The Oakland Raiders needed a win on Sunday to stay relevant in a very close AFC, and they got a strong effort on both sides of the ball in a 31-24 victory.
Coming off of a disappointing loss to the Minnesota Vikings and their sixth-ranked defense, the Oakland Raiders faced an early season 'must-win' game against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 4. Going into the game, the Raiders had an obvious advantage on defense, with the Colts missing speedy playmaker TY Hilton and on offense, as defensive standouts Darius Leonard and Malik Hooker allowed the Raiders offense to maximize ball control.
The Raiders struck first on a 75-yard drive that resulted in a Foster Moreau 18-yard touchdown catch. On the next drive when the Raiders defense took the field, they held the Colts to a three-and-out for a total of -2 yards, which resulted in a punt to the 40. The Raiders took the field again and newly acquired Raider, Trevor Davis, scored on a 60-yard end around.
The defense then held the Colts to another three-and-out, which accumulated -10 yards on the drive. Unfortunately, when the Raiders took over after the punt, Derek Carr and Josh Jacobs failed to connect with the handoff and lost a fumble that led to a Colts touchdown three plays later.
The first half of the game was a very well rounded game, in which the offense was able to move the ball effectively, and the defense was able to put themselves in position to make plays to give the Raiders offense an opportunity to get back on the field. Minus the fumble, the Raiders offense was playing mistake-free football and Jacobs was running hard, but was still under utilized.
Defensively, the Raiders were playing a strong, sound game until late in the second quarter when defensive captain Vontaze Burfict was flagged for targeting, and hitting a defenseless player helmet to helmet. Burfict, who is no stranger to league discipline, was later ejected after the NFL officiating office reviewed the hit and disqualified him, later leading to a 12-game suspension.
The second half continued where the previous second halves for the Raiders have this season, as the Raiders haven't been able to score an offensive touchdown, and this may be one of my biggest gripes about this team. At this point in the game, the Raiders were leading 24-10 until the Raiders conservative play in the second half led to the Colts obtaining more opportunities to get back in the game.
While I understand playing smart and not turning the ball over, what I'd like to see more of is taking advantage of more opportunities and playing more aggressively to give the team more of a cushion to play with. In the second half, the team got sloppy and began committing costly pre-snap penalties with Kolton Miller, Richie Incognito and Trent Brown committing three separate false starts in a single drive making, the 26 yards on three carries that Jacobs churned out all for naught.
When the defense hit the field, they made sure they were able to ice the game, which was sealed with a 30-yard Erik Harris pick-six.
Collectively, we saw some great things from the team, and the defensive adjustments made by Defensive Coordinator Paul Guenther certainly showed to be beneficial. Maxx Crosby, Erik Harris and LaMarcus Joyner all saw significantly increased snaps, which resulted in a faster, more efficient defense.
Cornerbacks Daryl Worley and Gareon Conley played with more intensity and were more physical at the point of attack that helped lead to a number of drops, especially from Eric Ebron. Offensively we saw much better ball control, and a balanced attack with the Raiders rushing for 188 yards for a team average of 5.9 yards per carry.
We saw Derek Carr climbing the pocket and reading through his progressions and was able to distribute the ball to eight separate players on 21-of-31 passes for 189 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Even in wins we have to look at opportunities so that we can focus on what to fix each week, and this week is no different. As the Raiders fly to London this week to face the Chicago Bears, the Raiders must play smart football offensively as they will be facing the NFL's fifth-ranked defense led by former Raider and defensive juggernaut Khalil Mack.
This will be the first time that Mack faces the team that traded him away a season ago in what he hopes to be a revenge game. Jon Gruden must game plan to get Jacobs more touches to help control the line of scrimmage, and Tyrell Williams, Hunter Renfrow, Darren Waller and either JJ Nelson or Trevor Davis, whoever gets the nod this week, must ensure they hold on to the ball.
The Raiders have historically played fairly poor in London and the team hopes to turn that around this year. Carr needs to come out for this game on fire, as this is a huge game not only for the Raiders, but for Carr as well. This is a prime opportunity for Carr and the Raiders to go out this Sunday across the pond facing his brother and former teammate and bringing a win back to the Raider Nation.
This game will be a true test and gauge of where the team is, as Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky will be out nursing a dislocated shoulder, and backup Chase Daniel will start in his place. If the defense plays with the same physicality they played on Sunday vs. the Colts, they can win that battle.
Offensively the team needs to be crisp, sharp and precise, and if Gruden finds the team in a position with a lead, don't stop until the end of the fourth quarter.
Just Win Baby.