Paul G's Instant Replay: Falcons 23, Raiders 20


Paul G's Instant Replay: Falcons 23, Raiders 20


ATLANTA -- Matt Bryant kicked a 55-yard field goal with one second remaining in regulation to lift the Atlanta Falcons to a 23-20 victory over the Raiders Sunday at the Georgia Dome.This after the Raiders had rallied to tie the score at 20-all with 40 seconds to play and having come back from a potentially devastating pick-six.The Raiders were closing in on the most improbable of victories, over an unbeaten team in a hostile environment, when Carson Palmer made his first mistake of the day. At precisely the wrong moment.Already in field-goal range, the Raiders quarterback tried to hit Denarius Moore on the right sideline when Asante Samuel jumped the route and was gone for a 79-yard pick-six and a 20-13 Falcons lead.No matter, Palmer led the Raiders on an 80-yard scoring drive, punctuated by Darren McFadden's two-yard touchdown run and Sebastian Janikowski's point-after tied the game.But the Raiders defense could not keep the Falcons from getting into field-goal position.Picks galore: After not having a single interception in the first four games, the Raiders secondary picked off Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan three times in the first half. Cornerback Joselio Hanson predicted this week they would come in bunches and he had the first pick across the middle. Later, Michael Huff got one on a long bomb at the 2-yard line and then Tyvon Branch's interception came on a floater when linebacker Philip Wheeler blasted Ryan.Coverage equals sacks, right?: Entering the day with only three sacks in four games, tighter coverage downfield allowed the Raiders to pick up another sack when Matt Shaughnessy broke through in the second quarter. He leads Oakland with 2 12 sacks.McClain finds a role?: Middle linebacker Rolando McClain was mostly a spectator in the first half, when the Raiders went to nickel and dime defenses in response to the Falcons' four-wideout alignments. And the Raiders seemed to respond to the ball quicker. McClain, however, had a huge tackle on 3rd-and-goal from the 1-yard line that forced the Falcons to settle for a game-tying field goal.Tackles from unexpected sources: Yes, Carson Palmer can tackle, as evidenced by his taking down Robert McClain as he returned Darren McFadden's first-quarter fumble. And McFadden returned the favor by chasing down Ray Edwards and saving a touchdown when Palmer was strip-sacked in the third.Penalties return: The Raiders entered the game with 19 penalties for 143 yards and finished with 12 penalties for 110 yards.Trending: The Raiders last won a game in the Eastern Time Zone in Week 13 at Pittsburgh in the Bruce Gradkowski game, going 0-7 since that day. Since the 2002 Super Bowl season, they are 5-23 in the Eastern Time Zone. Also, the Raiders have lost 10 straight post-bye week games.Up next: The Raiders (1-3) play host to Jacksonville next Sunday at the Coliseum, and the dirt infield should be gone by then.

Why firing Ken Norton Jr. won't solve the Raiders' bigger, deeper problems

Why firing Ken Norton Jr. won't solve the Raiders' bigger, deeper problems

ALAMEDA – Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio was twice asked about making in-season changes at his Monday press conference.

He wouldn’t rule it out. Del Rio said he would do anything necessary to help the team “win now,” and later said "we're not getting into staff questions this week."

Then he fired Ken Norton Jr. the next day, hoping the dismissal will provide a spark.

It might. More likely, it might not do enough.

It is a shot across the bow at its base, a signal that subpar play won't be tolerated. 

“We played under our talent level,” defensive tackle Justin Ellis said, “Those things come with consequences.”

New play caller John Pagano has a unique style and knows how to bring creative pressure, disguise a simple play as complex and exploit weak links, but he won’t be using his system this season. He’ll still be working within Norton/Del Rio’s scheme and, more importantly, he’s still playing chess with existing, often inferior pieces. The Raiders understand that, and likely won't judge him on this final stretch alone. 

Why? The defense doesn’t have enough talent in the secondary, the interior defensive line or the inside linebacker corps. That’s not on Norton or Pagano.

Pagano can’t do a thing about an offense struggling mightily to catch passes, block consistently and let plays develop downfield.

The Raiders have some major talent problems, with rush and coverage rarely working together as desired. That, and some uninspired schematics, have produced awful statistics.

The Raiders don’t have an interception, and are the first team to go 10 games without a pick. They’re on track to have the second-worst opposing completion percentage (72.3) and passer rating (113.3) in NFL history, per the Associated Press.

They’re also last in sacks for the second straight year, with just 14 this season despite having reigning defensive player of the year Khalil Mack.

They're thin because last year's second and third round picks, Jihad Ward and Shilique Calhoun aren't contributing. This year's draft class had to make an immediate impact, but Gareon Conley played two games, Obi Melifonwu spent eight games on IR and Eddie Vanderdoes as underwhelmed after a promising start.

Highly paid free agents haven't performed well enough, and many could be shown the door.

It’s possible roughly half of the starting lineup doesn’t return next season, with Sean Smith, Reggie Nelson, Bruce Irvin and NaVorro Bowman likely out the door as free agents or roster cuts.

In sum, this isn’t all Norton’s fault.

He was, however, the easiest cut. You can’t fire players en masse during the year, and Pagano was an easy replacement without disrupting the position coaches. Pagano has extensive experience calling plays. He was the then-San Diego Chargers’ defensive coordinator from 2012-16.

Norton wasn’t an innovative play caller. He was passed over for coordinator jobs while serving as Seattle’s linebackers coach, after Gus Bradley and Dan Quinn were hired as head coaches. Del Rio, who played with Norton in Dallas back from 1989-91, hired Norton shortly after being hired by the Raiders.

The Raiders' defense has never been good under Norton/Del Rio, and Norton was on a hot seat most of last season. It was surprising when Pagano was hired that Norton was retained and allowed to continue despite underwhelming performance.

Norton was immensely popular in the locker room, especially with members of the front seven. Mack and Irvin in particular were Norton guys. Norton and Irvin go way back to Irvin’s Seattle days, where the coach helped the player get and stay on the right path.

That’s why this firing was deeply felt on Tuesday. The players were told in an afternoon meeting, following a walk-through focused on corrections from Sunday’s New England loss.

"The axe came down on everybody," free safety Reggie Nelson said. "Everybody felt it in this building. Players, we love Norton, regardless. Unfortunately, the production wasn't a high standard this year and it's a production league. He's not playing. We are.”

The Raiders are 4-6, and can’t afford to lose many more games. They might need to be perfect down the stretch to avoid a messy tiebreaker situation. That’s a tough ask for a team that’s been woefully inconsistent on both sides. This team was always expected to shoot for the middle defensively and have a potentially great offense score points by the bushel.

The offense has been most disappointing, performing far below its pay grade and talent level. There was no movement on that side of the ball. The Raiders hope, with fingers firmly crossed, this defensive change provide the spark necessary to create turnovers and quarterback pressure than has been lacking in a disastrous season to this point.

Raiders fire defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.

Raiders fire defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.

Ken Norton Jr.'s time with the Raiders is up.

With the team underperforming, Oakland has fired Norton as the defensive coordinator, the team announced Tuesday afternoon. John Pagano will handle the play calling duties when the Raiders take on the Broncos this Sunday.

Head coach Jack Del Rio issued the following statement regarding the news:

“After careful thought, I have made a difficult decision to part ways with Ken Norton, Jr. as defensive coordinator. I have the utmost respect for Ken as a person and as a coach, but I feel that moving John Pagano into the play-calling role will best utilize his wealth of experience. I appreciate Ken’s passion and commitment to the Raiders since coming aboard and wish him the best going forward.”

The Raiders defense under Norton this season ranks 26th in the NFL in yards allow per game (367.0), is allowing 24.7 points per game and has yet to record an interception through 10 games.

"We played under our talent level. Those things come with consequences," defensive lineman Justin Ellis told reporters shortly after the news broke.

"The axe fell on all of us. We love Coach Norton. We didn’t want to see this happen," safety Reggie Nelson said.

Norton joined Del Rio's staff prior to the 2015 season.