How does one go about breaking down the individual performances in this game? Or rather; how does one go about choosing specific players in a game in which nearly every Raider player contributed to such a completely dominating performance? I am going to attempt to try.
As entertaining as it was to watch this game, the hardest part was really dissecting it in the usual fashion. It almost seemed wrong to try and do such a thing considering the way the Raiders played as a cohesive unit.
In my usual way, I will make my best attempt to view the performances in a vacuum. But, seriously, where did this come from? It is almost frustrating watching this team play so well because it makes you wonder how they looked so terrible just last week versus the 49ers. Could it be that they just match up better against the Broncos? Or could it be bigger than that? Could the lightbulb have finally turned on that turns things around?
I know that is a lot of questions. All of which we will try to break down in due time. For now, I must get to the daunting task at hand.
An career best day for McFadden helped lead to the Raider to an historic day in points scored and rushing yards. McFadden ran for 165 yards and 4 TDs! In the process he had his longest ever run from scrimmage (57 yards). He also had runs of 40, 18, 15, and 12 yards and a 19 yard screen pass he took for one of his TD's. Those big runs helped him to an average of a ridiculous 10.3 yards per carry in this game. I have said it before that he is a different player this year than he has ever been. It shows in the fact that he is averaging well over 100 yards a game this season (111.4) and is on pace for over 1500 yards on the season. All while having missed two games with injury.
In this game he showed off his elusiveness as well as his newfound ability to drive through would be tacklers for extra yards. But in this game he showed something he had not shown us before: the ability to run away from the defense. That was something he showed with great regularity in college. But in the NFL, he had never done it. He would always get caught from behind. But on that 57 yard run, he first navigated his way through the first wave of defenders, and this time when it was "off to the races", he won. He has suddenly become the guy the Raiders rely upon to make their offense explosive. While it is never great to rely so much on one single player, at least the Raiders can ride that horse for as long as possible.
I have heard much about Mitchell of late from fans. The grumblings have been over the fact that the Raiders safety play has been pretty weak this season. There has been a ground swell to give this little known, hard hitting, second round pick a shot to start over either Tyvon Branch or Michael Huff. Still, until this game, I had dismissed the talk as the usual call for the backup in the hopes that the alternative will be better than than the current disappointing starters. I am not entirely ready to annoint him worthy of being named a starter just yet. But I will say that if there was any question of whether he can perform at a high enough level, he answered that on Sunday.
He wouldn't get a chance to show his wares until after the Raiders were up 21-0. That was, of course, because the Broncos had exactly two offensive plays before that. After they picked up 29 yards on a screen play, the Broncos had a first down in Raider territory. After and incompletion and a 6 yard run, the Broncos were in 3rd and short. Mitchell had his receiver down as soon as the he caught it for a short gain, to put the Broncos in a 4th and 1. They went for it and tested Mitchell again, this time he swatted it down for a turnover on downs.
Two possessions later, he had a run stuff to help force a three and out. Then the very next time the Broncos had the ball, he chased down Kyle Orton on a scramble to force a fumble. It was the fourth time the Broncos ended a possession with a turnover. And like the previous three, it resulted in a Raider score. It would put the Raiders up 38-0. A comfortable lead that the Broncos could not threaten.
He has been a buster a couple times this season. Last week was one of those weeks, and a breaking point for many who saw the game. It was the Raiders worst offensive performance of the season. And for Jason Campbell, it was his worst performance ever. Perhaps Jackson used that horrible showing as a wake up call because his play calling in this game was exactly what the Raiders have needed with greater regularity. This game had nothing really fancy and no trickeration. Unless you consider a reverse end around to be tricky. This was good old fashioned game planning and sound execution. Jason Campbell may have his flaws, but one thing he has always done well is play action. He had the Broncos fooled so many times in this game. And Hue Jackson called just the right mixture of play action and misdirection plays versus straight up run plays.
The Broncos were never quite sure where the ball was going. That first drive was indicative of this. Namely when Zach Miller broke wide open for a 43 yard touchdown catch and run. It was a sign of things to come in this game. He utilized McFadden like the ultimate wild card too. Starting with a 12 yard swing pass and a 4 yard touchdown run on the second drive and then a 40 run off of a pitch play on the next drive. Next drive it was a perfectly called 21 yard screen play for the Raiders 3rd offensive touchdown. Then late in the game, even with a sizable lead, he didn't let off the gas pedal until he was sure the Broncos had no shot at threatening the blowout. He finally showed us the kind of play calling that he was hired to execute. Planning for the Raiders' strengths combined with unpredictiblity.
While the line may be the reason McFadden had such big holes to run through, Reece was the main reason those runs resulted in such long gains. He laid key blocks on two of his TD's, both of which he literally walked into the endzone untouched from 4 yards out. But at least once a game, he shows off why he was a wide receiver in college and the Raiders initially looked at him as a tightend.
On the Raider first drive after the half, they needed a score. Hard to think of a team as needing a touchdown after starting the game 38-0. But, the Broncos had taken their last two possessions for touchdowns and were suddenly making a game of it at 38-14 with nearly a whole half of football left to be played. The Raiders' first drive of the second half was important to try and take back the momentum in this game. And the first big play of the drive was one in which Campbell threw to Reece in coverage and Reece leaped in the air to pull the ball down for a pick up of 19 yards on the play. He showed tremendous hands and concentration to come down with the ball in traffic. The Raiders were able to drive the ball down the field where they rewarded Reece for his catch by handing it off to him for a 1 yard touchdown run.
He got things started early and that is always a good thing. Because if there is anything we have learned about the Raiders and Zach, if he doesn't touch the ball, they don't score. Like death and taxes. He caught the second pass of the day that went for 5 yards. Then he finished the opening drive breaking wide open and taking the catch 43 yards for an opening drive touchdown. Talk about setting the tone. He later had a key 17 yard catch on a drive that resulted in the Raiders' final touchdown of the game.
Sure, he had two false start penalties and a holding call as well. But he did some serious work in this game that more than made up for those miscues. He was given the start over Mario Henderson at left tackle in this game. A position at which he had previously been rotating in and out. The rookie third round pick not only kept Jason Campbell's blindside protected all game but he was a beast in run blocking. When McFadden ran the ball in from 4 yards out on the Raiders 2nd drive, Veldheer helped him walk in untouched. Then the next drive, after starting things off with a false start, he laid a vicious block that sprung McFadden for 40 yards on a pitch play. Then he opened a sizable hole for Michael Bush on the next play so he could pick up 9 yards.
On the following Raider possession, he gave Campbell all day to connect with Louis Murphy for a 20 yard completion on first down. Then he finished it off by blocking for McFadden on a 12 yard touchdown run.
A few minutes later, in an off twist of fate, Samson Satele went out of the game with an injury. At that moment, Veldheer's time at center for the Raiders paid dividends. They simply put Henderson back in at left tackle, moved Veldheer to center, and didn't miss a beat. He played flawless football at center for the 2nd half of the game. And that capability was extremely important to the continued success of the offense in this game. The Raider had three touchdown drives with Veldheer snapping the ball. A damn fine day's work by any measure.
Chris Johnson, Michael Huff
The Raiders secondary has had some pretty bad games of late. Even the win over the Chargers was rife with mistakes. Those mistakes were simply rendered moot with some big turnovers. The difference in this game was they not only had the big turnovers but they were lights out in coverage as well. Kyle Orton was held under 200 yards passing and was a pathetic 12 for 29.
Chris Johnson had his usual couple of hickups/lapses, but the big plays he made more than outshined those moments. He shot out of the gates as a Baller candidate when on the Broncos first play from scrimmage, he had perfect coverage, intercepted the pass and took it to the house to give the Raiders their 2nd touchdown in 10 seconds. Later, the 2nd quarter, he ended a Bronco series with a three and out when he had tight coverage to force and incompletion. He had two other passed defended in the game.
The Broncos 2nd turnover in as many possessions was one in which Stanford Routt came up to stop a run on an end around. He was hanging onto Damarius Thomas' leg for dear life as Michael Huff flew in to hit Thomas and punch the ball out. It set up the 3rd Raider touchdown of the game. All before the Broncos had gotten a single yard on offense.
He didn't have any big, game-on-the-line field goals. But what he did do was hit the field goal he was asked to hit along with 8 extra points and kicked a touchback on 8 of his 10 kickoffs in this game.
Made quite a comeback after his historically bad week last week. He managed the game well and didn't make any big mistakes. He executed the game plan almost flawlessly. He wasn't asked to do anything spectacular because he didn't need to. He was 12 of 20 for 60% completion and had 204 yards and 2 TDs with no interceptions or fumbles.
His first punt return of his career came last week and he took it for 49 yards. His first catch came this week and it was a gorgeous 32 yard leaping sideline grab over his defender for a huge play to set up a touchdown. He was also fantastic in the punt return game. At one time I was quoted as saying "Even if Nick Miller only got 7 yards on a return, that is 12 yards more than the Raiders would have gotten from Jonnie Lee Higgins."
None (seriously, no one)
You are witnessing the first time in three seasons that I was unable to come up with a single Buster. And that includes my Ballers and Buster treatment of the Raiders three Super Bowl wins. I wracked my brain on this one and could not come up with one player who honestly deserved to be told "this team won despite you." Every mistake made by any one player in this game was either a single mistake that wasn't too damaging, or that player made up for it with a good play or two. Call it offsetting penalties.
On defense, you can tell a good day when the tackle numbers are evenly distributed. Three tackles led the team and Five players were tied for that team lead. On offense, the Raiders had their best rushing totals since 1987 when Bo Jackson and Marcus Allen were in the backfield. Of the 328 yards rushing they had, about half were Darren McFadden. The other half was distributed among several other players. So everyone was getting into the act. That includes a lot of great blocking.
What it comes down to is this was a total team effort. No one let a single mistake tear down what they were building. They just regrouped and made up for it. Heck, it was just as difficult not to put most of the team on the Baller list. This was the kind of win of which this team has been desperate for a long time. Now they just need to keep it going.