The Raiders have their share of stars, and some shone against the Titans. Derek Carr was efficient and sound in his leadership. Amari Cooper still has some drop issues but the extra weight and strength will clearly pay off. Khalil Mack is Khalil Mack – still the best player on the field even when the stat line isn’t spectacular (though it’s worth noting he’d have a strip-sack as well if Irvin didn’t jump offsides).
While contending teams need their stars to play well, this isn’t basketball. Football requires more than one or two great performances for a team to walk away victorious. Often, those performances don’t show up in highlights or stand out on the stat sheet. But they are no less valuable – unless we’re talking a 15 catch-200 yards- 4 TD statline – in the grand scheme of things.
The Raiders got a decisive 26-16 victory to open the season in Tennessee, in a game that toward the end didn’t seem that close. Carr, Coop, Mack, the Four Horsemen (Penn, Gabe, KO, Rodney), Karl Joseph – the big names showed up.
But there are three players in particular who may not be as well known or celebrated, but who each played a key role in the Raiders win yesterday. They are:
Cory James, LB
The man with the green dot will not be relinquishing it as quickly as Ben Heeney did. James has shown tremendous growth since his rookie season in regards to pre-snap diagnosis and getting his teammates into proper position. He was vocal and authoritative against the Titans, and his leadership skills were most noticeable when he was injured and NOT on the field, which is when the Raiders gave up their biggest runs of the game.
Although he had a pedestrian stat line (one solo tackle, three assists – which honestly makes me question the stat-keeping in Tennessee) James was invaluable against the Titans. On multiple occasions he showed excellent gap discipline and forced Murray or Henry away into another tackler.
On one particular play he diagnosed the play pre-snap, shifted subtly into position, and then shot the gap at the snap and hammered Murray for a minor loss. It was a great play and shows the things that make James the man to lead this defense in the back end – speed, intelligence, versatility and aggression. This is someone people will be talking about by season’s end, if not beforehand.
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