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The Morning After: Derek Carr’s interceptions doom Raiders in otherwise competitive game

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Los Angeles Rams v Oakland Raiders Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The NFL season has officially begun, and through one half of football last night it was looking very hopeful for Jon Gruden’s return to coaching. Then the 2nd half happened and the fool’s gold of the first half was already a distant memory. Any time a team loses their opening 33-13 you can’t say it was a good game, but the 1st half of this beat down was actually something to be excited about. Too bad the 2nd half dashed so much of those good feelings away entirely too efficiently.

Though the final score says 33-13 in favor of the Los Angeles Rams over the Oakland Raiders, the game really did feel much closer than that score would suggest. That has been the running theme from Jon Gruden afterwards too but it’s true, the game fell off the rails late but for much of the time it was well within reach. The Raiders were competitive all the way until QB Derek Carr threw one of the most ridiculous interceptions you will ever see with 8 minutes left in the game and Oakland down 10 points.

If Carr doesn’t inexplicably toss the ball like a father playing catch with his son directly to Rams linebacker Cory Littleton then Oakland would have likely kept the game from getting so out of hand. The Raiders had just capitalized with another huge Jared Cook reception (kudos to Cook for a really great game) when that interception happened, and all of the air in the entire stadium went out of the crowd and the team afterwards.

Without that bizarre interception the Raiders likely put up a field goal or maybe even finally get some legs in the 2nd half for a touchdown and return the game to just a one score difference. Even though the Rams drive after that interception only resulted in a field goal, they took almost 5 minutes off the clock in demoralizing fashion and the 13 point lead after that with 3 minutes to go already put the game out of reach.

Derek Carr threw the pick 6 to Marcus Peters after that to truly eliminate even a miracle finish, but scoring two touchdowns in just over 3 minutes against that Rams defense already was too tough to do anyway. The lofted interception with 8 minutes to go was far more critical than the pick 6 afterwards was, that Peters interception was just icing on the Rams win after the fact.

As angry as I am about having to see such a lopsided score on what was actually a very competitive game against one of the best teams in the league, it still gave quite a bit to be hopeful about in the Gruden 2.0 era. This game got out of hand, but for much of it they stood toe to toe with probably the most complete team in the NFL. If not for the mistakes from Derek Carr they could have still won this game in the 4th quarter, but they can’t just die on offense like they did last night and expect to win.

The biggest issue coming out of the game is with the Raiders best player though, and that is very much something to be worried about. Derek Carr played well in the first half, he was 20 of 24 passing at half time. However, he ended up 29 of 40 with way too many check downs in those completions along with all three of his interceptions being awful throws. Worse than that though, he just simply looked scared even at times when he had plenty of time.

It is completely fair to wonder if we will ever see the 2016 version of Carr again after injuries have left him gun shy for a season and a game since then. You never want to over react over one game from a talented quarterback, but this isn’t one bad game for Derek Carr. People won’t like hearing it, but last season was not a good season for Carr either and this was not a good way to open the season for him.

I already thought the pressure was on Carr big time going into this season, starting out with a 3 interception performance in the season opener only reinforces that pressure. He can still show he is the franchise quarterback that he looked like he was in ‘16, but he needs to stop looking like the cowardly lion out there. If he can’t regain his confidence then the Raiders may have to consider that maybe he isn’t the QB they thought he was when they gave him a then record breaking contract.

Enough of that depressing thought though, Carr still has 15 games left in this regular season to show that this was an anomaly and that he is going to get back into form. Besides, he will also get a lot more help from his receivers moving forward because they won’t be playing such good corners every week like they did against the Rams. Aquib Talib and Marcus Peters create one of the best tandems in the NFL and that forced the Raiders to game plan away from their receivers.

You can guarantee that future game plans will try to get the ball into the hands of Amari Cooper and the other receivers far more often than they did in this one. Jared Cook’s monster effort was huge, but the Raiders need their receivers to play better than this no matter the competition. Cook’s 9 reception, 180 yard performance kept them in this game almost single handed, he was spectacular but you can’t count on that every week. They need to be able to rely on their receivers too, not just Jared Cook.

The other thing that the Raiders are going to absolutely need to figure out moving forward though is how to fix their pass rush woes. They only had 1 sack and 2 QB hits in this game, the rest of the time Jared Goff had a lifetime to throw. The secondary actually looked okay considering they had to cover so long every play, but that pass rush was just sad.

There should be some natural progression there though, you do have to show some patience when relying on 3 rookies with P.J. Hall, Maurice Hurst and Arden Key to make impacts. Key did get a QB hit but showed why the Raiders can’t have him be a 3 down guy just yet by giving up the edge too easily when aggressively seeking the QB. I did like what I saw out of all three of those guys overall, but hopefully their learning curve gets accelerated now that so much is going to depend on their performance for the defense.

The one great play from the defense was Bruce Irvin’s strip sack, especially because of how important Irvin is to the defense now. With Khalil Mack gone it makes Bruce Irvin the most important player on the Raiders defense and that means he absolutely needs to be productive. Plays from Irvin are going to be extra motivation for the whole team now that he is the face of the defense, that strip sack was a big step in being the leader the Raiders need him to be. Next time though he needs to recover the ball if he lands directly on top of it again.

All in all, this game leaves me a lot more hopeful than a 33-13 beatdown rightfully should. The 2nd half being horrid and Derek Carr being the biggest issue in this game are both big things to worry about going forward, but the Raiders stuck with the Rams until the wheels fell off. Without the bad turnovers they had a real chance in this game against a superior opponent and that is the biggest reason for some hope going forward.

Jon Gruden and the Raiders absolutely need to come out swinging against the Broncos though, it’s one thing to lose to an elite NFC team like the Rams, it will be quite another thing to lose badly to a division rival. After the heat got turned to full blast on this team they need something good to happen, beating the Broncos is exactly the medicine the doctor ordered.

Now let’s see if the Raiders can fill that prescription next week though, because how they play against the Broncos will be a big tell on how the tone of the season is going to go. A bad loss next week and it will be extremely hard to be as hopeful for the Raiders season as I am coming out of this loss to the Rams.

This was an extremely unlikely game to win anyway, and they were way more competitive than the score indicates. Losing this game wasn’t unexpected, but they need to turn around and show they can win when they face the Broncos next week in Denver. Most importantly though, they need Derek Carr to prove that he is still the player he was before he broke his leg back in 2016.