WR Andre Holmes had a break-out game at Dallas on Thanksgiving Day. Photo by Tony Gonzales.
It's Week 14 of the Raiders season. I've got the three main buzz points this week, four downs (the keys to a win this week against the Jets), and one for the road where I go old school this week.
HOW DO THE RAIDERS LEARN HOW TO FINISH?
Oakland has led in all but two games this season: at Denver and home vs. the Eagles. Below are the games where the Raiders led at some point but could not finish the job:
Week 1 at Indianapolis. The Raiders led 17-14 with 11:09 left. The Colts won 21-17.
Week 4 at home versus the Redskins. The Raiders led 14-0 at end of first quarter and 14-10 at halftime but lost 24-14.
Week 6 at the Kansas City Chiefs. The Raiders led 7-0 until RB Jamaal Charles tied the game with a TD run late in the 2nd quarter.
Week 10 at the New York Giants. Oakland led 7-0 and 10-7 in the first quarter, 17-14 at halftime and 20-14 in the 3rd quarter. The Giants won 24-20.
Week 12 at home versus Titans. The Raiders Led 9-6 at half and led 13-12 and 19-16 in the 2nd half. The Titans won with a touchdown pass with 10 seconds left in the game, 23-19.
Week 13: at Dallas. The Raiders scored on the first play of the game to lead 7-0, they led 21-7 with 1:56 left in the first half and led 21-14 at halftime. The Cowboys won 31-24.
The Raiders scoring has steadily gone down as the game has progressed and the defense gives up more points:
First quarter: Offense 7.2 points per game (2nd in NFL), Defense 3.3 points per game (7th in NFL). Overall: 3.9
Second quarter: Offense 5.9 points per game (27), Defense: 8.5 points per game (24). Overall: -3.6
Third quarter: Offense 3.3 points per game (28), Defense 5.2 points per game (14). Overall: -1.9
Fourth quarter: Offense 3.3 points per game (32), Defense: Defense: 7.9 points per game (28). Overall: -4.6
I asked a couple players this week on my radio show what the key is to finishing for the Raiders and leaving with the win.
"We have to finish and we're aware of that", quarterback Matt McGloin said. "We have to learn how to win, how to focus the whole game. This week is about finishing, finishing and finishing."
Cornerback Mike Jenkins is a six-year veteran and only one of16 Raiders to have been to the playoffs. So Greg Papa and I discussed a lack of a winning atmosphere among the players and the team needing to learn how to win. Jenkins didn't think that was the issue.
"No, you can't have that mentality." Jenkins said. "You could see that there were guys who weren't used to winning, but with the pieces, the veterans we have, we got everyone on the same page. I don't know if it is momentum or conditioning, but we can correct it and move on." Jenkins said.
Given the Jets have been outscored 29-3 in the first half of their last three games and they haven't scored in the first half of their last two games, the Raiders will likely lead this game in New York as well. The question is can they finally finish?
THE GREAT WALL OF OAKLAND:
For the first time this season, projected starting left tackle Jared Veldheer started a game after a torn triceps injured in training camp delayed the start of his season. Veldheer ripped the training wheels off quickly as he was up against one of the league's premier pass rushers, Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Ware much of the day. Veldheer played 62 snaps and only gave up one pressure to Ware, no quarterback hits and zero sacks.
Veldheer told me this week on my radio show he felt good in his first action of the season.
"It felt great to be back in there with the fellas," Veldheer said. "There are some things I need to clean up but overall I felt great."
No team in the NFL has started more line combinations than the Raiders this season with all the injuries to the front wall. However with Veldheer, emerging center Stefen Wisniewski, second round rookie tackle Menelik Watson getting valuable experience and Khalif Barnes showing his versatility this season playing both tackle spots and inside at guard this season, Veldheer thinks this unit can be very good in the last quarter of the season.
"We can be a very good unit," Veldheer said. "We have great guys, we work hard, we're smart and I think we can do some great things with a little cohesion."
Of course a little cohesion would be a good thing for the rest of this season, but a lot of cohesion would be even better long term. The 26-year-old plays a premium position in the NFL and he is a free agent at the end of the year. So we asked him if he and the Raiders have broached the idea of a more permanent relationship so he can anchor the critical blind side left tackle spot for years to come.
"Yes, they're in talks right now", Veldheer said. "I believe that if I play as well as I can play that good things will follow and I'm pretty confident that I'll continue to keep playing in Oakland."
WHO IS THIS ANDRE HOLMES GUY?
Raiders' wide receiver Andre Holmes came into last week's game versus the Cowboys with career numbers of five receptions for 76 yards. That's not one game, that was his entire regular season NFL career.
After the turkey day game against one of his former teams, add seven more receptions for 136 yards to the back of his trading card.
Holmes was originally signed as an undrafted free agent by Minnesota in 2010 out of the same place that produced Veldheer, Division III Hillsdale College. He played with and was cut by Dallas twice, signed with and was released by the Patriots before hooking on with the Raiders. Oakland stuck with Holmes through a four-game suspension to open the season.
"He's a guy you have confidence in because with his size he'll go up and get the ball for you," Raiders quarterback Matt McGloin told me this week.
He fits right in to the Raiders offense with the undrafted McGloin throwing to the undrafted Holmes and the other undrafted wide receiver, Rod Streater. Overall, the Raiders have 16 undrafted players on their current roster.
"Not being drafted, it makes you play with a chip on your shoulder, no doubt," McGloin said.
At 6'4", 210 pounds, Holmes is the perfect player to use around the goal line for jump balls or on a deep route to make a high point catch over a defensive back for a big play. With the Raiders featuring no true number one receiver, Holmes can blend with Streater and Denarius Moore when he gets healthy to form an emerging three-receiver set.
The key as always will be how he adjusts when defenses start to pay attention to him and plan to defend him. Many players can have break-out games when they surprise teams, can Holmes gain game in and game out consistency?
Four Downs: The keys to a Raiders win over the Jets
1. Finish. The Raiders are being outscored by an average of 4.6 points per game in the fourth quarter, the worst mark in the league. Oakland is second in first quarter scoring at 7.3 points per game and the Jets average an NFL low 2.6 points per game in the first quarter. The Jets also have not scored in the first half of their last two games and have not scored overall in 129:36 of actual game time. All the signs point to the Raiders having a lead going into the second half of the game Sunday. The Raiders have led in 10 of their 12 games this season, yet have four wins. If they learn to finish this week, they will make it five in New York.
2. Turnovers: The Jets are next to last in the NFL in giveaways at 2.2 per game and last in the NFL in turnover margin at -1.5 per game. The main culprit has been interceptions; the Jets lead the NFL in passes thrown to the other team with 20. Generally in the NFL the team who turns the ball over the most loses the football game. The Raiders defense needs to be ready to make plays. The offense needs to turn those opportunities into points. The Jets also allow the second most sacks in the league with 42.
3. Matt McGloin and the passing offense. The Jets feature the number one rushing defense in the NFL, only allowing 77 yards per game at 2.9 yards per carry. The Raiders have a banged up back field with Darren McFadden and Rashad Jennings battling injuries. The Jets give up nearly 257 passing yards per game and opposing quarterbacks have a 93.2 rating against New York, both near the bottom of the NFL. Clearly the way to beat the Jets is through the air. In two career starts on the road, McGloin has 452 passing yards with 3 touchdowns and a 90.3 quarterback rating.
4. The possible return of Tyvon Branch. It's no secret the Jets want to take pressure off rookie quarterback Geno Smith by running the football. Raiders safety Tyvon Branch practiced this week for the first time since injuring his ankle in week two vs. the Jaguars. Head Coach Dennis Allen gave an update this week on Branch. "If he's healthy enough to play, he'll play," Allen said. Branch is one of the best in the box safeties in the NFL and he would greatly aid the Raiders ability to stop the run on Sunday.
One for the road:Former Raiders safety George Atkinson this week on my radio show on playing against Jets Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Namath: "Joe Namath was a little bit special. His release was so quick and the ball would just zip past you. He was deadly."