Raiders film shows reasons for optimism against Houston

Oakland’s loss at Denver wasn’t pretty, but the box score fails to highlight some key positives.

For the untimely turnovers, bad plays and all the other ugliness, there were several positives. The biggest one is that the Raiders mostly beat themselves. A few others center around Connor Cook and the poise he displayed, not to mention some changes that should and likely will be made at receiver.

Facing a terrific pass defense, Cook managed to complete the vast majority of his passes, with one interception that was off target and another that was tipped and snatched away.

The rookie navigated the pocket well, which is more than impressive since his preparation for Sunday was as the scout quarterback instead of the expecting starter. What Cook faced Sunday, and what he will face at Houston, are two very different things, and he looked pretty good in the first and more difficult matchup. Like connecting with Michael Crabtree even though Von Miller was a half step away from crushing the Michigan State product. Or his decisiveness when targeting Mychal Rivera in the middle of the field even if the ball was picked.

These are things that several quarterbacks have made a career out of in the NFL.

But the positives weren’t just on Cook, and in fact, some of the reasons for optimism were tough to watch.

Like Keith McGill‘s missed tackle of running back Justin Forsett. Or the myriad of penalties called on the Raiders.

These are things that should be easy to fix, even though the issues have remained, since making a tackle isn’t complex, nor does it require a unique level of athleticism.

In fact that’s the single most frustrating part of watching the Raiders, for many, when a player refuses to wrap up and twist, be dragged or do something other than hit the deck with hands grasping at air. It doesn’t appear to be the result of inadequate effort.

Likely it’s more to do with the fact that teams can’t do a lot of contact drills, including tackling drills, because the collective bargaining agreement says so. And maybe it will take a game with so much gravity, fighting elimination and staving off springtime regression, for the Raiders to get it right.

Another factor that could be a major element in Oakland’s chances when they face the Texans this Saturday is who lines up as the third receiver.

It can’t be Seth Roberts.

Cook is going to need someone much more sure handed than Roberts, who has made a bad habit of dropping passes that are right on the money. The best bet, it seems, is to start Andre Holmes.

This would create a size advantage that the Raiders have been without, but more than that, present Cook with an excellent deep threat that would keep Houston’s defense honest and help in the run game. Because if Holmes can do one thing very well, it’s block.

And one bomb to Holmes down the field, and an eight man box won’t be something Houston tries. The Raiders desperately need that.

A recap, for simplicity:

  • Cook looks good, very good. A lot to be happy about there.
  • Tackling the opponent should be systemic, not constantly missing tackles.
  • Andre Holmes should start as the third wide out, which allows Oakland a terrific deep threat who is a real asset in the run game.

The two changes could pay huge dividends. And without Carr, changes that promote upside are probably necessary for any postseason success.

Against Houston, a team that has thrived on a defensive unit that is mostly intact, winning the battle of fundamentals should be huge.

Whether they work as well as they do on paper, or whether the Raiders can’t regain the sound, technical form they displayed in December, remains to be seen.

But there’s some solace to be taken in knowing that things aren’t always as bad as they seem sometimes.


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.