Week 11 Notes and Observations: Oakland Raiders vs. Houston Texans

Scouting notes and observations following the Oakland Raiders’ Week 11 victory over the Houston Texans in the heart of Mexico.

One of the primary marks of the first nine weeks of the season prior to the club’s Week 10 bye, was the Oakland Raiders’ unique ability to hit the road for long trips and bring home W’s. With a 5-0 road record, the Raiders have shown a major “Road Warriors” mentality.

Coming off a HUGE Week 9 win over AFC West rival and the defending champion Denver Broncos, the Raiders got their bye week and then took their 7-2 record south of the border to Mexico City for the first non-U.S. Monday Night Football game in history. This game was officially a “home” game, but represented yet another week of significant travel for the squad.

With the Tampa Bay Bucs doing the Raiders a favor on Sunday and beating the Chiefs, the Raiders entered Monday night as leaders in the AFC West. But this would only last if the Raiders came home with a W over the AFC South leading Texans. Furthermore, playoff seeding in the overall AFC was certainly on the line. So it was yet another huge game.

Despite the travel and the extremely high elevation, Jack Del Rio’s squad yet again answered the bell. In front of a rowdy (and laser-wielding) Mexico City crowd, the Raiders snatched victory from the jaws of defeat once again, 27-20, to move to 8-2 and alone in first in the AFC West and currently the #1 seed in the entire AFC.

If the playoffs started today, the Raiders would have a bye and home-field advantage throughout the AFC tourney. WOW!

The story of the Monday night matchup was the Raiders successful use of their RBs in the passing game. While the Raiders ran for just 30 yards, their RBs combined for 199 yards receiving and 2 TDs. The Raiders under OC Bill Musgrave exploited the lack of underneath and flat/hole coverage on the backs to knife the Texans’ defense, especially in the 4th quarter.

With the huge win in Mexico City and the record now 8-2, the Raiders head back home to Oakland to take on the defending NFC champ Carolina Panthers, who have not been up to their 2015 standard, but still represent a strong opponent.

With the win on Monday, the Raiders certainly should be focused on attaining their first playoff berth since the 2002 Super Bowl loss season. And right now, claiming the AFC West title banner should be a primary goal.

Here are various notes and observations from the first home win of the year, including all areas of the game — offense, defense, and special teams.

Nov 21, 2016; Mexico City, MEX; Oakland Raiders fullback Jamize Olawale (49) scores on a 75-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter against the Houston Texans during a NFL International Series game at Estadio Azteca. The Raiders defeated the Texans 27-20. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 21, 2016; Mexico City, MEX; Oakland Raiders fullback Jamize Olawale (49) scores on a 75-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter against the Houston Texans during a NFL International Series game at Estadio Azteca. The Raiders defeated the Texans 27-20. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Passing Game, with a wrinkle – Offense

1. “Carr Insurance”

On offense, the Texans combination of Jadeveon Clowney and Vince Wolfork completely shut down the Raiders’ run game. While the big boys up front plowed through the Denver defense in the prior matchup, the Raiders could not run on the Houston front in this game.

However, the OL still proved critical as they completely neutralized the Texans’ pass rush, allowing for Derek Carr to find Raiders’ RBs (and WRs at times) for big plays.

The OL allowed zero sacks and Carr was only hurried twice, both elite marks for the Raiders’ OL.

All five starters — LT Donald Penn, LG Kelechi Osemele, C Rodney Hudson, RG Gabe Jackson, RT Austin Howard — played the full 53 offensive snaps of the game. One question heading into the game was how the big men up front would handle the 7,000+ feet elevation. They passed that test.

Rookie Denver Kirkland played just 8 snaps as the 6th lineman, as the Raiders were not in “power mode” too often in this matchup.

Overall, the OL played a strong game. The run blocking was not up to par, but the excellent pass protection ultimately more than made up for the issues in the run, as the Raiders were able to compile the requisite 27 points.

Certainly, the “Carr Insurance” that GM Reggie McKenzie assembled paid off in this game.

2. Backfield as pass catchers

As noted above, the run game was silent, with just 30 yards on the ground. However, Raiders’ backs compiled a huge 199 yards through the air in leading the way to the win.

Starter Latavius Murray played 29 snaps and ran 12 times for just 33 yards. But he did contribute 5 receptions for 59 yards through the air, including a key 39-yard reception on the game winning drive.

Rookie Jalen Richard served as the complementary versatile tail back. Despite playing just 12 offensive snaps, Richard caught 3 passes for 50 yards and the Raiders’ first TD. Late in the game, he caught a critical fade pass that was apparently drawn up in the Mexico City grass, which helped finish the game.

FB Jamize Olawale played just 16 offensive snaps, but had a HUGE 75-yard TD catch and run that got the Raiders back in the game in the 4th quarter. If Olawale isn’t the fastest FB in the NFL, I don’t know who is. The big man can FLY.

Rookie DeAndre Washington played just 4 offensive snaps and appears to have fallen out of the primary rotation in favor of Richard, which is looking like the right move until proven otherwise by a Washington resurgence.

Overall, the Raiders RBs were hardly notable on the ground, but they played a major role via sticky hands and YAC ability in the passing game.

3. Derek Carr

Derek Carr has proven to be the leader at QB that this franchise has starved for since the Gannon era ended. Basically every week he re-proves this conclusion. This time, he did so against the franchise that passed on him due to his brother being a #1 pick bust.

In Mexico City vs. another good defense who was steamrolling the run game, Carr solidified his place once again, and poked his brother’s former team. While the Texans quality DB corps slowed the Raiders’ WRs, and early drops slowed the team as a whole, Carr stood in and continued to work.

Finally, when crunch time came, the passing offense broke out.  Carr has been a magician at coming back in the face of adversity and leading the team from when their backs are to the wall.

After the slow start, Carr’s finish earned the win and yielded a passing line of 21 for 31 passing for 295 yards  (explosive 9.5 YPA) with 3 TDs. Carr did throw an ugly pick when hurried on a bootleg, but overall, he showed the poise and calm demeanor needed to enable the Raiders to not fall apart when the chips were down. This has been a characteristic all year.

4. Passing Targets

Stud WRs Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree have been money all year. However, this was just a middling effort for the pair, as Crabtree dropped multiple passes and Cooper was used surprisingly little.

Cooper again led all Raiders skill players with 42 snaps played. Coop put up 4 catches for 57 yards and a beautiful TD to close the scoring in the game on a WR under screen. Despite being quiet most of the night, Coop did still end up making a game changing play.

Crabtree played 39 snaps and had a very forgettable night with just 3 catches for 5 yards and multiple drops. He had trouble with footing most of the game. The Raiders need Crab to step up down the stretch.

Seth Roberts checked in with 22 snaps, and had just one catch for 6 yards.  He did make an incredible block on the Cooper TD.

TE Clive Walford played 37 snaps and had 2 catches for 28 yards. He got absolutely wrecked by Clowney in the run game.

Overall, the story on offense was the Raiders again finding a way to produce. After running all over the Broncos, this game turned into a clinic of passing to the RBs.

Nov 21, 2016; Mexico City, MEX; Oakland Raiders Khalil Mack (52) moves at the snap during a NFL International Series game against the Houston Texans at Estadio Azteca. The Raiders defeated the Texans 27-20. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Bend But Don’t Break – Defense

1. D-Line/Edge

On defense, the Raiders again gave up consistent ball movement, but made enough plays at key times to stall the Texans and keep them at just 20 points.

While many have decried certain calls by the refs in the game, ultimately, the Raiders’ D kept the margin razor thin and the Texans left the game in the hands of the zebras. After years of not getting the edge calls (or getting outright jobbed, ahem, Tuck Rule), getting a couple felt fine as a Raiders fan.

Edge star Khalil Mack played 73 of a notable 76 defensive snaps as the Texans controlled time of possession. Mack recorded his 8th sack of the year and 7th in the last 5 games. The third-year pro is an established force.

Fellow edge Bruce Irvin actually one-upped Mack in Mexico City. Irvin played 69 snaps and recorded 10 total tackles and a sack. He consistently made KEY plays in the edge and flat areas and limited several key plays to minimal gain, including a couple of shoestring effort tackles.

The Raiders edge defenders would benefit greatly from improved interior pass rush. Texans QB Brock Osweiler was consistently able to buy time by moving up in the pocket. No interior DL has established himself as a pass rush force.

The defensive interior saw its usual rotation. Denico Autry was the most notable interior player, with 45 snaps, a couple stuffs and a key batted ball on an early goal line stand.

Jihad Ward played 44 snaps, Dan Williams 32, Jelly Ellis 29, Stacy McGee 25 and Darius Latham 20.

With the Texans controlling the ball in the high altitude, the rotation of big bodies was critical, especially once the 4th quarter hit.

The Raiders gave up 124 yards on the ground, but were able to get key stops when it mattered most.

The team and fanbase continue to await word on DT Mario Edwards Jr. (hip injury) and DE Aldon Smith (suspension).

2. Secondary 

The Raiders DB corps saw the return of starting CB Sean Smith after he missed the Broncos game with a shoulder injury. There were occasional breakdowns, mostly underneath, and the Texans compiled 243 yards through the air.  Texans star WR DeAndre Hopkins was limited to just 58 yards, however.

Veteran FS Reggie Nelson led the way with 76 snaps played, rookie SS Karl Joseph played 73, and CBs David Amerson and Smith each played 72.

Joseph was the most notable presence in the defensive backfield, as he consistently came up and laid the hammer on the Texans runners, on the way to 10 combined tackles. Joseph’s missile-like hitting helped make sure Texans’ top RB Lamar Miller was too spent to run on the final two key Texans run plays before their controversial turnover on downs.

After starting outside for one game with Smith out, D.J. Hayden moved back to the slot and played 40 snaps. He was the main DB who was abused by Hopkins. Fortunately, the Texans did not hammer this match up that was in their favor.

Overall, the DBs held up and limited the damage to mostly underneath routes. It was a true “bend but don’t break” game on their part.

3. Inside Backer

Malcolm Smith led the ILB corps with 74 snaps and tied with Irvin and Joseph with 10 combined tackles. He also made a highlight reel interception on a seam pass.

The rest of Malcolm’s coverage was forgettable, as the Texans targeted the TEs on Smith consistently, with Texans TEs accounting for 9 catches for 114 yards. With All-Pro Greg Olsen coming to town, the TE issue must be addressed (sounds like a broken record).

Perry Riley Jr. played 49 snaps and appeared to suffer a hamstring injury. He did not have a major impact on the game. Rookie Cory James played 31 snaps and has not looked the same since his brief run as the Mike prior to Riley taking that role.

Overall, defensively, the team did just enough to win. The lack of interior pressure and gaping holes in underneath coverage were issues. But the Raiders limited big plays and made enough impact plays at key times to give Carr and Co. the keys on offense to win the game.

Nov 6, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders long snapper Jon Condo (59) and punter Marquette King (7) run onto the field before the start of the game against the Denver Broncos at Oakland Coliseum. The Raiders defeated the Broncos 30-20. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Win the 3rd Phase – Special Teams

1. Special Teams Turnover Forced

There are few more impactful plays in NFL football than forcing a turnover on special teams. The Raiders got a key one on a kickoff early. After Richard’s TD made it 7-3, the Raiders kicked to SJSU product Tyler Ervin in a sort of pooch kick manner.  Ervin muffed the kick and long time special teams ace Taiwan Jones secured the rock.

The turnover only resulted in 3 points as the Raiders failed to punch in a TD, but the early 10-3 lead proved significant as it was the final margin in the win.

2. Punt King

Marquette King did not run for a long first down or perform any notable dance moves, but he did average over 49 yards per punt and continue his Pro Bowl caliber season.

3. Seabass

Sebastian Janikowski had missed FGs in the prior two games but on this night he returned to perfection. Jano was 2-for-2 on FGs (although both 20 yards or shorter) and 3-for-3 on PATs after a week with a rash of missed PATs around the league.

The high pooch kick also resulted in the noted turnover. It was a solid night in primetime for Janikowski and good to right the ship for the home stretch.

Oakland Raiders Week 11 Conclusion

The 2016 Oakland Raiders re-staked their claim to the AFC West lead after 11 weeks (10 games). On a Monday Night Football primetime broadcast from Mexico City, the team played well enough to win and continue their ability to travel and secure W’s.

All three phases performed well enough to win, with the RBs especially making plays in the passing game. The team got the Mexico City crowd on their side and it was an exciting atmosphere.

The team returns home to Oakland to face a Panthers squad whose backs are to the wall. While both the Carolina unit as a whole and 2015 MVP Cam Newton have had off years thus far, it is impossible to count such a franchise out, especially as they fight for their playoff lives and come in with four extra days of rest.

The Panthers played last Thursday, while the Raiders have the short week. The team will need to get the crowd involved early and eliminate any belief that the staggered Carolina squad can pull the road win. The Raiders have a chance to lock in their first winning season in 14 years. Let’s do it.

See you here in two weeks for notes on what is hopefully another W for the AFC West leading Oakland Raiders.

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