Oakland Raiders: Beyond the Stats for Preseason Week 1
Beyond the Stats
Preseason games in the National Football League are often discarded as meaningless exhibitions with no profound significance other than bringing excitement to fans who have been starving for a trace of the game that came to an end the previous February. An analysis of the statistics for these games, therefore, can prove to be a waste of time and energy. At the risk of venturing into the realm of triviality, the Oakland Raiders' performance in this meaningless exhibition generated a vacuum of analysis that cannot be filled by simply looking at the statistics. Let's take a look.
On paper, Derek Carr completed 6 out of 9 passing attempts, threw for a total of 43 yards, and had one interception. A 66.7% completion rate coupled with an average of 4.8 yards per attempt and one pick makes for a less-than-stellar outing for the second year man out of Fresno State. These statistics, however, obscure factors about Carr's offensive production that are extremely exciting for Raider fans who have been waiting over a decade for a successful starting quarterback. Consider the following:
2 out of the 3 incompletions that Carr threw were not his fault. The first was a screen play intended for Murray, who turned around way too late to make the catch. The second was an error in judgment as Carr attempted to hit Michael Crabtree on a lob thrown into double coverage. The third, and the most significant, was an interception that many attribute to Carr pre-meditating a throw that should not have been made. In fact, this interception was a product of a typical rookie mistake. Amari Cooper began fading to the back of the end zone as opposed to running a flat route or a slant into the inner side of the opposing cornerback. Cooper's mistake makes much more sense than that which was attributed to Carr. There would be no reason to fire a bullet of a pass if, in fact, the play was designed for Cooper to fade into the back of the end zone.
So, what do these deeper observations of the game show us that the statistics do not? If Cooper and Murray do not make the mistakes outlined above, Carr's numbers instead turn into 8 for 9 for a much higher yardage per attempt and one touchdown instead of an interception. Quite the change in QB rating. Carr will be fine. Murray and Cooper are too intelligent to repeat these mistakes that I attribute to early season jitters.
While on the topic of Murray and Carr, what do the stats say about these guys? Latavius Murray ran the ball 6 times for a total of 35 yards with his longest run of the night coming on a 17 yard gain. An average yards per attempt of 5.8 is not enough to highlight Murray's night. The stats do not demonstrate how patient Murray looked from the moment he received the handoff to the moment he picked his hole and began running. The intelligence and patience that Murray exhibits coupled with his natural speed and strength bring to mind memories of another Murray who is making his home in Philadelphia this season... Let's wait and hope.
In addition to Murray and Carr, Cooper had a big night as he caught 3 passes for 22 yards with his longest gain coming on a 12 yard connection. If targeting Cooper three times per quarter, firing the ball as hard and with as much conviction as Carr demonstrated, and Murray continuing to run with confidence and intelligence behind a strong offensive line is any indication of how the Raiders plan to run their offense, Raider fans are in for one heck of a year.
The stats for the Raiders' starting unit defensively show little to get excited about. Khalil Mack, however, is a beast! The stats will not show you this as they list Mack responsible for one tackle and one assist on the night. If Mack is highlighted as the focus of every defensive play for a viewer, his contributions become much more appreciated. Moving Mack from linebacker to outside lineman was a brilliant tactical move. On any play, Mack will either barrel through a man or wear him down enough for his teammates to cause damage. Consider the first sack on Nick Foles in the first quarter. Shelby Harris was credited with the sack. However, take a closer look at the play and you will find that Khalil Mack shoved back and wore down the number 2 overall pick from the 2014 NFL draft, left tackle Greg Robinson. This opened up the entire left side for Shelby Harris to waltz straight into Foles. That contribution will never show up on the stats, but Mack certainly deserves the credit.
While Mack offers Raider fans reason for excitement, the optimism dies down a little when the Raiders secondary is brought into focus. Starting two young cornerbacks in Hayden and Carrie is a risk. While Woodson is a savvy veteran, his physical skills are certainly not what they used to be and he is coupled in the safety position with a newcomer in Nate Allen. The vulnerability of the secondary was demonstrated almost immediately as Tavon Austin caught a short pass from Foles and turned it into a giant gain by simply making Raider defenders miss. This set the Rams up for their only score of the night. While there is reason to believe the pass rush will be successful this season, the secondary and the overall tackling ability of the defense remains a concern.
The Special Teams
Not much work for Marquette King in this game. Wonderful news! Janikowski, now in his 16th year, still shows no sign of losing strength in that giant left leg as he drilled a 40+ field goal right down the middle. Crossing fingers that his accuracy improves from last year.
There was lots of hype about the acquisition of Trindon Holliday as a returner. The stats say that he returned one punt for 22 yards. Pretty good. What the stats fail to state is that he was forced to field an early kickoff because he muffed the football. Let's hope that Holliday has lost some of the butter that plagued his fingers for the past few years.
Lots to be excited about on offense, defense, and special teams after this outing for the Raiders. On the other hand, lots of questions still remain. Will tackling improve? Will Carr's confidence lead to recklessness? Can the team stay healthy? Can the Raiders avoid the infamous penalty problem (only two on this night!)? Can this defense begin to force some turnovers? Some of these questions will begin to get answered after Saturday's trip to Minnesota. Stay tuned to see what more we can learn beyond the stats next week.