For the next few weeks the staff at Silver and Black Pride will be going through each of the Raiders’ 13 opponents this year and picking them apart, discussing the team and what to expect when the Raiders play them. Each team changes drastically from year to year, but what do the Raiders’ opponents look like today?
I’m going to begin with the first opponent the Raiders will face this season, the Los Angeles Rams.
The Rams’ first year back in Los Angeles after having been in St. Louis for over 20 years was a resounding success. The Rams went 11-5, won the NFC West, and made the playoffs for the first time in forever. But the Rams’ magical season was ended at the hands of the Atlanta Falcons in the first round of the playoffs, and they’ve done everything imaginable to ensure that they will get farther this time around.
Key Departures: Trumaine Johnson, Alec Ogletree, Sammy Watkins
Key Additions: Ndamukong Suh, Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib, Sam Shields, Nickell Roby, Brandin Cooks, Dominique Easley, Ramik Wilson
Imagine for a moment that you purchased a loaf of garlic bread. It’s delicious, as garlic bread tends to be, but this particular garlic bread cost $50. The bread itself is fine but the value simply isn’t there.
That’s what Ndamukong Suh was for the Dolphins. He was good, but he wasn’t close to worth the $114M contract he got in 2015. Suh signed with the Rams on a one-year, $14M deal, which is still outlandish but at least they won’t eat their garlic bread wondering how they’ll pay their mortgage.
Oh, by the way, the Rams also got three corners- Peters, Talib and Shields. Together with Rams safety Lamarcus Joyner they could make up the best secondary in football, or they could be complete headcases and turn the Rams into a circus. Who knows.
The Rams replaced Sammy Watkins with Brandin Cooks who came over from the Patriots, and he will team with WR Cooper Kupp to keep LA’s passing attack as potent and dangerous as ever. I’m just glad we don’t have Sean Smith anymore.
2018 NFL,com Power Poll: #2
2017 Total Offense: 10th, 1st in points per game with 29.9
2017 Total Defense: 19th, 12th in points allowed per game with 20.6
The Rams have made so many crucial moves this season that these rankings don’t even seem relevant anymore, but giving an offense that averaged a hair shy of 30 points per game Brandin Cooks seems as unfair as Demarcus Cousins to the Warriors.
If the Raiders want to win this game, they’ll have to win in several facets of the game and have the upper hand in a few key areas. Here are a few of them.
Rams interior defensive line vs. Raiders guards/center
The strength of the Rams defense is, with all due respect to their corners, at defensive tackle. You will not, this year or any year, find a tandem better than Suh and Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald. Luckily for the Raiders, they have the best interior offensive line in football with Kelechi Osemele, Rodney Hudson and Gabe Jackson. If the Raiders can win this battle, it will make all the other aspects of the game easier.
Raiders cornerbacks vs. Rams receivers
If all goes well, Gareon Conley will be starting opposite Rashaan Melvin for Week One. The speed and route-running abilities of Kupp and Cooks are tremendous, and this will be a serious challenge for the two young corners. A pass rush is absolutely necessary to mitigate their threat, but Conley and Melvin will need to step up and make some plays. They absolutely cannot let Cooks or Kupp get behind them.
Rams RB Todd Gurley vs. Raiders front seven
Last year, Gurley showed himself to be an all-purpose threat, rushing for 1305 yards and 13 touchdowns while catching 64 passes for 788 yards and five scores. The Raiders have beefed up their defensive line with rookies Arden Key, PJ Hall and Maurice Hurst, and added to their linebackers with Tahir Whitehead and Derrick Johnson. Gurley seems like a tough ask for this unit in Week 1, but if they can force a few turnovers then this might turn out in their favor.
On paper, the Rams are easily the best team in the NFC with the fewest question marks. Sean McVay has proven to be a superlative coach and Jared Goff’s sophomore season was nothing short of spectacular. Facing this team in Week One on Monday Night Football seems like an uphill battle, even at home. We will see very quickly how well Paul Guenther’s defense can deal with an elite offensive attack, and also how the Jon Gruden battering ram offense and whatever Kung Fu quarterback training he puts Derek Carr through pays off against the best defense money can buy.