Sunday’s playoff games were some of the best football I’ve seen in some time. It started with a thriller in Pittsburgh between the Steelers and Jaguars in a game that unexpectedly turned into a shootout.
It was big play after big play for these two typically defensive teams, featuring three long, high flying touchdown passes from Ben Roethlisberger to his top receiving duo of Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant. Even Blake Bortles got into the act with a 45-yard bomb to receiver Keelan Coles up the left sideline to set up a touchdown.
Coming down from the high of that 45-42 Jaguars victory, I tried to think of how often we saw the Raiders make even one play like those, let alone three or four in one game.
So, I went through some tape.
I was looking for passes that traveled over 20 yards through the air that hit the receiver either in stride over defenders or between defenders with an equally impressive catch for a touchdown. The answer I came up with was five.
Five times the Raiders had a touchdown pass of more than 20 yards that was even nearly on the same level as any of the three by the Steelers in Sunday’s Divisional playoff game.
Those five were a 64-yard touchdown to Johnny Holton in week four in Denver, 41-yard TD from EJ Manuel to Michael Crabtree in week five against the Ravens, a 38-yard touchdown to Amari Cooper as part of his career game in the week 7 win over the Chiefs, another big TD pass to Holton from 44 yards out in his week 9 Miami homecoming, and the 87-yard bomb to Coop on 4th and 22 in the season finale in LA.
In total, the Raiders had just 20 passes that traveled 20 yards past the line of scrimmage this season, according to Pro Football Focus numbers. Surprisingly, that is ranked 20th in the league. It seems like it should be lower.
Of those 20 passes, I counted 12 that had a high degree of difficulty both in the pass and the catch. Leading the way on those catches was a tie between Cooper and tight end Jared Cook, each posting three such catches.
Even still, it’s impossible not to keep coming back to what I saw take place in Pittsburgh Sunday and see the Raiders just don’t have that. I mean three masterful touchdown passes in one game and the Raiders had just two more than that in 16 games?
Derek Carr certainly had his issues last season that contributed to that. He routinely underthrew his receivers on deep balls. But that still doesn’t feel like the extent of the issues.
For me it still comes back to the receiving corps.
Amari Cooper, for all his positive traits, at times seems incapable of making tough catches with defender in his hop pocket or win jump balls. And when he is hurt, he is an outright liability; dropping passes and not getting open. Crabtree has issues with drops too and is just not a serious deep threat. Too often he is little more than a possession receiver.
Those are the team’s top receivers. Not exactly Tim Brown and Jerry Rice.
It’s enough to make you wonder if Jon Gruden shouldn’t just overhaul the Raiders’ receiving corps altogether.
That doesn’t mean gut it completely. But honestly outside of perhaps Cooper, who else among this team’s receivers isn’t entirely expendable? Crabtree? Holton? Seth Roberts? Cordarrelle Patterson?
For Cooper, it might be best to try him more inside and bring in a receiver who can more consistently win those contested sideline catches and be a viable red zone target. Coop has quick feet and the ability to get a step on his defender, but after that, he’s not proven he can be a complete receiver.
Crabtree could be released due to the combination of his drops, his attitude, and his salary, and he leaves no dead money behind if cut. The others can return and fight for their jobs in training camp. And if Gruden is to have the offense he expects, he better make sure that competition is strong at the top.
What should Gruden do with the receiving corps?
This poll is closed
Nothing. They weren’t the problem
Add a WR to compete with current WR’s
Cut Crabtree, add replacement in FA or draft
Cut or trade Cooper, add replacement in FA or draft
Gut the whole receiving corps and replace them