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“Evaluating the Oakland Raiders from GM & Coaches to DB & QB: Who Stays in 2018 & Who Doesn’t; Plus Possible Draft Picks”

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You are what your record says you are.

The Raiders laid another egg yesterday in a 26-15 loss to Kansas City.  Thanks to Alex Smith’s horrible day, he kept it close in a game that really wasn’t that close.  Some say how can they be this bad after a 12-4 season.  Part of the reason was that they played one of the easiest schedules in the NFL last year and barely won several games.  They weren’t as good as their 12-4 record said.  Also on offense where teams now no longer give them the easy, short passes, the Raiders have done little to adjust.  After this disappointing loss in Kansas City, even though it’s way too early, let’s take a quick look at each position and coach to see who may or may not be back next year.

 General Manager:

Mark Davis likes Reggie McKenzie and it’s hard to see him not back for at least one more year. I think the Raiders are frustrated though at another lost draft pick to injury just like DJ Hayden, and Karl Joseph who all missed significant time their rookie seasons just like CB Gareon Conley did this year.

From Derrick Gibson and Philip Buchanon, to DJ Hayden, the Raiders have been missing on DB’s for a long time. They also have had several signed busts as well. The Raiders front 7 has never been the focus; the DB’s are always the focus and it’s a terrible plan. Shore up the defensive front 7 and your defense will improve immediately.   The best defenses in the NFL have stud front 7’s. With the new rules, the days of shut down corners and DB’s like the soul patrol are over. This is a huge off season for McKenzie.

Jack Del Rio:

When Jack Del Rio was hired, I wrote 2 articles saying this wasn’t a great hire. The Raider nation called me a fool. Huh? Oh how the mighty have fallen. All off season and last year you heard in Jack we trust and all of the other corny sayings. Those same people now want Jack’s head. Many fans online are calling for his firing.

KNBR’s Gary Radnich is not one to spread rumors. He said he’s close to some of the people on the Raiders present staff and they are saying Del Rio isn’t exactly the most loyal guy to his staff and he’s a huge micro manager. There are also grumblings that he’s not exactly getting along with Mark Davis and/or Reggie McKenzie. His firing which was once thought to be crazy may happen. Problem is he’s owed a ton of money after signing a 4 year extension in February. Look for Jack to be back for at least one more year.  And remember in his tenure at Jacksonville he went through 19 coaches.

Todd Downing:

He hasn’t’ done a good job but he’s the fans and amateur writers scapegoat. The truth is Derek Carr holds some of the blame too.   Carr is the coach on the field and he has the last say on plays that are called. If you are going to trash Downing then you need to trash Derek Carr who seems to only occasionally audible. Carr for this year is the highest paid NFL player.  Rodgers, Brady & Roethlesberger to name a few, audible for most of the game.

Downing was in over his head and it’s hard to see him back next year but Carr loved this guy and this was a hire to please him.

John Pagano:

Pagano is a solid defensive coordinator and he should be retained.   He still has a lot of work to do though. Kansas City’s offensive line and QB Alex Smith were horrible yesterday but they still got a 26-0 lead at one point. Smith in particular was bad with his decision making and accuracy being a mess when the Chiefs should have had 40 points easy.

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Defensive Line:

The Raiders for years have tried to fix the defense by signing and drafting defensive backs; it doesn’t work. If you look at most of the teams that are thriving, the key to their defenses are the front 7. They may have quality DB’s but you have to have a pass rush to win in the NFL. The Raiders don’t.

Fans will lose their mind when a player has a big game but there is no consistency. Khalil Mack had a 6 game stretch this year where he had only 1 ½ sacks and only 27 tackles. The Raiders were 2-4 in that stretch. He once was benched for poor play. In the first 10 games of the year, Bruce Irvin had 2 ½ sacks and only 34 tackles. That doesn’t scare any opponent.

Mario Edwards had a few moments but he also has not proven he’s the answer to the DL issues. Jihad Ward was not a good pick last year and even though he played most of 2016, he had very little success. Even though he’s been healthy, the Raiders have not even had him suit up for some games so already his days may be numbered.

Eddie Vanderdoes is this years Ward and he has not had much of an impact as well with has only 13 tackles all year even though he’s started often. The Raiders have to sign or draft a dominating DT who can put pressure on the QB or they will struggle; AGAIN.

Linebackers:

Navorro Bowman loves the bay area and Reggie McKenzie loves him; he did a good job in signing him. Look for Bowman to be back next year. He’s not the player he once was but he definitely is an upgrade to what the Raiders had and he’s a hard worker with good leadership skills. I love him on the team.

To be honest other than Irvin, the rest of the LB core are borderline NFL starters. The Raiders LB’s still struggle a lot in pass coverage. The Raiders need another starter and if I’m drafting next year my first 2 picks are a DT and an LB. The Raiders have to improve their front 7 or not much will change. And to watch the 49ers Reuben Foster have 45 tackles in the last 5 games and 3 for loss, is a little rough when the Raiders could have drafted him.

Defensive Backs:

If there was ever any ammo against Reggie McKenzie, it’s his signings and drafting of DB’s. DJ Hayden was a huge bust and now he finally is starting on a bad Detroit pass defense after being a nickel back for most of the year.

David Amerson did well his first year but teams found out that he struggles covering the deep ball. If the Raiders keep him it will definitely be at a lesser salary. Sean Smith has been a bust and his big salary will be taken off the books in the off season. Reggie Nelson has never been a great factor and his 4 million will also be taken off the books. Whether Gareon Conley is ready or not, he’s going to start next year. He was never good against the run at Ohio St. but his claim to fame was as a coverage man. He will get his chance quickly next year after being another injured Reggie draft pick that didn’t do much his first year.

Karl Joseph is what he is. A hard hitter who is good against the run but will struggle at times in coverage.   Covering the tight end is still an issue in Oakland. Joseph had a bad game in KC with some awful missed tackles.

Safety Obi Melifonwu is an amazing athlete and good tackler but he has a lot to learn. His struggles in college were due to a lack of instinct and he also will probably be thrown into the fire next year. That could get ugly. TJ Carrie is an OK DB but he’s never going to be the shut down corner or key safety.   He can provide depth though. Due to the wasted money and mistakes, the Raiders will need help in free agency. PLEASE; No more high DB picks. I beg of you.

Quarterback:

Derek Carr is now the highest paid player in the NFL and he’s feeling the pressure. He is a good, solid NFL QB, but he will never be a great QB. His reluctance to run and his uncomfortable movements when he’s rushed are obvious even to the average fan. Last year teams gave the Raiders the short ball and this year they took it away and Carr and Todd Downing never adjusted. EJ Manuel signed a 1 year 800k contract so it’s not known if he will resign. To be honest if the Raiders are relying on their backup to win, they are in huge trouble just like everyone else in the NFL.

Running Backs:

Marshawn Lynch is signed for one more year and the Raiders are solid with DeAndre Washington Jalen Richard. Jamize Olawale is also a good player. I like these guys. Lynch is not a consistently good pass catcher though so when the Raiders are behind, his presence will diminish.  The Raiders are not a zone blocking team and many have said so.

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Wide Receiver:

Cooper and Crabtree are solid but both have struggled with drops. Cooper needs to get more physical and with DB’s now playing on the line, he’s had issues getting into his routes. He’s a hard worker and has too much talent not to come back next year. Cordarrelle Patterson runs the worst routes in the NFL but he can run fast downfield and also is great on reverses. He makes plays and is a great return guy. Johnnie Holton is a wild card who can make plays but he doesn’t show consistency.  He’s also a fumble machine if he’s hit after the catch. Seth Roberts is liked by the Raiders but his days may be numbered as the #3 WR. With issues in other areas, WR can be fixed easier than the defense.

Offensive Line:

The Raiders OL is set for at least another year. They’ve played better in the second half of the season and they are a huge key to the success of the team. Using a zone scheme on running plays has hurt this team. They need to go back to the power scheme and Marshawn Lynch needs to accept it.

Draft Choices:

First off the draft positions change like the wind. These are players that I like early on. Oakland almost always picks a DB in the first 2 rounds so this may be wishful thinking. I haven’t agreed with a lot of their draft picks especially the DB’s, but it is what it is. Here are a handful of names that may help the Raiders.

Roquan Smith LB, Georgia:

The Raiders defense would immediately improve with this guy. He’s probably the best LB in the draft and he’s been a huge key to making Georgia a top defense. Many feel he should have gotten more Heisman hype than he got. A big playmaker that can start immediately.   He would be great beside Navorro Bowman and can play all downs.

DaRon Payne DT, Alabama:

Payne has really come on this year after working hard in the off season to shed a little weight which has improved his speed. At 6’ 2” and 310 pounds he runs a 4.93 40 and is a freakish athlete. He can play in passing and running downs and can create pressure on the quarterback.

Maurice Hurst DT, Michigan:

Hurst has had a good season and is solid as a run stopper and a pass rusher.   He’s very athletic and is projected as a first rounder by some, a second rounder by a few.

Clelin Ferrell, DE Clemson:

The Raiders really need a DT that can push the OL back and put pressure on the QB, but Ferrell is an excellent pass rusher that they might not be able to pass on.

Like I said, social media has a lot of people that love a player and coach one day and then wants them fired the next. In reality this is business. You evaluate long and short term to see if the person or player in the position will eventually be the answer to the problem.

Also the salary cap plays a role. You can’t fix everything so you need to fix the biggest issues and do your best at other positions.

This has been a disappointing year for Oakland but they played a much tougher schedule than last year. Last year the Raiders beat a lot of bad teams and often in the last minutes of games.   I think the Raiders were not as good as their record was last year and they’ve now come back down to earth.

The defense has huge issues though and that has to be fixed. The Raiders also need to get an OC that will challenge Carr to be more of a game general out there. He will never be a running QB but a scramble now and then would help as well.

This off season will see changes and lots of decisions. Time will tell if the Raiders have the people to make the right ones, and the players to carry them out.

 

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“Are the Raiders in Better Shape Than People Think? Key Stats on The Teams of the AFC West”

navorro bowman chiefs
Navorro Bowman makes a tackle against the Chiefs

 

While people were trying to figure out why the Raiders were 2-4 in the early season, I and others took a simple approach and looked at the x’s and o’s. Teams had adjusted to the short passes of the Raiders passing game and we’re forcing them to throw deep and they were failing. I’ve been screaming for three weeks for the Raiders do to two things; open up the offense and throw downfield; and blitz often. They did both and pulled out a win at home against Kansas City and looked like a different team.

Even with the trying season and the need to talk fans off the ledge due to week to week reaction, in reality the Raiders have more of a chance than people think to get into the playoffs and possibly even win the division.

In Reality:

Let’s stop kidding ourselves. No, the Raiders don’t have amazing talent on defense and no they are not going to be good on that side of the ball this year. They may have some moments but for the most part they are not able to get it done.  The offense is going to have to carry them and if they don’t play well, the Raiders are toast. Next year the Raiders HAVE to fix the defensive front 7 or they are going to turn into the Miami Dolphins of the 80’s and 90’s; all offense, little defense. Ask Dan Marino how many Super Bowl trophies he has.

No, Derek Carr isn’t the greatest QB in Raiders history and yes, he struggles big time if he’s rushed. Last year he was the best protected QB in the NFL and he thrived. This year he has had just ok protection and he’s struggled for the most part. In the KC game he was never sacked and had great protection and threw for over 400 yards. NOT a coincidence.

After admitting these facts, we can now look at the 4 teams and how they may fare for the rest of the season.

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L.A. Chargers Melvin Ingram

Los Angeles Chargers:

As wrestling star Big Poppa Pump Scott Steiner used to say, pass rushing star Melvin Ingram is “legit”.  While future star Joey Bosa gets most of the publicity, Ingram has turned into a one man wrecking crew with his fast and physical style.  The Chargers DL is the real deal.

I like what is happening on the defensive side of the ball in Los Angeles for both teams. The formula in the wins for this team is simple; keep it close or get a lead, and then let the pass rush and pass defense take over. In the last 3 weeks that formula has worked.

The Chargers have been on their biggest high in a very long time. They have won their last 3 games beating the Giants and the Raiders on the road in close games, and then last week they shut out the punch-less Denver Broncos 21-0 in Los Angeles.

Their defense has been a key to their wins, especially in the red zone, not allowing a red zone touchdown in 3 weeks. They are 5th against the pass but are 31st against the run.

We will find out just how good the Chargers are this weekend when they visit New England. At 3-4 they still have a long way to go to take the division and their offense hasn’t exactly been lighting up the scoreboard. They are still very one dimensional being 8th in the NFL in passing yardage per game, and even with Melvin Gordon they are 31st in the run game.

Can They Win The AFC West:

The Chargers have some brutal road games ahead at New England, Jacksonville, Dallas and at Kansas City. They also have home games with Washington and Oakland ahead.

They will go as far as their offense takes them which I don’t think is far enough. Even with all of the publicity Phillip Rivers gets, earlier this year they broke a 24 game streak of not scoring a TD in the last two minutes of the half or at the end of a game. Could you imagine Tom Brady, Joe Montana or Ken Stabler having that streak? I don’t trust Phillip Rivers who to me is more of a stat stuffer than a winning QB at the end of games. A good guy, good QB but not great. The new rules are making legends out of average to good Qb’s because their stats are extremely hyper-inflated due to the rule changes the past 6 years.  Look at the ridiculous illegal use of the hands call against KC on the play when Derek Carr fumbled.  He literally didn’t touch the WR after 5 yards and barely patted him within 5 yards.  In the 70’s-90’s that would have been considered a hand shake.  That changed the game and it was a call you don’t see in flag football.  The rules have gone overboard, but that is for another day.

The Chargers lack of a running game also continues to limit their offense. I don’t see them winning the division but a possible .500 record isn’t a crazy idea.

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Kansas City Chiefs:

I’ve never been a huge Andy Reid fan but I’m really not getting what is going on in KC.  I just read where Justin Houston; the Chiefs all star stud pass rusher; is now being asked to fall back into pass coverage 25% of the time.  That is the third highest % of any edge rusher in the NFL.  Here is a guy that can take over a game by himself and he’s in coverage 1/4th of the time?  Wow.

The Chiefs defense used to carry them, and now it hinders them and they continue to struggle on defense. They are 25th against the run and 28th against the pass. Their pass rush when only rushing 4 players, hasn’t been good at all. They have only 15 sacks in 7 games and that is not KC football. The offense continues to shine being a top 5 offense. They did fail on their last drive against Oakland though when they could have iced the game.

The Chiefs offense is still on a roll and they have a key game at home with Denver next. With Denver struggling so much on offense this looks like a Chiefs win right?   This is the NFL folks.

Can They Win the Division?:

Right now they are in the drivers seat, and if they beat Denver they are in great shape. With the easiest schedule ahead of all of the 4 teams, it will be hard to beat the Chiefs for the division.  KC is the odds on favorite right now but anything can happen.

CJ ANDERSON
Broncos CJ Anderson scores a TD in the snow in Denver.

Denver Broncos:

I don’t care about all the love that Tony Romo and all of the other announcers give to Bronco QB Trevor Siemian; I think it’s become illegal for announcers to tell the truth anymore about NFL QB’S; he is a bad NFL QB.

With a lack of accuracy and vision to make the right throw, the Denver offense is hamstrung at QB. In their 3 losses this year, Denver has scored a total of 26 points. And to be shut out on the road against the Chargers 31st ranked run defense, is a bad sign. Bill Musgrave is Denver’s QB coach and he seemed a lot better coach when he had Derek Carr didn’t he? For all of you that want coaches fired after every loss, isn’t that crazy how that works out? Better players make coaches look better?  Insane, I know. (highly sarcastic comment)

To be fair the Broncos left side of their offensive line has struggled all year and that hasn’t helped. Denver is 24th in scoring offense and is middle of the road in many offensive categories, but where they fail is in the red zone. They are 29th in scoring TD’s in the red zone and in their last 3 games they scored a TD in only 11% of their times in the red zone.   On the road for the year their % is an abysmal 25% TD rate in the red zone. I don’t think this trend ends any time soon either. Siemian is a very limited QB and they will struggle in the red zone all year. What is scarier is how come Paxton Lynch cant’ beat him out when he was healthy?

Defensively Denver is 6th against the pass and 2nd against the run but they are 13th in sacks with 18 for the year. Their defense is still really good, but just not as dominating as in the past.

Can They Win The Division:

Denver will always be in the hunt because of their defense, but their offense is a hindrance. It’s hard seeing Denver taking this division unless Siemian improves, especially in the red zone. Don’t be surprised if you have a Brock Osweiller sighting soon.  Osweiller was re-signed in the first week in September.  Looking at the QB situation in Denver, it’s like I’m a sick child and the doctor asks if I want castor oil or a shot. With Paxton Lynch’s constant injury issues, the QB situation is as bad as it gets in the mile high city.

In regards to their schedule, Denver also has to play away games in Kansas City, Oakland, Philadelphia and Washington, along with home games with New England and Kansas City.  With that schedule the odds of winning the division is shrinking. They are on the outside looking in if they lose to Kansas City in their next game.

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Raiders DeAndre Washington scores a TD against KC on a tough run

Oakland Raiders:

After 4 straight losses with some Raider fans getting ready to throw everyone off the plank including the cheerleaders and announcers, the Raiders saved the season from going under with a big win against Kansas City at home. Even with this win there is a lot to do.

With the signing of Navorro Bowman, the Raiders now have a quality LB that is better than anyone they presently have on the roster. He’s no where near the same player that was one of the best in the NFL, but he definitely can still produce. Even with Bowman the Chiefs were 8-15 on third down and had 425 totally yards of offense. I’ve talked at length about the defense in past articles, so let’s just say that Oakland’s defense is not good, and it’s not going to be good for the rest of the season.  He’s not going to help much in coverage but he does make the defense a little better.

For the Raiders to win, their offense will have to carry them like they did in the previous game. I was against the signing of Marshawn Lynch from the start and I really like the Raiders stable of RB’s.  It will be interesting to see how they do against the stout defense of the Buffalo Bills.  The Raiders have a nice match-up against a Buffalo team that has a solid defense but not much of an offense outside of LeSean McCoy. Tyrod Taylor is very limited at QB and a close Raiders win is probable but nothing is for sure.

The problem is down the road. After playing in Buffalo, they play a night game against Miami which I think they can do well in. Then it gets interesting. The Raiders go to Mexico to play New England, and have home games against Denver, Dallas & the NY Giants. Add road games in Kansas City, Philadelphia and against the Chargers and the Raiders second half schedule is as tough as anyone’s. The Chiefs and Eagles (on Christmas Day) games will be at least cold if not snowy. California teams don’t exactly thrive in the snow.  As a lifelong northern Californian, I personally don’t even like to open the freezer let alone be in the cold midwest or east.

Will The Raiders Win the Division?

There are two huge games that will help in determining if the Raiders can win the division. One will be the Denver game in Kansas City this weekend. If KC wins that game, they regain control. Another game is the Chiefs hosting the Raiders in December.   If the Raiders lose that game it’s hard to impossible to see them winning the division. As viewers it’s always fun to look ahead but in reality every week is like the playoffs and you can’t take anyone lightly anymore in the salary cap era.   Every team has issues and it all changes week to week, especially with injuries.

The Bills game should be a tough, grinding game for Oakland.  With temperatures in the 40’s with a 70% chance of rain expected, the road starts out as a tough one in upstate New York for the Silver and Black.  The road to the AFC West crown will be a wild one for each team.