Despite the Raiders’ recent victories and ascension to first place in the division, fumbling has become a major concern for Oakland. Especially that there seems to be zero consequences for the players when they do fumble.
On Sunday, Jalen Richard was never benched from his special team duties despite fumbling the ball three times. He also saw just one less offensive snap than DeAndre Washington who had a nine yard touchdown run.
Against New York, it was more likely for Richard to fumble the football than it was for him to pick up five yards (three fumbles compared to nine yards of offense). He should have been taken out and replaced with TJ Carrie who can just fair-catch every punt until the end of the game. With the playoffs on the line, there was no room for error.
This is not to say Richard should not be an integral part going forward, but obviously his confidence was shot and he needed to be put on the bench. By not limiting his role, Jack Del Rio is making fumbling acceptable as Richard did three times without consequences. He also leads the team with six fumbles on the season.
Even after the game Richard knew he wasn’t quite right returning punts but there is no confidence lost going forward for the second-year running back.
“Sometimes you just get a little too comfortable with your hands,” Richard said after the game Sunday. “Just lock in a little bit more and be good. I’ll be back next week doing the same thing.”
Overall, Oakland was extremely lucky they recovered the football each time Richard put it on the ground. If they didn’t, then the Raiders season would be all but over after a loss to the Giants.
Johnny Holton also fumbled late in the game. He was carrying the football lazily and it got knocked out. He couldn’t be benched with Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree out, but there has to at least be an added emphasis on ball security. And that should have been done months ago.
This isn’t a one game thing either. Seth Roberts fumbled before the half against the Patriots and still ended up playing 80 percent of the team’s offensive snaps in the game. This year’s team has already fumbled five more times than the 2016 Raiders and there are still four games to play, via Pro Football Reference.
Del Rio must come down harder on his players if he wants a buttoned-up and disciplined football team. In these situations, just think what would Bill Belichick do? If a player ever fumbled twice in a game, let alone three times, they would not be seeing the field for the rest of the day.
It might be hard to sit down a very talented player, like Roberts or Richard, but it is the right decision for the football team in the long-run. If a fumble ends up costing the Raiders an AFC West title, the lack of consequences could have been the difference.