Raiders move up a spot to No. 31 in Power Rankings

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25
A look at the Oakland Raiders' Power Ranking:

Rank: 31 | Last week: 32

Some people thought the Raiders celebrated their Week 12 win over the Kansas City Chiefs a little too much considering it left them just 1-10 on the season. Perhaps they weren't just partying because they won. Maybe interim coach Tony Sparano and Co. got an early glimpse of the ESPN Power Rankings. After residing in the cellar most of the year, Oakland leapfrogged ahead of Jacksonville to settle in at No. 31.

Rookie quarterback Derek Carr gets a lot of credit but making that big of leap in the standings took a total team effort -- although wouldn't you pay to hear what Justin Tuck really said to Sio Moore? Next up for the Raiders are the No. 23 Rams who aren't as bad as their record shows and not nearly good enough to matter.
Oakland Raiders running back Latavius Murray (concussion) will go for his baseline test Tuesday, according to a league source. Murray is feeling well, but still has more steps to take in order to get cleared.

Murray, who was selected in the sixth round by the Raiders in the 2013 NFL draft, suffered the first concussion in his football playing career against the visiting Kansas City Chiefs in Week 12.

The 6-foot-3, 225-pound back saw only nine snaps before suffering his injury, but was able to energize the struggling Raiders offense on his four carries for 112 yards and two touchdowns.

Boneheaded plays overshadowing Sio Moore's solid season

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Oakland Raiders outside linebacker Sio Moore became a national punchline for his sack-dance celebration 30 yards from the line of scrimmage late in the final minute against Kansas City last week. It almost cost the Raiders a chance at their first win and obscured the fact Moore has been playing at a very high level this season.

A third-round draft pick in 2013, Moore is the Raiders' co-leader in tackles (82) and is tops on the team in sacks (3). Moore has reached double-digits in tackles four times this year, including matching his season-high of 12 against the Chiefs.

Moore has benefitted from playing in the same linebacking corps as first-round draft pick Khalil Mack. Mack regularly faces double-team blocking from opponents, and that has freed Moore up to make additional plays.

Yet there are a handful of incidents like the one against the Chiefs that have prevented Moore -- who is tied for 14th overall in tackles among all NFL players -- from being considered one of the top at his position.

During Oakland's 41-17 loss to Denver in Week 10, the Broncos scored on a 51-yard screen pass from Peyton Manning to C.J. Anderson. At least six Raiders defenders whiffed at a chance to stop Anderson. Moore? He didn't come close and instead took himself out of the play with a half-hearted effort that later was widely criticized by Mike Mayock of the NFL Network.

Mayock pointed out that while numerous Oakland players missed a chance to stop Anderson, it was Moore's "egregious lack of hustle" that was the biggest mistake made on a play that ultimately swung momentum in the Broncos' favor for good.

Until Moore matures and stops making the boneheaded plays like that one and his ridiculous celebration of a sack against the Chiefs, he'll continue to get overlooked by the national media.

That's a shame, too, because the kid is actually having a very good season.

QB snapshot: Derek Carr

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25
A quick observation of quarterback Derek Carr and how he played in the Oakland Raiders' 24-20 win in Week 12:

Much was made of the poise shown by Carr when he engineered the winning drive in the fourth quarter of last Thursday's win against Kansas City.

A closer look at the stats reveals that the rookie QB was pretty poised throughout the game. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Carr completed 7 of 14 pass attempts on third down against the Chiefs, converting six into first downs. He was a perfect 4-for-4 on third down when throwing to wide receiver James Jones, who has emerged as Carr's favorite target. That bodes well for a team that is 28th overall on third-down conversions (35.3 percent).

Oakland should be able to improve on that this week at St. Louis when the Raiders go for consecutive wins for the first time since October 2012. The Rams are 23rd in third-down defense, allowing opponents to convert 42.1 percent of the time.

Fantasy Now: Latavius Murray

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25


Latavius Murray burst onto the fantasy scene last week, but does that make him a must-add this week?

Inside The Huddle: Rookie QBs

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25


John Clayton shows how the 2014 rookie quarterback draft class has statistically exceeded expectations, but its starting record is only 5-25.
Happy early Thanksgiving!

Join us today at 1 p.m. ET, 10 a.m. PT for ESPN NFL Nation TV's Spreecast as episode No. 33 gives a Turkey Day preview, revisits Odell Beckham Jr.'s insane three-fingered catch, and discusses several teams' futures given the varying quarterback situations they have inherited this season.

Host Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and co-host Mike Wells (Indianapolis Colts reporter) will be joined by Michael C. Wright (Chicago Bears reporter), John Keim (Washington Redskins reporter) and Phil Sheridan (Philadelphia Eagles reporter).

Plus, Rob Demovsky (Green Bay Packers reporter) and Mike Reiss (New England Patriots reporter) will debate in this week's "Main Event" about Sunday's big game at Lambeau Field that will feature MVP candidates Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady.

Viewers are encouraged to log in and ask the panelists questions as well as contribute in the chat feature.

Raiders: Behind the numbers

November, 24, 2014
Nov 24
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- A few interesting notes on the Oakland Raiders' running game stemming from their 24-20 win against Kansas City last week:
  • While it was clear to everyone the impact that Latavius Murray had, he was even more effective than first thought. According to ESPN Stats & Information, of Murray's 112 total rushing yards, 108 came before a Chiefs' defender was able to get a hand on him. That's the most by an Oakland running back since Darren McFadden in Week 3, 2011 when 150 of his 171 yards came before contact. Most of Murray's yards before contact came on his 90-yard touchdown run in the first half, but it's still an illustration of how his speed -- something McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew don't have -- can make a difference. On the season, McFadden has 233 yards before contact while Jones-Drew has just 24, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
  • The 135 total rushing yards before contact that the Raiders put up were the second-most given up by the Chiefs this season.
  • While Murray was doing most of his damage before getting hit, fullback Marcel Reece did his after being hit. He ran for 34 yards on Oakland's winning drive in the fourth quarter, more than half coming after contact -- 2.6 yards per carry, in fact. That was in stark contrast to earlier in the game when the Raiders got next to nothing after first contact.

Raiders await word on Latavius Murray

November, 24, 2014
Nov 24
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- The Oakland Raiders still don't know whether they'll have running back Latavius Murray for Sunday's game in St. Louis.

Four days after sustaining a concussion in last week's 24-20 win against Kansas City, Murray remained absent from practice and interim coach Tony Sparano said Murray has not yet passed the full battery of tests required by the NFL to get back on the field.

"Right now he's involved in the middle of it," Sparano said Monday. "We'll see where he is by tomorrow and have a pretty good idea what's going on for Wednesday. As you know these things take time or they can be very fast. It just depends on the player and the severity."

Murray was injured when he absorbed a helmet-to-helmet hit and fumbled late in the second quarter of the Kansas City game. He sat out the remainder of the game but still finished with the best numbers put up by an Oakland running back this season (112 yards, two touchdowns).

He made a brief appearance in the Raiders' locker room after the game but did not talk to reporters.

While Murray's situation remains uncertain, wide receiver Rod Streater took another step toward returning when he was cleared to practice and took part in his first full workout since undergoing surgery to repair his broken left foot earlier this season.

Streater was Oakland's leading receiver a year ago but has not played since a Week 3 loss to New England.

"It felt good being able to cut and run full speed," Streater said. "It felt good to be back out there. I think I'm close. I went through pretty much the whole practice without any pain."

Left guard Gabe Jackson was excused from Monday's practice for personal reasons, according to Sparano.

Raiders need to give Latavius Murray more work

November, 22, 2014
Nov 22
ALAMEDA, Calif. – If Latavius Murray passes the concussion protocol and is cleared to play in next week’s game in St. Louis, the Oakland Raiders have to increase his playing time and should give the second-year running back his first NFL start.

Interim coach Tony Sparano has been hesitant to move Murray ahead of Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew on the depth chart, even though the two have sputtered most of the season. Murray, in fact, surpassed Jones-Drew’s entire rushing total this season on his 90-yard touchdown run in the first half of Thursday’s win against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Murray finished with 112 yards and two touchdowns on only four carries before being knocked out of the game because of a concussion late in the second quarter. That brief amount of success made him an instant hit with Oakland fans, who have been thirsting for anything remotely close to a positive sign from the running game.

Yet a day after the Raiders won for the first time this season -- largely on the strength of Murray’s running and a fourth-quarter drive by rookie quarterback Derek Carr -- Raiders coach Tony Sparano sounded less impressed with Murray’s night and more concerned with his overall progress.

"I know what he did, but he played nine plays and unfortunately got hurt," Sparano said. "He had a heck of a run. He also had the ball out one time, which we need to get corrected. The plan was to play him more and he had things going pretty good. He’ll continue to get more snaps, but like any young player there is a progress that you’ve got to see before you feel like you’re going to put him out there and just put him into those situations.

"I’ve had to see that in practice, and little by little I’ve seen it, and this has been kind of been where it has gone. In other words, to a point where he should be getting more snaps."

How much more work that means for Murray remains uncertain. At this point in the season, however, it only makes sense to find out whether his breakout performance against the Chiefs was a mirage or if he is the hidden gem the team has been searching for all season.

McFadden no longer has the initial burst through the hole that he had in college. Too many injuries have taken their toll. Though he has managed to stay healthy this season, the former first-round pick hasn’t been able to parlay that into a productive year.

Jones-Drew, who was hoping to revive his career with the Raiders, hasn’t done much at all. He has 69 yards on 33 carries and was held to minus-1 yard on three tries against the Chiefs.

There is nothing to be gained from keeping either of them as the focal point of the running game. On the flip side, Murray is a question mark. He has been Oakland’s best running back this season, but it has a been a small sample size.

Giving him the ball as much as possible over the final five weeks gives the Raiders a chance to find out whether he’s legitimate or if they need to find a running back in the draft or free agency.

The good news is it looks as if Murray will be healthy enough to make it an issue. Though he has to pass a series of tests before being cleared to play, he delivered an encouraging message to fans on Twitter.

"Last night was one to remember," he wrote. "Thanks for the love RAIDERNATION. I’m good."

Tony Sparano back in office early after Raiders' first win

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
ALAMEDA, Calif. – The Oakland Raiders were given the day off Friday, one day after winning for the first time this season and ending their 16-game losing streak. Interim coach Tony Sparano, however, kept his same schedule and was back at the team’s facilities early in the morning breaking down film long before the sun began to rise.

[+] EnlargeTony Sparano
AP Photo/Ben MargotTony Sparano coached the Raiders to their first win of the season on Thursday.
Though the Raiders were eliminated from playoff contention long ago and don’t play again until Nov. 30, when they fly to St. Louis, Sparano saw no reason to change his daily routine. A quick stop to grab a cup of coffee on the way to work qualified as a highlight of his morning.

“I was the first person at Starbucks this morning, I’ll put it that way,” Sparano said. “I left the house at 4:30 and I was in here this morning. But I have every intention of walking out of this building today when the sun is still up, hopefully.”

Many of Oakland’s players have credited Sparano for keeping things together after general manager Reggie McKenzie fired head coach Dennis Allen after the team’s 0-4 start.

The soft-spoken Sparano has repeatedly deflected the attention onto the players for anything positive they’ve done since he took over, and was in that same mode following the stunning 24-20 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday night.

But he was unable to shrink from the spotlight in the team’s locker room afterward when left tackle Donald Penn handed Sparano a game ball.

“I have gotten some game balls before [and] quite honestly, probably none more meaningful than that one,” Sparano said. “I say that because of what this team has been through and how far we’ve had to come; and how much the guys have stayed together in that locker room. But really, they’re the ones that deserve the game balls. Our owner, our GM, those people and all of our fans that were out there last night. It was fun last night to go out to dinner and see Oakland Raider fans out there last night with a smile on their face. It was good.”

The Raiders won’t resume practicing until Monday. Bet that Sparano will be up in his office long before then.

Charles Woodson was ready to fight

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Veteran safety Charles Woodson has been one of the Oakland Raiders' most consistent defensive players this season and has been a model of professionalism on and off the field.

On Thursday night, the 38-year-old found himself in the unenviable position of nearly coming to blows with teammate Sio Moore after the second-year linebacker cost the team a timeout while dancing and celebrating a sack late in the game.

Moore's celebration went far beyond the normal jump-up-and-prance-around routine most players do when making a big play. After dropping Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith for a 7-yard loss at Kansas City's 48-yard line, Moore sprinted down inside the 10-yard line and began to dance and gyrate while the crowd cheered. Rookie linebacker Khalil Mack joined in and repeatedly slapped hands with Moore, then two other Oakland players came running in to keep the party going.

The only problem was that while the Raiders were celebrating, the Chiefs were hustling back to the line of scrimmage and on the verge of snapping the ball -- and getting a free play -- when Oakland defensive end Justin Tuck wisely called a timeout.

"I couldn't believe it," Woodson said. "That was the first time I had ever seen somebody celebrate for a whole 40-second clock. That was ridiculous, and they know it. I told Sio he's lucky we got the win because we really probably would've had to fight, and I would've seen exactly what kind of fighter he is."

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How many times have you seen it? A punter gets the ball away just before the approaching rush arrives. The punter falls to the ground. Was there contact? Did the punter flop? Should it be a 5-yard penalty? Oh wait, that doesn't exist anymore. Was it bad enough to be a 15-yarder?

This conversation plays out weekly, even among the most knowledgeable NFL observers, confused by years of rule changes and tweaks and aggravated by the potential swing of returning possession to a punting team. We saw a confluence of these factors Thursday night in Oakland, making this a good time to dig deeper into the penalties for roughing or running into a kicker.

The portion of the NFL rulebook devoted to those two penalties is excerpted in the chart (right). Contrary to popular belief, there is still a 5-yard penalty for running into the kicker. It does not carry an automatic first down. Roughing the kicker, a 15-yard penalty, does bring an automatic first down, if for some reason there were more than 15 yards left to gain.

These rules are complicated and, as you'll notice, there are more exceptions to the rules listed than actual instances. Generally speaking, it's roughing if the punter's plant leg is contacted or if he collides with a rusher when both feet are on the ground. It's running into the kicker when the kicking leg is contacted, or if the rusher slides underneath the punter and "prevents him from returning both feet to the ground."

Given the number of exceptions, these penalties are rarely called. In fact, entering Thursday night's game, NFL referees had made only four calls for roughing the kicker and six more for running into one. Referee Ed Hochuli's crew had called a total of four; no other crew had called more than one; and 10 hadn't called any.

Fast-forward to the second quarter of Thursday night's game. We saw Oakland Raiders special-teams player Ray-Ray Armstrong dive in an attempt to block Dustin Colquitt's punt for the Kansas City Chiefs. Colquitt got the punt off cleanly but then fell as Armstrong slid beneath him.

Replays showed that Armstrong made only mild contact, at best, with Colquitt. So what's your call?

If you said, "running into the kicker," you're right.

The Raiders sideline erupted when referee John Parry made the call, presumably noting the lack of contact between Armstrong and Colquitt. But the play was a textbook demonstration of the second definition for running into the kicker. Armstrong slid underneath Colquitt, preventing him from landing both feet cleanly on the ground. Parry made the right call based on the wording of the rulebook.

The general intent of these rules is to protect punters from injury when they're in a vulnerable position. Over the years, the league has tried to account for unavoidable and/or mild contact, leading to the 500-odd words in the rulebook devoted to adjudicating a collision between a rusher and a kicker. So it goes.

Note: As always, the bar graph at the top of this post documents the per-game frequency of all penalty calls this season, by crew. Carl Cheffers' crew continues to be the most active, but his average has dropped in recent weeks and now stands at 19.6.

Overall in the NFL, penalties in the past three weeks have dropped significantly. The average number of penalties per week through Week 8 was 251.8. In Weeks 9-11, the totals have twice been 190 and once 189.

Derek Carr and Oakland Raiders relish first win

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
Derek CarrEzra Shaw/Getty ImagesDerek Carr's game-winning touchdown drive broke a streak of 16 straight losses for the Raiders.
OAKLAND, Calif. -- About 30 minutes after Thursday night's game had ended and the longest active losing streak in the NFL was snapped, Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr -- still in his full uniform, pads and all -- made his way around the locker room slapping his teammates on the back and exchanging high-fives.

The rookie had just engineered a fourth-quarter comeback that catapulted the Raiders to a 24-20 win over the Kansas City Chiefs, and he wanted to soak it in for just a few moments more.

"Amazing," Carr said with a grin. "Hopefully there's many more to come, because I like this feeling better than the other one, that's for sure."

Carr had not tasted victory since Dec. 7, 2013, when he led Fresno State to a 24-17 win over Utah State in the Mountain West Conference championship game. He had suffered through 11 consecutive losses -- one with the Bulldogs in the Las Vegas Bowl and 10 with the Raiders -- before leading Oakland on a monumental game-winning drive.

The Raiders had squandered all of a 14-0 lead and trailed 20-17 after Cairo Santos' 25-yard field goal gave the Chiefs their first lead of the game.

After Darren McFadden bobbled the ensuing kickoff in the end zone and kneeled down for a touchback, Oakland got the ball at its own 20 yard line with 9:03 left to play.

Fullback Marcel Reece got the ball on the first four plays of the drive and provided just enough of a balance to keep Kansas City's defense honest. He carried seven times for 34 yards and added an 8-yard catch on the final drive.

Carr did the rest and took a gigantic leap forward in his learning process.

He danced around in the pocket long enough to find Brice Butler for an 11-yard reception on second-and-12 and then gained the first down on a quarterback sneak. He later found tight end Mychal Rivera for 8 yards on a third-and-6 play and drew a defensive pass interference penalty against the Chiefs three plays after that.

Another quarterback sneak by Carr later in the drive netted another first down, and on the following play, the Oakland quarterback found wide receiver James Jones in the end zone for a 9-yard score.

It's the sixth touchdown the Carr-led offense has scored in the final two minutes of games this season. The difference? The others came in what is fondly referred to as garbage time -- when games are well out of hand and the losing team scores late, meaningless points.

This one sent the crowd of 52,865 at Coliseum into a frenzy.

"To go 17 plays on the winning drive, that's impressive, man," Raiders defensive end Justin Tuck said."That lets you know a little bit of the moxie of No. 4."

Several Oakland offensive linemen praised Carr's poise on the game-winning drive. Defensive lineman Antonio Smith, who had lost 24 consecutive games dating to his days with the Houston Texans last year, called it inspiring.

"Because to be perfectly honest, we had hit a dead point," Smith said."Not as far as the play. The energy like it was in the first half wasn't there. The energy that the offense gave us in the last drive just fueled us for that last drive."

For Carr, it was a long time coming and a moment he wanted to relish.

The man many are already calling the franchise quarterback smiled and pumped his arms high in the air after his game-winning throw, kept that same smile on his face as he congratulated his teammates in the locker room and was still beaming when speaking with reporters.

"Absolutely. I know how much effort, how much fight, how much toughness physically, mentally, spiritually that this game has taken a toll on us this year," Carr said."I know how hard it is. It made my day to see those guys celebrating."

Raiders reporter Michael Wagaman's game ball goes to Latavius Murray, who rushed for 112 yards and two scores. Quarterback Alex Smith gets the game ball from Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher after posting a 94.0 passer rating.