The disaster that is the 2018 Oakland Raiders
Going into the 2018, the Raiders reached back for the glory days by signing Jon Gruden for a return visit to the Bay Area to be their new head coach. The hope was that he would be able to return the Silver and Black into the team it was once known as.
I cannot begin a preview of this game without mentioning the recent events occuring this past weekend. I can’t ignore the Khalil Mack trade and just pore over last years stats, records and preseason observations. Everything has changed as a result of this trade—a day that will live in Raider fandom infamy.
“Commitment to Excellence” is nothing more than a slogan
Adopting “Commitment to Excellence” as a team motto reflects upon the players as well as management who employs them. The Raiders weren’t the best defense in the league with Mack, but as the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, he was definitely a force.
With his departure, Oakland becomes the oldest team in the NFL who out of the gate in a nationally televised Monday Night event must play the fourth-youngest team in the NFL, our Los Angeles Rams.
If the Raiders organization thinks that shipping Mack off to the Chicago Bears makes them a better team, no one in the rest of the football world thinks so including Raider Nation.
The Raiders aren’t better without Mack. They now border on terrible.
The trade sends an entirely wrong signal to the Raider fan base. Fans living in Oakland will never be able to see how the bevy of draft picks, including two first round picks acquired from Chicago, turn out unless they plan on moving to Las Vegas.
If you believe the spin coming out of Oakland, the Rams’ signing of DT Aaron Donald had a direct impact on the decision to trade Mack, you’re living in a fantasy league world. Since Mack was still on his rookie deal, the Raiders could have franchised tagged him and played the re-negotiations contract game out like Washington did with QB Kirk Cousins.
Before the trade, the top five outside linebackers salaries were the Denver Broncos’ Von Miller at $19m per year, the New York Giants’ Oliver Vernon at $17m, the Kansas City Chiefs’ Justin Houston at $16.83m, the Green Bay Packers’ Clay Matthews at $13.2m per year and Matthews’ teammate Nick Perry at $12m. The average price of these existing contracts comes to $16.6m per.
So applying the franchise tag for a player of Khalil Mack’s caliber should have been an obvious out. Any suggestion that the Raiders were in a unique position because the Rams are still dealing with a rookie quarterback contract is just pure hogwash even if it comes from Jon Gruden making $10m a year.
Unlike the Raiders, the Rams’ signing of Donald to a multi-million dollar extension was what “Commitment to Excellence” was supposed to mean. Management made a conscious decision that the team is better with Donald rather than without him and demonstrated that the organization is willing to pay players who produce, not trade them.
The Mack trade is third trade in my lifetime to send shockwaves throughout the league. The first one was a move Rams fans are all too familiar with when we shipped one of the greatest running backs to ever don our uniform to the Indianapolis Colts. The second was the Herschel Walker trade initiated by the Dallas Cowboys with the Minnesota Vikings.
The impact of such a monumental event cannot be swept under the rug. The trade sends disturbing signals to players who remain on the squad. The hopelessness that Raiders fans feel now is only going to get worse, not only after the Rams victory, but also long term.
There is no imaginable way I can see the Rams losing this game based on what has happened. But the Rams cannot concern themselves with what the Raiders did—that’s their problem to deal with.
Instead, the Rams must remain focused on the game and what they need to do win regardless of the lowly status of the Raiders franchise.
What the Rams need to do on offense
The Rams have to get the cobwebs out early. Right away, Rams fans will know whether Head Coach Sean McVay’s radical decision not to play a single starter on offense in the preseason was the right one. Factor into the offensive equation the loss of starting RG Jamon Brown due to suspension. In my opinion, this should not change a thing on how the Rams go about approaching their offensive strategy.
Run the ball with RB Todd Gurley. Utilize the Rams’ youth and speed. Pound that ball as long as necessary and when called upon to pass, make it count.
The Rams need to improve on their production in the red zone from last year by capping off more drives with touchdowns not field goals.
If the Rams can get off to an early 14-point lead in the first quarter, this game could turn ugly fast as it did the last time these two teams played in the regular season which the Raiders lost 52-0.
If the Rams’ offense is rusty early and struggles, stick to the gameplan. The Rams have too much talent at the skill positions. Eventually, the team that averaged nearly 30 points a game will get clicking. If it comes down to it, the Rams don’t need to embarrass the Raiders. They just need to win.
Keep in mind that the Raiders’ defense wasn’t that great with Mack. Now without him, they’re substantially worse.
The key to the Rams offense’ is to exploit the inability of the Raiders to keep up with one of the youngest team in the league. It starts with the run game, and then the Rams can take all the shots they want in the passing game after having put the Raiders’ defense on their heels.
What the Rams need to do on defense
By far, this is the most exciting part of the game that I’m looking forward to. Rams fans are in for a treat with the addition of DT Ndamukong Suh on the defensive line. The Rams present a formidable defense front the likes of which have not been seen the days of the Fearsome Foursome.
There are a lot of nicknames floating around, but the one I have come up with harkens back to that time of the greatest defensive line to ever grace a football field in the history of the NFL—the “Fearsome Threesome.”
Even though Donald has only been in camp for a week, a 50% Donald is better then 70% of the defensive tackles in the league. And he’s probably not anywhere near 50%.
Take into account the additions of CB Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib who, having come from the AFC West, are very familiar with WR Amari Cooper’s moves. This could be a long night for QB Derek Carr as the only other notable wideout left is Jordy Nelson. He has only so much left in the tank having been let go by the Packers in the offseason even though he was QB Aaron Rodgers’ favorite target.
Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips is also only two years removed from coaching in the AFC West. There was no love lost between the Broncos and Raiders when they played each other then. That should carry over to this game.
There’s still the question out there about the Rams’ edge rushers and linebackers, but Raiders RB Marshawn Lynch isn’t known for running to the outside. So as Tony Montana would say “Say hello to my little friends...Donald, Brockers and Suh!”
For the Rams to make a Super Bowl, the defense must be better then they were in 2017. Defense wins championships. The time for talking about how good the Rams defense can be is over. I’m looking forward to the destructive image envisioned by General Manager Les Snead when he put this group of defenders together in the offseason.
The Rams have, under the tutelage of Special Teams Coordinator John “Bones” Fassell, one of if not the best special teams in the league.
The Raiders have also had a storied history with their special teams and players.
But this year the Raiders let All-Pro Punter Marquette King go for apparently having a bad attitude which is stunning since having a bad attitude is a prerequisite to playing for the Raiders.
Given the current status of both squads, and a healthy PK Greg Zuerlein, the Rams have a decided edge in personnel and coaching in this phase of the game.
Its important to get off to good start since every teams starts the season 0-0. Both teams are anxious to get things started having have waited long enough for the season to begin. I would expect because this is an away game for the Rams in the “Black Hole”, the Oakland–Alameda Coliseum is going to be rocking for this Monday Night extravaganza. The return of Gruden to the sidelines coaching his Raiders can be a motivating event regardless of what happened last week. Gruden will have his team pumped up before the whistle sounds.
The Rams need to be patient and not get caught up in all the hype of the return of Jon Gruden Return. Just go out and play Rams football.
The Student v. The Mentor
Normally I take the Mentor over the Student in any game which is coached between each other.
McVay has publicly acknowledged that his coaching style and philosophy were heavily influenced by his mentor and former boss in Gruden. Putting aside the makeup of their squads, the Mentor knows a lot more about his Student then the Student does about the Mentor.
It’s been a ten years since Jon Gruden has walked the sidelines in a game that counts. A lot has happened in the NFL since then. He’s had time to stay abreast of the game as a color commentator announcer, though it’s much easier to second guess every decision made by another coach on the sidelines when your in the booth and not on the field.
But in this instance while Gruden might still have the knowledge to outsmart his student, the Raiders just don’t have the players to execute it.
If all things were equal from the management of the team to the talent on the field, I would clearly give the edge to Jon Gruden as the Mentor over the Student. But the Khalil Mack trade compared to the Rams signing Donald is all the evidence I need to give a the Rams a decided favorable edge to win this game.