NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Raiders got shut out in the first half against Detroit. The first play of the third quarter, however, proved the Silver and Black had a pulse.
Quarterback Derek Carr chucked one deep to Seth Roberts for a 43-yard gain, kick-starting a touchdown drive that got the Raiders back in the game. Carr found tight end Mychal Rivera streaking through midfield for a 21-yard gain later in that quarter. Sebastian Janikowski ended that effort with a field goal.
Those were the only plays over 20 yards all day. Given the offense’s big-play ability, that counts as an abnormality.
Someone, it seems, has cut the right cord. The offense’s explosiveness has been diffused, producing uninspired play that has contributed to consecutive losses.
And, when the offense is scuffling, the Raiders don’t stand a chance. The defense hasn’t been able to pick the team up this season, without a victory tallied when the offense doesn’t score at least 27 points.
This offense is searching for ways to bust out of its slump in time for Sunday’s game against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium.
“We definitely look at everything,” offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said. “The last couple weeks we haven’t had the opportunities that we’re accustomed to, so we’re working like crazy to get back to what we expect to see on game day.”
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Fans expect to see the Raiders take shots downfield. That hasn’t happened the last two weeks. Carr has thrown three passes 20-plus yards in the air over two games. He’s completed all three for 115 yards.
Contrast that count to a Week 9 contest against Pittsburgh, where he completed 3-of-8 for 96 yards. Those aren’t high-percentage passes, but they pay off when connected.
Big plays are part of Musgrave’s formula. He likes to accent a strong run game by going big and taking advantage of some explosive skill players like he did with last week's big Roberts catch.
“Well, we definitely would like to do more of that,” Musgrave said. “We’ve just got to do a better job of calling them at the right time, devise them so we can launch them like that. That was a good play for us. We needed it like crazy. We want to be a big-play offense with explosives, so we need to do more of that.”
Coverage is a big reason for this big-play drought. The Minnesota Vikings especially were content to put two safeties back to prevent big plays, trusting they could stop the run with a seven-man box. It worked, and provided a method to slow the Raiders down.
“I saw it a little more often the last couple of weeks, but I also see and I think about games where other teams tried to do that and we exploited it,” Carr said. “That’s the thing that we have to go take a look at, make sure that we can continue to do that.”
Taking shots downfield is one way to get big plays. The Raiders have also used downfield blocking to turn short passes or interior runs into big plays. Latavius Murray has breakaway speed when he reaches open space. He had runs of 26 yards or more in three straight games from Weeks 7-9. He hasn’t gone farther than 16 the last two weeks.
Amari Cooper has also been bottled up lately, and it isn’t entirely due to drops. Outside a one-catch disappointment against Detroit, Cooper has found ways to stay productive. Awesome yards after the catch that has become his signature, however, have dropped off. Cooper has just 20 yards after the catch in the last three weeks, a stilted sum from 13 receptions.
Teams are trying to corral skill players, from Murray to Cooper to Carr’s cannon arm. Lately, it has been working.
The Raiders, however, remain confident this issue won’t last forever.
“I feel like there are plays to be made and we’re not making them,” Cooper said. “We have to go back to the drawing board, practice hard and do the right things. If we do that, we’ll be all right.”