Sep 11, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) celebrates after a win against the New Orleans Saints during a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Raiders defeated the Saints 35-34. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
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After a Week 1 win over the New Orleans Saints, what should we expect from the Oakland Raiders in Week 2 against the New Orleans Saints?
The Oakland Raiders officially turn the page on their Week 1 victory in an attempt to start 2-0 for the first time since the 2002 season.
All the discussions about head coach Jack Del Rio’s fortitude, wideout Michael Crabtree’s catch, and cornerback Sean Smith‘s bad day fall behind in the rearview mirror. The Atlanta Falcons come off a home loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and travel to Oakland to avoid an 0-2 start.
Based on the most recent depth chart, the coaching staff made a decision that will cause ripple effects all the way up to the front office. Nonetheless, the Raiders can’t put together a more disappointing performance in pass defense than last week.
What should we expect from Oakland in their home opener? Will the secondary feature an unexpected starter? Will the Raiders’ league-leading ground attack continue to roll against the Falcons?
We’ll cycle through five fact-or-fiction scenarios for Sunday’s matchup.
Sep 11, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Travaris Cadet (38) is tackled by Oakland Raiders cornerback Keith McGill (39) during the second quarter of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
The Raiders secondary became an eye sore during Week 1, but McGill didn’t blow any assignments at his position. According to Pro Football Focus, he earned the highest performance rating among defensive backs on the roster in the season opener.
On Monday, Del Rio explained his reasoning for allowing McGill to play majority snaps alongside Reggie Nelson in Week 1:
Last week we said, this is the guy who’s had the best camp. This is the guy that really earned it. You can go with the veteran guy, you can go with the guy who has the draft status, or you can go with the guys [who’s] earned it on the field. We elected to go with the guy who earned it on the field. I thought he did pretty well.
Del Rio explained the decision to utilize McGill over Joseph in black and white. It comes down to production that’s not always clear to outsiders. McGill put in enough work behind the scenes to earn his spot. Expect him to start the game on Sunday.
Aug 27, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders wide receiver Amari Cooper (89) rushes against the Tennessee Titans during the first half at Oakland-Alameda Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
It sounds like a slight against wideout Amari Cooper, but he’ll go into Week 3 without a touchdown catch. However, he’ll lead the team in receiving yards.
Dating back to the previous season, Crabtree has emerged as the primary target near the end zone. In his first year as a Raider, he caught nine touchdown passes compared to his six for Cooper. Last week, the fade route for the game-winning two-point conversion went to the eighth-year veteran in the corner.
Crabtree’s field-savvy goes unnoticed and underappreciated when discussing veteran wideouts in the league. As noticed, Carr worked on squeezing the ball to Cooper in confined spaces near the sideline during the preseason with several hiccups. Crabtree executes in the same pass-catch situations with ease. More times than not, he comes down with ball possession in bounds.
In a small sample, Cooper does the heavy lifting between the 20-yard lines in space. Then, Carr goes to Crabtree for the Mortal Kombat finisher. On Sunday, expect last week’s hero to reach pay dirt twice.
Aug 12, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Oakland Raiders tight end Clive Walford (88) against the Arizona Cardinals during a preseason game at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Quarterback Derek Carr and tight end Clive Walford can’t flip a magic switch that automatically puts them on the same page. The Raiders offense must develop their quarterback-tight end connection to exploit matchups against safeties and linebackers susceptible in pass coverage.
In Week 1, Walford finished with three receptions for 25 yards without fellow tight end Mychal Rivera active. Many expected the second-year pro to take a significant step toward becoming a consistent threat in the passing offense. However, he’s still unable to break into the forefront as a go-to target.
On the other hand, wideout Seth Roberts continues to emerge as a clutch target down the stretch. Last year, he secured a game-winning catch against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 2. After dropping a pass last week, he hauled in the final touchdown before Crabtree’s two-point conversion.
The undrafted wideout has progressed further along as a receiving target as opposed the Raiders’ 2015 third-round pick at tight end.
Nonetheless, there’s good news for Walford, the Falcons allowed five receptions for 64 yards and two touchdowns to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight ends in Week 1.
Sep 11, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; Oakland Raiders running back Jalen Richard (30) takes off on a 75-yard touchdown run against the New Orleans Saints during the fourth quarter at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Raiders won 35-34. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
Remember, it’s not about who finishes with the most rushing yards. The Raiders’ three-man rotation in the backfield won’t produce any Pro Bowlers or stat monsters in yards gained on the ground.
Collectively, the Raiders have one of the most dynamic backfields in the league. DeAndre Washington didn’t flash in his NFL debut, but his ability to block and catch maintains his value with minimum production as a ball-carrier. After his non-existent contribution in the first game, he can easily break out on Sunday.
Before Richard’s 75-yard run behind offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele, he handled two carries for 11 yards. His long dash toward a touchdown came at the perfect time, but it’s not going happen every week.
Latavius Murray logged 14 carries for 59 yards and a touchdown. Against another notoriously poor defense over the past few years, the ball-carrier with the most carries will likely finish on top in rushing yards.
Against the Saints, Richard stole the show but only handled three carries. The rush attempt volume favors Murray as the most productive ball-carrier against the Falcons’ susceptible defense.
Sep 11, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) celebrates after completing a two point conversion to take the lead during the fourth quarter of a game against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Raiders defeated the Saints 35-34. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Raiders Start 2-0: Fact
The Raiders will begin the season 2-0 for the first time since their last winning season in 2002, which ended with a run to the Super Bowl. Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, but the Raiders should be off to a good start.
In consecutive weeks, the offense will see leaky defenses with question marks in the secondary. Falcons running back Devonta Freeman put together a pedestrian performance, and the coaching staff elected to lessen his workload.
Defensive coordinator Ken Norton will probably attempt to bracket wideout Julio Jones between Smith and safety Reggie Nelson. The talented Falcons wide receiver will find success against the secondary with quarterback Matt Ryan’s accurate arm, but the Raiders’ ability to control the clock should factor into a second victory.
The Falcons’ passing offense isn’t as explosive as the Saints’ aerial attack. Expect the Raiders secondary to look a shade better in the upcoming contest and come through with a few stops along the way. The Raiders win their home opener 30-23.