Three things the Oakland Raiders did well in Week 15 against the Dallas Cowboys, and three things they didn’t.
Even at 6-7 and with the season winding to a close, the Oakland Raiders entered Week 15 with the playoffs still a possibility. With the struggles of the AFC as a whole, even with a loss, they’d still be in the hunt — but a win would go a long way towards gaining crucial ground.
In a game that had plenty of drama, here are three things that were positive for the Raiders, and three things that weren’t.
The final season with Ken Norton Jr. as defensive coordinator had plenty of problems, but none were bigger than the lack of forced turnovers by the defense. So much so that the Raiders set an NFL record for longest ever drought without an interception.
Following his firing and the subsequent promotion of John Pagano in his place, the defense has finally added a few picks to their 2017 resume. Coming into the game against the Cowboys, the Raiders cornerbacks had combined for a whopping zero interceptions. They left Week 15 with two interceptions, both thanks to the much-maligned Sean Smith.
On the game’s opening drive, Dallas was marching downfield with relative ease, a play or two away from approaching the red zone. On 3rd & 10, an errant Dak Prescott throw combined with a lackluster effort on a route from Dez Bryant caused the pass to land right in the hands of Sean Smith. Catching the ball on Oakland’s own 22-yard line, the interception was a big moment to start the came and keep the Cowboys from striking first — well, at least for the time being.
After starting the second half with a touchdown drive to bring the deficit to 10-7, Sean Smith came up with his second interception of the day. On 3rd & 9, Bruce Irvin got around the edge and disrupted the throw, causing the ball to sail into the air. Smith made an impressive diving interception, got up, and high-stepped his way into the end zone some 20 or so yards later.
Sean Smith has quietly played much better under Pagano. pic.twitter.com/JLV3rprdJA
— Chris Reed (@LVRaidersreview) December 19, 2017
Unfortunately Sean was ruled down on contact just after the pick upon review, but the Raiders were able to get a field goal out of the ensuing drive to tie the game at 10.
The run game has been working lately, and for one reason or another, it’s been abandoned way too soon every time it’s been effective. That was the case once again on Sunday night as the Raiders only totaled 23 carries as a team for the game.
With those 23 carries Oakland picked up 122 yards, good for a 5.3 yards per carry average. Marshawn Lynch led the way with 16 carries for 76 yards, an average of 4.8 YPC. One of those carries ended up rookie Chidobe Awuzie getting truck sticked.
Lynch was making defenders miss and dragging dudes for extra yards, looking fresh even this late into this season. In a game where the deficit was never more than 10 points, it’s a shame he couldn’t get more action in the second half.
Virtually all of the remaining rushing yards came from Derek Carr, who picked up 47 yards on 4 carries, an average of 11.8 YPC. For the first time all season, Carr was a run threat. Most notably, he scrambled for a 32-yard gain, showing off that sneaky athleticism.
Carr needs to keep this up next season. His ability to run will take a lot of pressure of him and lead to big throws on roll outs. pic.twitter.com/tXVASZaxaR
— Chris Reed (@LVRaidersreview) December 19, 2017
Beyond the numbers, it was great to see D.C. be aggressive with his legs. As a player who has looked rattled receiving contact, a few scrambles like he had on Sunday night could be a sign that he is finally getting his confidence back.
The biggest improvement the Oakland defense has seen under Pagano has been putting pressure on the quarterback. Pagano has dialed up the pressure and has gotten creative how and when getting after the quarterback and it’s paid off in a big way. In four games at the helm, the Raiders now have 13 sacks over that stretch — only one less than they had in the 10 games Norton was in charge to start the season.
Against the Cowboys, two more sacks were added to the season total — both of which were courtesy of Khalil Mack. No. 52 now has a sack in every game with Pagano as defensive coordinator and his streak is up to five straight altogether. He also has moved into fifth on the franchise’s all-time sack list.
— DLineVids (@DLineVids) December 18, 2017
Two sacks isn’t a flashy number but along these same lines, Oakland was constantly in the Dallas backfield. The Raiders registered 5 QB hits, with Mack getting credit for 3, Bruce Irvin getting 1 and and Nicholas Morrow picking up 1. They also picked up 5 tackles for loss — 2 by Mack, 1 by NaVorro Bowman, 1 by Morrow and 1 by Karl Joseph. That Irvin QB is an important one, as it’s the one that led to Sean Smith’s second interception of the day.
What makes all of these even more impressive is that the Raiders were able to generate this much pressure against one of the top two offensive lines in the NFL.
The talk by the coaching staff coming into the game was that the offense would be playing aggressive and letting it fly, with the popular exact quote floating around that they were going to “let it rip”.
When the game started, there was no sign whatsoever of the talk coming into the game. Oakland faltered early on both sides of the ball, quickly falling into a 10-0 deficit. At this point in the game, the Cowboys had outgained the Raiders 153-7.
Not a typo. Dallas had 153 yards and the Raiders mustered just 7.
The defense had no answer for Alfred Morris, who picked up 51 yards on his first 7 carries. Meanwhile, the Raiders started the game with two three-and-outs. Despite getting an early interception, they completely failed to capitalize on that momentum.
Oakland’s third drive finally moved the chains but ultimately resulted in the punt. And then their fourth drive of the game also generated some decent yardage but ended in a missed field goal. The Raiders went into halftime trailing 10-0, and although they eventually tied the game up, getting off to a better start could have been the difference between a win and a loss.
One of the NFL’s cardinal rules — hang onto the football. The Raiders were serious violators of this offense on Sunday night, coughing up four fumbles altogether. Luckily, only one of the four fumbles was lost — but unfortunately, that was the one that ended the game.
Before going there, though, Cordarrelle Patterson fumbled twice. The first was on a kick return that he returned 28 yards before fumbling the ball, which fortunately rolled out of bounds. The second came on a kick return that was returned for 44 yards before coughing up the ball that also went out of bounds.
In between the Patterson fumbles, Michael Crabtree hauled in a 10-yard reception and was stripped by Awuzie. The ball rolled a few yards forward and multiple Cowboys had a chance at recovering the ball but somehow blew it. Crab somehow was able to get back to it and recover.
So even though Oakland lucked out on all three, these types of mistakes cannot happen — especially to a team that is struggling and needs every possession they can get.
And then there was Carr’s fumble to end the game. It’s hard to fault the guy for reaching out for the pylon to try to win the game, but it’s a tough pill to swallow knowing that if he just stepped out of bounds, Oakland would have had a fresh set of downs, they still had one timeout, and they would have had about 30 seconds to try to go 2 or 3 yards to score.
Lastly, dropped passes also fall under this umbrella. Crabtree and Seth Roberts were the biggest offenders in this one, with both either dropping a potential 3rd down conversion or a potential touchdown.
Discipline is not a strong suit of this team, and it hasn’t been for this team in quite some time, even before the Jack Del Rio era. But there has been little, if any, sign of improvement as the Raiders are once again trending to finish as one of the most ten penalized teams in the league.
Against the Cowboys, Oakland finished the game with a whopping 14 penalties for 105 yards. In a game that was decided by 3 points, those are critical penalties to commit. That’s not a sign of a well-coached football team.
In chronological order, here is how the penalties occurred:
Illegal block, defensive pass interference, offensive holding, offensive holding, false start, defensive holding, offensive pass interference, offensive holding, false start, defensive pass interference, false start, offensive holding, offensive holding, unsportsmanlike conduct.
An offensive pass interference by Jared Cook called back his touchdown and a holding on Xavier Woodson-Luster on a kick return touchdown by Cordarrelle Patterson nullified that one. That’s two touchdowns taken off the board.