Reactions to PFF’s grades of the Oakland Raiders after their Week 1 victory over the New Orleans Saints.
A shootout was expected; a shootout occurred. Third-year quarterback Derek Carr and future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees tore apart each other’s defenses for a combined 742 yards and five touchdowns in a matchup that came down to a photo finish.
Carr ultimately came out on top, converting a two-point conversion to Michael Crabtree to give the Raiders the win, 35-34.
Here we react to ProFootballFocus.com’s grades on the Raiders’ Week 1 victory.
Carr Takes Another Small Step Towards Elite Status
With his back against the wall several times throughout Sunday’s game, Carr had multiple opportunities to let the game slip away. He didn’t let that happen, not this year.
Despite going down 24-10 with just 8:03 left in the third quarter, Carr maintained his poise through adversity, a trait a Raiders fans haven’t seen in their signal caller since the Rich Gannon era.
Carr graded out as the league’s third-best quarterback in Week 1, per PFF.com, completing 24 of 38 passes for 319 yards and one touchdown.
Though his stats aren’t necessarily record-breaking, Carr’s performance confirmed him as the Raiders’ leader in 2016. Without great quarterback play, you simply can’t make it in this league. Carr is ready to prove that the Raiders are ready to make it.
New Faces Perform Well in New Roles
Former Seattle Seahawks edge-rusher Bruce Irvin kicked off his Raiders debut stripping Brees on the Saints’ first drive of the game.
Irvin, a first-round pick with the Seattle Seahawks in 2012, had just two combined tackles against the Saints, but his QB hurries and the strip-sack led to PFF giving him a 82.2 overall grade, second amongst all of Oakland’s defensive players.
Though defensive back Keith McGill — the Raiders’ top rated defensive player per PFF — didn’t make his Raider debut on Sunday, the former Utah standout earned significant playing time for the first time in his NFL career.
On 67 defensive snaps (45 in coverage, 22 against the run), McGill earned an 83.5 overall grade, ranking sixth among all eligible NFL safeties.
Former Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele mirrored McGill’s success on the offensive side of the ball, earning Oakland’s top offensive grade (86.7).
Osemele’s elite run blocking ability was on full display, as he helped Raiders running back Latavius Murray and company combine for 167 yards on the ground, his best block coming on rookie running back Jalen Richard’s 75-yard touchdown.
New Faces Struggle in New Roles
If you haven’t heard it yet, Brees and company torched the Raiders’ secondary for 423 passing yards and four touchdowns. Though it was an underwhelming performance from Oakland’s defense as a whole, newly added defensive backs Sean Smith and Reggie Nelson were two of the worst performers.
After signing a four-year, $38,000,000 contract to be Oakland’s No. 1 corner just seven months ago, Smith was benched for D.J. Hayden against New Orleans after playing just 28 coverage snaps. Smith was already struggling against any receiver the Saints put in front of him (e.g. Willie Snead, Michael Thomas), but it was a 98-yard touchdown pass to Brandin Cooks that ultimately sealed his fate.
At 6’3”, 220 pounds, Smith is a tall, physical cornerback that prides himself in his ability to play bump-and-run coverage near the line of scrimmage. On Cooks’ long touchdown pass, he beat Smith to the outside edge without being touched, and as a result, Cooks was able to catch the ball in stride while Smith was caught in his dust roughly three yards behind.
"“[Smith] had a rough day,” Del Rio said. “He’s going to play good football for us. He’s a good player, but he had a rough day so yeah, we took him out. He’ll be back and he’s going to play well for us, but he didn’t play well today.”"
Smith is expected to play next week at home against the Atlanta Falcons despite his poor performance, as he will hope to improve upon his 37.2 overall grade (87th among the 93 eligible).
Nelson, on the other hand, wasn’t sent to the sideline for his poor play, but he could of benefited from seeing the bench. Despite earning an average grade against the run (74.0), Nelson’s inability to hold his own against the pass pushed his overall grade (48.0) down, significantly.
Sophomore Slump in Week 1
Entering the 2016 season, Oakland has three second-year players in starting roles; all three of them put together underwhelming performances in Week 1.
Former University of Kansas linebacker Ben Heeney started at inside linebacker for Oakland, totaled just five combined tackles, earning the 46th overall grade (48.7) among NFL linebackers.
Heeney dropped to the fifth round in the 2015 NFL draft because of his lack of size and inability to shed blocks and remain consistent as a tackler, but that wasn’t his problem Sunday. Playing 22 snaps against the run, he earned a grade of 71.3.
Admired for his elite athleticism and speed, Heeney has previously been highlighted as strong coverage linebacker. Against New Orleans, he earned a 44.5 grade in coverage.
In addition to Heeney, sophomores Amari Cooper and Clive Walford failed to live up to high expectations.
Walford, former third-round pick out of Miami (FL), earned below average grades across the board (receiving, run blocking, pass blocking). He caught three of his five targets for just 25 yards on 25 passing snaps.
Cooper earned a below average grade overall (68.0) despite his six receptions for 137 yards. Though he was able to make several big plays throughout the game, brining in just 6 of 11 targets will never bode well for PFF’s grading scale.
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Seth Roberts Aids Rushing Attack, Again
In 2015, Raiders slot receiver Seth Roberts earned one of the top run blocking grades among all NFL receivers. He reclaimed his thrown in his Week 1 matchup against New Orleans.
Roberts, a former undrafted free agent out of West Alabama, earned an 85.7 run blocking grade on 19 run blocking snaps, 5.7 grade points higher than any other receiver in the league.
Unfortunately for Roberts, his success as a blocker didn’t transfer over to his receiving game. Despite him bringing in the 10-yard touchdown that led to Crabtree’s game-winning two-point conversion, Roberts earned a 48.8 overall grade due in large part to his poor receiving grade (44.4).
No Reece, No Problem
Raiders Pro Bowl fullback Marcel Reece, a former undrafted free agent in 2008, has now served two games into his four-game suspension for violating the league’s policy on Performance Enhancing Drugs, sitting out last year’s final regular season game, and — of course — Sunday’s matchup against New Orleans.
In his absence, Jamize Olawale thrived in the limelight. Olawale, a former undrafted free agent in 2012, earned an 80.5 overall grade for against the Saints despite picking up below average grades as a pass blocker, receiver, and runner. He finished third among all fullbacks in run blocking (80.0), as his road grader-mentality was the obvious driving force in his elite overall grade.
Statistically, Olawale took his only carry of the game two yards for a touchdown.