Two games into the season, the Raiders’ offseason mandate to become more efficient seems to have had the desired effect.
By cutting down on penalties and turnovers, the Raiders have put themselves in a better position to complete more drives with points — specifically touchdowns. And they haven’t sacrificed pace or scaled-down the playbook to make it happen.
In fact, with quarterback Derek Carr now in year three in Jon Gruden’s system, his command of the offense at the line of scrimmage has enabled the Raiders to be much more diverse and adaptable without being rushed.
“The way he’s able to get us into good looks … we can play fast,” said Raiders fullback Alec Ingold. “That kind of eliminates the penalties.”
And by playing better and more urgently in third quarters — offensively and defensively — they are building leads rather than surrendering them or letting opponents add to them.
To put that in perspective, of the 11 teams that averaged the most points in the third quarter last year, nine reached the playoffs.
“The last couple weeks we’ve been pretty good taking care of the ball,” said Raiders coach Jon Gruden, citing limiting turnovers, “converting on third down, having balance and winning the time of possession” as the keys to the team’s fast start.
Two games and two victories is a small sample size, but so far, so good on the boxes the Raiders insisted they wanted to check coming into this season.
Reducing penalties, getting off to better starts in the second half and finishing in the red zone were all points of emphasis, Carr said.
The Raiders’ play in the third quarter has been particularly noteworthy, as the team’s ability to play complementary football has been on full display.
In the season opener, the Raiders’ defense struggled over the first two quarters against the Carolina Panthers and led just 17-15 going into halftime. The Raiders, though, forced two straight three-and-outs to start the third quarter, which led to two straight scoring drives by Carr, which allowed the offense to build a 12-point lead.
In the third quarter against the Saints on Monday night, Carr and the offense produced two drives that spanned 11:54 minutes of the third quarter. In addition to scoring a touchdown to go up 24-17, the Raiders limited the Saints to just five plays covering 4:04 of the quarter.
After scoring the fewest third-quarter points in the NFL last year and giving up the second most, the Raiders have completely turned that around. They have not surrendered a point in the third quarter while scoring the third-most points.
“I mean, that’s a good sign,” said Gruden. “I was taught as a young coach, as a young person, that starting fast is the key to everything. How we like to start games, we’d like to start the third quarter. That’s something we have to continue to work on. We can’t let the opponent take the ball down the field and get points. I think that’s two weeks in a row. We have held it together. Made some pretty good adjustments at halftime so far.”
The key now is to continue that trend, beginning on Sunday in New England against the Patriots.
“Hopefully it can continue,” Carr said. “But New England is really good in all of those phases, so we’re going to have to be even better this week.”
Raiders by the numbers
(Rank among the 32 NFL teams)
— First in third-down conversion percentage of 57.14 compared to seventh at 43.78 last season.
— Tied for first with no points surrendered in the third quarter compared to 31st last season with an average of 6.9.
— Second in fewest penalties at three per game compared to 30th at eight per game last season.
— Third in points per drive at 3.78 compared to 19th at 1.87 last season.
— Third in third-quarter scoring per game at 8.5 points compared to 32nd last season at 1.7 points.
— Fourth in average time of possession at 33.45 compared to seventh at 31.01 last season.
— Seventh in red zone touchdown percentage at 75.00 compared to 22nd last season at 52.83.
— 12th in average points surrendered in the second half at 11 compared to 29th last season at 13.7.