As a statement of how incredibly close and to some extent how incredibly disappointing the AFC is this season, the 4-6 Oakland Raiders entertained the 4-6 Tennessee Titans yesterday with playoff implications very much on the line. Thanks to other results falling into place the Titans’ last minute victory has put them into the six seed in the AFC atop a six-way tie at 5-6. This in spite of losing five of six prior to this victory against a Raiders team that at 4-7 stands closer to the final playoff spot (one game) than the foot of the conference (two games).
The Raiders will be ruing their missed opportunities that allowed the Titans last minute drive to be a game winner after Sebastian Janikowski missed two field goals within 50 yards (one inside 35 yards) to ensure that Oakland did not maximize the points that they earned for themselves through the combination of offense and special teams. Their defensive line won up front against the Tennessee offensive line, but couldn’t come up with the plays on the final drive to preserve the victory.
The Titans also got strong showings on defense with Akeem Ayers continuing to impress — the defensive staff again putting him in position to exploit his skill set. This was not a convincing performance from either side but showed the spark that in the complete muddle that is the AFC could yet send either side to a surprise playoff appearance.
Tennessee – Three Performances of Note
Wright and Hunter Light Up the Skies
While Chris Johnson was steady on the ground it was the Tennessee passing game that made the telling impacts to steal away this come-from-behind victory for the Titans. Trailing 9-6 at the half, Tennessee got the ball first in need of a spark and they got it from the combination of Kendall Wright (+3.4 overall) and Justin Hunter (+2.5 receiving) on the first drive of the second half. Wright got the half off to a fast start with a 23-yard gain on a post route getting across in front of Tracy Porter to move the Titans out from the shadow of their own goalposts. After two runs by Johnson it was Hunter who broke the game open with a long scoring play aided by some dreadful defense by the Oakland secondary. Hunter found space on a corner route but then appeared to be fairly well controlled to limit his yards after the catch by Brandian Ross and Philip Adams, but the Oakland pair contrived to allow Hunter to break up the sideline without either missing so much as a tackle on the rookie receiver. Held to a field goal until the final drive, Hunter and Wright both contributed on that last effort with each grabbing a pair of first down pickups before Wright snagged the game-winning score between two Oakland defenders. In an unexpected playoff spot right now, contributions like this to ease the pressure on Chris Johnson will be pivotal to the Titans maintaining position in the coming month.
Ayers Backs up his Form
After impressing against the Indianapolis Colts last Thursday, Akeem Ayers came up with another strong showing in Oakland yesterday. Illustrating again his ability to produce in a similar capacity (if not quite to the same level) to Von Miller, Ayers was the Titans’ most consistent presence as a pass rusher and continued to defend well against the run. Only weakside linebacker Zach Brown recorded more than Ayers’ three stops on defense while his five pressures (all hurries) paced the Titan’s pass rush. With the likes of Kamerion Wimbley failing to impress in a pass rushing capacity this season, the Titans have taken the opportunity to give Ayers more snaps in that area and he, in fact, rushed the passer more times (18) than he dropped into coverage (17) yesterday, the first time he has had such a split on his passing downs since Week 5 against Kansas City.
Down Day in the Trenches
The Titans’ offensive line has been solid this season if it hasn’t really hit the heights that the investment in it would suggest that it should. At left tackle, Michael Roos came up with his worst display of the season (-3.2) surrendering eight pressures. Lamarr Houston snagged four of them and drew a holding penalty in a first half where he consistently got the better of the Titan tackle. On the interior, both guards came up with a pair of penalties, Andy Levitre contributing two of the Titans’ five holding calls (on offense) as the interior duo put in the sort of display that few would have expected based on offseason reputation many would have pegged as one of the best in the league. There were a couple of bright spots at least with David Stewart holding his own in pass protection and rookie center Brian Schwenke showing well as a run blocker against Stacy McGee even if his pass protection (-2.1; 1 Sk, 2 Ht, 2 Hu) left a lot to be desired.
Oakland – Three Performances of Note
Ironman Roach Rolls On
His streak up to 769 snaps and counting Nick Roach is still yet to miss a snap for the Oakland Raiders’ defense this season and turned in an impact performance yesterday. Grading positively in every phase of the game, Roach made his biggest impact as a pass rusher registering six pressures (2 Sk, 4 Hu) on 13 blitzes which included a forced fumble on a play close to the line of scrimmage that went out of bounds late in the second quarter. Setting a season high with seven stops yesterday, Roach beat the six he recorded in Kansas City six weeks ago and earned his third overall positive grade in the last four games. Roach was still a little hit and miss as a run defender (though, after a poor string of displays against the run in recent weeks he was at least as much hit as miss) finding the ball carrier almost as often as he got cleared out by blocks at the second level, but he is finding ways t contribute against the pass in the meantime while he searches for more consistent form against the run.
Solid Showing Keeps McGloin at the Helm
The Raiders will roll into Dallas on Thanksgiving this Thursday with Matt McGloin still under center after a solid performance in defeat to the Titans yesterday. His biggest error was picked off by the Titans — a forced throw from inside his own 10-yard line jumped by Zach Brown early in the second quarter. McGloin settled there after rarely wowing but also rarely missing his mark in a performance that set the Raiders solidly towards victory until the final seconds. He led a quick fire go-ahead drive midway through the fourth quarter capitalizing on coverage breakdowns (on the opening play to Rod Streater) and coverage mismatches (on the touchdown pass to Reece) to put the Raiders up three. Only getting the ball back with nine seconds remaining he didn’t get the chance to extend his starting record to 2-0 but will have the chance to throw a spanner in the works of the Cowboys’ playoff push this Thursday.
Shaky Day in the Secondary
This wasn’t a day to remember for the Oakland secondary with crucial errors and communication breakdowns leading to crucial plays on crucial drives as the Titans wrestled the victory from Oakland’s grasp in the second half. Though the metrics may not look that bad with Tracy Porter coming off worst surrendering 64 yards on five targets (five catches) the tackling was poor and the mistakes were poorly timed to surrender pivotal plays to the Tennessee offense. Porter earned his lowest grade of the season in coverage (-3.0) surrendering three first downs and failing to drift with Wright on the final touchdown when right corner Phillip Adams had Justin Hunter already right at him on the outside and help inside giving Porter the freedom. At safety, Brandian Ross came up with another play to draw the ire of the Oakland faithful surrendering the sideline to Hunter on his 54-yard score when he should have had the play caged with Adams soon after the catch inside the Oakland half. Positive plays in the Oakland direction were few and far between with Kevin Burnett registering the Raiders only pass defense yesterday and only a couple of the coverage stops coming from the secondary.
– Both of his touchdowns were targeted outside the numbers but Ryan Fitzpatrick was extremely efficient between them completing 22-of-25 for 215 yards.
– Second-year linebacker Miles Burris made his return to the field yesterday registering 14 snaps, recording one hurry and one defensive stop.
– After Craig Stevens’ early departure due to injury, second-year tight end Taylor Thompson recorded a season-high 40 snaps but struggled as a run blocker surrendering one of the Titans’ five holding penalties on offense.
PFF Game Ball
Returning quickly from ankle injury suffered on the opening play of the fourth quarter, Kendall Wright made his presence felt on the game-winning drive with a big gain to get it started and the game-winning score taking advantage of a coverage break down to give the Titans a much needed victory.
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