Oakland Raiders Drop Heart-Breaker to Falcons
John Doublin – Oct 14, 2012
Entering the Week-6 game against the Atlanta Falcons, (6-0) the Oakland Raiders, (1-4) had committed their bye week to improving the consistency of the running game, pass rush and pass coverage. Although each of those areas were improved over previous weeks, it wasn't enough to hold off the Falcons as the Raiders lose a close, hard-fought game 23-20 on a last second Matt Bryant field goal.
Oakland started the game strong by getting, not just their first interception of the season, but by getting three interceptions in the first half. The first was a great play by Nickel-Back Joselio Hanson, who made and excellent read and break on the ball. The second was a disciplined play by Michael Huff and the final interception was caused by great pressure up the middle from linebacker, Phillip Wheeler, who hit Falcons' quarterback Matt Ryan as he released the ball, causing it to float gently into the hands of Tyvon Branch.
Unfortunately, the Raiders also turned the ball over three times, (two lost fumbles and an interception).
The run defense for Oakland played well most of the day, allowing just 45 yards on 16 carries by the Falcons. The pass rush was better, tallying several pressures on Ryan and one sack by defensive end, Matt Shaughnessy. However, the secondary is still struggling to provide consistent coverage; they only allowed 243 passing yards from the Falcons, but gave up a total of 11 first downs through the air.
One of the Achillies heels for the Raiders this season has been 3rd down efficiency on both sides of the ball. Against the Falcons, Oakland was improved in this aspect allowing the Falcons' offense to convert just two of 9, (22%) on third down, while the Oakland offense converted on five of 13 attempts, (38%). However, most of these conversions happened in the first half as the Raiders' offense sputtered a bit in the second half.
For the first time this season, the Raiders actually won the time of possession battle, keeping the offense on the field and the defense resting. This manifested in the way the defense played most of the game. They weren't tired out by the middle of the third quarter as they have been in the previous four games and Oakland was able to keep the game close.
This is, by far, the best game the Raiders have played all season. They held strong against a very good offense, and moved the ball well for the majority of the game; even tying the game up with just 40 seconds on the clock, only to watch Ryan and the Falcons march down into field goal range to win it with just one second on the clock.
Even in a loss, there is a lot of good that can be taken from this game for Raider Nation.
Denarius Moore is a play-maker, plain and simple. This young man can do it all: Run all the routes, catch the ball, make people miss and score points. All of these traits can be seen on one play—the 25 yard catch and run for a touchdown just before the half. Moore caught the ball in traffic, broke a tackle and reached pay dirt. Moore had five catches for 104 yards and that one touchdown on the day.
Mike Goodson played fantastic, earning 96 total yards on just five touches, (four runs for 59 yards, with a long of 43 and one catch for 37 yards). Goodson showed that he is learning and improving each week and provides a solid back up for Darren McFadden.
Greg Knapp integrated some power-blocking run plays into the much-maligned zone scheme with relative success. McFadden may have left some yards on the field as there were lanes for him to run through, but he missed several wide-open cutback lanes. It appears as though McFadden still isn't fully acclimated to the zone system, (averaged just 2.5 yards per carry on the day) as all his success came on the power runs and three receptions. There is still a long way to go for Knapp and his offense, but the previously unseen progress he's been talking about finally appeared—a little bit.
Matt Shaughnessy is beginning to hit his stride. Shaughnessy got the only sack of the day, but did a great job setting the edge against the run, maintaining his containment responsibilities and provided pressure on Ryan all day long.
Michael Huff has been put in a bad position by being asked to play out of position at cornerback, but is starting to look more and more comfortable. His interception came when he was in the right position, made the right read and stepped in front. Huff did give up several catches to Julio Jones and Roddy White, but no cornerback in the league can completely shut down those two for a whole game.
Phillip Wheeler continues to play like a man on a mission. Wheeler led the team with nine tackles, (eight solo, one assist) and also made some fantastic plays in pass coverage against All-World tight end, Tony Gonzales. Wheeler was the man tasked with covering Gonzales most of the day; Gonzales was held to just four receptions for 43 yards. Considering that Gonzales made 13 grabs last week, and is on pace to have a 104 catches, that's a good day for anyone.
Derek Hagan, (4 rec, 85 yds) and Alex Parsons, (played fairly well in relief of injured right guard, Mike Brisiel) also deserve some credit for doing their jobs and putting in a great effort against a very good team.
The old cliché of having to "take the good with the bad" must also be mentioned.
The penalty problem that plagued the Raiders for most of the past decade reared its ugly head in this game. Oakland committed 12 penalties for 110 yards, one of which resulted in a first down for the Falcons after they failed to convert on a third and long. The drive that was kept alive by that penalty resulted in a field goal for the Falcons. When you consider that Oakland lost by just a single field goal, that's huge!
The Raiders really miss Khalif Barnes. Second-year player, Willie Smith was out-matched most of the day by John Abraham and Ray Edwards. Those two defensive ends combined on what was likely, the play of the day; a strip-sack by Abraham with a scoop and almost-score by Edwards. Only great hustle from Darren McFadden, followed by an inspired goal line stand prevented the Falcons from putting the game away earlier.
Carson Palmer only made one mistake on the day, but was a back-breaker. He delivered a very poorly thrown ball behind Moore, which resulted in an interception return for a touchdown by Falcons' cornerback, Asante Samuel. On the play, Moore was open, but Palmer simply threw the ball behind him, allowing Samuel to make a good break on in and pick it off. Had the ball been thrown in front of Moore where it should have been, it would have easily resulted in a first down—possibly more.
Normally, when a team holds nearly a 13 minute advantage in time of possession and out rushes their opponent by 104 yards, it's a recipe for success, but Oakland simply committed too many penalties and turned the ball over—negating any advantage the defense was able to create.
Oakland out-gained the Falcons 474 to 286, held the time of possession advantage, won the field position battle and still lost the game. Since the turnovers were even, one can only conclude that, yet again, the penalty issues have caused the Raiders a game they should have won.
Overall, it wasn't what general manager Reggie McKenzie and Raider Nation were looking for, (a win) but the Raiders fought hard against a good team and showed the NFL world that the the "new era of excellence" shouldn't be taken lightly. There were moments of brilliance and moments of "What the....?"
Hopefully, Oakland can continue the intensity they showed in the Georgia Dome, continue to improve the running game, and clean up the mistakes that cost them this game. If so, there is no reason an 8-8 or 9-7 season would be out of the question.
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