Raiders defense battered by Falcons in home opener

The Raiders’ defensive woes continued Sunday, as the Silver and Black were torched for 528 yards by the Atlanta Falcons in a 35-28 loss.

In the first half, the Raiders defense bent but didn’t break. The defense was gashed for 227 yards, but stood strong in the red zone to hold the Falcons to chip-shot field goals. After giving up 13 points in the first half, the defense was pounded by the Falcons for an additional 22 points.

This story has been updated with additional material and quotes from the Raiders locker room at the Oakland Coliseum.

Head coach Jack Del Rio was not pleased with the teams defensive performance:

“We’re giving away too many plays that should be routine and easy plays and allowing them to not only be made, but go for chunks. It will get corrected and we’ll start playing really good defense here. We had not come out of the gate the first two games doing so. That’s on us.”

The game was largely back and forth deep into the fourth quarter, until a failed 4-and-2 attempt was too much for the Raiders to overcome.

Del Rio made some crucial gambles against the Saints in Week 1, which he continued to do against the Falcons. In the second half, the Raiders went for it twice on fourth down — once successfully, the second not.

The Raiders second touchdown of the second half was scored as a result of a fourth-down conversion. The drive was buoyed by the run game; fullback Jamize Olawale rumbled for an 11-yard gain on 3rd-and-1, and two plays later, Latavius Murray had an 18-yard run to Atlanta’s 2-yard line.

Oakland couldn’t punch in the ball on the first three tries, but on a gutsy fourth down call, Carr hooked up with Week 1 hero Michael Crabtree for a touchdown and a 21-21 tie.

Following another Falcons touchdown, and with less than eight minutes remaining, Del Rio again decided to go for it on 4-and-2 from their own 48. The call appeared genius after an Amari Cooper 51-yard touchdown catch, but the play was wiped away on a penalty after Cooper ran out of bounds then came back onto the field to illegally catch the ball.

Cooper said he wasn’t completely aware of how the rule works at the NFL level:

“I’m not really clear on the rule. The college rule is if they push you out of bounds you can come in and catch the ball, but the NFL rule is it doesn’t matter how you get out of bounds, you can’t be the first person to touch the ball I’m pretty sure.”

The Raiders followed with a run play up the middle, and running back Jalen Richard was stuffed for a gain of only one yard. The Falcons took over on downs and drove to a 35-21 lead after a 13-yard touchdown run by running back Tevin Coleman.

The Raiders would add another late touchdown, but ultimately fell short in catching up to the fast-paced Falcons.

The loss left the Silver and Black with pressing questions, especially in the defensive secondary. They added free agent corner back Sean Smith and safety Reggie Nelson via free agency, and drafted safety Karl Joseph with their first-round pick. But despite the additions, the Raiders were gashed through the air for the second straight week and have allowed over 1,000 yards in their first two games.

Linebacker Malcolm Smith said this about their defensive performance:

“That’s embarrassing. We have a lot of work to do. We have no choice, we have to get to work. I’m going to get to work to get it right.”

Defensive tackle Dan Williams said there are small things to change defensively to mitigate big mistakes:

“They’re small, minor issues. In the end, they cost us big plays. If its just getting the call in, trying to make sure we communicate with each other, getting set right…We made mistakes that definitely made big plays today.”

Matt Ryan threw for three touchdowns and 396 yards, and had receivers and tight ends wide open for the majority of the game.

The secondary wasn’t solely to blame for the defensive lapses. Linebacker Ben Heeney was horrid in coverage. On one of the Falcons’ scoring drives, he gave up two huge pass plays, the first a 24-yard catch to  Coleman, and the second a 34-yard pass to tight end Austin Hooper.

Heeney was pulled late in the game, but Del Rio said it wasn’t due to performance reasons:

“No, I wouldn’t get into anybody individually. I’d say if you want somebody to blame, just blame it on me. If you need someone to blame, blame the head coach. I’ll take it. We’ll correct what we needs to be corrected and we’ll go forward.”

Derek Carr produced well on offense for the Raiders, with three touchdowns and 299 yards of his own on 34-of-45 passing, but the Raiders’ lethargic start proved costly.

Carr attributed part of his growth as a quarterback to his improved decision-making:

“I think about other things, like the situation. I’m not saying I didn’t last year, but its easier this year. I think I know which coverage they plan in certain situations; obviously I need to be ready for anything. But all those things are going through my head; numbers, percentages, what they’re doing in the game, the flow of the game, and that’s what’s so different.”

The Raiders travel next week, taking on the Marcus Mariota-led Tennessee Titans (1-1).