NFL coaches routinely break the 16-game NFL regular season into four, four-game quarters.
After the Oakland Raiders Week 4 win over the Baltimore Ravens, the first quarter is officially in the books, and the Silver and Black own a 3-1 record heading into their first divisional matchup against the San Diego Chargers.
The first quarter has provided a plethora of impressive moments and exciting finishes, so with four games behind us, Kyle Martin and Eddie Paskal of Raiders.com recap the Silver and Black's first four games.
Who is the first quarter MVP?
KM:Through the first four weeks of the season, I'd have to say my choice for the first quarter MVP is Michael Crabtree. The man is debatably the Raiders most reliable player, due to his immensely strong hands. Whenever the Silver and Black appear to be in a hole, the veteran wide receiver seems to find a way to save the day. Most recently, he put on a show against the Baltimore Ravens and finished the day with seven receptions, 88 yards, and three touchdowns. It doesn't matter if it's for a first down, or for the game-winner, Crabtree is a key component in the Raiders offense, and has solidified his role as a go-to player.
EP:This might be a tad unorthodox, but I think my most valuable player is actually a group of players, the offensive line. Yes, Derek Carr has been as good as advertised, and Michael Crabtree did enjoy a career day last Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens, but none of those plays are made possible without the production of the offensive line. Through the first quarter of the season, the Raiders have had to routinely mix and match personnel because of injury, but regardless of who they've inserted into the fold, the group has been impressive, not only providing protection for Carr, but also spring boarding the run game as well. The Silver and Black have currently allowed just two sacks – which leads the NFL by the way – and since the big fellas up front never get enough recognition, I'm making them my first quarter MVPs.
What was the best play of the first quarter?
KM:In the closing minutes of the Raiders opening game against the New Orleans Saints, something special occurred at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The team had just scored after trailing the Saints by a touchdown, and Head Coach Jack Del Rio made the bold decision to go for a two-point conversion instead of kicking a PAT to force a potential overtime. With belief in his team and his quarterback, Del Rio watched from the sideline as Carr threw a well-placed ball to Michael Crabtree to convert the two-point play. The decision to go for two conveyed that the Silver and Black aren't interested in anything except winning.
EP: **For me, the most-impressive player of the first quarter has to be Michael Crabtree's game-winning touchdown last Sunday to topple the Ravens. Not only was it Crabtree's third touchdown of the afternoon, it vaulted the Raiders ahead of the then-undefeated Ravens with just over two minutes left in regulation. When the team needed a play most, Crabtree rose to the challenge, shaking cornerback Shareece Wright out of his shoes before hauling in a pass from Derek Carr, and getting both feet down before tumbling out of bounds. It was an incredible catch, especially considering the situation, so Crabtree's game-winning grab, to me, is the play of the first quarter.
Who is your surprise player of the first quarter?
KM:Without a doubt, the player that's surprised me the most has been rookie linebacker Cory James. James was taken by the Raiders in the sixth round (No. 194th) of the 2016 NFL draft. The Colorado State-product performed well throughout training camp and appeared to be a solid player. However, I didn't expect him to be third on the team in total tackles, and record the most tackles in the victory over the Ravens with 15. The rookie has started at middle linebacker the last two weeks, and that doesn't appear to be changing anytime soon.
EP:I'm going to go with Cory James as well. Granted he's only played heavy snaps in two games, but in the pair of games he has been involved in, the rookie linebacker has been impressive. In the past two weeks, James has totaled 21 tackles, two tackles for loss, and one forced fumble; not too shabby for a guy who was playing college football less than a year ago, and figured to see snaps almost exclusively on special teams. The fact that James is a sixth-round draft pick who's already producing isn't that surprising – General Manager Reggie McKenzie has shown time and time again to have an eye for talent in the later rounds of the Draft—but what is surprising is just how good James has looked in the early portion of the season. James and fellow rookie Karl Joseph provided a much-needed spark to the defense in the two games they've started thus far, and their impacts have been evident, James in particular.
What needs to be addressed going forward?
KM:After getting off to a sluggish start, the defense has rebounded nicely with a couple of solid performances against the Tennessee Titans and the Ravens. The team seems to be gelling a lot more and are beginning to click, but the consistency is what I'm looking at. Week 3 and Week 4 have been positive signs, but can the team take it to another level going forward? I believe they can, but there are still areas the defense can continue to improve upon.
EP:Through four games, the Raiders are averaging 392.3 yards per game, and boast one of the top-ranked offenses in the NFL. Bill Musgrave's group has already put up 108 points, but if there's one area that I'd like to see an improvement in, it would be starting fast. The Silver and Black have found the end zone just once on their opening drive of a game this year – a touchdown against the Titans – and while the group has gotten rolling each and every game, starting fast out of the gates would be nice to see going forward. The Raiders defense has seldom had a chance to play with a lead early in the game, and putting points up early would serve as a huge advantage for the group.
One word to describe the first quarter?
KM:Resilient. Playing on the road is a difficult task, no matter who you are or where you play. The Raiders have played three of their first four games away from the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, each resulting in a victory. In two of those games, Carr led game-winning drives, and the defense held its ground to seal the deal. The Silver and Black are battle-tested. They've persevered and made it known that they won't walk away from a fight. Good teams are able to win on the road, and this team has certainly shown its capable of doing just that.
EP:Auspicious. Has the first quarter gone exactly to plan? No, but at the end of the first four games, Head Coach Del Rio's group has earned a 3-1 record, and have won all three games they've played on the road. While there's still 12 regular season games left on the schedule, the Raiders are off to a good start, and should be happy with what they've accomplished in the early goings of 2016.