It should come as no surprise to anyone that has watched Oakland Raiders football this past year, but they are clearly struggling to win games. They are currently sitting at an abysmal but hopeful 0-3 with The Bake Show headed into Oakland. So what’s wrong with the Raiders? It’s obviously a Mack-less defense right? Is Derek Carr an overrated quarterback that cracks under pressure and needs to be benched for AJ McCarron? Or is it Jon Gruden’s so-called ancient play-calling and personnel decisions? These are just a few of the overreactions that I have seen or heard over the weeks, and we will dive into each of these to determine what’s wrong with the Raiders.
The Raiders defense as a whole currently has 3 sacks, 1 forced fumble and 1 interception while Khalil Mack has 4 sacks, 3 forced fumbles and 1 interception all by himself. If we plugged those numbers back into the Raider defense we would be ranked in the 10-15th range as opposed to our 18th ranked defense currently. As I stated in my previous article, “Five Predictions For The 2018 Oakland Raiders” that the Raiders defense would actually improve even with the absence of Mack because coaching matters and lets face it, the Raiders defense was atrocious last year even with Mack playing 95% of our defensive snaps. So far that sentiment has proven to be correct as the Raiders currently have the 18th overall ranked defense in the NFL as compared to last years 23rd ranked defense. With all that being said, the defense could definitely play better but if you look at the first half of these past three games they have been elite. They held the Rams, Broncos, and Dolphins each to under 100 yards of total offense and less than 10 points in the first half. In order to put a pin in the idea that the Raiders defense or lack of defense in the second half is the problem, it is important to remember one thing. Jon Gruden’s vision for this team was never to have an elite defense and average offense. If his past is any indication, Jon Gruden has always had average defensive units that force a lot of turnovers and get the ball back into his dynamic and elite offenses hands. Which leads us into my next possible reason for the Raiders struggle to win a game, the offense.
If you look at Derek Carr’s touchdown to interception ratio thus far (2:5) and his QBR (88.3), you would probably say that he sucks. You might even say he’s overpaid. But if we look at his complete stat line for the year you would see that Derek Carr is 2nd in the league in completion percentage behind only Drew Brees. You would also see that he’s 6th in the league in yards behind Goff, Cousins, Fitzpatrick, Roethlisberger, and Brees. If you watched any of these past three games in detail you would see that this offense as a whole, led by Derek Carr, has had very little problems moving the ball downfield and reaching the redzone. Reaching the redone has not been a problem, but finishing in the redzone with touchdowns rather than field goals, has. The Raiders have scored touchdowns on only 44.4% of their redzone opportunities. In comparison the top 4 teams in redzone scoring include the Ravens, who have a perfect redzone percentage of 100%, the Chiefs who have a 91.67%, and the Bengals and Steelers are tied at 87.5%.
So is it play-calling or simply lack of execution on the players part? After re-watching these past three games my theory is that it’s a combination of both and understandably so. Derek Carr and Jon Gruden still need to find that perfect harmony that Brady and Bellichick have had for the past 15 years and that takes time and while I know it gets old hearing players and coaches say the same thing every week about how close they are and they are just one or two plays away from being the “most explosive offense in the league”, according to Marshawn Lynch it is actually true. Even Hue Jackson admitted in an interview this week that the Raiders are a much better football team than their 0-3 record indicates. The Raiders are legitimately 3-4 plays away from being 2-1 as opposed to 0-3. Last week against the Dolphins, Amari Cooper had 3 drops, all of which would’ve brought the Raiders into the opposing team’s territory and 2 of which were on third downs. On Carr’s first interception against the Dolphins he saw Cooper beat triple coverage and threw a great ball over the top of the defense which surely would have been a touchdown, only for Cooper to stop running in the middle of his route thus giving the corner a free path to the ball. 4th and goal on the Dolphins one and Jon Gruden decided to call a fullback dive instead of giving it to the best short-yardage back in the NFL. Sound familiar? Granted, the offensive line lost leverage as soon as the ball was snapped and Marshawn Lynch probably wouldn’t have fared much better based on how poorly the line blocked. Going back to week 2 against the Broncos, the Raiders were up 19-17 and were once again driving downfield rather easily against the vaunted Broncos defense but found themselves in a 4th and 1 around midfield. If the Raiders get a first down on this play they could run the clock out, kick a field goal and play defense or score a touchdown and basically end the game. But once again our skill player failed to execute. Jon Gruden called his famous Spider 2 Y banana and Derek Carr had the fullback wide open in the flat with nothing but green grass in front of him. Fullback Keith Smith dropped the ball and the Raiders turned the ball over giving the Broncos great field position to run the clock out and kick the game-winning field goal. There are plenty more examples of poor execution and growing pains as an offense but it all has to click at some point because the Raiders coaching and play-calling is lightyears ahead of last year’s elementary school playbook. Which leads me to my final possibility that the Raiders coaches, specifically Jon Gruden, are out of touch with the times.
My response to this is simply no. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Yes, Jon Gruden may have made some poor personnel decision based on the mainstream media’s bashing of signing a multitude of aging veterans past their prime, cutting Marquette King (who isn’t much better than our rookie punter), cutting Michael Crabtree (currently has less yards than Jordy Nelson and same amount of TDs), and obviously the trading of a certain pass-rusher who shall not be named. Play-calling however, has not been an issue, but rather lack of execution. As I mentioned earlier, the Raiders need to start by finding a way to execute better in the redzone because they are leaving far too many points on the board by kicking field goals as opposed to scoring touchdowns. But excuses are running low for Jon Gruden and this underperforming Oakland Raiders team as they look ahead to face an improved Browns team that has still won only 2 GAMES in two years.