Raiders 4 & Out: Audible quickly becomes an Oakland touchdown

When Amari Cooper took four steps with his body angled towards the middle of the field, he sold Bills cornerback Kevon Seymour that the initial defensive read was correct.

Seymour was wrong, though, and Cooper returned towards the sideline and then towards the end zone for a 35-yard touchdown reception and a 30-24 Raiders lead. Oakland held the lead until the final snap, adding on another score in their 38-24 win.

Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio said:

“I think they were all out on that one. We felt like we saw that look and we’d have an opportunity to hurt them. That was one that we connected on.”

Seymour lined up with his center of mass angled towards Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, making it easy to lock onto Cooper. The rookie corner, who is receiving time after starting corner Ronald Darby was held out with a concussion, never recovered.

And Cooper played it perfectly.

But there was more than meets the eye. That was a run play that Carr audibled out of, changing it to a slant-and-go for Cooper. Once the play was killed, Cooper knew the ball was heading his way:

“I just ran the route. It went perfectly. … The defender was right where I wanted him to be, as far as how we practice it. We like him to be off in that particular route.”

When Cooper catches the ball, there’s a lot that can happen, but his presence in the end zone has been scarce.

The score against Buffalo was only his fourth of the season, though getting in on big plays has been his forte.

He’s almost become a complimentary player next to Michael Crabtree, and the both get overshadowed a lot of the time since they play on the same team as Khalil Mack.

Perhaps what’s most interesting is that nobody wants the credit, a rarity in professional sports, and even when a team is really good an stands as a united unit while in the public eye.

Cooper had only four targets versus the Bills, and Crabtree had 11. Running back Latavius Murray had five targets, in fact, along with tight end Mychal Rivera and receiver Seth Roberts. That places the former fifth overall pick as the fifth most targeted receiver, though Cooper was second in reception yardage.

Still, though, Cooper took a backseat to most of the offensive starters, nearly all of them, and made the play when it mattered most.

A flip of the coin doesn’t always even out

When the Raiders lost the coin toss in week 13, it really seemed as though it was the first of the season.

That hasn’t been the case, though over 12 flips of the coin, the Raiders have won seven of them. Losing the coin flip hasn’t had much impact on the results, either, with only loss coming coincidentally after the Raiders lost the coin toss against the Chiefs.

The four games where Oakland didn’t win the toss: Week 4 at Baltimore, Week 5 vs. San Diego, Week 6 vs. Kansas City, and Week 7 at Jacksonville.

Oddly coincidental that the Raiders lost the flip four straight weeks, and not coincidentally, coach Del Rio chose to defer.

Teams defer so that they can make second-half adjustments and start with the ball. It’s a minor advantage most times, but can be major every now and again. The reasons are simple.

Whether it’s due to injury or a simple lineup change, coaches might recognize a mismatch that they weren’t prepared for. It could also be due to a change in formations, such as a team that normally utilizes a lot of three receiver sets switching to 12 personnel, which leaves only two wide-outs.

For the sake of simplicity, we’ll stick with the first situation and imagine that the injury was to a team’s left tackle. The backup comes in and hasn’t been managing his center of gravity well, and is become increasingly less stable.

A coach might change their defensive line to bring one heavy interior lineman in and also the team’s quickest speed rusher, attacking the backup tackle. In a zone blocking scheme, that could turn into record sack numbers.

Similarly, there are times when a team’s quarterback gets hurt and the backup comes in, like Matt McGloin replacing Carr in the third quarter.

Another scenario could be as simple as a television analyst noting that another player doesn’t look right but is still in the game. And before we go any further, yes, coaches do pay attention to what the broadcasters are saying, as is routinely shown by sideline footage and amplified audio which catches conversational sound bites.

Coaches have a few minutes to talk about different ways they can attack this newfound advantage, or to simply test it out.

This normally yields extremely limited results, though there is always the chance it could become 7 to 10 added points, which is a big deal in an NFL where games are often decided by 7 points or fewer.

A more recent and relevant example is when the Bills came out of halftime and rushed for 66 yards on two plays against the Raiders, which culminated in seven points over 57 seconds. A big swing indeed.

Khalil Mack could be threatening Derek Carr‘s MVP candidacy

Two weeks in a row, two strip sacks and two recoveries. Those are the newest addenda to Khalil Mack’s resume.

And he’d be receiving a vote from Derek Carr, too, who explained that he simply doesn’t want to vote for himself. Fans at the Oakland Coliseum sure made themselves heard on Sunday, chanting “M.V.P.” after Mack’s strip of Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor to ice the win for Oakland.

And like Carr, Mack wouldn’t let the media dig into the potential for M.V.P. candidacy following the game:

“Was Steph Curry here? Man, I just got to keep balling out there and make plays.”

Mack’s mindset, at least the way he verbalizes it, hasn’t changed since he was drafted in 2014. His explanations of any play rarely last longer than a sentence or two, like the way he broke down his final play:

“I had to reach for the ball and it was crazy, just go.”

Mack didn’t run full speed off the line as most would need to, he hesitated and waited for right tackle Jordan Mills to give a little room with a backpedal, and then rushed full speed as the lineman slowed. Boom.

Mack ran over Mills with his helmet digging into the opponent’s chest protector and swiped air while chasing Taylor.

Then a second try resulted in his left arm around Taylor’s side, and his right hand knocking the ball loose. Safety Nate Allen said:

“He’s the man, he’s special man. I think he really is the best guy coming off the edge in the league right now. I’m happy to have him coming off our side right now. He can do it all. He can drop, come off the edge, he’s just a specimen. … He makes it easy on the secondary. You want guys like that, like him and Bruce and our whole d-line bringing pressure because they just make our job easy.”

On the 10th Buffalo drive of the game, Allen grabbed his first interception of the season after Mack raced around the edge, with a half-bend, half-bull rush, that actually put him underneath Mills. The ball was tipped, and picked, with the Raiders scoring a touchdown four plays later.

Left tackle Donald Penn said:

“He does it to me at practice. I don’t see anything differently. He has done it to me plenty of time at practice, I know what he’s doing. We are going against him and Bruce every day. I’ve seen it happen plenty of times before.”

Guard Kelechi Osemele said:

“Khalil is such a tough, clutch player and he’s getting better and better with these experiences.”

Mack doesn’t just get Carr’s vote, Bruce Irvin said he’d throw one towards number 52 as well. Likely along with a pretty significant percentage of NFL players — especially offensive linemen and quarterbacks.

AFC West will be going through Thursday night

Viewed by some, if not many, as the best team in the NFL, are the Kansas City Chiefs. And the Raiders play them this upcoming Thursday night.

Raiders fans don’t want to hear that Kansas City is a more talented team than Oakland, I know, but this is looking less like opinion and more like fact with every passing week. And after the Chiefs decimated Atlanta this weekend — much more than the 29-28 final score will show — Kansas City is squarely in the divisional driver’s seat even though they have one more loss than the Raiders.

Here’s why: The home team gets an extra day of rest and an extra day of preparation during short weeks. And the results show that the home team usually wins.

It’s not always the case, but in cases where the home team loses, it’s generally because the matchup was lopsided.

Dallas just beat Minnesota this last Thursday, but that’s a team surging and with only one loss this season against a team who has lost every game dating back to their Week 6 bye.

There was only one case where the better team, on paper, lost as the home team on Thursday night, Buffalo was taken down by the New York Jets in Week 2. Here’s the full list of games where the home team lost in 2016:

Week 2 (New York Jets over Buffalo), Week 5 (Arizona over San Francisco), Week 9 (Atlanta over Tampa Bay), and Week 13 (Dallas over Minnesota).

The 2015 season had a few more home teams that lost such games, but again, there were clear reasons why. The Ravens beat the Steelers in Week 4, but quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was unable to play and Michael Vick started — a significant drop off in expected production at the game’s most important position.

Two weeks before that, the Broncos beat the Chiefs 31-24, but scored 14 points in the fourth quarter, including a 21-yard interception return taken back by nickel corner Bradley Roby with only 27 seconds left in regulation.

Here’s the weeks where the home team lost on Thursday night in 2015:

Week 2 (Denver over Kansas City), Week 4 (Baltimore over Pittsburgh), Week 5 (Indianapolis over Houston), Week 7 (Seattle over San Francisco), Week 10 (Buffalo over New York Jets), Week 13 (Green Bay over Detroit).

And here’s the Chiefs record on Thursday night since 2012: Chiefs lost at San Diego, Week 9 of 2012; Chiefs win at Philadelphia Week 3 of 2013, Chiefs lost at Oakland Week 12 of 2014; Chiefs lost vs. Denver Week 2 of 2015.

Oakland hasn’t had many primetime games over the last few seasons, due mostly to how bad they were for so long. And they certainly haven’t been in a primetime game in their history where the implications are so huge.

The winner is looking at essentially locking up the division, and the loser will be hoping for a wild card.

I’ll have more on this game Wednesday evening, but it’s arguably the most important regular season game of the year across the NFL. No single game has the sort of ripple effect that this one will.

In memoriam

This column is always about football and the Raiders, but I am making an exception this week.

33 people have been confirmed dead after being trapped in a warehouse that caught fire in Oakland this weekend.

It’s beyond tragic.

Most seem to be young folks, just out on a Friday night, trying to dance their ails away. It’s something I’m familiar with, as I’m sure most are, and can’t begin to imagine feeling what the victim’s families are feeling.

What’s more is that this happened in a city with so many other problems that have plagued its history, as Oakland has long been known as a murder capital that’s been infested by drug use and other illicit activities.

And that has been changing, with murders down, along with everything else a parent wouldn’t want to raise their child around.

But when their child goes out on a Friday night and dances to something with their friends only to be trapped inside a building that reportedly burned quicker than the Raiders used to lose… Tragic.

Condolences to the families. I can’t begin to imagine your pain.

I hope that the city, state and federal government consider this a good time to reevaluate their positions on building safety enforcement. It’s not a commonly debated topic in American politics, but perhaps it should be discussed more.

I rarely feel vulnerable around people who are generally considered dangerous, but have certainly wondered if a beam might fall on my head when looking skyward in an older structure.

Fire is rarely, if ever, on my mind.

What happens in the future, I’m sure, will be modest to major changes in the way we look at fire safety and complaint response.

What happens now, though, is that we should all do what we can to help out. All three professional sports teams in Oakland have set up fundraising accounts online, as have others, and there are certainly other ways to help out for those who can’t afford to give their cash away.

I can’t tell you exactly what those are right now, but urge everyone to keep abreast of the situation and continuously look for places where volunteers may be needed, or anything else that may be of some assistance.


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.