Veteran safety Charles Woodson knows a thing or two about what a Super Bowl-caliber team looks like. He played on one for the Raiders and Green Bay Packers during his illustrious career.
So, when he talks about where this Raiders team stands after seven games and on the heels of an impressive victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, it’s worth listening.
“We are becoming a football team,” Woodson said. “That’s a good way to put it. We have some good players that have been assembled on this team, and we’re learning how to play together. We’re learning each other and what each other’s strengths and weaknesses are. We’re just making some plays out there.”
People made plays throughout the game, from the outset. It started with quarterback Terrelle Pryor rambling 93 yards for a touchdown on the first offensive play of the game. It ended with Rashad Jennings securing an on-side kick.
In between, there were interceptions by Tracy Porter and Mike Jenkins, five sacks of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, a blocked punt by Jennings, two touchdown runs by running back Darren McFadden, two key third-down receptions by Denarius Moore that yielded first downs and so much more.
Added up, it’s what coach Dennis Allen talks about all the time, when he says that the key to turning the corner is putting yourself in position to win games time and again and then learning how to close out those games.
Sunday’s game is one the Raiders would have lost almost every time the past 10 seasons, if not earlier this season. Sure, it came against a 2-4 Steelers team, but it still counts as progress.
The Raiders can build on that with a victory over the reeling Philadelphia Eagles on this Sunday. The Eagles are 3-5, playing without starting quarterback Michael Vick and bearing little resemblance to the team that started off so fast under first-year coach Chip Kelly.
And if the Raiders get to 4-4 with a sweep of the Pennsylvania teams, who knows? Winning the AFC West is a long-shot, given the Kansas City Chiefs are 8-0 and the Denver Broncos 7-1 — the Raiders lost to both teams already this season. A wild-card berth is wide open.
— Fullback Marcel Reece averaged three touches per game before the Steelers game. Offensive coordinator Greg Olson again, during the bye week, talked about the importance of getting Reece more touches.
So, naturally, Reece got only three carries against the Steelers and nothing has changed. Hard to find fault during a victory, but it still begs the question why the Raiders paid Reece so much money if they don’t have any intention of making him more of a focal point of the offense.
— Steelers kicker Shane Suisham missed two short-range field-goal attempts Sunday. Entering the game, he converted all 15 of his attempts on the season.
How fortunate were the Raiders to have Suisham miss not just one from inside 40 yards but two? Of 245 such attempts this season, only 15 missed the mark. Two of those came from Suisham on Sunday.
— Jacoby Ford fumbled a punt return, fumbled away the ball after a short reception and came close to having a punt bounce off his leg and into the hands of a Steelers player.
In other words, Sunday wasn’t Ford’s best day as an NFL player. It remains to be seen whether his glaring gaffes cost him playing time moving forward.
The Raiders tried Taiwan Jones at kick returns Sunday after Ford handled that role the first six games. Make of it what you will, Ford needs to start making plays and soon.
— Rookie linebacker Sio Moore recorded two of Oakland’s five sacks. He has three on the season and is looking more and more comfortable in the Raiders defense each week.
Along with Nick Roach and Kevin Burnett, the Raiders linebacking corps is as strong as it’s been in years. Throw in Kaluka Maiava and Kaelin Burnett, recent addition Martez Wilson and the potential return of Miles Burris and the Raiders have admirable depth, to boot.
— The Raiders impressive run defense turned in another sterling performance by holding the Steelers to 35 yards on 19 carries.
The Steelers longest run netted only 8 yards. Therefore, the Raiders still haven’t allowed a run longer than 19 yards all season, something that no other team can boast of the first half of the season.
— Allen gave the players the day off today, something that isn’t uncommon on the heels of impressive victories. They also are off Tuesday.
The players hit the field Wednesday for practice in advance of the Eagles game. It’s a safe bet that this game is going to sell out, too, given the Raiders are a win away from reaching .500 and thrusting themselves into serious contention for a wild-card berth.