Bend But Don’t Break – Defense
On defense, the Raiders again gave up consistent ball movement, but made enough plays at key times to stall the Texans and keep them at just 20 points.
While many have decried certain calls by the refs in the game, ultimately, the Raiders’ D kept the margin razor thin and the Texans left the game in the hands of the zebras. After years of not getting the edge calls (or getting outright jobbed, ahem, Tuck Rule), getting a couple felt fine as a Raiders fan.
Edge star Khalil Mack played 73 of a notable 76 defensive snaps as the Texans controlled time of possession. Mack recorded his 8th sack of the year and 7th in the last 5 games. The third-year pro is an established force.
Fellow edge Bruce Irvin actually one-upped Mack in Mexico City. Irvin played 69 snaps and recorded 10 total tackles and a sack. He consistently made KEY plays in the edge and flat areas and limited several key plays to minimal gain, including a couple of shoestring effort tackles.
The Raiders edge defenders would benefit greatly from improved interior pass rush. Texans QB Brock Osweiler was consistently able to buy time by moving up in the pocket. No interior DL has established himself as a pass rush force.
The defensive interior saw its usual rotation. Denico Autry was the most notable interior player, with 45 snaps, a couple stuffs and a key batted ball on an early goal line stand.
Jihad Ward played 44 snaps, Dan Williams 32, Jelly Ellis 29, Stacy McGee 25 and Darius Latham 20.
With the Texans controlling the ball in the high altitude, the rotation of big bodies was critical, especially once the 4th quarter hit.
The Raiders gave up 124 yards on the ground, but were able to get key stops when it mattered most.
The team and fanbase continue to await word on DT Mario Edwards Jr. (hip injury) and DE Aldon Smith (suspension).
The Raiders DB corps saw the return of starting CB Sean Smith after he missed the Broncos game with a shoulder injury. There were occasional breakdowns, mostly underneath, and the Texans compiled 243 yards through the air. Texans star WR DeAndre Hopkins was limited to just 58 yards, however.
Veteran FS Reggie Nelson led the way with 76 snaps played, rookie SS Karl Joseph played 73, and CBs David Amerson and Smith each played 72.
Joseph was the most notable presence in the defensive backfield, as he consistently came up and laid the hammer on the Texans runners, on the way to 10 combined tackles. Joseph’s missile-like hitting helped make sure Texans’ top RB Lamar Miller was too spent to run on the final two key Texans run plays before their controversial turnover on downs.
After starting outside for one game with Smith out, D.J. Hayden moved back to the slot and played 40 snaps. He was the main DB who was abused by Hopkins. Fortunately, the Texans did not hammer this match up that was in their favor.
Overall, the DBs held up and limited the damage to mostly underneath routes. It was a true “bend but don’t break” game on their part.
3. Inside Backer
Malcolm Smith led the ILB corps with 74 snaps and tied with Irvin and Joseph with 10 combined tackles. He also made a highlight reel interception on a seam pass.
The rest of Malcolm’s coverage was forgettable, as the Texans targeted the TEs on Smith consistently, with Texans TEs accounting for 9 catches for 114 yards. With All-Pro Greg Olsen coming to town, the TE issue must be addressed (sounds like a broken record).
Perry Riley Jr. played 49 snaps and appeared to suffer a hamstring injury. He did not have a major impact on the game. Rookie Cory James played 31 snaps and has not looked the same since his brief run as the Mike prior to Riley taking that role.
Overall, defensively, the team did just enough to win. The lack of interior pressure and gaping holes in underneath coverage were issues. But the Raiders limited big plays and made enough impact plays at key times to give Carr and Co. the keys on offense to win the game.