Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

21 Oct 2008

Any Given Sunday: Raiders over Jets

by Ned Macey

The linked article sorts through the odd situation of two strong-armed quarterbacks consistently throwing safe, underneath throws. While both teams played it too close to the vest, the Jets matched the Raiders on offense and defense but lost the game on special teams.

The Raiders, despite their myriad problems, had the league's best special teams coming into the game. (The Patriots passed them on Monday night, so they are now second.) Other than one errant Sebastian Janikowski field goal, they did little to change that status. The two crucial plays were Janikowski's 57-yarder to win in overtime and a forced fumble on Leon Washington on a punt return that set up the Raiders' first field goal.

In less noticeable plays, the difference was equally stark. Janikowski had four kickoffs into the end zone and two touchbacks. Jay Feely had none. The Jets had no punt return yardage, while Johnnie Lee Higgins averaged 11 yards per return. The Raiders' net punting was five yards longer per punt. Five punts out of seven were stopped inside the Jets' 20.

The discrepancy between the two teams led to a radical difference in field position. The Jets never started a drive outside their own 30-yard line and only one outside their own 22-yard line. The Raiders, meanwhile, capitalized not only on the Washington fumble but started on their own 30-yard line or better on six separate drives (one the result of a turnover rather than special teams).

Needless to say, the very thought of the Raiders winning a game by doing the little things well is surprising. Special teams' success is new to the Raiders, who ranked 29th last season and 26th the year before. If Sunday is to be believed, the improvement seems to be for real.

Posted by: Ned Macey on 21 Oct 2008

17 comments, Last at 22 Oct 2008, 4:25pm by df


by Harris :: Tue, 10/21/2008 - 2:58pm

Simple: The Jets aren't very good and Favre had an awful game. The End. I was far more interested to read about Rams over Cowboys.

"A little celery is always nice after a good pee."

by KyleW :: Tue, 10/21/2008 - 3:09pm

I'd like to add my voice to that. Cowboys Rams would have been far more interesting to read in my opinion.

Who will the Rams have to beat to be featured in AGS?

by nibiyabi :: Tue, 10/21/2008 - 4:31pm

. . . FO, seriously? Rams over Cowboys is the most obvious no-brainer pick of the season for AGS, and I'm pretty sure everyone here was looking forward to a long article dissecting the game bit-by-bit.

by Temo :: Tue, 10/21/2008 - 6:03pm

I'm pretty sure they didn't do Cowboys/Rams because he did a Cowboys game last week, and I don't remember ever having two AGS columns with the same losing team.

And as a Cowboys fan, I would have loved an AGS this week. I knew how they lost the Arizona game. I would have liked a deeper explanation of how the Rams managed to score 34 points though. That seems like the biggest upset of all.

by peachy (not verified) :: Tue, 10/21/2008 - 3:06pm

Having no interest in either team, I was rooting hard for the tie. It's an indication of how formidable Janikowski is that my hopes started to fade when Oakland got to the NYJ 40...

by ChicagoRaider (not verified) :: Tue, 10/21/2008 - 3:08pm

Well, the Raiders are taking Higgins off of kickoffs, so special teams should ramp down a little bit.

Kiffin's idea was that if Russell did not give up the ball, the rest of the Raiders could win ballgames. It would appear that, so far, Cable is taking the same approach. The one irony of this is that Russell does not have touch yet, so the odds of a wide receiver, much less a defensive back, catching the ball are lower. From what I see, when he uncorks, there is no way on earth that a ball is going to be caught one handed -- by anyone. Well, maybe Asomugha. :-)

This game Asomugha was assigned to the slot receiver. Given that, wouldn't you have expected more long completions? Very odd choices by the Jets.

by ammek :: Tue, 10/21/2008 - 3:24pm

Interesting. Post-Holmgren, each of Favre's coaches has tried to find a way to exploit the skills of their highly-paid QB, while eliminating the one blinding weakness. Ray Rhodes crowned his ass and let him do whatever he liked. Mike Sherman decided to make him the Elway to Ahman Green's Terrell Davis, but Favre got restless and out of synch. Mike McCarthy gave him a cluster of receivers and a spread offense, but had him throwing 40 times in close games. Now Mangini won't let him throw a pass beyond the first-down marker.

I'm guessing that Brett won't be the given name of McCarthy's latest offspring, due imminently.

by Yaguar :: Tue, 10/21/2008 - 3:31pm

On the Raiders ST:

I think we all know who the real Sebastian Janikowski is at this point, and he's clearly just getting lucky right now on his FG attempts. Sure, he has a strong leg, but he's not a particularly accurate kicker. A great half-season doesn't override his years and years of mediocrity when it comes to predictiveness.

Janikowski will likely regress. Lechler seems to be genuinely improving when it comes to getting hangtime and making returns difficult. He used to just boot the thing as far as he could, which was still quite effective, but this year he's truly an elite punter, and he'll be deserving of his status as a perennial Pro Bowler. Higgins is a great returner, and the Raiders have been taking care of business when it comes to returns and return coverage. I expect these units to remain elite. Opponents may begin to learn to avoid Higgins. I'm not sure whether he quite deserves Josh Cribbs or Leon Washington treatment, but he's damn good.

All in all, the Raiders have managed a remarkable special teams turnaround, but I don't expect all of it to last.

by RickD :: Tue, 10/21/2008 - 3:38pm

I'm not sure it should be considered an upset if any team beats the Jets. I know they have Favre now, but they were 4-12 last season. That's exactly the same record the Raiders had.

Rams over Cowboys was a much bigger upset.

by Dennis :: Wed, 10/22/2008 - 9:23am

The Jets are not a very good team, and I say that as a Jets fan. Favre has not been very good - his stats are grossly inflated from the Arizona game. The rest of the team is a bit better than last year, but they are benefiting from a much easier schedule. They didn't play well against Cincy either, and their other win was against Miami.

by Joe T. (not verified) :: Tue, 10/21/2008 - 4:04pm

Special teams wins championships.

by Jean Sansterre (not verified) :: Wed, 10/22/2008 - 2:04pm

Only if you have Desmond Howard

by Tundrapat (not verified) :: Tue, 10/21/2008 - 4:10pm

I'm guessing that the AGS focused on this game because the Jets 'appear' to be better than the 4-12 team of last season. They were quite active in trying to upgrade their personnel on both sides of the ball. And some of those upgrades seem to have worked (count me as one who figured the Jenkins pickup would be a bust - you know, an old DT that the former team felt they could live without).

Coming into this week, the Jets had the #18 offense and #12 defense in terms of DVOA. And #12 special teams. And the Raiders, who do so clearly still suck in almost every aspect, won. Because of special teams. When you can make if a field-position game, the special teams are often the deciding factor.

Regarding the Cowboys game, it's more easily explained. Look at their DVOA numbers. The offense is #3, but defense and special teams are #21 and #30, respectively. So their offense has been their strength through Week 6.

Now subtract Tony Romo, and insert Brad Johnson. And for good measure, toss in a bit of "they're just the lowly Rams" attitude among the players. Rams jump out to 21-7, and never look back. 'Nuff said.

by Temo :: Tue, 10/21/2008 - 4:42pm

Here's my AGS for Cowboys-Rams:

The Cowboys defense sucks. Their defensive coaches suck. Anthony Henry sucks. Greg Ellis sucks. Chris Canty sucks. Bradie James sucks. Mike Jenkins sucks. Roy Williams sucks.

Oh, and they replaced the #1 QB in the league by DVOA with Brad freaking Johnson.

(Yes, I am bitter that I foresaw defensive problems back in August and yet not was done about it-- comment 24:

by Travis :: Tue, 10/21/2008 - 8:51pm

The Leon Washington fumble was unforced - he simply muffed a fair catch.

by Dennis :: Wed, 10/22/2008 - 9:19am

Right. In the stats it shows up as a "forced fumble" but the Raiders didn't do anything to force it, Washington just blew it.

by df (not verified) :: Wed, 10/22/2008 - 4:25pm

Anyone else think the announcers had it right and Favre's arm is not right? Or is the Oakland secondary that good?