Raiders

Raiders report card: Grades on offense, defense in 27-24 loss to Texans

Raiders report card: Grades on offense, defense in 27-24 loss to Texans

HOUSTON -- The Raiders couldn’t finish off the Texans on Sunday, ending up on the wrong end of a game they controlled most of the afternoon. DeShaun Watson squeaked out a 27-24 victory that left the Raiders ruing missed opportunities to complete a five-game road trip with a win.

There was plenty of blame to go around after this one, with better second-half defense and big plays converted on offense required to win an important game as we near the season’s halfway point.

The Raiders were competitive but not quite good enough to claim victory. Let’s see how the Raiders graded out in this week’s report card:

Rushing Offense

The Raiders were efficient on the ground, as we’ve come to expect from a dominant offensive line and Josh Jacobs’ elusiveness. He had 66 yards on 15 carries, though he seemed to be on a pitch count after dealing with a shoulder injury. The workload spread out a bit more than usual against a solid Texans run defense, but the Raiders still churned out 93 yards on 4.0 yards per carry.

The run game wasn’t completely dominant but it was impactful. Left guard Richie Incognito will certainly not like a fourth quarter holding call that set the Raiders back on a comeback attempt.

Grade: B

Passing Offense

The Raiders were taking yards in chunks, with Derek Carr finding Tyrell Williams and Hunter Renfrow on deep touchdown passes. The Texans did a solid job slowing tight end Darren Waller, but that created more chances for Williams down the field. He didn’t capitalize on enough of them, with two long passes on their comeback drive that he wasn’t able to come down with in his return to action following a two-game layoff.

Williams is a No. 1 receiver and simply has to make those plays. He admitted as much after this loss. Carr went a third straight game without being sacked, another gold star effort from the offensive line. But when the Raiders had to have a big play, passes hit the turf. That can’t happen on the road, against good teams.

Grade: B-minus

Rushing Defense

The Raiders' run defense has been strong all season, but they didn’t handle a running quarterback particularly well. The Texans had 130 yards on 32 carries, including 46 from Watson.

Carlos Hyde did some nice work, with 83 yards on 19 carries. He converted a third down with a 10-yard draw run that kept a Texans touchdown drive alive. That was as key as play as any in this game.

Grade: C-minus

Passing Defense

Watson tormented the Raiders defense on this day, escaping sacks and quarterback pressure with his speed and elusiveness, able to make big plays on the move. The Raiders had three sacks but needed a few more they should’ve had down the stretch.

The Silver and Black had no answers for DeAndre Hopkins, who had 11 receptions for 109 yards on 13 targets. Darren Fells had two touchdown catches, as tight ends continue to plague the Raiders defense. They haven’t had a takeaway in two straight losses, and Trayvon Mullen had a golden opportunity for a pick six but couldn’t hang on.

Grade: D-plus

[RELATED: Watson's magic frustrates Raiders]

Special Teams

Punter A.J. Cole had a solid day, with half his punts landing inside the opposing 20. The Raiders were solid in the battle for field position, but the defense allowed too many long drives.

Dwayne Harris is impactful in the return game but continues to battle an ankle injury. Daniel Carlson converted his only field goal attempt but certainly wanted a second one to tie it late in the fourth quarter.

Grade: B

Overall

The Raiders should’ve left Houston with a victory. Plain and simple. This isn’t a bad football team but it can’t win while having an off day in a few areas. That happened here, with too many opportunities missed. Jon Gruden’s coaching has been solid and the Raiders can compete with anybody, but have to do better in important moments and stop hindering themselves with penalties.

Winning is hard in the NFL. The Raiders can’t let chances to do so pass them by.

Grade: F

Raiders' Darren Waller honors Frank Smith for unlocking true potential

Raiders' Darren Waller honors Frank Smith for unlocking true potential

Darren Waller used to hate football. With a passion.

That fact contrasts with the joy exuded while playing now as an elite NFL tight end. He loved every minute of a breakout Raiders season where he had 90 catches for 1,145 yards, but he's most proud of being consistent and, for the first time in forever, being someone you can count on.

Waller has been clean and sober more than two years now. That change has brought happiness back to his life and the game he once despised.

“I hated football from high school up until I got suspended [in 2017],” Waller said. “The sport was just a means to impress people and seem cool and cover up all these voids. I thought that, if I was successful, I could be happy. It wasn’t doing the trick, so there was a huge void in me I thought I could fill with drugs and alcohol.

“It took me having a near-death experience to question the things I was doing in my life. I stepped away from the game for a bit. If it was God’s plan for me to come back to the game, it’s now clear that it was. I came back with a new perspective and started enjoying it. I was open to coaches and have relationships with these people.”

The near-death experience came from a bad batch of pills two months after his yearlong suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy while with the Baltimore Ravens, when he sat in his car fighting to stay awake while thinking he might not make it out alive. Waller went to rehab shortly after that, a life choice he considers the foundation of all the good that has come since.

Waller’s personal life improved quickly, but his career didn’t really take off until the Raiders signed him off the Ravens practice squad late in 2018 and he started working with tight ends coach Frank Smith.

Smith challenged Waller to be great, a goal achieved in a shockingly short span. Waller’s now considered among the NFL’s elite tight ends and has become a role model for so many struggling with addiction by telling his story to anyone who will listen.

Waller believes that Smith unlocked true potential by caring about the person over the player, helping him in recovery and on the football field. That’s why Waller honored Smith at this year’s Coaching Corps’ Game Changer Awards, where athletes from different Bay Area professional sports teams honor coaches special in their lives.

Waller honored Smith at a Thursday ceremony in San Francisco, which will be broadcast Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. PT on NBC Sports Bay Area.

“I never had a relationship with a coach like I do with Frank,” Waller said. “I honestly text him more than I text my friends. We laugh every day at practice, but I seriously respect him as a teacher and a coach and an authority figure you can talk to as a friend. Nothing’s off limits. We can be real and honest with each other about everything. That’s so important to me, having him in my life.”

Smith values his relationship with Waller, which has grown over their two years working together.

“He’s an extremely intelligent person who is athletic,” Smith said. “But, if you don’t love football and give it everything you’ve got, you won’t progress. He’d be the first to tell you he wouldn’t sacrifice for the game. We weren’t seeing the best version of him. We were seeing a clouded version of himself blurred by his substance abuse. Then football was taken away, and he learned what he wanted to do.

"Now we’re seeing the full commitment, the full potential be realized.”

Smith admits that coaching Waller is different. His commitment to recovery mandates more involvement in Waller’s personal life, making sure his support system is in place. Smith took on that responsibility without hesitation, balancing his personal and professional duties while remaining an authority figure. He recognized Waller as a special case right away, that he was working with someone who could be great.

“He was humble. He was hungry to learn and hungry to work,” Smith said. “With his story, you can see every day how he cherishes life and embraces every obstacle. He never makes an excuse for anything, even with things that somebody else does. He’s the type of person who really has an effect on you, especially if you let him show you his transformative process.”

[RELATED: Carr 'looking forward' to being Raiders' QB in Vegas opener]

Waller let Smith in right away. He’s an open book about his struggles with drugs and alcohol and could tell that his position coach would help him in all aspects and stoke his passion for the game he thought he’d lost forever.

“Frank helped so much with my transition to the Raiders,” Waller said. “He has a friend that was in recovery like I am, who worked the 12-step program and went to rehab. He was able to understand me by understanding his friend. We learned a lot from each other, and he was able to welcome me in without putting too much pressure on me. But he wasn’t allowing me to be someone just happy to be there. He had me set goals, something I never did before that.

"He really opened my eyes to the fact that I could be great. I never really thought I could be great. I was too worried about all the pressure and the negative things. I never saw the game in a positive light. He helped me see that football can be so much fun if you’re not worried about things outside of what you can control.”

“Coaching Corps Game Changer Awards” presented by Levi’s airs Tuesday, January 28 at 7:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Bay Area

NFL rumors: Chargers have 'moved on' from longtime QB Philip Rivers

NFL rumors: Chargers have 'moved on' from longtime QB Philip Rivers

For 14 seasons, the Raiders and Philip Rivers have been rivals. Rivers' first NFL start fittingly came against the Raiders in 2006, his third professional season. 

That rivalry might be done, though. The Athletic's Jay Glazer said Monday on FS1's "The Herd with Colin Cowherd" that the Los Angeles Chargers have "moved on" from Rivers. 

Rivers, 38, will become a free agent this upcoming offseason. The 16-year veteran has spent his entire career for the Chargers, but it's unknown if he will continue playing in 2020. He already has moved his large family to Florida this offseason. 

The gunslinger was the No. 4 pick in the 2004 NFL Draft. He has an 18-9 career record against the Raiders with 47 touchdown passes -- his most against any opponent -- and 22 interceptions.

[RELATED: Carr 'looking forward' to being Raiders' QB in Vegas opener]

If the Chargers do move on from Rivers, they could try to grab a QB early in the 2020 draft. The Bolts own the No. 6 pick, and our own Josh Schrock has them taking Oregon's Justin Herbert in the first round. 

As the Raiders move to Las Vegas, it could be the end of an era with their Philip Rivers rivalry.