Last Thursday night the Raiders headed over to Levi’s Stadium to take on their current cross-bay rivals in the 1-7 San Francisco 49ers. What transpired was the clearest and most precise indicator of where the Raiders stand as an organization, a football team, and the Raider Nation as a fan base.
The Raiders returned nearly the same exact 2016 team that went 12-4 and that 2017 squad went 6-10. Somewhere and somehow the product on the field regressed. Be it poor scheme, attention to detail the stars of this team are no longer contributing as such. Luckily the genius of general manager McKenzie shines through. At this stage nearly all the major contracts on this team are voidable with minimal dead-cap space.
Armed with 5 first round picks in the next two years and headed into the offseason with an ability to clear out over $100 million in cap space, the Raiders could potentially rebuild quickly. It is paramount they draft well, it’s crucial they identify stars that can contribute. They don’t have to be megastars, although that would be nice, but rather some players capable of doing their job.
McKenzie and Gruden should be perfect for each other. Only issue comes down to ego. There has some finger pointing as to why this roster seems to be devoid of talent. It would behoove both of these men to bury the hatchet and figure out a way to move forward together.
Let Gruden stock his team with premium talent, and McKenzie look for the diamonds in the rough. McKenzie is without a doubt the guy you want working your draft from rounds 4 and down, including undrafted free agents. There is a lot of time left in this season for mending fences and getting on the same page moving forward.
Mark Davis has said the most humiliating loss in his short history as an owner is this 34-3 loss to the 49ers. A team starting a third-string quarterback, and without numerous key starters. Davis expected to win this year while being able to retool the roster, instead he has year one of a full on organizational rebuild. The team is in the process of purging itself and rebuilding from the ground up.
Nearly all of Reggie McKenzie’s draft picks are no longer on this team, including the stars. No Obi Melifonwu, Khalil Mack, Amari Cooper, Jihad Ward, Mario Edwards Jr., at one point Gareon Conley and Karl Joseph were reportedly being shopped as well.
McKenzie was the executive of the year back in 2016, but since then has not produced anywhere near the same quip. The reality is McKenzie drafts guys, and for some reason they get hurt frequently, can’t grasp the system, or the most likely thing has been they are asked to do things they have no business doing.
On the field
The performance on the field has gone from curious to troubling. Watching professionals flat out quit on the football field, quit on their football team, quit on their fanbase, and quit on the coach is a bad look. Losing exposes character flaws, as the chicanery which has transpired this year has shown. Players have made choices about whether or not they want to be a part of the Raiders moving forward. Veterans have demanded trades or to be released, and others have spoken out anonymously.
The offense has at times shown itself capable of moving the ball but often incapable of finishing. The 11 scores in 23 trips to the red zone average 47.8% which is 24th in the league.
As of now the Raiders are 27th in the NFL in points (141), T-13th with 496 offensive plays ran, T-14th averaging 5.7 yards per play, T-10th with 12 turnovers (6th most in league), their 155 first downs ranks 17th, 4th in penalty yards (500) and 8th in penalties (57).
These are just the collective stats. It has been perplexing to say the least to watch the Raiders in this half season. Many times they are right there ready to make something happen and these metrics show they succeed in killing their own drives.
The embattled field general
Derek Carr has taken a lot of heat and rightfully so. In the beginning of the season his four interceptions inside the end zone were key reasons his team wasn’t winning games. At one point he was leading the league in interceptions thrown. But while many criticize him and size him up as trade bait, this season is shaping up to be statistically the best season of his career.
Carr has completed 204 of his 283 attempts, for 2198 yards 10 TD’s and 8 INT’s, he’s averaging 7.8 yards per pass attempt which is the best of his career by nearly a yard.
What has really come across lately has been his toughness. He is being sacked twice as often now (7.8%) as he was at any point in his career (4.1%). Carr’s 72.1% completion percentage is nearly 10% higher than it has ever been..
He has started running with the football, even recorded his first rushing touchdown on a reach over the pile. Carr getting comfortable with using all his tools is only going to make him a better player.
An “offensive” line
The offensive line of the Raiders was once the strength of this football team. In Donald Penn Kelechi Osemele, Rodney Hudson, Gabe Jackson they had four Pro Bowlers handling “Carr Insurance.” Decimated by injuries and under the guidance of line coach Tom Cable the line has now surrendered the third most sacks (24) in the league, ranked 25th in rushing with 760 rushing yards, and is the primary reason why Carr is throwing the ball so early into plays.
Rodney Hudson is the lone bright spots on the offensive line. He hasn’t allowed a pressure in seven of eight games according to Pro Football Focus
#Raiders center Rodney Hudson did not allow a pressure in 34 pass block snaps in Week 9, and has allowed 0 pressures in 7 of 8 games this season ☠️— PFF OAK Raiders (@PFF_Raiders) November 3, 2018
For the year, Hudson's 80.5 overall grade ranks 2nd among centers, and his 89.1 pass blocking grade ranks 1st ⚓️
When healthy, rookie Kolton Miller has been solid at left tackle. Unfortunately, he struggled with a knee injury that caused him to give up six sacks in two games and another last week after re-injuring that knee.
Third round draft pick Brandon Parker is getting play time at right tackle by necessity. He struggled mightily with the speed of Frank Clark and the Seattle Seahawks defense. In a great rookie rebound he held up admirably against the Indianapolis Colts (#4 in sacks). Then came the vaunted and highly touted San Francisco 49ers pass rush with a plethora of guys no one had ever heard of.
In the first quarter Parker would commit three penalties and give up his only sack of the night before being benched. Injuries to both Kelechi Osemele and Kolton Miller would force him back into action later that game. Parker has shown signs of being able to do somethings but he needs experience and an offseason with a healthy amount of work.
Beastmode, Douggernaut, and The Rocket
Marshawn Lynch was rumored to have injured his groin in the preseason prior to week one. Thru week 4 he was the 4th leading rusher in the league at 32 years strong, still bucking defenders. Lynch was the scoring leader and the rushing leader with 376 yards on 90 carries and 3 highlight reel TD’s for the Raiders before being placed on injured reserve. But the game against the Seahawks may prove to be the end of the line for the man they call Beastmode.
The Douggarnaut and the Muscle Hamster are two nicknames Doug Martin has received in his career. Martin hardly played in any of the preseason, and the coaching staff swore by him. In relief appearances he has been pretty consistent and shown good burst when the holes are there. He has averaged about 27.5 yards per game. In his two weeks as the starter
Martin ran for 72 yards on 13 carries against the Colts in what was a pretty solid game until a fumble in the fourth quarter gave the game away. Against the 49ers, Martin gained 49 yards on 11 carries. To date he has not scored a touchdown.
Jalen ‘The Rocket’ Richard is leading the team with 43 receptions. Richard’s 49 targets are second only to Jared Cook (50), and his 348 receiving yards is third on the team. As a runner, 50 yards on 15 carries is hardly anything to write home about. Like Martin, Richard has yet to record a touchdown this season.
The wide receiver corps started off the season deep, somehow we have arrived at a point where Brandon LaFell is starting in place of a traded Amari Cooper. Jordy Nelson has a big game and then a quiet one, Martavis Bryant is the “white tiger” Gruden dubbed him; sometimes he shows up and it’s beautiful, other times he’s nowhere to be seen. LaFell, since he joined the team after Cooper’s trade to the Cowboys has been a stabilizing force for Carr. Collectively this receiving corp has only contributed 7 receiving touchdowns in 9 games.
Cook is having a career year. For starters his 76% catch ratio is 14% higher than last year, and 12% higher than the previous high back in 2010. Cook is leading the team in receiving yards with 494 yards and tied for the team lead in touchdowns with 3.
The veteran TE set a Raiders franchise record with his opening night performance of 9 receptions for 180 yards in week one against the Rams. He has broken the 100-yard mark twice this season and caught over 80% of his targets in 5 of 8 games. If there has been one bright spot for this offense and the Raiders it has been the play of Cook.