The Oakland Raiders are heavily favored in their 2017 home opener against the New York Jets Sunday. We already know the Raiders have too much on offense for the Jets. Quarterback Derek Carr has receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. The Raiders also have the best offensive line in football to handle the Jets’ formidable defensive line. So QB Josh McCown and his weaponless offense shouldn’t be able to keep up with the Raiders offense.
On top of all that, the Jets O-line is going to have their hands full. Outside linebacker Khalil Mack had his first sack of the season taken away by a penalty in the opener and he’s chomping at the bit to get it this week. Defensive end Mario Edwards Jr., who had a half a sack last week, wants more.
But the excitement is in the storylines involving new players that are supposed to improve the Raiders. A lot of the Raiders’ needs were addressed in free agency and the draft this past offseason. And seeing these guys every week let’s Raiders fans know if and how much the better the Raiders are.
Oakland’s own prodigal son returns. Lynch made his official return to the NFL last Sunday against the Tennessee Titans. And this week, he plays his first official game for his hometown team in front of his hometown fans.
You can see in his 18-carry-for-78-yard performance that Beast Mode is still Beast Mode. For goodness sake, he ran right over the top of 300-pound defensive lineman Jurrell Casey. Seeing Lynch running like that has the city of Oakland excited to see what he’ll do in the home opener. And from the looks of things, Lynch is sure to give them a show.
It appears that the Jets’ run defense has taken a huge step back from the 2016 season. They were ranked No. 11 against the run last year but gave up 190 yards to the Buffalo Bills in the season opener. If the Jets couldn’t stop LeSean McCoy and the Bills’ running game, they surely can’t stop the Raiders and Beast Mode. The Jets don’t have a great offense this year so the Raiders will play with the lead, giving Beast Mode his day.
The shin-y new toy the Raiders got this offseason is first-round pick Gareon Conley. The No. 24 overall will finally make it onto the field for the Raiders after a shin injury kept him out since June. Since he’s been out so long, it will be interesting to see how and how much the Raiders use him.
Sean Smith, who struggled with speed last year, played well last week and David Amerson played well after an average 2016 to follow a breakout 2015. Smith is listed as questionable this week, which means he will likely play but we don’t know how much. So it’s not clear what size of a role Conley will play this week.
The Raiders could just use him as the Nickel-corner until he gets himself into football shape. It’s also a good thing Conley isn’t making his debut against a great receiver corps. This is the perfect game for him to sharpen up before facing top NFL WRs. But playing well in his first NFL action will give Raiders fans something to be excited about.
Raiders fans will follow Conley’s storyline very closely every week. If he is the hit I think he is with Smith and Amerson playing well, the Raiders’ coverage will be much better this year. And in turn, that would make the Raiders much better on defense period.
Eddie Vanderdoes, the Raiders 2017 third-round pick, is one of my favorite a storylines. I’ve said all along that Vanderdoes is a huge steal and so far, he is proving me right. After what he did to All-Pro right tackle Jack Conklin, you can see he’s as physically dominant as they get. This week, he’ll be facing a Jets’ offensive line that’s not as good as what the Titans have.
Quarterback Josh McCown wasn’t under pressure all day but the Jets put extra help out there. They had a sixth offensive lineman in the game on 20% of the snaps according to Pro Football Focus.
Leonard Williams, who plays the same role for his team as Vanderdoes plays for the Raiders, played well last week. He didn’t have a sack but he had two quarterback hits, a hurry and four run stops according to Pro Football Focus. This week, we’ll get a chance to see what Vanderdoes does against the same O-line to see how he compares to the big dogs.
Speedy tight end Jared Cook was signed in free agency to add more punch to the Raiders offense. He’ll do that in more ways than one as the deep threat will make his plays to give Cooper and Crabtree one-on-one coverage. He’s also a good run blocker so he doesn’t have to come off the field in running situations to tip the defense off.
Jets inside linebacker Darron Lee has struggled with tight ends since entering the league last year. And he didn’t fare too well against Charles Clay last week. Once Cook makes a couple of catches up the seam, safeties won’t be so quick to help the cornerbacks.
Like Vanderdoes, fifth-round pick Marquel Lee will be a storyline throughout the season. Many were sour on him because the Raiders passed on picking Reuben Foster. And of course watching him struggle in coverage this preseason wasn’t a good look for Raiders fans to see.
But in his limited snaps because they take him out in sub packages, he outplayed Foster last Sunday. According to Pro Football Focus, Lee (71.8) also graded higher than fellow Raiders linebackers Cory James (42.6) and Tyrell Adams (33.3) I wondered why Adams stayed on the field with all the catches he gave up.
Lee only gave up one catch for four yards last Sunday but that needs perspective. The Raiders kept him off the field for passing situations, putting him in situations he can succeed in. But if Adams is going to give up catches like that, the Raiders might as well keep Lee in the game to learn.
In the NFL, defensive weaknesses are attacked relentlessly by offensive coordinators. And offensive weaknesses are attacked by defensive coordinators plus they stop you from attacking defensive weaknesses. And these players were either picked in the draft or signed in free agency to shore up the weaknesses they have.
So while the Raiders are the favorites by quite a bit, there is plenty of excitement in the individual storylines. If the new guys named in this article play well, the team looks good for this season. What for them to see just how good the Raiders will be.