whole, the pass rush recorded five sacks on the day — Denico Autry had two, Bruce Irvin had two and Khalil Mack picked up one.
Irvin almost doubled his sack total for the entire season in just one game (he has 4.5 now), Autry tripled his season total in just one game (he had one, now he has three) and Mack only had 1.5 sacks total in the last six games. So their performance was already impressive just at face value, but in the context of the struggles this group has had, it’s even more impressive.
The success for any defense starts in the trenches. If you can pressure the quarterback, more often than not, your defense as a whole is going to have a much better game. Paxton Lynch was never able to get into any kind of rhythm with these three in his face on a consistent basis, and the pass rush was a big reason why the Raiders had shut Denver out for much of the game.
What else is there to say about Marquette King? He’s phenomenal, and he’s absolutely a weapon for this team. King went off on Sunday, downing four of his six punts inside the Denver 8-yard line.
Here is a rundown of his body of work on the day:
- 56-yard punt downed at the Denver 13-yard line.
- 33-yard punt downed at the Denver 24-yard line.
- 38-yard punt downed at the Denver 8-yard line.
- 40-yard punt downed at the Denver 2-yard line.
- 41-yard punt downed at the Denver 6-yard line.
- 43-yard punt downed at the Denver 7-yard line.
Those are in chronological order, so the four punts downed inside the 8-yard line were four straight attempts. On five of the six punts, the ensuing drive for the Broncos ended in a punt. Having that type of impact from a punter is an incredible luxury that the Raiders have, and King was definitely a reason why the defense had as strong of a day as they did.
The Interception Drought Is Over
The streak is over. After setting an NFL record for longest-ever duration without an interception in NFL history, the Raiders finally got on the board with their first pick of the season.
And it couldn’t have come at a better time.
A strip-sack of Derek Carr was recovered by Shaquil Barrett at the Oakland 24-yard line had the Broncos in business. It was at the end of the first quarter with the scored tied at zero, so points for Denver would have put them in the driver’s seat.
Paxton Lynch found Devontae Booker in the end zone for what appeared to be a 20-yard touchdown completion initially, but the spot was overturned upon review and Booker was ruled down at the Oakland 1-yard line. After a big stop by the defense on a draw play, the Broncos decided to throw a pass on 2nd & Goal.
Paxton rolled to his left and threw a pass that was first deflected by NaVorro Bowman. Then the ball bounced off of the hands of Reggie Nelson, and it somehow landed in the lap of Bowman, who ended up on the ground before this was all over. He snagged the ball and was downed for a touchback, officially ending the drought.
The Raiders then marched 80 yards on 8 plays to score the game’s first points, taking a 7-0 lead. So thanks to the interception, there was a 14-point swing in favor of Oakland. Instead of trailing 7-0, they were now leading by that score instead.
So whoever had a bet in the beginning of the year that the first Raiders interception of the season would come in Week 12 and it would be by NaVorro Bowman, congrats, you now have all of the money.
Lack of Discipline
The brawl that took place in the first quarter will be viewed in one of two ways, depending on which narrative you buy into. Either Jack Del Rio has completely lost control of the locker room, and the fight was evidence of that. Or at least the Raiders showed that they care, and that they actually showed some fight for really the first time all season.
Fights like the one that broke out on Sunday can get spun any number of directions. But regardless of whatever spin gets thrown on this one, one thing is true — it was a lack of discipline at the very least, and against a better opponent, it would have cost the Raiders the game.
The scuffle caused Michael Crabtree and Gabe Jackson to be ejected, who are both damn good players. There was still 12 minutes to go in the first quarter, and the score was 0-0. That’s a long time to play without some of the top players on your offense. And the team got lucky that the officials didn’t see Donald Penn throw a couple of punches, because he probably would have been sent to the locker room alongside his teammates.
Yes, I’m all for the team showing some fight, and showing that they still care enough about winning to get chippy. But going to this extent can be more costly than anything else, and even one more loss might have this team on the outside looking in come playoff time. Not to mention that suspensions could take place for the three aforementioned players, which obviously would hurt the team in the upcoming game. So the Raiders got quite lucky that this happened against the Broncos, and if there is a one-game suspension for any of the three players, they are lucky that the Giants are the next team on the schedule.
Run Game Struggles
There was a clear emphasis on establishing the run in this game, and with the strength of Denver’s defense being in the secondary, it was a wise move on Todd Downing’s part to approach the game plan this way. The problem is that the run game largely struggled.
Marshawn Lynch set a season-high in carries with 26, but he was only able to muster 67 yards with that work — a 2.6 yards per carry average. That’s his second lowest YPC average of the season, with the first game against the Broncos being the other.
DeAndre Washington added 23 yards on 6 carries, while Jalen Richard had 17 yards on 2 carries. As a whole, Oakland ran the ball 37 times for only 104 yards, which is just 2.8 yards per carry.
With the Raiders having leads of 7-0, 14-0 and then 21-0 at various parts of the game, it’s unfortunate that they were not able to wear down the Denver defense as the game went on. With a lead as big as the Raiders had, they had every opportunity to dominate this game on the ground, and they failed to do that. The Broncos eventually would cut the deficit down to 21-14, and if Oakland’s ground game was more effective, they never would have had the opportunity to do that.
Defense Goes Conservative Late
John Pagano was much more aggressive then Ken Norton Jr./Jack Del Rio had been to this point, and he was also much more creative. The changes he made to the defense paid off in a big way, as the Raiders had their best defensive performance of the season on Sunday.
But as Oakland has become notorious for doing, the defense got conservative with the lead. They began playing too far off in coverage, the zones were soft, and the defense was gashed late in the game. Trevor Siemian led back to back scoring drives to start the fourth quarter, cutting Oakland’s lead from 21-0 to 21-14 in a matter of minutes.
It’s a good thing Paxton was the starter and stayed in the game for as long as he did, because this one could have been a different story with Siemian based on how he played when he took over.
The big question is why is this such a common theme? What Pagano was doing earlier in the game worked to tremendous success. Why get away from that? Until the offense proves they can adjust and overcome their struggles, why switch it up?
The New York Giants are up next, so if the Raiders can again jump out to an early lead, it will be interesting to monitor how Pagano handles things next time around.