Oakland Raiders Continue To Play With Fire, Hope To Avoid Getting Burned

Oct 9, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) talks with head coach Jack Del Rio after a penalty was called against the San Diego Chargers in the fourth quarter at Oakland Coliseum. The Raiders defeated the Chargers 34-31. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 9, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) talks with head coach Jack Del Rio after a penalty was called against the San Diego Chargers in the fourth quarter at Oakland Coliseum. The Raiders defeated the Chargers 34-31. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports /

The Oakland Raiders won another close game to improve to 4-1 on the season – but the team continues to play with fire, a problem that may burn them sooner or later.

You have to give them this – if you’re a fan who buys a ticket to see the Oakland Raiders play, you’re going to get your money’s worth. The Raiders seemingly have a pathological need to leave the outcome in doubt – and their fans writhing in agony – until the clock actually does hit 0:00.

Oakland played another game that came down to the wire against a wounded San Diego Chargers team. Of course, divisional games are always going to be difficult. Division rivals will never be an easy out. But the Chargers came in having lost nearly half their roster to injury, and yet, still somehow managed to not only play the Raiders tough, but have a lead on them late in the game.

Against a now1-4 Chargers squad who couldn’t catch a break with both hands and a net, many of us cautioned that – in the immortal words of Star Wars’ Admiral Akbar – “It’s a trap!” And yet, it’s a trap the Raiders very nearly let themselves fall into.

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The Raider Nation is riding high right now, sitting at 4-1 and owning a share of the AFC West lead. But the world would be looking a whole lot different this morning had a loss to the Chargers dropped them to 3-2.

And it was very, very close to happening. Closer than it needed to be.

When the Raiders went up by ten points after a one yard touchdown plunge by Jamize Olawale with just under thirteen minutes to go in the game, you could hear the sigh of relief from half of the Raider Nation. Finally, it seemed, they were going to put a team away and stop with all of the end of game dramatics.

Yeah, except the other half of the Raider Nation – the ones who weren’t sighing in relief – knew what was coming.

And right on cue, the Raiders defense folded in on itself and started to implode.

After Derek Carr’s touchdown drive put the Raiders up by ten, Philip Rivers led the Chargers on a 12 play, 75 yard drive the culminated with a four yard touchdown toss to longtime Raiders nemesis Antonio Gates. You have to give Rivers credit, it was a masterful drive that employed some solid passing, solid running, and even a little bit of trickery.

The end result was that it cut Oakland’s lead to 34-31 with a little more than six minutes to play – and left everybody rooting for the Silver and Black sweating bullets.

The Raiders though, had the chance to keep the ball away from Rivers and ice the game. But the offense bogged down entirely. A run to DeAndre Washington was stuffed. Carr was sacked. And then a pass to Jalen Richard came up two yards short of a first down.

The usually very reliable Marquette King didn’t get off a great punt and the Chargers were set up at their own 33 with plenty of time to go. Rivers threw completions of 15 yards to Travis Benjamin and 25 yards to Tyrell Williams. Another eight yard toss to Benjamin and a one yard run by Melvin Gordon had San Diego at Oakland’s 18 yard line and ready to kick the game tying field goal.

And then disaster – at least for San Diego – struck

Rookie punter Drew Kaser channeled his inner-Tony Romo and fumbled the snap on the field goal attempt. Josh Lambo never got a chance to kick it and it preserved Oakland’s lead 34-31.

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The Raiders were able to wind enough time off the clock before punting it away again to prevent Rivers from being able to do anything with it, ending the game. The Raiders had escaped with yet another win to move to 4-1 on the season.

Football is a tough sport. And divisional games are oftentimes, even harder. But this Raiders team is making things ridiculously difficult on themselves with their inability to put teams away. Oakland does not have a finishing move and that could lead to bigger problems down the line.

This is not to say the defense didn’t have their moments against the Chargers. They certainly did. Picking off Rivers twice and recovering two fumbles is a good day. But all too often, we saw this defense getting gashed again and again for big yards.

The usually reliable David Amerson was torched on several plays, as was Reggie Nelson. Too many times, we saw a San Diego receiver able to get behind either Amerson or Sean Smith. We saw Nelson take too many bad angles to the ball, allowing a big gain.

The best part of Oakland’s defensive showing was what had been the weakest link to that point – the run defense. Oakland’s defensive front held Gordon to just 69 yards on 16 carries for a pedestrian average of 4.3 yards per carry.

On the day, the run defense gave up just 72 yards – a vast improvement over their previous outings. But the pass defense was burned to a crisp once again. Rivers threw for 359 yards and four touchdowns, continuing the trend of quarterbacks obliterating the Oakland defense.

Which is a big time problem.

If the Raiders are hoping to make a push come playoff time, they’re going to need to learn how to play defense. They’re going to need to develop a finishing move. They can’t simply continue letting teams hang around and hang around. This defense has got to learn to put people away.

The Raiders are 4-1 and of course, every victory should be celebrated. Style points aren’t awarded for a win – which is a good thing. But the Raiders have gotten a boatload of good fortune in compiling that 4-1 record – and yes, have made plenty of timely plays as well.

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But they can’t continue to rely on botched snaps and questionable offensive pass interference calls to win. Sooner or later, they’re going to have to learn to put teams away and finish a team when they have them down.

All wins are good, but the Raiders can’t continue to play with fire like they have been through the first five weeks of the season. Sooner or later, it’s going to catch up with them and they’re going to get burned.