After winning three straight games at the Coliseum, the Oakland Raiders find themselves in position to make a real statement in the AFC West.
The familiar sentiment from Fleet Admiral Gial Ackbar from Star Wars circled through my head in the week leading up to the Oakland Raiders game against the Cincinnati Bengals. "It's a trap" was all I could think, no matter how hard I tried to shake those thoughts from my mind.
The 5-4 Raiders were hosting the 0-9 Bengals, a team that despite their record, hasn't played terrible football, they just haven't played good football, and the Raiders historically have played down, or up to the level of talent of their opponents.
This game wasn't a trap. Defensive Coordinator Paul Guenther did a great job preparing his team to face a hungry, winless team that was looking for a sense of identity, a taste a victory and a chance to drive the Raiders down in the playoff seeding. The Raiders were ready, most importantly the defense was ready.
What was once the Achilles Heel of the Oakland Raiders as recent as three weeks ago has now become a more dominant force of the team. The Raiders pass rush was led by rookie fourth round selection, "Madd" Maxx Crosby who finished the day with four sacks, and second-year man Maurice Hurst, who had a key fumble recovery from a Madd Maxx strip sack.
The offense was efficient, and at times explosive, but was plagued by costly penalties on several key plays and two untimely turnovers during scoring drives. Where Derek Carr and company would drive ten steps forward, the zebras would drive the offense fifteen steps back.
The Bengals offense struck first with Oakley Native Joe Mixon scoring a 30yard touchdown in the north end zone, where he had about 100 fans waiting for him while he scored his first touchdown on the season. The Raiders quickly responded with a wide open catch by Foster Moreau, and a 3-yard run by Carr to put the Raiders up by a touchdown.
As the third quarter began to wind down, the Bengals slowly inched their way back into the game, and after a 40 yard field goal, the Raiders were able to respond with three points of their own. As the Bengals received the ball back after the score, the defense dug in, holding tight on fourth down, forcing a turnover on downs.
That led to another Raiders punt, allowing the Raiders defense to go out and close out the game for the third time in the three-week home stand. In back to back plays, the Raiders defense shined.
Maxx Crosby recorded his fourth sack of the game and Rookie corner Trayvon Mullen intercepted Ryan Finley's pass, allowing Derek Carr and the offense to take the field and take a knee to seal the victory with no timeouts left.
Once victory was secured, Jon Gruden raced straight to the black hole for the third time in three weeks for a victory lap.
The Raiders are flying into New York this week to face the ill-fated New York Jets, and once again they must silence Admiral Ackbar, and play fundamentally sound as this team is one that if allowed, can make some serious noise. Defensively the pass rush needs to continue to be disruptive, the run defense need to improve and Carr Insurance must protect the Carr.