NFL News & Analysis

OAK-NO grades: QBs Carr, Brees both star in Raiders' shootout win

NEW ORLEANS, LA - SEPTEMBER 11: <> during during the fourth quarter at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on September 11, 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Oakland Raiders 35, New Orleans Saints 34

Here are the highest-graded players and biggest takeaways from the Raiders’ 35-34 road win over the Saints.

Oakland Raiders

Quarterback grade: Derek Carr, 84.1

It was a solid opener for Oakland QB Derek Carr, who led three fourth-quarter touchdown drives to bring the Raiders back from an 11-point deficit. He was more solid than spectacular, and slightly more conservative than his counterpart Drew Brees, only attempting passes of 20-plus yards twice, although he connected on both plays. But he was nevertheless effective, ending the game with just two negatively graded throws, and neither of those misfires put the ball at serious risk.

The most notable difference in Carr’s play came when the Saints sent extra rushers. He finished with a 125.2 passer rating on plays with four or fewer rushers, but against the blitz he often looked panicky in the pocket, regardless of whether there was actual pressure. That’s interesting, given he graded far better when blitzed in 2015 than against a standard rush.

Top offensive grades:

LG/LT Kelechi Osemele, 86.7

QB Derek Carr, 84.1

LT/RT Donald Penn, 82.6

FB Jamize Olawale, 80.9

C Rodney Hudson, 76.2

Osemele bounces back from rough preseason

Oakland’s offensive line had a big day, particularly left guard Kelechi Osemele, whom the team spent big money on in free agency. Osemele spent 51 snaps at left guard, and 24 at left tackle following an injury to Menelik Watson. In that span he surrendered a single pressure, but was even better in the run game, particularly against Saints linebacker Craig Robertson. Robertson bested him for a stop twice in the game, but otherwise the Raiders dominated the matchup, with Osemele sealing him at the second level multiple times, including on the team’s 75-yard touchdown run at 8:38 of the fourth quarter.

Top defensive grades:

S Keith McGill, 85.3

ED Bruce Irvin, 82.2

LB Ben Heeney, 78.1

ED Khalil Mack, 76.5

DE Denico Autry, 75.7

Another one of Oakland’s free agent acquisitions – edge rusher Bruce Irvin – had a strong showing on defense, and even bested Khalil Mack, who was quieter than expected but still above-average. Irvin finished the game with a defensive stop and four total pressures, including a sack-fumble on the opening drive of the game, setting up his team with prime field position. Otherwise, much of his impact came in the fourth quarter — he landed consecutive hits on Drew Brees, although the first was nullified by penalty, taking away an impressive inside move against Saints star left tackle Terron Armstead. His second pressure against Armstead was also nullified later in the quarter, which he won outside.

New Orleans Saints

Quarterback grade: Drew Brees, 87.1

Despite being the oldest starting QB in Week 1 at 37 years old, Brees showed he’s still among the league’s top signal-callers. He was near-perfect throwing between the numbers, going 17-for-19 there, and connected on three of his four deep (20-plus-yard) passes, including dimes down the left sideline to Willie Snead and Brandin Cooks. When not under pressure, Brees finished with a 142.4 passer rating, versus a 63.9 rating when the Oakland rush did get to him. But that only happened on 16.3 percent of his dropbacks, the lowest rate of any QB this week, through the end of Sunday.

Top offensive grades:

QB Drew Brees, 87.1

WR Willie Snead, 82.5

RT Zach Strief, 80.3

C Max Unger, 79.7

WR Brandin Cooks, 78.5

Cooks and Snead make big plays downfield

While Brees looked as formidable as ever, his standout performance came with the help of some of his pass-catchers, notably Willie Snead and Brandin Cooks. Snead especially looked ready to build on an above-average 2015 season after hauling in all nine of his targets against six different defenders in primary coverage, for 172 yards and a touchdown. A fumble (following a 43-yard reception) was his lone blunder on the day. Cooks likewise made multiple big plays downfield, scoring on two of them, including a 98-yarder – his only reception in three targets against Raiders CB Sean Smith.

Among the other players that stood out on the Saints offense were two newcomers, rookie receiver Michael Thomas and tight end Coby Fleener, although their play was notable for different reasons. Thomas has clearly cemented his spot as the team’s third WR entering the season, as his 55 snaps were only seven less than Cooks and actually more than Snead. All but four those came on the outside, where he hauled in all six targets for 58 yards, including an impressive catch and run at 5:36 of the second quarter. Conversely, Fleener struggled, catching just one of four passes that went his way, while grading negatively as a run-blocker, where he surrendered a pair of stops.

Top defensive grades:

S Kenny Vaccaro, 86.1

DT Nick Fairley, 82.0

DT John Jenkins, 77.2

DE Darryl Tapp, 71.5

CB P.J. Williams, 70.5

Saints’ rookie corners struggle in second half

With cornerback Delvin Breaux limited to 24 snaps due to injury, much of the second half featured Oakland taking advantage of the Saints’ inexperience behind him, notably rookies DeVante Harris and Ken Crawley, who played 60 and 47 snaps, respectively. The two combined for five missed tackles and allowed a catch on 10 of 12 targets, with Crawley especially struggling. Oakland QB Derek Carr finished with a 143.8 passer rating on eight throws into Crawley's coverage, the highest of any Saints defensive back.

Second-year cornerback P.J. Williams fared slightly better in his first regular-season action. He finished with an average grade in coverage after getting his hand on the ball at 11:07 of the second quarter for a pass defense, something neither of his aforementioned teammates managed, although Williams otherwise allowed 99 yards on four catches (eight targets).

PFF Game Ball winner: Raiders QB Derek Carr

Get access to grades for every NFL player, complete with positional rankings, in our NFL Player Grades tool.

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