Oakland Raiders: Week 3 Grades

6 of 6

Sep 27, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Oakland Raiders running back Latavius Murray (28) runs the ball as Cleveland Browns cornerback Pierre Desir (26) defends during the second half at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Matthew Lorscheider

Quarterback: B

Carr had another solid outing, going for 300+ yards and 2 TD’s with no picks with an over 62% completion rate. Most impressive was that he averaged 9.8 yards per pass attempt, though that was more a reflection of the play calling and ability of the receivers to gain extra yardage.

He also threw a few stinkers that killed drives, including going high and a bit behind on a wide open slant route to Crabtree late in the game that would have almost certainly scored. But he looked much better throwing the ball than last week, and he looks like he is gaining comfort in Bill Musgrave’s offense with each passing week, especially when going uptempo.

Running Backs: A

This was the best rushing performance of the year so far by the Raiders, as Bill Musgrave’s promised rushing offense showed up against a legitimately solid Browns defense. After starting the game with seven carries for one yard, Latavius Murray picked up steam beginning in the second quarter and then punished the Browns in the second half. After his early struggles, his next 19 carries went for 138 yards, including a monster 54-yard romp and a 4th quarter touchdown.

On only two carries, Taiwan Jones had another 16 yards rushing and had another very good run wiped out by a holding penalty. Jones was very impressive in his ability to not only beat the defense to the edge but to also change direction and improvise with the ball in his hands. He needs to get more touches in space.

Roy Helu got involved as a pass catcher on a designed play early in the game that went for 12 yards, and Marcel Reece had a single 55-yard catch and run. Murray also contributed a single 10-yard reception. Overall it was an outstanding game for the running back unit, but especially for Latavius Murray, who looks every bit the feature back that he flashed late last year.

Wide Receivers: B+

Another great performance for Raider wideouts was marred by a few more mistakes than we saw last week, like some drops by Seth Roberts and a huge fumble by Amari Cooper late in the game. Still, the wideouts group contributed in a big way to the win, especially Cooper, who went over 100 yards receiving for the second consecutive week, racking up five catches for over 100 yards by halftime and finishing with eight for 136 yards with easily half of that coming courtesy of RAC.

Michael Crabtree was a bit quieter, contributing only four catches for 36 yards, and Seth Roberts added three receptions, including his second touchdown catch in as many weeks. Andre Holmes had only a single 3-yard reception, but for a big touchdown in traffic. Cooper’s performance, fumble and a botched punt return notwithstanding, was even more impressive than the number suggest, as he was often matched up against the Browns’ Joe Haden, one of the top corners in the league – it was Haden who he shook for much of his early first half yardage. The kid is for real.

Tight Ends: C-

Another week, and the Raiders tight ends were virtually nonexistent in the passing game. Clive Walford was a no-show, Mychal Rivera was targeted just once, and Lee Smith had a single eight-yard reception. That said, Marcel Reece’s one catch – the huge 55-yard catch and run – came when Reece was lined up as a tight end, on the line on the left side. Reece as tight end, or as a move tight end flexing out to the slot, has been something Bill Musgrave has made a point of doing frequently so far, and it seems to be catching on.

While Reece is still technically a running back, he is definitely a part of what Bill Musgrave wants to do with the tight ends group, as well. Also, Lee Smith had a very strong game as a blocking TE, which is his specialty, and was a big part of how the Raiders were able to put up the strongest team rushing performance since late last season.

Offensive Line: A-

The Raiders offensive line had a slow start to the game but finished strong, as the Raiders amassed 5.2 yards per rush and picked up six first downs and a touchdown on the ground. Against a very strong Browns front 7, the Raiders o-line was able to essentially accomplish whatever they wanted, both in the run game and in pass protection. Derek Carr had time all day, often throwing from clean pockets or just having to step up without fear. While the O-line did pick up more than their share of penalties, it was overall a very good game by Mike Tice’s unit.

Defensive Line: B+

This was far and away the best performance by this unit since the third preseason game, against an offensive line replete with talent for the Browns. Khalil Mack got his first two sacks of the season, and Justin Tuck and Aldon Smith got into Josh McCown’s face often as well. The d-line was also a force in the run game, as the Browns managed only 2.8 yards per carry on 14 carries. Despite being without Justin Ellis, the Raider interior line held up well, and an aggressive blitz scheme allowed the defensive line to exploit more single blocking matchups – Mack found himself blocked by only a running back on one play – which allowed them to make plays in both the run game and in the pass rush.

Linebackers: C+

The Raiders linebackers played an amazing game in a variety of ways. Finally allowed to blitz, the linebacking group accounted for three of the Raiders five sacks on the day, and one of Khalil Mack’s sacks came as he rushed from a linebacker alignment as well. Aldon Smith saw significant time as a stand-up linebacker as well, and swatted down two passes and made some plays in the backfield against the run.

Malcolm Smith continues to show that he was one of the Raiders’ best offseason acquisitions, flying around and making plays and finishing with a strong statline: 7 tackles, a sack, two tackles for loss, and a pass defended. Curtis Lofton added seven tackles as well. Unfortunately, the Raiders linebacking corps – notably Curtis Lofton – proved to be a bit of a liability in pass coverage yet again. Browns tight end Gary Barnidge had six catches for 105 yards and a score, a career game. That marks the third consecutive week a mediocre opposing TE has had a career game against the Raiders.

Defensive Backs: D

Again, the secondary is the Achilles’ Heel of this team, but they did jut enough to keep the team from losing. With the pass rush working and the run game not, Josh McCown – noted journeyman backup – went out and threw for 341 yards and 2 scores on 28 of 49 passing, and the Browns picked up an appalling sixteen first downs through the air.

Aside from the usual inability to cover a pretty mediocre tight end, the Raider DB’s also struggled with noted Raider Killer Brian Hartline, who put up 96 yards on five receptions. Travis Benjamin was held mostly in check but did manage to score. Strangely enough, the best corner on the team – TJ Carrie – started as a safety on Sunday, and Neiko Thorpe started at corner in his place, with mid-week waiver acquisition David Amerson taking over slot corner duties.

It was Thorpe and Amerson who found themselves matched up with Hartline when he did most of his damage. DJ Hayden mostly covered Travis Benjamin and had a decent but not great game. Charles Woodson, still struggling with his shoulder injury, again had an up and down game: he got caught out of position and got outrun on a couple of big receptions, but also managed to fly out almost to the boundary to pick off a fourth-quarter pass and seal the victory for the Raiders.

Special Teams: A-

The special teams play was huge for the Raiders this week. Aside from Sebastian Janikowski’s usual consistency (2 of 2 on field goals, 3 of 3 on extra points, five of six kickoffs were touchbacks), Marquette King had a very good game punting, including a late punt that Taiwan Jones was able to swat out of the end zone to be downed inside the 2 yard line. That play forced the Browns to start their final drive with nearly 99 yards to go for a potential game-tying score, only for it to end with the Woodson pick.

An earlier punt had also been muffed, with Neirion Ball diving on it to force a huge turnover. Taiwan Jones had a huge game on special teams, returning two kickoffs for 60 yards to go along with his huge play to down the 4th quarter punt. The team is still trying to figure out how to field punts: TJ Carrie had one return for six yards, then Amari Cooper made an ill advised attempt to field and return a punt that he should have let bounce over his head. But the team can definitely cover punts: the dangerous Travis Benjamin averaged 3 yards per punt return. The Special Teams unit was a big part of securing the win this week.

Coaching: A

This was by far the best coached game I’ve seen from the Raiders in a long time. While Ken Norton’s defense still had a few issues with substitutions, it was nowhere near as bad as last week, and the aggressive blitz scheme he ran this week made up for it. Norton abandoned his four-man pressure philosophy and did what worked, bringing Ray Ray Armstrong, Malcolm Smith, Curtis Lofton and even rookie Neirion Ball on blitz after blitz, while also using both Khalil Mack and Aldon Smith as rush linebackers at various points. It worked, and the Raiders picked up five sacks on the day after managing zero through the first two games.

Bill Musgrave again called one hell of an offensive game, and it’s clear that he has his unit all working on the same sheet of music, at least most of the time. The hurry-up mode was deadly effective, the run game dominated, and the play design on passes allowed receivers to catch the ball in space with room to run.

While Musgrave is still obviously exploring ways to get certain players involved (Taiwan Jones and Marcel Reece, for example), he’s cracked the code on his most important playmakers. The Raiders had a 300 yard passer, 100 yard rusher and 100 yard receiver for the first time since back in 2010, when Hue Jackson was calling plays.

Overall: B-

What should have been a dominating victory got tight late due to mistakes but great execution and a little bit of luck late helped the Raiders hang on and ride out the win on the road. A road win, even one against the Browns, is a big deal and something the Raiders should be very proud of as they prepare to face Chicago on the road next week.

If the Raiders can manage to put together a complete defensive effort to match the solid offensive performance they’ve seen the last two weeks, and the special teams continues to play well, this team should be able to compete and win anywhere against anybody. But there’s still a lot of work to be done