Any Given Monday: Raiders Need to Learn How to Close Out Games

any given monday oakland raiders martavis bryant

I’d hate to be the one sitting next to head coach Jon Gruden on the flight home.

After leading 19-7 in the third quarter, the Raiders inexplicably blew their lead in the Mile High city, going down 20-19 to the Denver Broncos, and 0-2 on their season. While there was a lot of improvement from last Monday night, the final quarter, in particular, was an exercise in holding on for dear life and hoping for the best, rather than being the ones applying pressure. Even so, the Raiders had ample opportunities to close out the game, and were unable to do so, in large part due to poor execution.

Turning the ball over on downs when in field goal range

At the 33-yard line, Mike Nugent is most definitely in field goal range. The Raiders, however, opted to go for it on 4thand 1, but Derek Carr was unable to complete the pass to fullback Keith Smith. I personally would have gone for the field goal, but I see merit in going for it to further wind the clock down. The play call on 4thdown was brilliant from Jon Gruden; going into a heavy set with play action for what should have been a simple conversion to the fullback in the flat. I do question why Jon Feliciano was an eligible receiver who ran the deep route on that side of the field though. I understand that Gruden was trying to sell the run, but Lee Smith or Derek Carrier should have been running that route. Nonetheless, if Smith catches the easy ball from Carr, it’s a first down and likely game over.

Jared Cook’s false start on the final offensive drive

The Raiders were into Denver territory and had orchestrated a near-perfect 4-minute drill. After getting 6 yards on 1stdown, Carr called for the offense to line up quickly to catch the Broncos defense off-guard. Cook didn’t get the memo, was slow to line up and was moving prior to the snap, resulting in a false start. This took the Raiders from a very manageable 2ndand 4 to a difficult 2ndand 9. Doug Martin only got 1 yard on second down, and then Martavis Bryant couldn’t convert on third down.

Johnny Townsend’s final punt resulting in a touchback

After Bryant’s failed 3rddown conversion, the Raiders needed to pin the Broncos deep to force a long game-winning drive. Instead, Townsend bit off more than he could chew, and punted the ball for a touchback. Townsend might only be a rookie, but his reputation coming into the NFL was as a coffin corner specialist, and he severely let the team down here. Even just an extra 10 yards would have put more pressure on the Broncos.

Arden Key failing to strip-sack Broncos QB Case Keenum on the final drive

aredn key any given monday

Arden Key has the talent but is a work in progress for Oakland.

On the first play of the Broncos final drive, Keenum holds the ball too long, giving rookie edge rusher Arden Key a free shot on the QB. Key got to the QB but didn’t attack Keenum’s throwing arm hard enough, so he was able to get the ball away for an incomplete pass. Simply put, if this was Bruce Irvin or dare I say, Khalil Mack, that’s a strip sack and most likely game over. Key is going to go through his lumps as a rookie and will get better as the season goes on. I suspect he may have also been fatigued given the high temperature and altitude was affecting quite a few players as well.

Allowing the Broncos to convert on 2ndand 20 from their own 10-yard line

This one was really poor from the Raiders defense. Leon Hall is lined up in the slot against Emmanuel Sanders, and he has safety Marcus Gilchrist over the top to provide help. Sanders easily beat Hall and Gilchrist doesn’t close in time, resulting in an easy first down on 2ndand 20. The play call from Guenther was fine, but the execution by the two veterans was poor. At 2ndand 20, the Raiders should have been able to close out the game on downs then and there, but the players couldn’t execute.

This was a game that the Raiders lost not due to coaching, but due to execution on the field. The game plan, however, was very sound and there is a lot to like about the team moving forward. It’s definitely going to be a rebuilding year in Oakland, but the signs are at least there that a foundation is being laid for long-term sustainability.

Some Quotes to Remember

“You look at the film, we had him wide open deep. We didn’t go there. He was open a couple of times, and for whatever reason, we didn’t go that route. Yeah, we want to get him going. That’s easier said than done now.”

“You sit there and are like, we had a chance at that [deep throw], but there’s a matchup there where we ended up picking up the first down. Where is that fine line? I’m not going to second guess anytime on the line of scrimmage. [Cooper] could possibly win on this one, it’s not for sure, but I know for sure what is going to happen over here. It’s just one of those things, even coach and I talk about. He keeps reminding me, ‘Hey did you see it?’ ‘Yeah, I saw it.’ He’s like, ‘OK, just as long as you’re seeing it we are good.’”

Jon Gruden and Derek Carr discussing the lack of production from Amari Cooper against the Rams last Monday Night.

Some Tweets of Amusement

3rd-and-7

3 Predictions:

1. I think the game against Miami is going to be a lot tougher than many will expect. Coming off an altitude game in Denver, it won’t be easy traveling to South Beach and dealing with the extreme heat and humidity that comes with it. I have the Raiders coming away with the loss in another close one.

2. Bruce Irvin will be getting an earful from defensive coordinator Paul Guenther and defensive line coach Mike Trgovac upon watching the Denver tape. Irvin’s lack of discipline in the 3rdquarter gifted the Broncos a 1stdown after the Raiders had them stopped on 3rd This ultimately led to a touchdown. Irvin also had a crucial missed tackle in the final quarter in which he came off the edge untouched, and the RB made him look absolutely silly. Irvin is supposed to be leading by example, but today was certainly one he (and the Raiders) would like to forget.

3. Brandon Parker is bound to get some looks at right tackle by the end of the season. Donald Penn has not been steady in his transition to the right edge, this week giving up a sack to Von Miller and was additionally responsible for the defender who blocked Mike Nugent’s extra point near the end of the first half. If the season is a wash by early November, it would not be a surprise to see the rookie in for the 35-year old vet.

7 Things I Think:

1. The entire Bryant situation might just symbolize the orderly disorder of the Raiders organization over the last 15+ years. After trading significant overs for Bryant (a third-round pick), word spreads that he is facing a suspension, and for whatever reason, the Raiders were concerned enough that he was cut prior to week 1. After week 1 it was clearly evident that they needed a deep threat, so Bryant was re-signed on the same contract he had when he was acquired by Oakland in the off-season. Some are pointing to the fact that his contract is now not fully guaranteed because he was signed after week 1 to save them from losing money in the event he is suspended. However, any suspension would mean that Bryant is exempt from the Raiders roster from the duration of the suspension, and thus is not entitled to any of his salary for the duration of the suspension. Just a bizarre situation all-round.

2. Le’Veon Bell’s holdout is one of the messiest contract situations seen in recent memory. It’s clear that his own valuation is nowhere near what the Pittsburgh Steelers valuation, and I expect him to hold out until at least past the halfway point of the season. It’s gotten ugly enough that what was thought of as a tight offensive unit, has seemingly fractured, with Bell thrown under the bus by numerous members of the Steelers offense during week 1 preparations. It is very much at the point of no return between Bell and the Steelers, and it would be a shock to everyone, both parties included, if Bell was a Steeler in 2019. I’m not saying that this is how the Khalil Mack holdout would have continued, but when you look at such incidents like this, and what we saw in Washington with Kirk Cousins (who was coached by Jon Gruden’s brother, Jay), it’s hard not to think that the Raiders may have done the right thing in getting two first round draft picks back for what could have been a far messier situation.

3. There appears to be a disconnect between Derek Carr and Jon Gruden. I don’t think it’s one of intention, but rather ironing out the nuances of a very complex offense. Barely a week ago the Carr-Gruden connection was being hailed as a match made in heaven, and now people are questioning whether Carr will be on the roster by the time the team moves to Las Vegas. That being said, if Gruden did want to go in another direction with his choice of QB, Carr’s contract is an easy one to get out of and is very friendly on the cap. But if you’re getting rid of your supposed franchise QB, you’d think that the Raiders would have kept their franchise pass rusher, so I really can’t see such hyperbole actually happening.

4. Given that Jon Gruden has essentially said that the Raiders require a restoration of the roster, I expect plenty of players on high salaries released or traded this upcoming off-season. Players such as Kelechi Osemele, Gabe Jackson and even Bruce Irvin would be easy targets given their high cap numbers for 2019. As it stands, there are 33 players on the current roster who weren’t part of the team in 2017. I don’t expect such a high turnover next year, but at least 20 changes would not be unexpected.

5. Amari Cooper has clearly been struggling to put up numbers, but this is not necessarily a product of his direct on-field performance. Cooper was in the top 10 (out of more than 60) wide receivers for average separation on their opponent at the point of which the QB would throw the ball. The Raiders desperately need to get him more involved in the passing game. If that doesn’t happen though, it’ll be interesting to see who takes the blame for it, and how that could affect any potential contract particularly negotiations between Cooper and the Raiders.

6. New defensive line signings Jonathan Hankins and Clinton McDonald should be significant parts of the rotation this season. Both are proven players who have a solid history of production in this league. McDonald has also played in defensive coordinator Paul Guenther’s scheme in Cincinnati which will help as well. Even though Justin Ellis is expected to be able to return off IR, it wouldn’t surprise me if Hankins’ production this year gives the Raiders thought as to whether Ellis will be required in the rotation.

7. I think there is something wrong when Mychal Kendricks can be convicted of insider trading and whilst waiting for his sentence, be signed by Seattle to play in the interim. The NFL is always concerned about the integrity of the game, and I don’t see how allowing Kendricks to play is good for the league’s image at all. With the increased freedom of legalized gambling, the league can’t afford to let someone with a history of insider trading is involved in the sport, and at the same time, maintain that the league’s integrity is of its utmost importance.