Raider Nation! At long last, Raider football has returned! Monday night, the Oakland Raiders opened not only the regular season, but Reggie McKenzie’s new era of excellence before a ruckus sold out O.co Coliseum. While the game did not result in a victory, nor was there any sort of excellence in the execution of the offense or special teams, the defense looked great. The defense as a whole played a very solid game, yielding only one touchdown and five field goals to an offense that is as explosive as any when it’s running on all cylinders. Here are my game grades for the defense and special teams.
Defensive Linemen (Matt Shaughnessy, Richard Seymour, Tommy Kelly, Lamarr Houston)
The defense as a whole was very stout against the charger ground attack, allowing only 32 rushing yards (1.6 ypc). Don’t let the absence of Ryan Mathews skew the stats; the defensive line slammed the door on all running lanes all night. These where not great individual efforts (although there where plenty to be seen) but the whole unit played smart and aggressive. Gang tackling at or near the line of scrimmage, shooting the gaps and taking the ball carrier down for a loss, freeing up the linebackers to come in and make the stop… all of this made up for a very solid effort. The defensive line only got one sack, but that has a lot to do with the Charger game plan to negate the strength of the Raider defense. Phillip Rivers had to dink and dunk the offense because the defensive line would not allow enough time for big plays to develop for most of the night. Tommy Kelly made two bone head encroachment penalties on the same drive that lead to points, but also made several great plays behind the line, seemingly owning Nick Hardwick.
Overall Grade: B+ The strongest unit on the team showed why they are regarded as such. Tommy Kelly’s untimely penalties keep it below an A grade.
Linebackers (Philip Wheeler, Rolando McClain, Miles Burris)
My defensive player of the game was Miles Burris. The rookie showed more seasoned vets how to tackle out there! Rolando McClain didn’t have too many “impact” plays in the game, but he kept himself in the right position and did not make mistakes (and if you’re following his career, that is the biggest knock against him). As the centerpiece of the defense, he has to get his share of credit for a defense that held strong for four quarters despite playing with their backs against the wall all game. Philip Wheeler continues to impress me, flying to the ball carrier and around seemingly every stop. It’s still early, but this is looking like we may have the best group of starting linebackers we’ve had in Oakland for a long time.
Overall Grade: A We couldn’t ask for a better game from a unit many people didn’t think would be very good this year. Aaron Curry who?
Secondary: (Shawntae Spencer, Michael Huff, Tyvon Branch, Ron Bartel)
The secondary did not have a horrible game. As mentioned before, the defense as a whole held up great against a potent offense, despite having a short field to defend on the regular. There where some players that did have a rough game, however. Ron Bartel got incinerated for 46 yards by Robert Meachem, and gave up another big play to Malcolm Floyd (I don’t hold that one against him; there is virtually no defense for a perfect back shoulder throw). He would leave the game with a broken collar bone, leaving an already thin secondary in even worse shape as he is expected to miss a month or more. Matt Giordano had a rough day as well, losing his man in the end zone for the lone charger touchdown. He also missed his blocking assignment on special teams, allowing a free runner to block Shane Lechler’s punt. Tyvon Branch did not demonstrate why he got a big contract extension in this game; his real value is in his ability to cover elite tight ends. Antonio Gates was allowed to run free, as Branch was not near physical enough to disrupt his routes.
Overall Grade: C Average grade for an average effort. I want to see more out of Tyvon Branch.
Special Teams: Atrocious. The lack of preparedness for the long snapper getting injured does fall on the Head Coach… but they should have been getting as much work in on the sidelines as possible. Lost in the miss handled/blocked punts is the fact that Taiwan Jones fumbled both returns that he didn’t down in the end zone. This unit, despite having the two greatest kickers in the game, (and possibly EVER) is the Achilles heel of the team and WILL LOSE GAMES for us, even if the offense somehow finds it’s way out of a paper bag.
Overall Grade: D A D grade because I’m in a good mood. Worst special teams play I’ve personally watched in a long time. It was like watching the New York Jets preseason offense.