Are the Rollicking Raiders for Real?

Against seemingly all odds, the Oakland Raiders beat Khalil Mack’s Chicago Bears on Sunday afternoon (or evening), and sit at second place in the AFC West heading into the bye at 3-2. Sure, 3-2 and 5-0 aren’t the same, but there were some people saying the Raiders wouldn’t win three games all season. After the bye, the Raiders still have to travel to play the Green Bay Packers and Houston Texans, but even if they lose both, nobody anticipated the Raiders would enter their home stretch at 3-4. So it begs the question… how good are the Oakland Raiders?

Are the Rollicking Raiders for Real?

The Good

Rushing Raiders

The Raiders are so much better than they were a season ago across the board. The biggest thorn in Oakland’s side, going back to even before Khalil Mack ended up in Chicago, has been their pass rush, but this unit, despite a perceived lack of star-power, is actually pretty formidable.

After they only registered 13 in 16 games last season, they’ve already racked up nine in just five games. They’re on pace for 28.8 sacks on the year, which is really impressive, considering their best pass rusher coming into the year was second-year defensive tackle, Maurice Hurst, and first round pick Clelin Ferrell hasn’t flashed as a pass rusher yet.

“ThEy TrAdEd MaCk FoR a TaIlBaCk”

The entire team rushed for 1,628 yards last season, but rookie Josh Jacobs is on pace for nearly 1,400 yards by himself. The rest of the team has contributed 242 yards so far, with the most reassuring chunk coming from quarterback, Derek Carr, who is actually taking off on the ground this season. At this pace, if Jacobs isn’t already the runaway favorite for Offensive Rookie of the Year, he will be.

The Raiders are undefeated (3-0, to be exact) when Jacobs gets at least 13 carries this season, and it’s clear that the Raiders are trying to build a bully on offense. Unless the team trades for someone (cough cough, Stefon Diggs), they just don’t have the talent on offense to push the ball down the field vertically, so Jacobs will continue to be the team’s most important offensive weapon.

Secret Strength

Meanwhile tight end, a position thought to be an area of need for most of the off-season, has turned into a quiet strength for the squad. With the departure of a certain dysfunctional wide receiver, as well as an injury to Tyrell Williams, overnight sensation Darren Waller, as well as rookie Foster Moreau, have come up big for the Raiders. 61 of Carr’s 161 passing attempts have gone to tight ends, which is only eight fewer targets than the wide receivers have gotten, and it’s worth mentioning that Carr has thrown at seven different wide outs versus three tight ends.

Calculated Carr

As for Carr, he’s obviously someone that has been the center of a big debate for longer than most of us would like to admit within Raider Nation. He’s not having his best season, but he’s not really being asked to. We’ll never know what the offense was supposed to look like before helmets or feet got involved, but so far in 2019, Carr is being asked to manage the offense instead of carrying all of the responsibility for it. He’s on pace for 3,574 yards, 19 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions, which is eerily similar to last season’s production.

Obviously, Raider Nation would prefer that Carr put up Patrick Mahomes-esque numbers, but maybe, given the weapons he has, an efficient game manager is more realistic for the Raiders. In that regard, Carr’s thriving. He’s completing a career-high 73.3% of his passes, and against Chicago, he went 97 yards for the game-winning touchdown. He’s not going to end up in the MVP conversation, but he’s got the Raiders in the playoff conversation (for now), and I think if you asked him which he’d prefer to be in, he’d be happy with this result.

The Bad

The Raiders are 3-2, but all three wins were by a single score. If the ball bounces a different way, the Raiders could easily be 0-5 right now, and the Nation would be on fire.You could say the reversal is true, but both losses were by at least two scores.

Meltdowns

Good teams don’t give up four touchdowns in one quarter. Good teams don’t let double digit leads evaporate in multiple games. The Raiders watched Patrick Mahomes score four times in one quarter in week two after being up 10-0, nearly gave up a 14 point lead to the Colts in week four, and then gave up 21 unanswered points after getting a 17-0 lead over the Chicago Bears this week.

The good teams are not going to let you get away with that. The better squads are going to take the lead away and stomp out any hope of your own comeback. This team has all the talent to play sixty minutes, but they haven’t proven that they can do it yet.

Good Quarterbacks

The Raiders have flummoxed the offensive production of Joe Flacco, Jacoby Brissett, and Chase Daniel this season. They were shredded by Patrick Mahomes and Kirk Cousins, and with names like Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson, Philip Rivers (twice), and Mahomes again still on the docket, Oakland’s playoff hopes are going to wholly rely on whether or not they can tighten up the back end of their defense. Jacksonville insists they’re not going to trade Jalen Ramsey, but I really can’t stress how much he could help this team immediately.

Checkdown Charlie

And yes, Carr is being critically efficient, but he’s not really producing as a passer. For the second straight season, it looks like he won’t break 20 passing touchdowns, and this season, he won’t even hit 4,000 yards unless he averages about 50 more yards a game, which is hard to imagine given his questionable receiving corps.

He doesn’t have anything close to a 300 yard game this year, and his yards per attempt have taken a step back again in 2019. He has as many games with multiple passing touchdowns (two) as he does games with fewer than 200 yards passing. That’s just not going to be enough to compete with the Chiefs for the division title, or with most contending AFC playoffs.

The Ugly Truth

The ugly truth is that this Raiders team was never going to win the Super Bowl. Even with Antonio Brown, even with Johnathan Abram, even with the ghost of Ken Stabler under center, the harsh road trip, a competitive schedule, a weak AFC, and a sneakily competitive AFC West was always going to hold this team back. The Raiders might be better than a team like the Buffalo Bills or the Tennessee Titans, but they road the post-season is far longer, far more perilous, and far less friendly.

However, the Raiders are better than I thought they would be. Sure, I assumed the Raiders would be playing against Mitch Trubisky and Andrew Luck, but those were still losses in my eyes. The Raiders are significantly better on the ground, on special teams, and on defense. They were only down seven against the Vikings at half-time, and that loss to the Kansas City Chiefs was subsidized by one really bad quarter of football.

This isn’t a Super Bowl contender, but it is a competitive football team. On any given Sunday, I think this unit is good enough to beat just about anybody. If they can return to Oakland at the beginning of November with a 4-4 record, I think the playoffs are certainly a possibility.

But it’s all going to come down to feeding Josh Jacobs, playing sixty minutes, and potentially making a couple of additions via trade. And who knows, maybe the Raiders end up with a lower (or is it higher?) pick than the Chicago Bears after all.

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