In a week with many memorable finishes, including a Minnesota-Baltimore game that featured four touchdowns within the final two minutes, this game…will probably be near the bottom. Oakland fell to 4-9 after an embarrassing defensive effort against a previously listless New York Jets offense. I wrote a few days ago that the blitz-heavy defense should be able to contain the Jets, but Oakland wasn’t able to force a punt until the final minute of the game. Here’s a few points from the game that I would like to go over.
1. Is Jason Tarver’s job safe?
Another week, another unbelievable performance on third down. Oakland’s defense had a lack of depth going into the season, and the toll it is taking on the team could mean an early exit for DC Jason Tarver. Tarver’s blitz-heavy scheme works great for punishing running games and putting passing offenses into unfavorable positions, but it seems like opponents are converting third-downs at will. In the past three losses, Oakland has allowed 24/44 third downs to be completed (54.5%); Atlanta is currently leading (trailing?) the league in third-down percentage with 45.6% of attempts being completed, so this three-game skid is definitely concerning. What is even worse is the manner that these have been happening, as Oakland allowed Tennessee, Dallas, and New York to all go 5/7 on third down in the second halves. If it feels like Oakland has just been completely unable to stop opposing offenses in the second half…it’s because they can’t. At least, not lately. Before playing Tennessee, Oakland allowed a third-down conversion rate of just 34.8% (45/129), a number that would currently be seventh-lowest in the NFL. The sudden implosion of the defense has been very, very disappointing after looking like a strength for much of the season.
Allowing a ridiculous 20% more of third-downs to be converted in the past three games has to be attributed to coaching. I noticed a number of unfortunate instances where Tarver’s blitzing did not pay off. This team is clearly in need of an elite pass rusher, as the team just doesn’t seem capable of creating pressure with only the defensive line. This has resulted in a weird blend of aggressive play when we shouldn’t be playing aggressively and playing too relaxed when we should be aggressive. There was a play in the third quarter where Tarver lined up a defensive back in a loose zone coverage nine yards downfield to prevent the big play. Nice, except for the fact that it was 3rd-and-3 in the redzone…Geno Smith took the quick completion to the wide-open receiver for the first down and converted the touchdown a few plays later. Almost all of the third-down completions were wide open completions, as the Jets effectively used short crossing patterns and screens to neutralize the Raiders’ pass rush.
With upcoming games against the Broncos, Chargers, and Chiefs, all of whom have proven to have good offenses, these numbers just are simply unacceptable. Tarver has had a number of positive signs this season, but his defense has been almost solely at fault for the Raiders’ three-game losing streak. With over ten days to prepare for an offense that had averaged just a field goal a game for the past two weeks, it is simply inexcusable to allow 37 points.
2. The sudden defensive collapse is undoing the nice efforts by the offense.
After being plagued by drops and terrible field position throughout the first half, Matt McGloin and the Raiders’ offense looked like they were going to be in for a long day. However, for the third week in a row, Oakland’s second-half offense came alive and gave this team any chance at mounting a comeback. McGloin again displayed nice chemistry with Rod Streater, Andre Holmes, and Mychal Rivera through the air, connecting with the trio for 211 of his 245 yards and both of his touchdowns. Streater continues to be a nice security blanket for McGloin, although he did drop a pass or two. The McGloin-led Raiders have now averaged 24.5 points per game in his four starts, and has specifically come alive in the second half pretty nicely. After being down 20-3 at halftime, the Raiders scored three second-half touchdowns and a field goal, only to have all of those point gains being undone by the defense.
Although Taiwan Jones’ reps at runningback received most of this week’s headlines, it was again Marcel Reece who proved that he is capable of being a nice fill-in at runningback when needed. His 63-yard TD run at the start of the second half sliced the Jets’ stout run defense for the longest run they have allowed this year. Oakland stayed committed to their run game against a very strong run defense, rushing for 150 yards on 26 carries (5.7 ypc). Against the only run defense in the league to allow less than 3.0 yards per carry, it was definitely a pleasant surprise to see Oakland’s running game succeed. PS: It would be a huge, huge surprise to see Darren McFadden back for Oakland next year with how great the offense has run in his absence.
3. Terrelle Pryor played and looked…exactly how you would expect.
After the two opening drives, Dennis Allen fulfilled his promise of letting Pryor see the field and gave the former starter a drive to get things going. Pryor drove the ball downfield and picked up a critical third down with his legs, again displaying that second gear that made him so dangerous earlier this year. Unfortunately, the same problems plagued him from earlier this year as well: Rex Ryan started blitzing him from his left, forcing Pryor out of the pocket and out to his right. Pryor had a bad enough throw that the announcers weren’t even sure who the pass was intended for, and he also missed a wide open checkdown in the redzone. On second down, he instead elected to fit a very tight throw into the endzone, which ended up falling incomplete. It is worth mentioning that Pryor being in the game really seemed to relieve the relentless line play, as the ends seemed more set on keeping Pryor in the backfield and forcing him to throw. This allowed for a couple of back-to-back nice runs for Reece.
I hopped all aboard the Pryor hype train earlier this year. I fell in love with what he could become, but today showed that he is still far off of his potential. McGloin commanded the offense very well in the second half with everything that Pryor couldn’t do: he went through his progressions, finding the open target and getting the ball there. By delivering the ball on-time, McGloin also opened up the field. Reece’s TD run came immediately after a nice strike downfield, something McGloin has proven that he can do in his starts. Dennis Allen has been saying for weeks that McGloin hasn’t done anything to deserve being benched for Pryor, but today may have confirmed that McGloin is the best quarterback that the Raiders have. After today, it would be a surprise to see Pryor in more than a change-of-pace option.