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27 Oct 2015

Any Given Sunday: Raiders Over Chargers

by Andrew Healy

Sunday's Raiders-Chargers game was a tale of two rookies. For one, Raiders wide receiver Amari Cooper, it was the best of times, as Cooper's 133 yards put him on pace for the highest total for a rookie in more than 50 years, per Pro-Football-Reference. For the other, Chargers running back Melvin Gordon, it was the worst of times, as the NFL's leading fumbler spent the entire first half on the bench watching Oakland roll up a huge lead. It was the age of wisdom for Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie, who spent the fourth pick of this year's draft on an as close to a sure thing as there is at wide receiver. And it was the age of foolishness for Chargers GM Tom Telesco, who had traded up for the right to use a first-round pick on a running back from the university that brought you Ron Dayne and Montee Ball. It was the epoch of belief for the Raiders when Cooper sent safety Jimmy Wilson to the ground with a cut so sharp it could slice open a can of sardines. And it was the epoch of incredulity that the Chargers would supposedly sit Gordon to protect his ankle and then play him only after the Raiders made it 37-6 early in the third quarter.

Let's start with Cooper and a Raiders passing game that is showing signs of entering a season of light. On just six targets, Cooper tied Calvin Johnson for the best day for a wide receiver in Week 7 with 63 DYAR. That number does way better than the counting stats at giving Cooper his just due, but still doesn't give him enough credit for how he took over the contest during just ten minutes of game time between the 7:00 mark of the second quarter and the 12:00 mark of the third.

On the first play, Cooper provided a spring of hope. Derek Carr threw deep into double-coverage and the safety appeared to have the best route to the ball. However, Cooper elevated and high-pointed the pass in front of poor Jimmy Wilson. On the broadcast, Steve Tasker argued that Carr could not have seen the deep safety, but I think he might be wrong about that. Carr could see that Cooper was behind cornerback Jason Verrett and could think that Cooper would win the battle with Wilson. Watching that play makes it hard to believe that Cooper had a below-average vertical jump of 32.5 inches at the combine even if those numbers are largely irrelevant for projecting wide receivers. Clearly, Cooper can jump plenty high when there is a football to be caught.

On the second play, the 21-year-old Cooper showed that everything was before him. This was the screen pass that sent Wilson sliding past on the turf. That cut was the kind of move that you might have seen from Barry Sanders or in old highlights of Gale Sayers. The Sayers play there is almost exactly the same cut, and it does the same thing to the 49ers defender that Cooper did to Wilson.

On the third play, Cooper didn't quite take the Raiders direct to heaven, but he did make something very difficult look simple. He reeled in a 16-yard back shoulder throw and tapped his feet down as he brought the pass in. The play was elegant.

With a normal wide receiver, those three catches for 112 yards could quite easily have been one catch for less than 10, highlighting that the biggest beneficiary of Cooper's addition has been Carr. The second-year quarterback has made a substantial statistical leap forward in his second season, one that we certainly did not see coming. Carr's Cooper-aided game against the Chargers was good for the third-best performance of the weekend by DVOA (42.6%). That performance also pulled Carr up to sixth place overall in passing DVOA at 19.0%.

While Carr's rookie-year 21-12 touchdown-to-interception ratio was inflated by an unusual number of short touchdowns (ten went for 5 yards or less, including five that went for exactly 1 yard), the story has been very different in Carr's sophomore season.


Derek Carr's Real Touchdowns in 2015

TD passes 5 yds or less 20 yds or more
2014 (Week 1-Week 17) 21 10 (48%) 3 (14%)
2015 (Through Week 7) 11 3 (27%) 6 (55%)

Carr has no super gimme 1-yard touchdown throws this year and as many touchdowns over 20 yards to Cooper (three) as he had to all players all last season.

The main thing that leaps off the film is how quickly Carr often seems to be playing this year, and with greater confidence to make throws in the middle of the field as he did against the Chargers. Even though our numbers adjust for opposition, however, it's still worth noting that Carr's good performances this year have all come against bad defenses. Sunday's game marked the third time this season that Carr has faced a defense that ranks among the bottom six defenses in the league by DVOA (the Chargers now rank 29th).

While the jury is out on whether Carr will keep on trucking through the four top-ten defenses (Jets, Broncos, Packers, Titans) left on the Raiders' schedule, he appears to have a target in Cooper who may hold his own against those defenses.

The Worst Running Back in Football

The other half of our tale of two rookies involves a season of darkness. Through Week 7, Melvin Gordon has four fumbles on just 101 touches. His -104 DYAR ranks last in the league through seven weeks.

San Diego ranks 29th in adjusted line yards, but Gordon has been by far the worst of the Chargers' backs. Gordon's teammates Branden Oliver (5 DYAR) and Danny Woodhead (20 DYAR) have both played above replacement level. That it took two middle-round picks (a 2015 fourth-rounder and a 2016 fifth-rounder) to move up to take Gordon -- two picks that could have been used to strengthen the line or San Diego's defense -- only compounds the disaster.

It's too soon to dismiss Gordon, but not too soon to wonder if his college blocking inflated his draft status as it did for Montee Ball. In the last five NFL drafts, six Wisconsin linemen have gone in the first three rounds. The last two years have been comparatively lean, actually, with only second-round tackle Rob Havenstein going in this year's draft. But Gordon also ran behind the center who is projected by some to be the best player at his position in next year's draft.

By the VOA

That the Raiders led 37-6 at one point suggests that maybe this game should not have been an upset in the first place. Going in, the Raiders were 3.5-point underdogs on the road, but they had the advantage in DVOA. The Raiders entered the game at -2.9% (ranked 16th), while the Chargers were at -8.3% (ranked 21st).

For the game, San Diego's Danny Woodhead-fueled fourth-quarter drives helped bring the matchup against the Oakland defense to almost a draw. It was Oakland's offense that dominated against a poor San Diego unit that was missing its best player in safety Eric Weddle.


DVOA (Opponent adjustments included)
Team OFF DEF ST TOTAL
OAK 36.9% -7.4% 4.8% 49.1%
SD -5.9% 42.4% -7.4% -55.6%


VOA (No opponent adjustments)
Team OFF DEF ST TOTAL
OAK 52.6% -1.2% 4.8% 58.5%
SD -5.6% 44.2% -7.4% -57.2%

The Keep Looking at Wins Stat of the Week

If Sunday's game was any indication, the Raiders will dominate the race for fans in Los Angeles if both they and the Chargers end up in the City of Angels. From the opening snap, a Chargers' home game felt like a road game. Of course, that can happen even when the Patriots are in town.

Data from Twitter provides some insight into how bad the situation in L.A. would be for the Chargers. Fans' allegiances are closely divided in L.A. County. By this data, the Raiders rank second in their share of the fan market, while the Chargers rank fourth.


Favorite NFL Teams in Los Angeles County, per Twitter
Team Pct Support
49ers 10.35%
Raiders 9.08%
Cowboys 7.01%
Chargers 6.84%

Facebook data appears to have Los Angeles County ruled by the Raiders rather than the Niners, which feels right to me as a long-time resident. One thing that is very clear is that L.A. is definitely not a Rams town. The Twitter data gives the Rams just 1.98 percent of the L.A. market. So the Chargers may be behind the Raiders now both on the field and in the hearts of their future home, but they at least can cling to the hope that they will get to share L.A. with the Rams.

Posted by: Andrew Healy on 27 Oct 2015

11 comments, Last at 06 Apr 2017, 2:32am by Hall999

Comments

1
by Raiderjoe :: Tue, 10/27/2015 - 2:51pm

would be ncie to see chargers and rams move to los angeles, Raiders stgay in Oakland, or maybe Raiders can change name to California Raiders and oplay some games in Oakland, some in San Diego since Raiders have more fans in San Diego than Charegs do or so it seems. Raiders can be like old pakcers who used to play 5 in greebn bay and 3 in Milwaukee each eyar for long spell

2
by collapsing pocket :: Tue, 10/27/2015 - 4:23pm

The Raiders don't have more fans in San Diego than the Chargers do. They have a contigent of fans willing to pay Charger fans for their tickets in order to sit in that godawful stadium and watch two bad teams play.

4
by sharky19 :: Tue, 10/27/2015 - 5:07pm

*1 bad team

9
by collapsing pocket :: Wed, 10/28/2015 - 2:12pm

* 1 bad team, and 1 .500 team that has wins over 3 of the worst teams in the league and lost to the Bears.

3
by collapsing pocket :: Tue, 10/27/2015 - 4:30pm

Gordon's DYAR struggles are primarily due to his fumbling, which has little to nothing to do with the (terrible) blocking in front of him.

Take away his fumbling (which you obviously can't discount, but bear with me) and he's clearly a more talented runner than either Woodhead or Oliver, both by the stats and the eye test.

That doesn't excuse the decision to trade up to draft him.

5
by JonC :: Wed, 10/28/2015 - 8:34am

My impression is that Gordon is still getting used to NFL speed, and his fumbles are him not recognizing when he's about to get taken down vs. break a tackle or avoid a tackler. But I'm with you that he's shown great potential as a featured back.

6
by commissionerleaf :: Wed, 10/28/2015 - 11:50am

The problem is not so much that the Gordon pick was wasted because Gordon is bad, so much as it is the fact that the Gordon pick and the rest of the otherwise very good Charger offense is wasted because they spent a first round pick on a running back instead of a lineman (or three).

8
by collapsing pocket :: Wed, 10/28/2015 - 2:08pm

They clearly had their plan: throw a big contract at Franklin to play guard, retain Dunlap who has been a solid if not top level tackle, and then eventually kick Fluker over to guard (his supposed "natural position") and replace him with Barksdale. The whole thing revolved around last year's 3rd round pick, Watt, becoming at least a competent center.

Not a bad plan on paper, but it has come up snake eyes so far.

Dunlap played OK, but then was hurt and missed several games.
Franklin got hurt in preseason, played terribly, and then got hurt again and missed a few games, then came back for less than one game, and now is hurt even worse and might be back around Christmas.
Watt was a disaster at center. Then he got hurt. His replacement is an even bigger disaster.
Fluker at guard is going poorly. Probably doesn't help that he (shocker) got hurt. He came back early and is clearly not 100%.
And Barksdale has been a pleasant surprise as a pretty decent tackle. When he's not hurt, that is.

So they had a 5 part plan for O-line success, and only 1 step has had a positive outcome. Not great.

10
by JonC :: Thu, 10/29/2015 - 11:06am

Maybe they were hoping that Multiple Man (prototypical NFL size and great pad level) would finally give up on his one-man baseball team and declare for the NFL draft this year.

7
by collapsing pocket :: Wed, 10/28/2015 - 1:57pm

Could be. I think part of it is that he's not used to getting hit so hard so consistently. A lot of rookie running backs seem to have issues with that.

His talent is clearly there as a runner. It's a shame that on any given handoff there seems to be a 50/50 chance he'll get met in the backfield by an unblocked or barely blocked defender.

11
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