The Autumn Wind is a Raider...
Or did somebody just cut the cheese?
A year ago our old L.A. buddies, the Oakland Raiders, seemed to have been resurrected behind the bold strokes of Head Coach Jack Del Rio. For years, the Raiders and the Los Angeles Rams had been among the biggest punchlines in football, but it appeared that the Raiders had finally ascended leaving the Rams and Cleveland Browns to slug it out for gutter supremacy.
That was a year ago.
In 2017, the Raiders quickly fell from grace, and ended up winning only six games, half of their 2016 win total. The defense had trouble generating turnovers leading to the dismissal of Defensive Coordinator Ken Norton Jr. On offense, the Raiders dipped to 17th in the league, as quarterback Derek Carr and receiver Amari Cooper struggled to match their previous production. In 2016 the Raiders had a knack for pulling out close games, but a year later perhaps their luck had simply run out.
Mark Davis decided that he had seen enough of the Del Rio regime and opted for a celebrity hire in Jon Gruden, who would surely help sell seats when they eventually land in their new home on the Las Vegas Strip.
The Raiders offense should be fairly strong.
Gruden brought in former-Rams quarterback coach Greg Olson to serve as his offensive coordinator. Ten seasons ago, Olsen helped Gruden design an offense in what turned out to be Gruden’s final season in Tampa. Olsen has worked with modern offenses and will be an asset for Gruden, as well as quarterback Derek Carr.
Derek Carr is hoping to rebound a bit this season, after throwing 13 picks in 2017. At times, Carr’s confidence in Amari Cooper seemed to waiver following drops, and Cooper was plagued by an ankle injury for much of the second half of the season. Back and healthy, Cooper should regain his chemistry with Carr, who will also spread the ball to newcomer Jordy Nelson and former Rams tight end Jared Cook who enjoyed career highs in receptions and yards last season. The Raiders swung for the fences when they traded a third-round pick for Pittsburgh Steelers’ wideout Martavis Bryant, but ended up cutting him as he awaits a looming suspension.
After a string of forgettable games last season, 32-year-old Marshawn Lynch had a strong finish to the season, and Gruden believes Lynch still has plenty of the pop that made him one of the premier running backs of his generation. The Raiders will rely on Lynch to play an increased role this season, and be more of a compliment to their passing attack.
The Raiders offensive line remains a strength, built around strong play on the interior, where Keleche Osemele may be the best guard in the entire league. Watching Osemele and guard Gabe Jackson battle the Rams’ monster defensive line should be one of the highlights of their Monday Night matchup. Gruden may have veteran Donald Penn line up at right tackle, leaving rookie Kolton Miller to guard Derek Carr’s blindside. Miller versus Rams EDGE Samson Ebukam will be a another huge matchup, as the Rams try to prevent Carr from developing any type of rhythm.
The Raiders offense will likely have to generate some serious heat to keep pace with the Rams high-octane attack, which will be up against a defense that appears to be vulnerable following the Khalil Mack trade. Former Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther has been brought in and hopes to build a defense that will be opportunistic as far as generating turnovers, something that they were unable to do a year ago. If successful, generating turnovers could help mask an overall lack of high end talent on defense. The problem for the Raiders may be that the Rams are pretty good at avoiding turnovers most of the time. Jared Goff has been taught to just toss the ball into the stands before forcing an ill-advised pass. One way to get the Rams to cough up the ball is with blindside pressure, however with Mack gone it is likely that a fresh Andrew Whitworth will be able to keep Goff fairly clean on Monday Night. If Goff generates some rhythm, the Rams may hang up big numbers on the Raiders defense.
It feels like it may be another tough year for the Raiders, as they try to remake the roster in Gruden’s vision. At the end of the day, a defense lacking talent while trying to learn a new system will likely be a source of torment for Raiders fans.
That being said; this is the NFL and parity abounds. If the Raiders can find a knack for pulling out a bunch of close shootouts, like they did two season’s ago, 6 wins can turn into 10 wins.
Also worth considering is the trade of Khalil Mack. While many in the media have speculated that the trade could lead to players losing faith in Gruden, it could become a rallying point if the Raiders can start the season off strong. After they meet the Rams, the Raiders will play the Denver Broncos, Miami Dolphins, and Cleveland Browns; so a 3-1 start is not inconceivable.