Raiders improvement points to 2008

"When we came in the locker room (before the game) we knew who we were playing," Oakland Raiders fullback Justin Griffith said. "I mean, these are the world champions. I hate it like we didn't finish the game like we wanted to finish, but I think this is going to help us for next year."

Raiders Report Card:

PASSING OFFENSE: B-minus -- Nothing sensational, but no big mistakes, either. Josh McCown, as the starting quarterback, led two lengthy drives, including a 20-play, 99-yard drive in which he was six-for-eight for 31 yards including a three-yard touchdown to Ronald Curry. On the Raiders' 13-play, 60-yard drive, McCown was three-for-four for 27 yards. The Raiders were content to throw underneath against a forgiving Tampa 2 zone. Aside from the two scoring drives, McCown and JaMarcus Russell were six-for-17 for 36 yards.

The Raiders offensive line, which gave up a league-high 72 sacks last season, has given up 33 this season and none in their last three games.

"They're playing at a high level. It's a credit to the scheme, Lane (Kiffin), Greg (Knapp) and obviously coach (Tom) Cable," quarterback Josh McCown said. "It's everybody else, too. It's the receivers getting open and getting the ball for them. It's a group effort, and it's something cool."

RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- A slow, steady procession of rushing gains helped compile a 33:46 to 26:14 time-of-possession advantage. The Raiders ran the ball 39 times and only twice had negative yards, both one-yard losses. Justin Fargas had 29 carries for 86 yards, including 16 rushes for 59 yards on Oakland's two scoring drives, which encompassed 33 plays and 153 yards. Dominic Rhodes had his best game as a Raider with seven carries for 41 yards, including a 19-yard run that was the Raiders' longest run of the day.

Fargas became the ninth runner in franchise history to gain 1,000 yards rushing in a season, joining Clem Daniels, Marv Hubbard, Mark van Eeghen, Marcus Allen, Harvey Williams, Napoleon Kaufman, Tyrone Wheatley and LaMont Jordan.

Van Eeghen and Allen each did it three times. Jordan was the last Raiders runner to break 1,000 with 1,025 yards in 2005.

"Definitely, it's a good accomplishment," Fargas said. "As a runner, it's something you shoot for. But it's more of a tribute to our offense, our team and the guys up front. They make it happen. They've done a great job all year, and I'm just trying to take advantage of what they give me."

PASS DEFENSE: B-minus -- The Raiders gave up 276 yards, but one lone touchdown pass of 20 yards from Peyton Manning to Anthony Gonzalez. Oakland played man-to-man defense against the Colts and coverage was generally good other than from Fabian Washington, who was victimized for seven completions and 95 yards, including the score. Linebacker Thomas Howard had his sixth interception of the season and second in three weeks.

RUSH DEFENSE: A -- Where did this come from? Giving up 150.3 yards rushing per game coming in, the Raiders surrendered just 58 yards on 20 carries, a 2.9 average, to a Colts running team with a rusher in Joseph Addai, who had to work to pass 1,000 yards. Addai had just 44 yards on 15 carries and had to rally to get that much. A powerful inside performance by tackle Gerard Warren led the way.

"If I told you they were going to score one offensive touchdown, we were going to make a goal-line stand and our offense was going to drive 99 yards, you'd all be counting it as a win," Warren Sapp said.

SPECIAL TEAMS: D -- The second egregious error in two weeks undermined a decent effort. This one was a 90-yard punt return by T.J. Rushing for a touchdown, the second punt return score in two weeks. Shane Lechler had a net of just 26.8 yards per punt, his second sub-30 outing in a row. Punt returns are essentially sacrificed with Tim Dwight out injured and Johnnie Lee Higgins (two returns, 12 yards, one fair catch) in. Chris Carr had five kickoff returns for a 29.4 average and a best of 36 yards.

COACHING: B -- Lane Kiffin is walking a fine line between getting Russell experience for the future at the expense of the present, sacrificing three possessions that gained one first down. But in most other areas, the Raiders were well prepared and followed a specific plan to control the ball against the Colts defense, crowd the box to choke off the run and gamble they could get things done playing predominantly man-to-man in the secondary. A few breaks here or there and they could have knocked off the defending Super Bowl champions.

Colts Report Card:

PASSING OFFENSE: B-plus -- Indianapolis was inconsistent in the passing game for most of the day against Oakland. QB Peyton Manning completed 22 of 39 passes for 276 yards with one touchdown and had one pass intercepted. Manning, though, suffered through some dropped passes while being sacked three times, was hurried on three other occasions and had seven passes batted away by Raiders defenders (five by either a linebacker or defensive lineman). TE Dallas Clark had just one catch in the game, and that came on the Colts' game-winning touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. The bright spot, however, came on that drive as Manning was 7-for-7 passing and was helped by an outstanding one-handed catch along the sideline by WR Reggie Wayne in a third-and-long situation.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B-minus -- Once again, the running attack struggled for most of the game. But, as been the case over the last few weeks, when Indianapolis needed to make some yards with the game on the line, RB Joseph Addai has provided some much-needed punch. Addai was limited to 44 yards on 15 carries (matching his lowest yardage total on the ground this season), but he picked up a key two-point conversion on a run late in the fourth quarter. Backup Kenton Keith had 11 yards on just three carries.

PASS DEFENSE: B -- Indianapolis limited Raiders QB Josh McCown to 94 yards on 13 completions, a puny 7.2-yard average. The Colts went into the game with the NFL's No. 1 pass defense, permitting 166.8 yards a game. Between McCown and rookie QB JaMarcus Russell, Oakland hit on 15 of 29 passes for 104 yards and one touchdown. The pass rush, however, was inconsistent, and the Colts did not record a sack all afternoon. Indianapolis had only one quarterback hurry and one pass deflected.

RUSH DEFENSE: B -- Justin Fargas had 89 yards on 26 carries, averaging 3.4 yards a carry. As a team, the Raiders had 149 rushing yards on 39 total attempts. The Colts run defense bent at times throughout the course of the game, giving up two runs of 10 or more yards and allowing a 2-yard Fargas touchdown run early in the fourth quarter that gave the home team a brief lead.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- A 90-yard punt return for a touchdown by T.J. Rushing (tying the longest such play in franchise history) in the first quarter gave the Colts an early cushion. PK Adam Vinatieri hit two short field goals (22, 19), and P Hunter Smith averaged 41 yards (37 yards net) on three punts and had one downed inside the Raiders 20-yard line. Rushing averaged 24.3 yards on three kickoff returns and had a 47.0-yard average on two punt returns. On the down side, though, he fumbled one kickoff and fair caught a punt at the Colts 10-yard line. Indianapolis, however, allowed the Raiders to average 29.4 yards on five kickoff returns, including a 36-yarder late in the fourth quarter that gave Oakland great field position on its last offensive possession.

COACHING: A -- To win five consecutive AFC South titles is impressive in itself. To win 12 games in a season for five consecutive years and set an NFL record in the process shows the overall consistency of the organization that Tony Dungy and team president Bill Polian have put in place. But to do those things in a year when several key components -- both on offense and defense -- have been sidelined by injuries, that says a lot for how Dungy runs his team. The Colts have used backups, especially a handful of rookies and inexperienced veterans, with great success this year. That should say everything anybody would need to know about what the coaching staff has done during the 2007 season. They've "coached them up." Enough said.

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