By Merlin Edwards III
If someone were to tell you last year that the Raiders played the Saints in a shootout with over 60 combined points, on the road, would you dare say they came away with the win? How about if you saw the stat line that Drew Brees was over 60% passing with 400 yards, 4 touchdowns and 0 interceptions? Or even that the Raiders would attempt to go for a 2-point conversion to win the game rather than try to tie and go into OT. None of those scenarios have worked out well for the Raiders in a very long time. The last time they were able to overcome those types of tight situations and come out with a win was the 2002-03 season when they made it to the Super Bowl. The fact is, we haven't seen this level of play in ages here in Oakland. So buckle up, Raiders fans. You have a fun, exciting, and contending team to watch and their coming home on Sunday.
There was concern about the defense going into Week 1, mainly for the linebackers and the secondary, and the Saints were able to exploit some of those weaknesses immensely. Ben Heeney proved that he cannot handle the play calling and leadership role needed at the middle linebacker position. Thus leading the Raiders coaching staff to revoke that right and give it to Malcolm Smith. Sean Smith, one of the top pickups on the free agent market, got benched for DJ Hayden after getting gashed for multiple big gains.
Drew Brees did his Breesy thing and spread the Raiders out with 5 wide receiver sets and empty backfields. The secondary got torched and the linebackers didn't help in coverage whatsoever. Teams obviously can't run the ball without anyone in the backfield, and the fact that the linebackers still didn't go out and help in the flats or the middle of the field in zone coverage is beyond me. They won't be able to get bailed out by the offense against every team, especially ones with elite defenses (like the teams in the AFC West) so that should not be counted on.
Sean Smith is not a bad player and he will be better, so there is not much to panic on with him, in my opinion. He is a 6'2" defensive back that loves to play up on the line and bump guys. When he is matched up with receivers like the Saints have, who are all smaller, speedy guys, it does not bode well for him. The vast majority of teams have big, strong receivers who are their number one options on offense. With a team like Atlanta, who the Raiders play on Sunday, look for Sean Smith to have a much better game.
It was also very encouraging to see DJ Hayden be able to step up and not get beat up and down the field like Smith did in the first half. The front seven looked good without Kahlil Mack having an impact at all and that, I believe, was the most promising part of the defense. The Raiders got after Drew Brees and hit him a ton, leading to a bad throws throughout the game that turned out to be all too important. Mack got double teamed all day and that most definitely limited him, but he has always shown the ability to adapt and figure out how teams are game planning against him. Also, with Bruce Irvin looking so good, those double teams will eventually be forced to slow down and Mack will breakout once again. Even though the front seven got a lot of pressure, the secondary looked bad and the reason why they won the game was because the offense looked so good.
After getting a strip sack on the first series of the game, the Raiders stalled within the 40 yard line and had to settle for a field goal. They did not look good in that first series, but after that, they started to get rolling and eventually did enough to win the game. Derek Carr looks like he is budding into a superstar. From some of the perfect throws he made, to the heart he showed by diving over a defender for a first down, the Raiders officially have their QB of the future. It sure doesn't hurt to have a plethora of weapons around you.
Crabtree showed his true potential as a possession receiver by making crucial catches on 3rd downs to move the chains. Amari Cooper looked like he will be a true superstar, top threat receiver in the league, and his rapport with Derek Carr has clearly gotten better. Latavious Murray looked pretty good at times but with the other young backs they have in Jalen Richard and Deandre Washington, it doesn't seem like the Raiders will need to rely on Murray as much. Murray lead the league in workload, charting over 70% of the teams rushing yards in 2015. Even though he was a 1000 yard rusher, that is far too much to ask from him. With the change up in size and power, Richard and Washington are perfect additions to keep defenses guessing. The Running backs did look good, but the Raiders offensive line was a big reason why everyone shined in the second half.
With the new addition of Osemele and the talent they already had, the Silver and Black were able to overcome 2 injuries and STILL look like the best offensive line in the league. There were holes open left and right for the backs and Carr seemingly had hours to throw the ball. Pancake blocks were a plenty and this group looked like they were all ready for the pro bowl. The Saints don't have a terrible front 7 and the Raiders made them look like they were back in high school. It is always said that all success in the NFL is initiated by good results in the trenches and the Raiders showed that to be true. They will look to continue that dominance in the upcoming home opener against the Falcons, and wow...the Oakland coliseum will be rocking in a way that Oakland fans haven't seen in a very long time.
Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons will be hungry for a win after losing in week 1 but it looks like this Oakland team will have enough to stop them and maybe even win convincingly. Julio Jones is one of the top 5 receivers in the league and Sean Smith cannot have another dud of a game. Maybe having him shadow the #2 receiver and letting Amerson deal with Jones willhelp shut everyone else down because teams can almost always count on Jones to have a good game. The running back by committee idea that the Falcons have adopted may bode well for the Raiders because if Davaonte Freeman gets rolling, he can be a force. Tevin Coleman isn't a bad player but Freeman showed us last year that he can be a superstar. The key to the Raiders on defense this week is to not let the short and medium crossing routes hurt them too much, make sure the running game doesn't get going, and get Ryan on his back consistently.
The Offense got rolling in the opener and they continue to do so this week. There is not many key things that they must do because they have so much talent that they can match up against any defense in the league. Look for the Offensive Line to dominate on Sunday by keeping Derek Carr upright and to open up holes on a regular basis for the talented Running Backs. The Raiders haven't shown the amount of poise and heart they did last Sunday in a very long time. This young team will continue to grow with each other and learn how to win all types of games. The Raiders will be ready to rock in their home opener and will beat the Falcons soundly.
My prediction: Falcons 24, Raiders 35