By Merlin Edwards III
A lot of NFL teams are subject to having a good week and getting their hopes up, just to be brought back down to bad football earth. Others go down in the dumps just to be brought back up. Just look at the San Francisco 49ers, they started out on a major high, winning in week 1 against the odds, but haven't won since. The Oakland Raiders, luckily, have the opposite of that problem after week 7. What a difference a week makes. After getting beat down at home by the Kansas City Chiefs, the Raiders bounced back and played arguably the best game they've played all season against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Jaguars aren't world beaters, or even a great team for that matter, but they do have talented players and were projected to be able to compete for a division title this year. Those hopes, however, seem to be a bit of a pipe dream at this point. After losing their first 3 and winning the next 2 before losing to the Raiders, they have yet to show any type of positive consistency. Their defense had played relatively well and it took a good game from Oakland's defense in order to slow down a previously serviceable offense. Jacksonville's receivers are very fast, but also big, and it played well into the Raiders game plan in the secondary. They were able to limit the big plays from receivers Robinson and Hurns and kept them in front for short gains. This was huge in slowing the Jags down because they live off of the big play and chunk yardage.
They don't have the best running game, but the Raiders were able to slow that part of their game down as well. Finally, the Oakland Raiders defense came to play and were able to hold another team under 20 points. Even though that is not how to describe a great defense, it is a start to describing a decent one that looks to be getting better for the future. It may have been underestimated how long it would take for all of the new faces to gel together and maybe this long trip in the sunshine state will bode well for this defense going forward.
Seeing the defense play so well seemed to boost the offense as well. They flashed again and Crabtree showed up for yet another huge game. He leads the league in catches for first downs and for good reason. Carr always seems to look his way, and despite the consistency of that 3rd down connection, Crabtree always finds a way to get open. Cooper played well too but the story of the day was once again Michael Crabtree. It looks like Raiders fans get to see the type of plays where Carr is flushed out of the pocket, only to throw on the run (off of one foot) 35 yards and find Crabtree to convert a 3rd and long on a consistent basis. Wow. While big plays like that are important, the running game is what helped set that up last week and the Silver and Black will look to depend on their running game again in Tampa Bay.
After getting Latavious Murray back, the running game for the Raiders looked much better. The Jags have a good defense and even though nobody went crazy for a 100 yard game, they used the run to set up the pass. In this next game against the Buccaneers, look for the Raiders to have a very similar game plan. Murray and the other backs need to get short yardage on early downs to set the team up for short 3rd downs. Giving Carr short 3rd downs will be beneficial for both running the clock and keeping the Bucs offense off of the field, but it will also keep the game from being a shootout with really high scores. If there is anything we have learned from the season so far, it's that the Raiders win when then score 33 or more points. That should be a given for an NFL team, but when the defense has been so bad, there's not much a team can do but to keep trying to flat out outscore other offenses. In order for the Raiders to win this game soundly, they must score early and often and not have to rely on the defense to make plays or create turnovers at the end of the contest.
The defense did play much better last week, but they are now playing a better offense and a better quarterback. Jameis Winston is not in the elite group of quarterbacks in the NFL, but he can make plays, and when given the opportunity, he can, and will, beat you. The Raiders match up well with their receiver corps since they are another team with big guys. That is why the Raiders signed big corners though, to try and combat the trend of bigg-ER receivers. Sean Smith and David Amerson need to keep getting better and play like they did last week in order to slow down a red hot Mike Evans. Jaquizz Rodgers had a great game against the 49ers last week but he can be stopped and the Raiders should be able to do that this week. If they play another sound game on defense, Oakland will win this handily. If the defense is leaky and gives up big plays and 25+ points, then the Raiders are in trouble. Look for Kahlil Mack to continue his upward trend and get another sack while leading the defense to a good day. Crab and Coop will come to play again and the Raiders win in a close one.
My Prediction: Raiders 28, Buccaneers 24