Are the Oakland Raiders all that? After falling to the Baltimore Ravens 30-17, maybe it’s time to ask that specific question and be honest about happened and didn’t happen during the offseason. And no, the Raiders didn’t lose because HC Jack Del Rio opted to punt with nine minutes to go in the fourth quarter.
We were actually surprised heading into the season that people were predicting Oakland to catapult over Kansas City, New England, and Denver as favorites to reach the Super Bowl. We raised an eyebrow because the Oakland Raiders had some glaring deficiencies in 2016 that weren’t fully addressed via the draft and free agency. We assumed then and still do, that the Raiders will make a run in the playoffs but this team should never have been considered to be the AFC frontrunner. And to be clear, front runner status is about punditry…winning and winning it all is about what you do on the field. Just ask the 1980s Oakland Raiders.
ARE THE OAKLAND RAIDERS ALL THAT?
Despite having one of the most dominant defensive linemen in the league, the Raiders cannot consistently put quarterbacks on their rear-ends. You can never allow opposing quarterbacks to get comfortable, and for the Raiders, their troubles are simple. They have virtually no threat from the inside. NT Justin Ellis is the only interior lineman to record a sack, one-half at that. DT Eddie Vanderdoes is a rookie so we’ll see how he grows and develops but winning games is about the here and now, not down the road potential. On the ground, the Raiders are giving up 150 yards per game.
The other big area to be addressed was the secondary. It’s debatable that the Raiders could have grabbed CB Gareon Conley a round later than they did and by virtue of that, pick up another defensive talent. Regardless of the what-if, Conley was a solid pick. They just need to get him on the field. We’re not going to lament CB Sean Smith but clearly there’s an issue there that needs to be addressed. He’ll have some good games here and there but he’ll also get torched far too often for a guy who, just three years ago, was pegged one of the top 5 CBs in the NFL. And David Amerson. He had that magical year in 2015 but his play has fallen off ever since. Through five games, the Raiders have ZERO interceptions in 2017. Last year there was a sense of fire and excitement, confidence if you will, that the defense would come up big when it had to. That electric feeling doesn’t seem to be there right now. Perhaps they’re too worried about scheme and not making a mistake rather than playing football.
WR Amari Cooper. Everyone wants to know what’s happened to the young WR. Some say confidence, some say other, and some say scheme and play calling. We say the kid will come back around. What didn’t get fully addressed during the offseason was the Right Tackle position. It’s not that Marshall Newhouse and Vadal Alexander are bad (far from it) but it wasn’t an upgrade over last year. Adding RB Marshawn Lynch was a modest upgrade but perhaps not meaningfully so. TE Jared Cook was a solid pick up but at the end of the day, Oakland did not significantly improve their offense during the offseason. We know that’s a minority opinion but stand by it. Our biggest takeaway this year is the players are too tight. In the words of the Great Al Davis, “Believe in your players and they’ll make plays for you.” Just go out and there and play the game like a bunch of barefoot kids in a grassy field.