An eerie sense of deja vu had to overwhelm the senses of Raider Nation as it watched quarterback Derek Carr lying motionless on the field. Sustaining what would later be diagnosed as a transverse process fracture after taking multiple hits with the last one being from Denver Broncos defensive lineman Derek Wolfe.
X-rays from the stadium came back negative; however, the MRI revealed the damage to Carr’s lower back. Recovery time is projected to be between 2-6 weeks, leaving the Raiders stuck asking just what exactly happens next.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) October 2, 2017
All eyes on Todd Downing
One bad showing by the offense can be dismissed as a single event; two bad showings in a row are cause for concern. A professional offense in the NFL which was widely considered to be elite and challenge for the best unit in the league has been anything but. Week four showed a team continuing to come apart at the seams offensively. Already starting the game down Michael Crabtree due to injury, the Raiders were left with Amari Cooper who was struggling mightily as the only focus of the no-fly zone. Once again, the offense was accomplishing nothing until mid second quarter when, backed up to their own 2-yard line and under the shadows of their own goalposts, Carr would lead the team on a 5 play 98-yard TD drive capped off with a 64-yard grab by second-year receiver Johnny Holton.
Downing is either going to be a seasoned pro by week 8 or the Raiders’ season is going to the dogs early this year. Downing has been struggling to try to find the proper personnel for certain situations with his full complement of players. Trying to solve the complexities of his own new offense while undergoing his own rookie status is a tall order in itself. Being forced to do so with the second string quarterback is a position which no coaching staff ever wants to find itself in.
EJ Manuel isn’t a scrub
The good news is that Downing has worked with EJ Manuel before so there hopefully will be no need for a feeling out process. Manuel has played in big games and won several in the NFL, including a win over the Patriots. Some key positives to consider for those who are considering jumping off the proverbial cliff: Manuel relies on his tight end heavily, which for this offense should be a very good thing provided Jared Cook hangs onto the football when it hits him in the hands; Manuel is an extremely mobile quarterback and can use that as a huge benefit should he choose to do so. At the beginning of the season we called the Raider offensive line the best in football, lately, however, they haven’t been playing like it. Despite that fact, the offensive line should still be able to provide Manuel with consistently more time to survey the field than he has in his previous career stops.
Folks can quote Manuel's numbers from his #Bills days, but he's behind what SHOULD be a Grade-A offensive line. We'll see if that matters
— Maurice Moton (@MoeMoton) October 2, 2017
Jamazing to the rescue
Another small positive in the loss to the Broncos was Downing’s discovery of Jamize Olawale’s abilities on the field. After Carr went down, Olawale was brought in to aid in pass protection and even contributed in the passing game immediately. Which begs the question of why it took the franchise quarterback to be put on the shelf before Olawale could get playing time doing exactly what the offense needed. This offense is going to need to be able to rely on the running game and reestablish their muscle. Power formations, 22 personnel, double tights and a blocking fullback should be on Downing’s playsheet early and often.
Amari Cooper dropping out of elite conversations with every pass
PFF's Worst-Graded WRs (Wks 1-4) [Subject to Change]
1. Juju Smith-Schuster
2. Kenny Stills
3. Seth Roberts
4. Amari Cooper
5. Kenny Britt
— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) October 2, 2017
There doesn’t appear to be an answer for how Downing plans to free Amari Cooper from the clutches of double coverage, or at least we haven’t seen it yet. Cooper has got to feel as though he’s living in a nightmare. Everything appeared to start well for Cooper and then he started dropping away the season. Key third down receptions, balls in the end zone, some contested, others not, and hitch routes which hit him square in both hands.
Cooper has cited the reason he feels best describes the drops is trying to run with the football before he has secured the catch. It’s hard to determine what a drop is in the NFL anymore, so perhaps the process gets simplified to the old “hits you in two hands, you catch it” rule. Cooper’s production is being hampered by the current offense and the fact that his quarterback averages throwing the ball in under 3 seconds. What that does is significantly limit the depths of the route and makes him easier to cover. Reading double coverage in his presnap reads usually means mentally Carr crosses off an option. This has to frustrate receivers on some level, as you continue to see them not finishing running deeper routes because they don’t expect Carr to hold the ball long enough to let them finish running the route.
BIG NOTE: #Raiders' OL has allowed the least pressures in the NFL (21). However, they have the highest sack/pressure ratio at 38.1.
— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) October 2, 2017
With a new quarterback who isn’t in a rush to get the ball out, the Raiders desperately need Cooper to shake the funk, the double teams, and his inadequacies with hanging onto the football. They are going to need every member of the team who made the pro bowl last year to recapture their form and play like it in order for this team to be in some position for contention when its leader comes back from injury.
Running when it means something
The run game has suffered tremendously in the last two weeks, and consequently so have the numbers and touches for each of the running backs on this roster. A rededication to the run game is going to be necessary and they are plainly and simply going to have to run the ball well in order to maximize Manuel’s efficiency under center. Believing in Manuel’s right arm to solely lead the Raiders to victory is folly; currently, as it stands the Raiders haven’t won a game in which they collectively rushed for less than 100 yards. Watching Marshawn Lynch run the football went from waiting for him to break a big one to hoping he can break five yards once in a game. It’s tough, but watching a power runner get shut down consistently before he is able to build up a head of steam is on the coordinator as much as it is the offensive line.
80.7% of #Raiders RB Marshawn Lynch's 151 rushing yards have come after contact this season. He's also forced a team-high 10 missed tackles.
— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) October 2, 2017
Downing has his hands even more full now than he did before the season started. While no one except for the Raiders continues to have high expectations for the season with Carr out, he still has a job to do. These are not the ideal circumstances for a rookie offensive coordinator as was previously mentioned, but when you step up in weight class to the head of an NFL offense, the greeting is usually a rude one.