1. Derek Carr has arrived as expected
Several times in the offseason, I was asked what I expected to see from Derek Carr this season. Each time I spoke of how I expected he would take the final step in his development and make perhaps his most significant progress as a pro.
The reason for that belief was simple: continuity. Same coaching staff and receiving corps almost entirely. We saw him take big steps forward between his rookie season and his second season, which is expected for most quarterbacks. But not all quarterbacks continue that growth.
Of all the areas that growth has shown up, the most important has been in his leading the team to two late come-from-behind wins over the first four games.
Carr is in the right situation with the right attitude and tools to take this step. The result is putting up some of the best numbers in the league and being in the early conversation for MVP consideration by some standards. Last year he made the Pro Bowl as an alternate. This year he is well on his way to making it there on the initial vote.
2. Michael Crabtree is earning his deal
Midway through last season, the Raiders had seen enough from Crabtree to make sure they locked him up long term on an extension. After that, Crabtree’s number started to tail off, and there was some worry if the Raiders were going to get their money’s worth from his new deal worth $8 million per season. The answer is yes.
Crabtree is supposed to be the team’s number two receiver and through four games, he’s looking more and more like Carr’s number one option. When Carr needs his receiver to make a play in traffic, he puts it up in the air knowing that odds are Crabtree will come down with it.
While Amari Cooper still leads the team in receiving yards (318), it’s just by ten yards over Crabtree (308). Meanwhile Crabtree has the most targets (37), receptions (26) and touchdowns (4).
3. Change of pace backs big play waiting to happen
Though Latavius Murray has had his moments this season – his “Angry Tay” 6-yard TD run for instance – the big runs have mostly come from the two rookie scat backs, DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard.
They have been a pick-your-poison dynamic duo most weeks, with one of them always seeming to break off a big run. With both getting a handful of carries, and with their stature and style being so similar, it can be hard to know which one will have the breakout run this week.
Last week Richard’s biggest play was in the return game where he had a 47-yard punt return to the 6-yard-line to set up a Raiders touchdown. Washington broke off a 28-yard run which by itself was more than either Richard or Latavius Murray had on the ground in that game. The previous week in Tennessee, Washington had a 30-yard run which was preceded by a 26-yard run in week two against the Falcons. None of those quite compared to Richard’s 75-yard touchdown run in the opener in New Orleans though. That set the tone from the beginning.
4. Right tackle is even more suspect than we feared
Looking at the right tackle spot in the offseason, the optimist saw two good options competing for it. While the pessimist would suggest the Raiders didn’t have one option good enough to have a sure starter. The pessimist won this round.
Injury concerns have been Menelik Watson’s undoing his entire four-year career. For the second year in a row, he was the starter heading into the season and the for second year in a row, those plans were dashed by injury.
Austin Howard was considered a serviceable replacement, but he was lost to injury before Watson was. In the opener, after Watson was lost, backup Matt McCants also left injured, and the team spent the fourth quarter shuffled around with Donald Penn moved to right tackle and Kelechi Osemele moving over from guard to play left tackle.
Howard returned briefly for week two, but with Watson returning for week three, Howard went back on the shelf. Then Watson went out injured again, forcing seventh round rookie Vadal Alexander to come in the game at right tackle. He started last Sunday against the Ravens and had several holding penalties along with a false start. The team could get one or more of their injured right tackles back next week, but this situation is far from ideal to say the least.
5. Bill Musgrave plays timid until his back’s against the wall
Each week the Raiders seem to have these lulls. Most times it’s early on. They go conservative early in the game, with dink and dunk plays and trying to establish a running game. Then comes the fourth quarter and the Raiders end up in a shootout in order to secure the win.
They have done well to come out on top in two of the three instances. The other instance was against the Titans, when they got out to a lead in the first half and then the offense slowed to a crawl in the second half. Luckily the defense was able to hold firm enough to cling to a 17-10 win.
In each instance it seems like if the Raiders can seemingly turn it on at will, why don’t they do it from the start? Or alternately, in the case of the Titans game, why didn’t they let the Titans stay in it instead of keeping their foot on the pedal to pull away?
I wish I knew a good answer to that question. If I had to guess, it would be the usual reason. You play conservative, trying to win field position, control the clock, and wear down the opponent while not taking any great risks that could lead to a turnover and quick points for the opposition. Then with the score still close late, both teams turn it on and take bigger risks in order to try and get the upper hand. And being that the Raiders’ defense isn’t great, the offense usually has to come back out and bring the team back after the lead is blown.
I would suggest at this point just being thankful the offense is good enough to turn it on when they really need it.