ReFo: Raiders @ Panthers, Week 16
Some believe Panthers owner Jerry Richardson’s edict to “trend upwards” meant the Panthers needed to win more games in 2012 than they did in 2011 to save Ron Rivera’s job. Others take the decree to mean the Panthers simply needed to finish the season on a high note. In either case, Carolina demonstrated their desire to retain their head coach—and by extension save some of their own jobs—by winning a third consecutive game and four of their past five. Fittingly enough, the 6-9 Panthers can exceed their 2011 win total, and renew expectations for next season, with a win over division rival New Orleans.
The Raiders didn’t start the 2012 season with reasonably high expectations unlike Carolina, but they find themselves in a similar position of playing for their jobs as the new Raiders regime continues to redefine Oakland football. The result was a game that seemed more meaningful than the participants would indicate, with more than a little nastiness from each side. Cam Newton’s frustrations received plenty of attention in the aftermath, but he certainly wasn’t the only player in Bank of America Stadium who let his emotions influence the game.
Generally, the Panthers were better able to channel that emotion into positive plays. Meanwhile, the Matt Leinart-led Raiders failed to take advantage of several opportunities presented by Carolina miscues, instead having to showcase their talented kicker and punter far too often. Here are some individual performances that stood out in a game in which neither team reached the 300-yard benchmark for total offense.
Oakland – Three Performances of Note
Sometimes, You Just Have to Finish
The sack is one of the most overused statistics in football, and PFF strives to provide accurate information about players’ Pass Rush Productivity, one of our signature stats, in terms of total pressure, not just sacks. As you know, a hurried throw is sometimes just as good and in some cases even better than a sack. But, sometimes… well, you read the lead-in. The Raiders were actually able to pressure Newton more often than not. However, they frequently allowed Newton to escape the pocket and make a play, be it with his legs or his arm. Left defensive end Lamarr Houston (+6.1) had his second-highest graded game of the year with nine total pressures, but the inability to close on Newton and bring him to the ground opened up opportunities for Newton to exploit coverage breakdowns as he broke the pocket, as he did on a 23-yard touchdown strike down the right sideline to Steve Smith.
No Pryor Engagement
Supposedly, the Raiders went to Leinart (-1.6) rather than Terrelle Pryor when Carson Palmer went down because Pryor was not yet ready to run a traditional offense. After watching Leinart lead his team to only 6 points despite starting two drives within field goal range, it’s hard to imagine Pryor could have been much less effective even in a limited offense. For that matter, Leinart didn’t exactly execute Greg Knapp’s offense to perfection. He was remarkably hesitant to throw the ball downfield, with only two attempts over 20 yards, both of which were incomplete for a paltry 3.6 yards per attempt. The futility of playing Leinart over Pryor was never more apparent than the Raiders’ final drive of the first half. After underthrowing receivers for incompletions on first and second down, Leinart decided to try to drop a pass over a Panthers defender, oblivious to Luke Kuechly lying in wait to cut the route off and intercept the pass. That kind of decision making, which led to a Panthers touchdown just before halftime, combined with the inaccuracy Leinart displayed throughout makes us wonder if he played himself out of getting the starting nod this week.
Better Late Than Never
When your opening day free safety ends up having to play 700+ snaps at left cornerback, as Michael Huff will have done by the end of this week barring injury, you know you’re in for a long year. That’s exactly what it’s been for a Raiders secondary that has already released two cornerbacks who contributed this year. So while there were plenty of other negative performances to elucidate, we’ll spread a little holiday cheer and mention a positive development for the Raiders. That development is the sudden emergence of Brandian Ross, who has achieved a +4.3 grade over his past two games after playing only 42 snaps through the first 14 games. The undrafted Ross has performed unexpectedly well in (very) limited exposure once given the opportunity, notably showing remarkable awareness for one so young. Watch Ross snuff out a screen for Brandon LaFell in the fourth quarter and you’d be hard pressed to identify him as a player with so little experience. Ross can’t change the past, but he can give the Oakland secondary something to look forward to next year.
Carolina– Three Performances of Note
No, not forward as in the future. Linebackers Thomas Davis (+6.1) and Luke Kuechly (+7.0) were the standouts in this game, partially because the Raiders played to their strengths. Kuechly did have the interception dropping back into coverage, but mostly the pair excelled coming forward, keeping everything in front of them. We’ve already discussed Leinart’s reliance on short throws over the middle, and that reluctance to spread the field played into Davis’ and Kuechly’s hands. Knowing that the play was most likely to occur in front of them paid dividends for the pair, as combined they produced 15 defensive stops. Kuechly did miss a tackle early in the game on a Pryor wildcat run, but it did little to detract from a game in which he and Davis cleaned up nearly every play the Raiders laid out for them.
Hardy Turning It On Late
Greg Hardy’s 2011 season came to a disappointing end, with eight total quarterback disruptions including one sack over the last four games and negative grades for each. In 2012, he hasn’t even played that fourth and final game yet, but already he has 13 total disruptions including four sacks and positive grades over each of the three, including his best of the season with +4.7 against Oakland. Not generally a model of consistency, Hardy was nonetheless a consistent nuisance in this game. He never allowed running plays to develop on his side and also batted down a crucial fourth-down pass late in the game that all but sealed the result. Besides the roughing the passer penalty, Hardy was all but faultless for the rest of the game.
Perhaps it’s just because he was playing alongside Jordan Gross, whose flawless game in pass protection largely contributed to his +3.0 grade, but left guard Thomas Austin (-3.1) did little to give his coaches faith he is up to the task the next time an offensive line injury occurs. While he wasn’t necessarily bad in pass protection, his work in the run game left much to be desired, with some woeful block attempts while blocking in-line and pull blocking, and even one stumbling whiff on a screen play. His struggles were particularly evident when he was attempting to block low, and three times his poor blocking was directly responsible for runs for negative yardage. Again, perhaps the discrepancy is more glaring with Gross alongside him, but Austin needs to play better if he wants to get back on the field.
– We’ve criticized Miles Burris’ performance in pass coverage plenty, but the rookie linebacker earned his first pass coverage grade in the green (+2.2) against Carolina, intercepting his first pass on a deflection and nearly picking off another along the sideline.
– In pass coverage, Thomas Davis gave up only one more yard (9) than the number of times he was targeted (8).
– Omar Gaither (+1.2) hasn’t had many opportunities, and certainly hasn’t made Raiders fans forget the Rolando McClain fiasco, but he graded positively for the first time this season against his former team.
Kuechly and Davis dismantled nearly every play the Raiders attempted. Because Luke Kuechly’s interception put the Panthers in scoring position and was the game defining play, he gets the nod for a PFF game ball.