Here’s what we learned…
1. I, along with many others, predicted this might be the perfect forum for Jadeveon Clowney to re-emerge as a superstar — a status the general public has not bestowed upon him since his days at South Carolina. It was a safe bet seeing as Oakland’s offense was in tatters, but Clowney did not let us down. He did the things we expected, like blowing up shotgun run plays six yards in the backfield, and also the things that earned him the No. 1 pick in the draft back in 2014, like toy with a cut-blocking offensive lineman, pivot away from a pass rush to beat the screen pass and bat a pass in the air to himself and pick it off. His true value, though, was seen in the myriad personnel changes Oakland offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave had to make just to create a navigable pocket (more on that later).
2a. Raiders backup Matt McGloin was healthy enough to be the backup but, apparently, not healthy enough to come on in relief. This will puzzle Raiders fans who witnessed a plodding offense that was blanked on third downs until the 11-minute mark of the fourth quarter when they converted their first. I actually liked the way Musgrave treated Connor Cook and wondered what he might have done with a slightly more experienced player under center. On the first drive alone, he let him utilize an empty set and on other drives, he brought in a sixth offensive lineman to aid in protection and bolster the running game. By an unofficial count, I saw four totally different personnel groupings from the Raiders and two different variations of their standard three wideout, one tight end, one running back offense. Allowing Cook to go no-huddle was gutsy and paid off. Why didn’t they go back to it as much?
2b. This is not to say that Cook (18-of-45 passing, 161 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions) played poorly given the circumstances. The one fourth-quarter interception was a tipped ball. Yes, it was high to Amari Cooper, but this is your third-string quarterback. Cook got into a second-half rhythm and momentarily put some pressure on the Texans. For a moment in the fourth quarter, the game rekindled some of its theater. What more can one ask for given the circumstances?
3. O’Brien named Osweiler the starter for next week, which is exactly what he should have done. “He got into a good rhythm, he was able to get off to a good start on a lot of drives,” O’Brien told reporters after the game. “That’s always a good sign that he gets into a rhythm and he feels it.” O’Brien handled the play-calling beautifully and allowed Osweiler to start small and develop a feel for the game with his tight ends, whom he targeted heavily. It was obvious that, throughout the third and fourth quarter, he developed more confidence in his abilities the more he went to DeAndre Hopkins. While Houston has been waiting to see this consistently and for four straight quarters each week, they’ll take the 14-of-25 passing for 168-yard performance to get them into the next round against either the Patriots or Chiefs.
4. The problem with double-teaming Clowney, which is what the Raiders resorted to for most of the game, is that your right tackle ends up on an island. Not many of us pegged the Whitney Mercilus-Austin Howard matchup to define a large portion of this game, but it did. The 26-year-old Mercilus finished with a pair of sacks and, at times, actually forced Oakland to double team him instead of Clowney. The game of protection chess had to be maddening for Cook, who also had some headset problems during the game. Don’t let your kids grow up to be quarterbacks (or offensive line coaches, or coordinators).
5. I was hoping that the game would also be a coming-out party for Texans cornerback A.J. Bouye, arguably the most glaring Pro Bowl snub this year. While cornerback is a difficult position to analyze without a live All-22 feed, Bouye was all over the defensive backfield and made life especially difficult for Cook. An interception with 15 seconds to go allowed him to take a bow and get some well-deserved camera time. The former undrafted free agent out of UCF is set to cash in this offseason when he hits free agency. Counting just $1,671,000 against the salary cap this year, I wonder if there is a better value in football.
6. This was a bad game for those who hold sacks in the highest regard, because Khalil Mack was still fantastic against the Texans and helped protect against a Lamar Miller showcase. Miller had just 73 yards on 31 carries (2.35 yards/attempt). Obviously, he was Bill O’Brien’s preferred weapon, which was easy to tell after O’Brien went to a heavier personnel setting (bringing in the fullback) as soon as Houston got up by 10 points. Mack forced them to go back to Osweiler.
Obviously, the Raiders would prefer to put the game into the hands of Osweiler, a quarterback who was benched by his team weeks earlier for ineffectiveness, than Miller, who finished 10th in the league with 1,073 rushing yards and torched Oakland for 104 yards in their previous matchup. Oakland couldn’t have asked for much more.