ALAMEDA – NFL teams want to start fast and finish strong. The Raiders do neither well.
They staked Indianapolis 14 points in the first half and coughed up a fourth-quarter lead. In the interim, the Raiders beat the Colts 17-0.
One game can’t define a team, but slow starts aren’t a new thing. Preseason games and stats don’t matter, but they have established a troubling trend. The Raiders can’t seem to get going. They’ve fallen behind by double digits in every game they’ve played thus far.
Starters play early in games, so the first unit is to blame for early lapses.
“I think we just have to go out and have a little bit more focus early in the game and be able to execute better,” Raiders head coach Dennis Allen said. “I think that’s really the key. We obviously spent a lot of time talking about trying to get off to a fast start. We haven’t been able to do that and that’s something that we have to continue to work on. We have to get better at that.”
While the offense has struggled early, this is a defensive issue. Early-season games can be difficult because teams offer looks unexpected without game tape to study. Allowing quarterback Andrew Luck to complete his first 11 passes? That’s inexcusable. When every game counts, that can’t tolerate poor play early in games.
The Raiders must do better on Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Defensive coordinator Jason Tarver knows that.
“It’s all about execution, doing our job right,” Tarver said. “When we played well, we had eleven guys flying around, tackling the guy with the ball. When we settle in, we can be pretty good. We need to settle in sooner and we need to finish better.”
Ah, that final Colts drive, when Luck marched 80 yards and took the lead back late with a 19 yard touchdown. Not Tarver’s favorite moment. It was something his players would rather forget, but that didn’t happen.
That drive was the first thing Tarver reviewed on Monday, in painstaking detail. He focused on three third-down conversions on that drive where the Raiders let ‘em off the hook. He wanted it to be a teaching moment that prevents late letdowns in the future.
“There were some things in that drive that you don’t want to happen, but once they’re done, there’s no better teaching tool than that tape,” Tarver said. “You have to perform. You have to do your job in that moment. … There are opportunities in that drive that we missed, but I’ll tell you the good part about it. Every one of those guys learned from the experience and every one of them is excited about fixing that stuff right now. With 15 [games] left, let’s go.”