Oakland Raiders: What Was Learned from Last Night’s Win

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November 20, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders outside linebacker Sio Moore (55) sacks Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (11) during the fourth quarter at O.co Coliseum. The Raiders defeated the Chiefs 24-20. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

4. The Raider Defense Doesn’t Suck

For much of this year, the Raider defense has been deplorable. The unit has been beset with injuries to key players, like middle linebacker Nick Roach and safeties Tyvon Branch and Usama Young, and got some pretty lousy production out of key acquisitions like LaMarr Woodley, Tarell Brown and Justin Tuck. Oakland’s defense is ranked 17th overall but 26th in scoring, a disparity due in large part to the poor offensive production that has given opponents a lot of short fields to work with all year. The unit had managed ten sacks all year (one per game) and a mere seven takeaways coming into the game.

But for the second straight week, the Raider defense managed to cobble together a very good effort against a very good if somewhat one-dimensional offense. Coming into the game, the Chiefs offense ranked only 24th overall but ranked fifth in rushing and 13th in scoring. Jamaal Charles came into the game averaging 5.2 yards per carry and was just a few days removed from a 20 carry, 159 yard performance against the vaunted Seahawks defense.  =The Raiders, meanwhile, had allowed eight of ten previous opponents to rush for 100 or more yards and were one of the worst defenses in the league. It seemed like a matchup made in hell.

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  • But the Raider defense stepped up bigtime last night. Jamaal Charles was held to his second-lowest rushing average in the last eight games, carrying the ball 19 times for 80 yards.  The Chiefs ran the ball 24 times total, for 96 yards, only the second time all season the team had been held to less than 100 yards running the football. Charles couldn’t get around the edge against Khalil Mack and Benson Mayowa, and he couldn’t get much going inside against the interior of the Raider defense for most of the night. Safety Larry Asante – who was cut after training camp only to rejoin the team a few weeks ago – played lights out in run defense, as did the venerable Charles Woodson, and the two combined for 15 solo tackles. Woodson had three tackles for loss, including a sack of Alex Smith that made him the first player ever with 50 career INT’s and 20 career sacks.

    Even the much maligned Brandian Ross – who also rejoined the team a few weeks ago after starting the season with the Dolphins – contributed. Sio Moore logged seven solo tackles including two tackles for loss. Miles Burris, who had struggled all year at middle linebacker, contributed eight solo tackles including one for a loss. The Raider defense got the Chiefs off the field, allowing only 16 first downs, and holding the Chiefs to 2-15 in converting 3rd and 4th down plays.

    Of course, the defense did break a few times. Trailing 17-3 after being forced to punt on seven of eight drives, Alex Smith – who had completed less than half his passes for only a few dozen yards up to that point – went on a tear beginning late in the 3rd quarter while the Raider offense sputtered. He orchestrated two consecutive scoring drives of 60+ yards, completing nine straight passes for two TD’s, including a fantastic catch and run by Jamaal Charles who had otherwise been quiet all night. After a long punt return put the Chiefs in position for another quick score with the game tied at 17, it looked like the Raiders might be about to blow another one. Smith hit a 23 yard pass to wideout Albert Wilson, giving the Chiefs a first down at the Raider 14, and it seemed like it was only a matter of time until the Raiders would give up another touchdown and the game would slip away.

    Except it didn’t: two plays later, on 3rd and 3, Alex Smith was forced to move out of the pocket while being chased by Benson Mayowa and threw the ball away in true Alex Smith fashion, so the Chiefs kicked a field goal to go ahead 20-17. The defensive stop put some wind back into the team’s sails, and of course Derek Carr and Marcel Reece came on the field next for the clock-killing, game-winning touchdown drive.

    The Chiefs had a chance to score late, as the offense got the ball at the 31 yard line with 1:35 on the clock and quickly moved the ball into Raider territory after a zany play in which three different Raider defenders were flagged for a penalty. On 3rd and 6th from the Raider 45 yard line, Sio Moore shot through the gap and pulled down Alex Smith, bringing up 4th and 13. As the Chiefs offense raced to the line to get set to run a 4th down play, the young Moore and the younger Khalil Mack celebrated 20 yards deep in their backfield, thinking the game was over. Knowing his team was about to be penalized, the wily veteran Justin Tuck – who had been smacking Alex Smith in the face all night – quickly called a timeout. The Chiefs failed to convert the 4th down, game over.

    The Raider defense has dramatically improved in the last few weeks, putting together some solid performances before simply becoming gassed due to their lack of depth and the lack of ability for the offense to keep them off the field. Last night, the offense gave them a huge vacation for most of the 4th quarter, and allowed them to rest up before the final Chiefs drive. If the Raider offense can manage to put together more long, clock-killing drives, this patchwork defense has a combination of veteran wisdom and youthful energy to get key stops, and that could lead to more than just one win this season.