Collectively the Raiders appear to be losing the battle against distractions. Slow starts out of the gate have left an already anemic offense flat on its face and forcing them behind the eight ball for an entire game. The flatness in the past three football games is unbecoming of a professional team. Sleepwalking through critical game sequences and arming itself with a sense of disarray is shattering the facade of a super bowl contender title this team was anointed with.
Desperately needing a spark, head coach Jack Del Rio must acquire the means to reignite his football team, find a way to plug his leaks and have his team whipped into a froth and ready to get nasty in between the lines on Sunday. Attention to details while no longer accepting anything less than the excellence of execution from players is going to prevent this coaching staff from getting outclassed. Both offensive and defensive coordinators are not producing game plans to currently earn victories.
Last season this team had more pro bowl talent on the roster than any other team in the league. Khalil Mack won the Defensive Player of the Year award, quarterback Derek Carr won the Castrol Edge Clutch Performer of the Year Award while receiving MVP votes. Boasting the highest paid offensive line in football and the second highest paid player in the league, the Raiders shouldn’t be getting completely dismantled on a weekly basis by teams good and bad alike. On any given Sunday in the NFL, any team is capable of beating any team; however, the Raiders don’t even look capable of beating themselves right about now. Even the usually jovial players are starting to sour.
Jalen Richard: "It's a big shock – we keep getting our ass whooped. When are we going to get tired of getting… https://t.co/R7zPodhkro
— Paul Gutierrez (@PGutierrezESPN) October 8, 2017
It truly is not a good look. Five weeks into the season the coaching staff is at a crossroads, the team is drifting powerless in open water, and there appears to be no end in sight. The organization as a whole must look internally, searching for some shred of hope, dignity, or pride to cling to. A surreptitious fall from grace is looming, should the Raiders prove unable to snap out of its funk.
Head Coach Jack Del Rio
Final. #Raiders lose 30-17. Players all said they got hit in jaw 2 weeks ago in Washington. They are still staggering. Especially coaches
— Vic Tafur (@VicTafur) October 8, 2017
Last year Raider Nation fell in love with “Gamblin’ Jack,”. This year Del Rio is crapping out on nearly every decision he seems to make. His fakes appear to be ill-timed, going for it on fourth down hasn’t yielded many successful conversions, if any, and the backbreaking killer of them all is every unit he trusts to make a game-changing play is giving them up instead of making them. Football fans and so-called experts are a fickle bunch, you are the toast of the town when the risks pay off, but you are the village idiot when they do not.
Del Rio has been unable to properly motivate his team. They have come out flat, listless, and seem completely unprepared for the business of football. In the prime time, in the Nation’s capital, against divisional opponents and now even against conference foes, Del Rio’s teams aren’t piling up the wins in dogfights. Which begs the question, is it scheme or is it coaching? How is it that teams continually seem to be able to start fast against the Raiders and take them out of the game early and not allow them a way back in.
John Elway chose not to interview Del Rio for the vacant head coaching position in Denver. While Del Rio may have already had a contentious relationship with Elway at best, there was a feeling in Denver that he was a major part of the reason the Broncos lost in the playoffs. The Raiders, who were desperately trying to escape football purgatory, engaged in a relative “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” kind of story. Troy Renck of the Denver Post wrote a less than glowing highlight of Del Rio’s failings. These stats seem to be synonymous with some of the very same issues that plague the Raiders today.
This defense produced 25 sacks last season and 18 of them came from Bruce Irvin and Khalil Mack. The pass rush has been less of an issue this year but is still a major issue on third downs and is still completely disheveled by stretch runs, naked bootlegs, tight ends, and backs out of the backfield. But to be totally honest, watching how the Kansas City Chiefs are humming on offense and knowing that Tom Brady is still on the schedule fills Raider Nation with fear. Rightfully so, because most don’t have enough faith in the coordinators to provide a state of the art game plan capable of dominating the opponent.
Defensive X’s and O’s
To the surprise of most, so far the defense has been improved and exceeded early season predictions. Ken Norton Jr. has benefited greatly from the “Pagano effect”, but the third-down defense has been atrocious still; don’t take my word for it, just watch.
The Del Rio Raiders pic.twitter.com/TcQcRBmXf1
— John Middlekauff (@JohnMiddlekauff) October 8, 2017
The defensive backfield is injured and physically limited, and it couldn’t have been more evident than on the first play of the game when Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco hit one trick pony Mike Wallace on a fly route for 52 yards on the first play of the game. The Raiders continually have to trot out what seems like the slowest secondary on the planet, and Norton’s continued inability to coach against teams who exploit attacking the edges of his defense for large chunks of yardage makes him an easy target.
The top two 2017 draft picks haven’t been able to contribute much on the playing field because they have both been hurt since before getting into pads in training camp. Both of these young men were expected to have an impact and a role on this football team because quite frankly, it was needed. But with Gareon Conley exhibiting symptoms of a stress-related fracture in his leg as well as Obi Melifonwu being placed on injured reserve after making limited preseason appearances, the Raiders 2017 draft has effectively started in the third round. Eddie Vanderdoes hasn’t missed a day since being allowed to practice.
While Norton needs to make a change to better help his defense, there just isn’t a scheme that readily comes to mind featuring a big corner that can’t run and a shorter corner who routinely is getting bested in 50/50 situations, putting it as politely as possible. Nor is there one for a free safety who is lacking the requisite foot speed to be able to provide the last line of defense.
This defense is undoubtedly lacking pieces that it needs to be able to contend with the better teams, schematically it has been better with the addition of Pagano. But under Norton, the defense has never been better than middle of the pack, due largely in part to being unable to hide deficiencies or find adaptable solutions to working problems. Given his body of work in the past offseason, it would have behooved the Raiders to find a more improved defensive coordinator rather than replace the head of the No. 6 scoring offense in 2016. To all of those who called for Musgrave’s head, be happy, you got exactly what you wanted.
Downing is Drowning
The ever-reliable Carr is nursing a transverse prowess fracture and unable to compete. And even with him on the field, the offense has endured a dry spell worse than the recent California drought. It has taken all of about four NFL games to begin to challenge what was previously billed to be a strong enough bond to nearly be able to finish each other’s sentences.
Choosing not to renew the contract of former offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave felt like a move capable of taking the Raiders to new heights, but five games into the season, it is looking more and more like a grave mistake. Downing was impressive in his first two games and the result of the next two games was completely underwhelming. But unpopular as this opinion may be, the game plan against the Ravens was better than it has been. As uplifting as that may sound, the bar has been set deceptively low.
A resurgence of the running game was paramount to the success of the offense; the passing game was simplified and the opportunities were there. EJ Manuel threw a 41-yard touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree in a beautiful display of pocket presence by Manuel. Manuel would go on to have a good game, not the best, but suffice it to say he was far from the reason the Raiders lost this contest. Manuel stares down his receivers in the short passing game and doesn’t seem to show a whole lot of interest in going thru his progressions.
— Levi Damien (@LeviDamien) October 9, 2017
Much ado has been made about Amari Cooper, and while he has indeed had his share of dropped balls, the lack of targets is painting an inaccurate picture of just what exactly is happening. Cooper is battling at his position and getting open but he isn’t getting the football. Downing is a rookie coordinator and as such he’s attempting to get his sea legs under him; the process has been a struggle.
Downing doesn’t seem like the kind of coach to take failure lightly and I’m sure he’s doing all he can to get this offense going again. And from the sounds of what Del Rio is stating, Downing will be reunited with Carr just in time for Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, and the Los Angeles Chargers. If the Raiders are going to maintain any of their playoff hopes, they need to start winning football games and the next two weeks against the Chargers and the sole undefeated team, the Kansas City Chiefs, on Thursday Night Football are two must-win games.