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Three-and-out: Bucky Brooks' observations from the Raiders' Week 15 win

After waxing the Los Angeles Chargers in an impressive performance on Thursday night, the Raiders have taken advantage of a mini-bye week before taking on another division rival in a primetime game.

With coaches and players taking a little time to review their work from the past few weeks, this was the perfect time to conduct a performance review on the squad since Antonio Pierce took over as the interim head coach.

After reviewing some game film and making some notes, here are my thoughts on the Silver and Black.

AP's swagger is contagious

In the NFL, the team routinely takes on the head coach's personality. I am not surprised to see the Raiders play with more energy, enthusiasm and grittiness since Pierce took over the team.

The former Pro Bowler oozes swagger and toughness, and his routine interactions with the team reflect an ultra-confident leader who is not afraid of a challenge. As a player who carved out a 10-year career after entering the league as an undrafted free agent, Pierce possesses an underdog spirit that comes out in his coaching style.

The toughness and tenacity that served Pierce well as a player has shown up in the Raiders' play since his promotion to interim head coach in Week 9. The Silver and Black have played like the baddest bullies on the block in recent weeks, with their intensity and physicality showing up in each phase (offense, defense and special teams) of the game.

From the team's renewed commitment to the running game to the defense's suffocating play to the dynamic performance of the kicking units, the Raiders have upped the energy, intensity and grittiness between the lines. Moreover, the overall relentlessness from the squad has resulted in more competitive games against AFC heavyweights (Miami Dolphins and Kansas City Chiefs) that suggest the Raiders could hold their own in the postseason tournament.

Although the team faces long playoff odds, the change in behavior and performance since Pierce's promotion reflects the gritty demeanor of its leader.

Patrick Graham has been in his bag

The Raiders' defensive performance since midseason has flown under the radar but astute tape watchers have noticed the unit's gradual improvement under their clever play caller. Graham has tweaked and tinkered with the scheme to accentuate the strengths of his top playmakers.

Since Week 8, the Raiders surrendered just 15.5 points per game, with four of their opponents scoring 20 points or fewer, including the high-powered Miami Dolphins. The impressive series of performances has coincided with the unit acclimating to the system in Graham's second season.

As a coach who prefers to implement "snowflake" game plans with a diverse call sheet designed to neutralize the opponent's top playmakers and favorite schemes, the Raiders' veteran-laden defense has started to thrive under this approach. Look no further than Jack Jones' spectacular pick-six on a bubble screen as proof of the defense taking information from the meeting room to the field.

Jones anticipated the play based on formation and motion tendencies, and boldly jumped the route at the snap. While some would chalk up the play to a risky gamble, Jones' aggressiveness was an educated guess based on film study and experience. With the second-year pro willing to pull the trigger based on information gleaned from preparation, the defense is playing faster due to film study and practice habits.

The defense's improvement can be tied to a handful of creative game plans that forced opponents to play left-handed. In simple terms, the Raiders were able to take away their opponent's perceived strengths and top playmakers while forcing the offensive coordinator to utilize the back pages of the call sheet. Against the Vikings, Graham disrupted Josh Dobbs' rhythm and clogged his running lanes while holding them to 230 total yards. The creative tactics prompted Kevin O'Connell to insert Nick Mullens into the game and deviate from his traditional game plan.

The same could be said for the Chiefs, who needed a 14-point rally to knock off the Raiders after Graham stymied the defending champs for the first half of their initial meeting. The Silver and Black mixed fronts and coverage to disrupt Mahomes' rhythm until he found his groove in the second half.

With the Chargers overwhelmed by the Raiders defense for three quarters, the football world is buzzing over Graham's excellent work in Year 2.

Aidan O'Connell is making progress as a developmental prospect

It may be too early to make a longterm commitment to O'Connell as the team's QB1, but the rookie has shown enough progress to warrant a spot in an offseason quarterback competition. The first-year starter has completed 63.1 percent of his passes for 1,613 yards with nine total touchdowns.

Although his passer rating of 81.2 and interception percentage (2.9 percent) through eight starts is less than desirable, O'Connell has exceeded expectations as a mid-round pick slotted to spend his first season as a QB3.

Studying the game tape, the former Purdue standout has displayed the leadership skills and intangibles to handle the role of the top signal-caller. O'Connell has bounced back from disappointing starts with improved performance in the subsequent game. In addition, he has flashed the short-term memory to overcome a mistake or misfire without losing his confidence or composure.

Given the importance of an even-keeled approach, O'Connell's unflappable demeanor should earn him points in performance review meetings.

As a passer, O'Connell's timing and anticipation have steadily improved with more repetitions. He has flashed "throw the receiver" open ability, leading pass catchers into open windows with his pinpoint throws. Though he is far from perfect with his ball placement, the rookie starter has performed well in stretches, which speaks to his consistency as a player.

With three starts remaining to showcase his tools and longterm potential, O'Connell has already earned the right to engage in a battle for the QB1 role in the offseason in my eyes.

Get an exclusive look at the gameday entertainment from the Raiders' Week 15 victory against the Los Angeles Chargers at Allegiant Stadium.

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