Week 12 Notes and Observations: Oakland Raiders vs. Carolina Panthers
Scouting notes and observations following the Oakland Raiders rollercoaster Week 12 home victory over the defending NFC champion Carolina Panthers.
The Oakland Raiders continue to march through the 2016 season with heart-stopping, win-by-the-skin-of-your-teeth success. In their 11th game of the season, the Raiders welcomed the Carolina Panthers in a game that represented yet another chapter in the rollercoaster ride that has been the 2016 season.
In front of an electric Black Hole crowd, the Raiders pulled out yet another very close win — by a score of 35-32 — as they continue to be the “Cardiac Kids”.
The story of the game was the Raiders’ franchise QB Derek Carr and his right pinky — along with the domination of his fellow draft-mate, captain and franchise player Khalil Mack. The Raiders dominated the first half as Carr and Mack led the way.
However, the team’s fortunes went south following Carr’s pinky making like Lombard Street on a funky under-center snap early in the 3rd quarter. The Panthers rallied all the way from a 17-point deficit to an 8-point lead.
But the prodigal son returned just in time to rally the Raiders back with two key scoring drives, putting the Panthers back in their place. Mack simply made huge plays throughout as he led the defense, culminating in a final strip-sack to end the afternoon contest.
With another huge win in their pocket and the record now 9-2, the Raiders continue to hold on to the very competitive perch atop the best division in the NFL, the AFC West.
Here are various notes and observations from the Raiders’ latest home win, including all areas of the game — offense, defense, and special teams.
The Rise, Fall and Return of Derek Carr – Offense
1. Derek “The Franchise” Carr
On the way towards leading the Raiders to a 9-2 record, Derek Carr has shown the mental, physical and competitive toughness that many NFL teams starve for.
Those of us long-term Raiders fans have witnessed a decade-long drought in many of these key traits dating back to the days of Rich Gannon. To have a young QB like Carr, who is not only talented and smart, but also extremely mentally and physically tough, feels like being in a tropical paradise with plenty of good rum.
Carr, the best home grown Raiders QB in decades, has placed himself squarely in the MVP race due to his playmaking, leadership, arm talent and toughness. In Sunday’s game, that was on display once again.
The Raiders raced out to a 24-7 halftime lead due in large part to Carr guiding the offense. At halftime, it looked like Oakland would potentially tap-out the beat up Panthers. In a season of very close games, it was looking like a rare potential blowout win.
Then “The Pinky” happened.
Carr took an awkward snap from center Rodney Hudson and immediately started running off the field, even as the Panthers jumped on the ball. He ran pretty much straight to the locker room and the Raiders all of a sudden looked lost. Their MVP was in the training room and the crowd was deflated like a Tom Brady football.
Before you could say “What the f…” the Raiders were down 32-24.
But then Carr returned, with a black glove on his magical throwing hand and all. Doing his best Luke Skywalker impersonation, Carr channeled the force and immediately rallied the Raiders back with a beautiful TD pass to Clive Walford followed by a two-point conversion to Mr. Clutch Seth Roberts to tie the game, and then marched the team down for a short FG to make the winning margin.
These are the types of games that legends — and MVP winners — are made of. Carr finished with a line of 26 for 38 passing for 315 yards and 2 TDs. He overcame two turnovers (the fumble and a pick) — and the gnarly dislocated pinky — and proved, yet again, that he is the heartbeat of the team and a certified winner.
2. Passing Targets
Oakland’s pair of WRs, Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper, have carried the load in the passing game this season, but on Sunday it was Clive Walford and Seth Roberts who stepped up big in key moments.
The Raiders moved to 9-0 in games where Roberts catches a TD pass (dating back to last year) and Walford made the huge TD catch in traffic. The touchdown setup the Raiders to tie the game when Roberts caught a two-point conversion between two defenders.
As has been the case all year, Cooper led all Raiders WRs with 71 of 74 offensive snaps played, but his performance was limited by a lack of targets. Coop had just 4 catches for 22 yards on the day, as the Panthers consistently shifted extra coverage his way.
Crabtree played 65 snaps and led the team with 8 receptions for 110 yards including a HUGE 49-yard 4th quarter deep ball where OC Bill Musgrave designed him into a 1-on-1 with the Panthers’ backup ILB A.J. Klein. While the lack of use of Cooper was somewhat curious, the Raiders found ways to get the ball to Crabtree for big time plays.
Roberts played a hefty slot workload as the Raiders played primarily shotgun spread after Carr’s pinky injury. Roberts checked in with 55 snaps, and reeled in 3 catches for 31 yards and the early TD, as well as the pivotal conversion to tie the game late.
Rookie UDFA Johnny Holton added a big 30-yard pass-catch in limited play.
Walford had his biggest game of the year, with the TD being enormous and a pair of clutch passes picking up first downs included. In 43 snaps, Clive reeled in 3 catches for 43 impact yards and the critical TD. It was a major sign of progress for an offense that has been somewhat lacking in TE production.
3. Big Boys
The continuity of the Raiders’ top flight OL continued as Donald Penn, Kelechi Osemele, Rodney Hudson, Gabe Jackson and Austin Howard all played the full 74 offensive snaps.
The o-line did not have their best day moving the stout Panthers interior, and the bad snap from Hudson to Carr almost gave the entire fanbase a heart attack, but otherwise, the OL played to their usual very high level.
Overall, the OL played a solid game. They allowed two sacks and were limited in the run game, but as is characteristic of the unit, they physically set the tone for the entire team and ultimately took down a defense that was in the Super Bowl just one year ago.
4. Murray and the Backfield
Latavius Murray logged 49 offensive snaps but was limited to just 45 yards on 19 carries. Murray did punch in another TD to extend his team lead to 9 scores, and he also caught 3 passes for 43 yards. Overall, it was a fine day for Murray as a three-way contributor (ground game, pass catching, pass blocking).
Rookie Jalen Richard served as the lone complement on the ground, as fellow rookie DeAndre Washington was a healthy scratch. In 13 offensive snaps, Richard put up 23 yards on 7 carries.
Veteran RB/special teams ace Taiwan Jones got his first touch in awhile on a nifty 15-yard catch and run. He is good for about one great offensive highlight per year.
FB Jamize Olawale played just 10 offensive snaps and was very quiet as the Raiders worked mainly from the gun.
Overall, the story on offense was Derek Carr and his continued ability to put together amazing chapters in a true break out season. Carr’s toughness and return from the scary pinky injury to lead his team to his fifth 4th quarter comeback of the season, highlights the value this young man plays to this team and franchise.
Return of the Mack – Defense
1. Mack and Friends
While the story of the game on offense was the play of 2014 draftee Carr, on defense, Oakland’s top 2014 draft pick, Khalil Mack, put on an absolute show.
Mack went iron man and played all 65 defensive snaps. The work load did not have any negative effects — Mack was DOMINANT. He accrued one each of: a pick, a TD, a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovered. The first player to perform this feat in a single NFL game since GOAT Charles Woodson back in 2009.
I guess Mack learned some things from Woody’s tutelage. Mack also led the team with 6 tackles. To put it simply, Mack took over, including ending both the first half and the game with complete game changing plays. Right now, that 2014 Raiders draft looks historic.
Fellow edge Bruce Irvin also played very well, as he too got to last year’s MVP Cam Newton for a sack. Like Mack, Irvin played all 65 defensive snaps.
The defensive interior was led by hybrid defenders Denico Autry and rookie Jihad Ward, who both played a season-high 53 snaps and generally got after it despite putting up little production.
The Raiders PAINFULLY await good news on injured DL Mario Edwards Jr. and suspended Edge Aldon Smith.
The Raiders DB corps played fairly well considering they were missing starting CB David Amerson. For the vast majority of the game, the Panthers’ pass game was non-existent. But two HUGE pass TDs helped turn the game.
Burner Ted Ginn Jr. torched T.J. Carrie for an 88-yard TD on 3rd and long, while Kelvin Benjamin beat Sean Smith for a 44-yard TD that put the Panthers up 32-24 and represented the low point in the game. Smith’s coverage on the play was solid, but the 6’5″ Benjamin made a pretty spectacular catch.
Veteran FS Reggie Nelson played all 65 snaps, rookie SS Karl Joseph played just 50 and I am not sure why he missed 15 snaps.
At CB, Smith played 62 snaps, D.J. Hayden played 47, and Carrie played 35.
Aside from the two huge plays, the Panthers only compiled 114 air yards, despite playing from behind. The problem was, the big plays were REALLY big and ultimately put the Panthers in position to nearly win the game. The Raiders have to cut down on the big plays if they want to make a quality playoff run.
3. Inside Backers
Perry Riley Jr. was out with a hamstring injury, so Malcolm Smith and Cory James each took the full 65 snaps at ILB. The ILB play was not notable, either positively or negatively.
Generally, the defense looked well positioned and some of the communication errors from earlier in the season appear to be cleaned up. The Raiders have the level of ILB personnel to scrape by, but it is not a team strength, especially when Riley is out.
Overall, defensively, the story of the game was team leader and dominant force Khalil Mack. If Carr put in an MVP performance, Mack’s was certainly a DPOY type showing.
Workmanlike Performance – Special Teams
1. Punt Game
Marquette King punted five times, averaged 48 yards per punt, knocked 3 inside the 20 and Ted Ginn Jr. had not one return yard. I would say that is a very strong punting day.
The Raiders’ coverage was excellent on the day. The leader in coverage was clearly offseason special teams ace signing LB Daren Bates. If you do not watch him on coverage units, check him out going forward. #56, he is a warrior.
Sebastian Janikowski was on point, 2-for-2 on FGs, including the game winner, and 3-for-3 on PATs. After a midseason lull, Seabass has been solid the last couple of weeks. A very good sign for a team with serious playoff aspirations.
Oakland Raiders Week 12 Conclusion
The 2016 Oakland Raiders have been a thrilling rollercoaster ride all year. They find new ways to nearly give you a heart attack and yet pull out the W. This win makes them 9-2 and in command of the AFC West with the five game home stretch remaining.
In a schedule quirk, they have all three road divisional games left, so I expect even more heart attack type moments. Hopefully, we get more of the same thrilling result. I will take a blowout win or two though, my heart says please….
After a heavy travel schedule through this point, the Raiders get a nice chance to stay at home for back-to-back weeks and invite the Buffalo Bills into the Black Hole this coming Sunday.
The Bills are another team fighting for their playoff lives and feature playmakers like QB Tyrod Taylor and RB LeSean McCoy. The Raiders will need to be ready to win vs. the run, as Bills’ HC Rex Ryan is well known to prefer a “ground and pound” approach. It definitely figures to be another physical battle in Oakland.
See you here next week for notes on what is hopefully another W for the AFC West leading Oakland Raiders.