Buy or Sell: Oakland Raiders vs. Houston Texans
The Oakland Raiders (8-2) secured a one-game lead in the AFC West with their controversial win in Mexico City on Monday night, as they rallied in the fourth quarter to defeat the Houston Texans (6-4), 27-20.
With green lasers and unfavorable calls looming over the Raiders’ victory, some still doubt the validity of Oakland’s record and their playoff push this season.
To add clarity to the Raiders’ historic run, we discuss some of the thoughts and opinions stirring in the media after Oakland’s fourth consecutive win.
A statement will be given, and the answer will be given in a Buy/Sell format.
Derek Carr Can Lead Oakland Deep into the Playoffs.
Facing early adversity, Raiders third-year quarterback Derek Carr was again leaned on to rally the Silver and Black back from a fourth quarter deficit, and almost like clockwork, the former Fresno State stud took home the victory with the team clinging onto his back.
To start the contest, dropped passes and poor efforts in the run game plagued Carr and the Raiders offense, and as a result, the gunslinger couldn’t pull himself out of the holster. However, Oakland’s Smith and Wesson under center gleamed beneath the Mexico moonlight when it mattered most — in the fourth quarter.
In the final 11 minutes of the game, Carr completed four of five passes for 186 yards and two touchdowns to ultimately secure the win. Prior to those heroic efforts, he had just 109 passing yards, a touchdown and an interception.
Nearing the final stages of their first postseason birth since 2002, the Raiders will continue to lean on Carr to defy the odds and string together fourth quarter comebacks because his surrounding cast hasn’t appeared consistent in their respective roles.
Fortunately for Oakland, having an Academy Award winner at the quarterback position will help the Raiders write a storybook ending at the bottom of the script.
Linebacking Corps isn’t a Problem.
Against the Denver Broncos in Week 9, the Raiders’ linebacking corps flashed dominance, as they helped hold the Broncos rushing attack to just 33 yards on 12 attempts. Two weeks removed from said performance, Oakland’s inside linebackers fell flat against the Texans’ ground game and their dynamic duo at the tight end position.
Despite solid efforts from their teammates in the trenches, veteran starters Malcolm Smith and Perry Riley Jr. were unable to fill open holes and often failed to tackle Texans lead back Lamar Miller near the line of scrimmage.
Miller garnered 104 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries.
Both Smith and Riley Jr. struggled to take proper angles to the football, and when the two finally made their way to the designated hole, they failed to come off the block with any consistency, leaving the door open for Miller to find open space.
Rookie inside linebacker Cory James rotated in sparingly, but he too rarely made an impact when defending the run.
Smith did come down with an outstanding interception late in the second quarter, but his stellar effort failed to mask an otherwise ugly performance from the Raiders’ linebackers in coverage.
As expected, Houston’s tight ends C.J. Fiedorowicz and Ryan Griffin served as matchup nightmares for Smith and company, as the two combined for nine receptions for 114 yards.
Fiedorowicz and Griffin had great success against both man and zone coverage, as it was rare to see a Raiders defender within five yards of either of the tight ends for a majority of the contest.
Moving forward, opposing offenses will continue to target the Raiders’ struggling linebackers both on the ground and in coverage until they can flash dominance on a consistent basis.
Michael Crabtree Needs His Gold Chain.
Prior to the Raiders’ Monday night matchup, veteran wide receiver Michael Crabtree torched opposing defenses outside the hashes with a gold chain hanging from his neck. Against Houston, Crabtree’s chain failed to make an appearance, and so did his production.
Crabtree caught just three of his seven targets for a season-low five yards, dropping two easy first down receptions and failing to bring in what would have been a deep touchdown from Carr in the third quarter.
After Crabtree’s first drop of the game, we dropped some advanced analytics as proof.
Crabtree career without gold chain: 1 catch for -5 yards and 1 drop.
Crabtree with gold chain: 481 catches, 5,845 yards and 41 TD's.
— Just Blog Baby (@JustBlogBaby) November 22, 2016
Though blaming Crabtree’s poor performance because he was without his chain is arbitrary, Oakland’s offense will continue to sputter if he is unable to carry his strong play over to the second half of the season.
Asking Crabtree to strike gold every week isn’t realistic; asking him to wear gold every week should be a no-brainer.
Offense Can Thrive Without Leaning on Outside Receivers.
With Crabtree chainless and sophomore receiver Amari Cooper only thriving in bursts, Carr and company were forced to target other weapons within their offense to jumpstart their passing game, and fortunately for the Raiders’ offense, they answered the call.
Raiders second-year tight end Clive Walford, a third-round pick in the 2015 NFL draft out of the University of Miami, has failed to live up to high expectations in his second season, but he did flash his potential on Monday night.
Walford brought in two passes for 28 yards, including a key reception on 3rd down that he held onto through a devastating hit from Texans veteran cornerback Jonathan Joseph. An unnecessary roughness penalty added 15 yards to the end of the reception, and the vicious hit added a spark to an otherwise underwhelming season from Walford.
The Raiders backfield was also called upon to have an impact in the passing game, and they didn’t hesitate to impress.
Oakland’s top two backs, Latavius Murray and Jalen Richard, combined for eight receptions for 109 yards and a touchdown. Murray had an explosive 39-yard reception that would set up Cooper’s 35-yard touchdown, and Richard added two highlight plays of his own.
The former undrafted free agent turned a short pass into a 17-yard touchdown late in the first quarter to put the Raiders up 7-3, and he put the game on ice with his 29-yard reception along the sideline late in the fourth quarter.
Interior Defensive Line Needs Help.
With Oakland’s abysmal performance against the run leaving a bad taste in the Raider Nation’s mouth, some will look to point fingers at their rotating carousel within their interior defensive line. However, the Raiders’ play in the trenches has proved stronger than that of wooden horses.
Veteran defensive tackles Dan Williams and Denico Autry led the charge, as the two often pushed Houston’s offensive linemen into the backfield, often forcing the Texans’ ball carriers to second guess their lane choice in the backfield.
Williams and Autry combined for five solo tackles and two tackles for loss.
Behind Williams and Autry, fourth-year defensive end Stacy McGee and third-year nose tackle Justin Ellis followed suit. McGee flashed in the backfield in his first game back since Week 7, and Ellis held his own at the line of scrimmage and two combined tackles.
Deeper down the depth chart, rookie second-round pick Jihad Ward has failed to make a positive impact despite seeing a significant snap count, but Oakland has still managed to have success up front because of the strength of the men listed ahead of him.
With second-year defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. expected to join the Raiders’ defensive line towards the end of this season, Oakland should see a spike in production, but as of now, their defensive line is exceeding expectations.