ALAMEDA, Calif. -- A disturbing trend has developed when it comes to the Oakland Raiders and their desire to nurse big leads.
On Sept. 29, the Raiders jumped on top of Washington 14-0 before giving up 24 unanswered points and losing.
On Oct. 6, the Raiders led the San Diego Chargers 17-0 at halftime and had to hold on for a 27-17 victory.
On Oct. 13, the Raiders were winning every phase of the game against the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs early and would have had a 10-0 lead were it not for a missed field goal en route to a 24-7 loss.
And last weekend, the Raiders had the Pittsburgh Steelers on the ropes with a 21-3 lead in the fourth quarter but had to hold on until literally the last second to escape, 21-18.
The offense goes flat in the second half, some critics suggest by design. In fact, quarterback Terrelle Pryor said the game plan after halftime was to simply run the ball on the Steelers and grind out the clock.
A sound philosophy, except after halftime Oakland could only muster 35 yards of offense, the fewest of any team in the NFL this season, and one first down.
Also, according to Associated Press, the Raiders lead the NFL with 5.78 yards per carry in first halves of games and are seventh at 5.91 yards per offensive play. But in the second halves, they are 18th in yards per carry (3.57) and 29th in yards per offensive play (4.40).
Is it the play-calling of offensive coordinator Greg Olson as the Raiders try to take the air out of the ball to milk the clock, or a simple lack of execution on said play calls?
“Well, really, if you look at it, we’ve got to execute better,” Raiders coach Dennis Allen said Monday in his weekly media conference. “I mean we’ve got some opportunities to make some plays and we’re not making the plays that are there for us.”
Allen then specifically mentioned the Raiders’ first offensive series of the second half, when Pryor, perhaps buoyed by his record 93-yard touchdown run on the first play of the game, kept the ball rather than giving it to Darren McFadden on a zone-read option. Pryor was stuffed for a 1-yard loss.
One play later, Pryor again kept the ball and gained 2 yards.
“He tried to hand it off around the edge and we felt like we had a little bit of a play right there, but we had a couple of communication errors,” Allen said.
“It boiled down to when we get the opportunities to make the plays, we need to make the plays. We’ve got to throw the ball, we’ve got to catch the ball and we’ve got to create some lanes to run the ball more effectively.”
In the second half against Pittsburgh, the Raiders had four three-and-outs in their first six possessions, getting that first down on one before punting and receiver Jacoby Ford losing a fumble on the second play of another series.
With the Philadelphia Eagles coming to Oakland this weekend, the trend comes with an impending sense of dread after halftime. The Raiders need to find a sense of balance on offense in the second half ... or have more success running the ball.
“Every game is going to be different, alright?” Allen said. “You’ve got to understand how you’re going to win the game, and it’s not always about how pretty does it look. The ultimate goal is to win the football game.
“We had a defense that was playing outstanding in the football game, was taking the ball away, was creating a lot of pressure on the quarterback, that wasn’t giving up a lot of points. And the only chance (Pittsburgh) had to get back in the game was for us to make mistakes and give them those opportunities. Unfortunately, we did that.”
In the end, though, it merely served as a cautionary tale for Oakland, which has outscored opponents by a combined 59-20 in the first half with an average of 196.3 yards, while getting outscored by a cumulative 63-10 with 91.3 yards.
“So, I understand how you’re going to win football games,” Allen added. “And when the defense is playing really well, you’ve got to protect the football and you’ve got to let your defense go out and win the game for you.”