The Oakland Raiders moved into a tie for first place in the AFC West on Sunday with a narrow 34-31 win over the San Diego Chargers.
The Raiders are now 4-1 on the season, and though their defence leaves much to be desired, they’re pulling out wins with a high-octane offence that seemingly thrives on gusty play calls.
This was on display against the Chargers, when in the third quarter, on 4th-and-2, trailing by five points, head coach Jack Del Rio kept the offence on the field.
From the 21-yard line, quarterback Derek Carr launched a rainbow into tight coveage to receiver Michael Crabtree for the touchdown. The Raiders then went for two, taking a three-point lead, from which they never looked back.
Even BETTER catch.
It was the second highlight, risky play-call from Del Rio this season. In a Week 1 comeback over the New Orleans Saints, Del Rio opted to go for two after scoring a touchdown to bring the Raiders within one point, with just 47 seconds left. They converted and won the game.
After Sunday’s Week 5 win, Del Rio told NFL.com’s Mike Silver his simple logic for his calls.
“The thinking is, I believe [going for it] is the right thing to do. You’ve got to have the courage to make the call, and the trust for them to get it done.
“And then, when you do it, and you show them that trust, and they act on it, and they do the right thing — then it builds your confidence.”
It likely helps that through four weeks, the Raiders have had Football Outsiders’ second-ranked offence and 29th-ranked defences — a gap that’s likely to widen after their 34-31 win in Week 5. Del Rio would probably prefer his elite offence go for it, rather than punt and put his not-elite defence on the field.
Still, the confidence Del Rio shows in his players reverberates throughout the team.
Carr told Silver, “That’s my guy. He trusts us. You get fired up when a coach puts his trust in you like that.”
Said receiver Michael Crabtree, “He believes in us, so we’ve got to have his back. It all goes together. We take care of each other.”
Linebacker Bruce Irvin added, “I love that. He believes in his team. He believes in his players. That’s all you can ask for in a head coach.”
The Raiders are unlikely to keep pulling out these close contests, and they will need their defence to catch up to their offence to truly be a scary playoff threat. Nonetheless, Del Rio has instilled confidence in his players, and through some risky play-calling, they’re very much in the playoff hunt with over a quarter of the season in the rearview mirror.
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