Was it ever a good time for Amari Cooper to have a good day.
Cooper’s previous high for targets, receptions and yards came during his third career game with the Raiders, on the road versus the Browns. He caught eight passes on 11 chances, with 134 yards and one touchdown, in an Oakland win.
Sunday, he caught 10 passes for 129 yards, on 13 targets — in the Raiders’ 26-10 loss to the Chiefs.
Cooper scored twice in Week 15 of his rookie year, though his yardage and catch totals were almost dwarfed by his outstanding day against a bad Cleveland squad while connecting continuously with quarterback Derek Carr. Cooper said:
“He and I are on the same page. I know how he wants to throw the ball, I know how he wants me to run my routes. We just have to build on it now.
This time, though, he dominated a solid division opponent — albeit facing the coverage of rookie D.J. White, a sixth-round selection of Kansas City, and not really even competition. But the stat line stands.
And the career highs were littered on the sopping grass of the Oakland Coliseum, mixed in somewhere between the dust and contrail left by Cooper. In fact, the second year receiver totaled more than half of Oakland’s total offense, something that one could assign as reasoning for the loss.
Cooper almost had his best day yet by halftime — 117 yards on nine catches, in the rain for most of it, and battling serious slippage.
Then Kansas City made an adjustment in their coverage, which may have turned the tide. Carr said:
“We could see it. We knew what they were doing. Me and Coop were talking about it during the game. We had a run play and he could come back and make sure we saw the same thing.”
He didn’t have any monster plays, and was held without a touchdown, and Cooper has not scored against the Chiefs in his three games competing with the Raiders’ division rival.
Tight ends not beating Raiders, but run game is
Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio considered the silver lining to Oakland’s loss to be that it’s just one game. He couldn’t get on his soap box after Kansas City steamrolled the defense, but there’s something to look at.
The bright side is that tight ends didn’t kill Oakland.
For years, now, covering the tight end has been something the Raiders have been unable to do.
It was a death knell to their 2015 season, where they surged to 7-9 for the year, and battled to just keep any tight end to under 100 yards. During Week 5, the Raiders managed to hold Antonio Gates to 34 yards, though the other one, Hunter Henry, had a 74-yard, one-touchdown type of day.
The tandem is more dangerous than any in the division, though, and holding the pair to 100 yards is an accomplishment for any squad. That was proven Thursday night, when the defending champion Broncos let the two go for similar yardage.
Travis Kelce, one of the better F receivers in football, couldn’t do much.
There are different types of tight ends, and the F-type is a receiver. Kelce is among the best. But getting open was a chore, and though he played a role in the run game, Kelce only had two catches by halftime, and that total stood to the final whistle.
The switch was made after the Falcons torched Oakland in front of the first Coliseum crowd this year. There’s no other way to explain the change, except to also mention the fact that teams generally get an improved feel for their opponents after four weeks.
Not to mention the Saints and Falcons’ offenses being historically good so far this season.
Regardless, though, the Raiders are solving their problems on defense one step at a time. And that’s a major element to their playoff aspirations. No offense can keep up the pace that Raiders’ foes were building prior to last week, and though there are still issues, they are being marginalized.
Said Del Rio:
“We’re not playing very well right now. We’re capable of more. We have to teach it better. We have to learn it better and we have to do it better. It’s nowhere near where it needs to be. You know, 13-10 at halftime, not really playing that well, but right in it. Then come out and let them go right down the field to start the second half. That’s a major can’t do.”
By taking away an easy completion, Oakland should be able to cut the defensive losses down by a sizable margin. To the point where Kansas City needed their starting nose tackle, Dontari Poe, to score a touchdown during the opening possession of the second half.
Oakland’s defense isn’t without other problems. Like stopping the run — an element that killed them Sunday.
Safety Reggie Nelson said:
“I can’t sit up here and make excuses for you all. We just have to continue to reset our jaw and come back to work on Monday. … We need to get better.”
Cornerback David Amerson added:
“Biggest issue is the attention to detail. It’s not the guys going out there and getting out-physicalled or beat on every play. It’s the attention to details and the offense doing things that messes with our eyes. And us not being in the right spots on the plays. Just those little details that can turn into big gains that adds up at end of the day.”
Starting running back Spencer Ware rushed for 80 yards on only 11 carries. All three of Kansas City’s touchdowns were run plays — though Poe’s was a screen pass behind the line of scrimmage, placing it into a different category unofficially.
Linebacker Bruce Irvin said he didn’t see all of the edge plays coming, and that the Raiders have flashed but not cruised through games the way they need to:
“It’s just inconsistency. We play well and then we let a play get away from us. We just have to be consistent. That is the big thing in this league. You can’t be inconsistent because teams that are too good will make us pay.”
The West coast is the best coast
The West has is the most competitive division in the AFC, judging by cumulative win percentage. We’re not even to the midway point this season, but what we all expected has been confirmed. Even if the Raiders are really good, getting to the postseason will be tougher out west than anywhere else, including the AFC North.
It wasn’t any secret that the AFC West was going to be difficult to maneuver for the Raiders. Both the Chiefs and Broncos made the playoffs last year, and the Chargers have always been decent at worst, and reliant on their defense to step up.
The Raiders and Broncos are 1-1 within the division, while Kansas City is 2-0, having beat San Diego and Oakland.
That’s a big deal for the Raiders, since the first tie breaker for inter-division seeding is head-to-head record, and the second tie breaker is inter-division record. The good news, though, is that the Chiefs are 3-2, and the percentage itself puts them in second place.
The Raiders have played 60 more minutes, which is an hour’s worth of plays that can lead to a loss.
Defensive Coordinator Ken Norton Jr. is losing his grasp
Early in the fourth quarter, linebacker Malcolm Smith was signaling to the Raiders sideline that he needed the call to come in. And he sure didn’t get a chance to relay anything to the players, as the Chiefs lined up and the Raiders followed suit.
It’s not a terrible thing for a defensive scheme to fail. It happens, and it happens a lot.
But a coordinator not getting plays called in enough time for the players to adapt? That’s something I’ve never heard of. Even when the Raiders were 3-13 and 4-12, recently, and had one defensive back lined up against three receivers in London, the team didn’t have this problem.
And it’s a pretty significant issue to have. Del Rio said:
“It can’t continue. Not for us to be the kind of team we had designs on being. We’re sitting here at 4-2 right now. Coming off a day that didn’t go the way it needed to go for us to go home with a big smile on our face.”
Del Rio said after the game that Norton continued calling the plays, and alluded to that being the case going forward. But the defense has been awful this season, despite two significant free agent additions, plus a lot of draft capital going to Norton’s unit.
This leads to a handful of resolutions. One being that Norton is let go, halfway through the season, and a defensive assistant takes the reins. But only defensive backs coach Marcus Robertson makes any sense at the NFL level.
Another alternative is that Del Rio takes over the play calling full time. Which he has done, and through his long history as a coach, done very well. Norton would finish the season as an instructor.
The last would be to hire an outside body, which would be intriguing at least. It’s not unheard of for a team to hire a consultant, who does a lot more than just consult.
This would figure to be the best option, if not for one major problem: Even if the Raiders would be willing to open their playbook and proprietary statistics to an outsider during the middle of a season, which is a big ‘if’, is there even a realistic chance that the new body would make a difference?
Not really, and the idea that the Raiders would seriously consider such an option is more preposterous with every second of thought it’s given.
That puts Oakland in a major bind. And the best answer, logically, is to have Norton finish the season, and have Del Rio help him with the planning and preparation.
The Raiders have two road games upcoming, both in Florida, against the Buccaneers and Jaguars. The plan is for the Raiders to stay in the sunshine state after they face Jacksonville to avoid the unnecessary travel.
With their loss to Kansas City, though, the two games turn from ‘should win’ to ‘must win.’
They should also have running back Doug Martin back from a leg injury, and present a serious threat for a weak — if not completely lost — Raiders defense. Factor in a capable tight end, Cameron Brate, and their return home could be complicated to explain.
Jacksonville, too, has solid offensive talent — Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns are an impressive 1-2 punch outside, and their running attack isn’t anything to scoff at. Neither defense has proven effective, though, with Jacksonville’s defense ranked 26th, and Tampa Bay ranked 29th.
The challenges figure to be a solid opportunity for Oakland to right their wrongs, especially the defense. Both teams are very beatable, and the Raiders should win the paper matchup. It’s the things that have bit them in their two losses, though, which could haunt them again.
Jason Leskiw is SFBay’s Oakland Raiders beat writer and member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow @SFBay and @LeskiwSFBay on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of Raiders football.