Entering Week 15, the Oakland Raiders had only one goal to accomplish: go to Qualcomm Stadium and exit with a victory and postseason birth. After riding the wave, the Oakland Raiders defeated the San Diego Chargers 19-16, in another fourth quarter comeback.
The Raiders entered the third quarter trailing by three points, needing some sort of offensive spark to ignite the team. Although Michael Crabtree had the magical catch at halftime, it was the ground game that sparked the offense.
During the entire contest, the offensive line of the Raiders helped create continual holes for the running back trio. The offense was able to muster two lengthy drives, resulting in two field goals from Sebastian Janikowski.
However, the defense was once again able to step up when it mattered the most. Upon the Raiders taking the lead, Philip Rivers and the Chargers had one more opportunity to tie the game or potentially get the win. Upon starting with horrible field position, the Chargers had their backs against the wall, which is where Ken Norton Jr.’s defense wanted them.
The Raiders forced the Chargers into a fourth and long situation, with Reggie Nelson intercepting Rivers’ desperate throw for a first down. Alas, the Raiders’ defense once again rose to the occasion and stamped the win for the offense. That seems to be the mantra for the Raiders this season, as the team continues to learn from their mistakes and grow as a unit.
After their victory, Super Bowl XLVIII MVP Malcolm Smith stated that this unit is still learning and is hitting their stride, via Raiders.com:
“We are still growing as a group, still figuring things out,” Smith said. “We have a lot of talented players and I think we are finally gelling the right way and hopefully we continue to. It is one of those things where you want to get hot and the right time and hopefully we continue to do that.”
For the contest, Smith recorded five total tackles (four solo) and a fumble recovery. With just under 12 minutes in the fourth quarter, Chargers’ running back Kenneth Farrow was stripped by linebacker Perry Riley and recovered by Smith.
Now in his second season with the Raiders, Smith has seamlessly fit in with the team in terms of production. In 13 games this season (12 starts), he has recorded 69 total tackles, three passes defended, one interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
He headlines the linebacker group, alongside Riley, as they transition between rushing the quarterback, stopping the run and helping in protection.
The defense has been steadily improving statistically as the season has gone on. In a recent interview, defensive back T.J. Carrie preached the versatility this unit has on defense, altering their schemes to fit their players rather than the opposite.
As Smith stated, the defense is continuing to get better, but also has to improve some features for the playoffs. Before the battle against the Chargers, head coach Jack Del Rio made a key point about increasing the pass rush from the interior lineman. Norton Jr. had the same comments earlier that week, stating the pressure on the quarterback is a key area they expect the team to improve on.
The Raiders return to the Oakland Coliseum for Week 16, as they battle the Indianapolis Colts, who themselves are on the cusp of the division lead in the AFC South.
This season, the Colts have posted one of the inferior offensive lines, which has dramatically affected the production of Andrew Luck. Expect to see the Raiders have a fierce and ready pass rush on Sunday, in order to keep their ranking as the No. 2 team in the AFC.