Week 1 Notes and Observations: Oakland Raiders @ New Orleans Saints

Aug 27, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders wide receiver Amari Cooper (89) rushes against the Tennessee Titans during the first half at Oakland-Alameda Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 27, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders wide receiver Amari Cooper (89) rushes against the Tennessee Titans during the first half at Oakland-Alameda Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

Miscellaneous notes and observations following the Oakland Raiders Week 1 victory over the New Orleans Saints.

The Oakland Raiders opened the season in dramatic fashion with a come-from-behind 35-34 victory over Sean Payton, Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints down in the Big Easy this past Sunday.

While the storylines have been written and and the PFF analysis has started to come in, there are some additional nuts and bolts from the game that could portend for further stories to watch in the home opener this Sunday vs. the Atlanta Falcons, and possibly beyond.

Here are various notes and observations from the season opener, including all areas of the game — offense, defense, and special teams.


1. The Offensive Line

The Raiders’ highly-touted offensive Line faced a serious challenge this week. The team was already missing OT Austin Howard due to injury and saw two OT’s go out with injury during the game — Menelik Watson and Matt McCants.

Donald Penn, Gabe Jackson, Rodney Hudson and Kelechi Osemele all logged the total 73 snaps the Raiders’ offense was on the field.  However, the fifth spot featured an injury-forced split of 24 snaps for Watson, 25 snaps for McCants, and 24 snaps for Jon Feliciano.

The big fellas answered the bell, as the comeback surge on offense was led by a line from left to right of Osemele, Feliciano, Hudson, Jackson and Penn. These big fellas got after it, goosed the run game, and gave Derek Carr plenty of time to pick apart Dennis Allen’s defense.

The big offseason acquisition of K.O. paid instant dividends. His versatility to move to LT helped the team overcome a pair of in-game losses without a hiccup. The Raiders were literally down to their last 5 active OL in the final drives, and nasty TE Lee Smith was the next option to slide over to an ineligible spot. Smith did not end up needing to bump over.

Overall, it was a huge effort by the big uglies. The biggest question for Week 2 is which, if any, of Howard, Watson and McCants will be available for the game?

2. Running Backs by Committee

Behind the stout OL, the Raiders featured a new committee approach at RB. Three backs scored TD’s — with starter Latavius Murray and bruiser FB/HB hybrid Jamize Olawale both bulldozing their way in from inside the 10-yard line.

UDFA rookie Jalen Richard burst onto the scene in his home state of Louisiana with an electrifying 75-yard touchdown run that played a big part in the team’s comeback.

Along with the three rushing TD’s, the Raiders put up a strong 167 yards on the ground. Murray logged 45 snaps, while Olawale logged 12, Richard played 10, DeAndre Washington took 8 and veteran Taiwan Jones took 6.

It looks as if the Raiders won’t be so singularly reliant on Murray as they were in 2015. That is a good thing, especially over a long season.

3. The Wideouts

The WR group went according to plan. Amari Cooper weaved his way to an explosive 137 yards on 6 catches, while playing 72 of the 73 offensive snaps.

Michael Crabtree snagged the game winning two-point conversion and also added 87 yards on 7 catches in 68 snaps.

Seth Roberts took 60 snaps from the slot while Andre Holmes and Johnny Holton combined for the only other 6 snaps for Raiders WR’s.

Altogether, Derek Carr compiled an explosive 319 yards passing, with one TD to Roberts, the pivotal conversion to Crabtree, and, most importantly, zero turnovers.


1. Secondary Concern

On defense, it was not pretty. The Saints featured an explosive passing game, designed by offensive whiz Sean Payton and his long-time OC Pete Carmichael. All-Pro QB Drew Brees helmed the attack.

The grizzled veteran diced the Raiders in the air for 423 yards and 4 TD’s. Quick wideouts Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead and Michael Thomas cooked the Raiders’ coverages. This was not an easy task for the Raiders’ defensive coaching staff and personnel.

The hope is, the Raiders will be improved from the experience. It is hard to fathom a more explosive, well-designed and effectively executed passing game on the schedule.

2. Keith McGill

The surprise of the D for defensive personnel was third-year DB Keith McGill playing almost every defensive snap, with 67.

McGill moved to safety this year from his prior CB spot and appears to have locked up a surprise early starting position. Last year, McGill was a stand out special teamer, but barely played on defense. This offseason, the Raiders brought in Reggie Nelson and first-round pick Karl Joseph, along with re-signing Nate Allen. To see McGill get the most run was a surprise.

However, he played effectively compared to his peers. McGill is listed as a starter heading into the home opener vs. Atlanta. Meanwhile, team captain Nelson logged all 69 snaps at the other safety spot. Allen played just 5 snaps, while the heralded, hard-hitting rookie Joseph saw a donut of defensive snaps.

Less than a year removed from ACL surgery, the Raiders are making a sensible move taking it slow with Joseph.  We do hope to see more from the rookie as the year progresses.

3. Sean Smith

The second surprise on D was the mid-game benching of prize free agent acquisition Sean Smith.

Smith was toasted by the Saints small but quick and fast WR’s. Smith’s bad day included a near back breaker 98-yard pitch and catch from Brees to Cooks on the offensive left sideline. Much maligned former first-round pick D.J. Hayden took over for Smith, with mixed results.

Overall, Smith played 43 snaps on defense, Hayden took 50, and the other starter, David Amerson, ran 66. T.J. Carrie saw 20 snaps, primarily in the slot.

It was not the best day for any of these CB’s. They face an additional test Sunday vs. one of the best in the game in Julio Jones.  This could be a better matchup for a large CB such as Smith.

Jack Del Rio has already announced that Smith will return to his starting role. Smith’s play is certainly a storyline to watch after a rather poor start to his Raiders’ career. I, for one, believe Smith will respond.

4. Front Seven

The front was paced by ILB’s Malcolm Smith and Ben Heeney logging all 69 snaps in the game. They played to mixed results and will be tasked with shutting down Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman on Sunday.

Captain Khalil Mack took 66 snaps and was rather quiet, as the Saints clearly focused on neutralizing this weapon. The Raiders’ scheme also seemed oddly content with Mack rushing the B-gap much more often than one would expect for one of the most feared edge rushers in the game.

The pass rush must improve vs. the Falcons. The most notable pressure came from veteran FA acquisition Bruce Irvin, who forced a turnover on a strip-sack of Brees early. Bruce logged 60 snaps.

The big nasty interior guys featured a rotation — 47 snaps for rookie Jihad Ward, 46 snaps for Denico Autry, 25 snaps for UDFA rookie Darius Latham, 17 snaps for Jelly Ellis and 15 snaps for Dan Williams. The big dogs on the line played less this week as the Saints feature a spread game that forced the Raiders into more nickel and dime looks. The Raiders pass D must improve.

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Aside from return game holding penalties, special teams were a major plus on the day. Coverage units were notably effective.

Daren Bates and Nate Allen led the charge on special teams with 28 snaps apiece. Sebastian Janikowski was perfect on PAT’s and FG’s, and Marquette King was his usual bazooka-legged self.

Richard had a very nice punt return called back on a hold, but looks to be a special find in the return game.

Oakland Raiders Week 1 Conclusion

The 2016 Oakland Raiders did just enough to win game one. The team executed a gutsy call from Coach Del Rio. They snuck home from N’awlins with a W in their pocket, and is now in a three-way tie with Denver and KC atop the AFC West.

Next, they return to the Black Hole in Oakland and look to send the Falcons back down to The South with a loss.

See you here next Tuesday for notes on what is hopefully another W for our Silver & Black brethren.