The Oakland Raiders entered Monday night’s game playing for mere pride and poise. Hoping for a Christmas miracle and one last gift for Raider Nation, we saw this troubled, enigmatic team take one step forward and two steps backward. In a season in which regression seemed to be the primary theme across the board, the Raiders gave the Nation more to be concerned about while showing glimpses of what they should be excited about.
The much-maligned Oakland defense took the field Monday night with something to prove. Since taking over the reigns as defensive coordinator, John Pagano’s squad has been on a mission to harass quarterbacks and erase the past. The defenders from the East Bay would set a precedent early on by forcing the Eagles into an early three-and-out on their opening drive; One step forward.
Derek Carr would then take the field and lead this offense on a short-lived drive that stalled out after just seven plays. Oakland would convert it’s first of only three third downs only to get saddled by careless penalties by Carr (delay of game) and Newhouse (false start). A conservative check-down pass to a slow Lee Smith would set up a frustrating 4th and 2 in which Carr would merely throw the ball away; One step backward.
Re-enter the Oakland Defense. Raider Nation was feeling confident after the defense’s early stand but was only let down when the Eagles took the ball out of Nick’s hands and ran it straight down Oakland’s throat. The first score of the night arrived in form of a screen pass which Oakland proved it still can’t defend; Another step backward.
— DIE-HARD 🦅 Fans (@Eaglesfans9) December 26, 2017
Two drives later we find evidence that the Raiders’ coaching staff does indeed watch the film. If you’re still reading this and haven’t punted your laptop, you know that the Eagles have struggled to defend the double move. Gruden knew it, the Raiders knew it, and they went right to it. Despite being hobbled by a bum ankle, Cooper makes an effective cut against Jalen Mills and waltzed 63-yards into the end zone while Downing celebrates his first NFL Super Bowl victory; One step forward. The double move would never be seen again; Two steps backward (punt your keyboard now).
Double moves biting Mills and the Eagles secondary again. Amari Cooper takes this slant-and-go 63 yards to the house. pic.twitter.com/oVTPpzJEgW
— The Bitter Birds (@AdrianFedkiw) December 26, 2017
Still with us? This lopsided trend of “give and take” would continue throughout the night. The Silver Hatted Marauders repeatedly gave themselves opportunities while failing to turn those moments of hope into points on the scoreboard. Pagano’s defense yielded two takeaways on the night while Carr and the offense handed off their beers and gave the ball away five times; Two steps forward, Five steps backward.
— JUCO Football Frenzy (@JUCOFFrenzy) December 26, 2017
— Bleacher Preacher / Sports (@BleachrPreachr) December 26, 2017
There remains a glimmer of hope for the Raiders in 2018. A few tweaks to the Raiders defensive strategy shows that this Raiders team may not have as many holes as previously imagined. That is to say, that results can be achieved with the in-house personnel. True, Oakland has a bevy of defensive players set to hit free agency in 2018, but their play down the stretch may provide a Silver and Black lining to a dark cloud that has been following Raider Nation for some time.
On Monday night we saw a Raiders team that CAN utilize twists and stunts to create pressure with their front four. Mid-game defensive adjustments WOULD limit Ertz’ productivity and stifle an effective Eagles rushing attack in the second half. Jihad Ward is NOT a two-gap tackle but CAN reach the quarterback with the right scheme. Bruce Irvin STILL has speed off the edge. Sean Smith IS the corner we thought he could be when NOT in zone coverage. Bowman IS the quarterback of the defense and SHOULD be retained. Karl Joseph has pop DESPITE his size (Hello Ertz!).
Which Raiders offense takes the field in 2018 remains to be seen. This Raiders fan believes the back injury sustained early in the season took much of the zip out of Carr’s deep ball and Derek can return to form next year. Obviously, a change must be made at the offensive coordinator position but remember, many of us believed this to be the case last year as well.
While Downing may be trying to mask Carr’s injury with conservative play calling, it seems apparent that he was not ready to assume the ancillary responsibilities that come along with being a coordinator (managing a staff, running practices, drilling the basics, and self-scouting). With Downing potentially out and Pagano indefinitely in and the hope of tuned up and repaired Carr, Raider Nation still has much to be excited about in 2018. Have hope, commit to excellence, and Raider On!
Written by: Kenny Stapler