The year in review continues with things that went wrong in the Raiders’ 2017 season. Anyone who paid attention this season would agree, there was a lot.
This season seemed to be a whirlwind of refuse that saw a rapid decline for the Oakland Raiders, and there seemed to be no shortage of bad things that happened. Some definitely worse than others, which directly contributed to the team’s lack of success. Part 2 of the year in review provides a glaring look at a few of the biggest issues that faced the Raiders.
Most of Raider Nation would agree that one of the worst decisions made was the offensive coordinator change. The beginning of the offseason saw Jack Del Rio ask Bill Musgrave leave his at-the-time #6 offense and promote a young man who had absolutely no experience to one of the most important positions on the coaching staff.
Todd Downing was elevated from quarterback coach to offensive coordinator, which was reportedly because of interest from other teams, threatening his relationship with quarterback Derek Carr. There was certainly a concern that anyone else brought in to work with Carr may cause challenges for the 2016 MVP candidate. That was clearly not going to be an issue, but more about that later.
Downing stepped in and, in true Raider Nation fashion, fans embraced him as their own. There was hope that he would bring something fresh and new to the team. He certainly did, but it wasn’t the desirable change that could or did help this young team. Ineptitude is not the change that the team was hoping for.
There is a common opinion around the league that the Raiders don’t have an identity. This couldn’t be more incorrect. They absolutely do have an identity: POWER. The new offensive coordinator completely stripped them of that, or perhaps he just didn’t understand how to nourish it. Not only did we see a fearful quarterback lose faith in his offensive line and play scared throughout almost the entire season, but the change to the blocking scheme from power to zone gave him a good reason.
Regardless of the talent, an entire unit doesn’t generally succeed when their identity is stripped completely. Any offensive coordinator worth his salt will focus on the players and integrate them into the best possible scheme. Downing is worth about three grains of table salt; this team needs primo Himalayan sea salt.
The oversized offensive line was put together to satisfy that need for a power line to maximize production and protect a quarterback who has potential to be transcendent. The line is made up of human mountains who have the ability to run block, pass block, and bully opponents in their way, as evidenced in their 2016 campaign. When the power blocking scheme was taken out and changed to zone blocking, it was painfully evident that the team’s makeup doesn’t allow this kind of fluidity.
This may seem redundant to say that the offensive coordinator was a problem and then follow it up with the challenges on offense, but they weren’t limited to the scheme issues.
The offense, which was ranked 6th last year as mentioned earlier, looked like a completely different unit than they had previously. The change in the blocking scheme made it difficult to even compare them to 2016. The team added a more capable right tackle, who worked well with the rest of the line and was a welcome addition, but the entirety of that line didn’t fare well in zone blocking.
The talk was that the scheme was adjusted to fit Marshawn Lynch’s skill set, but since there’s no confirmation on that, we can only speculate. Conjecture aside, the change did not benefit the team in any way. Given the strength of this line, power blocking would be beneficial to a running back like Marshawn Lynch, who rarely gets dropped on first contact. With a lead blocker, the running game could have been deadly. Even though the Raiders have a very capable fullback in Jamize Olawale, as Greg Papa said on 95.7 The Game, Downing seems to have forgotten that he was on the team.
Another problem was the passing game. Raiders receivers had collectively tied for the second most drops in the league. Clearly hampered by misuse, Amari Cooper looked like he was adopting his rookie hands, when his catch percentage was a low 55.4% per Pro Football Reference. That number dropped to a flat 50% this year. After doing very well in 2016, this kind of regression is difficult to justify. Unless you take into account the changes that he faced.
The Raiders have a receiver set that provides benefits on both ends of the field and from one sideline to the other. Michael Crabtree is good in short-to-mid-range routes and his hands have been solid. He has a way of catching the ball that almost certainly gives him an advantage and his ability to create space from his coverage is well above average. In Cooper, the Raiders have a deep-threat receiver who can burn almost anyone in a foot race and executes impressive go routes and double-moves. Adding receiving tight end Jared Cook seemed like a match made in heaven.
It’s true that Cook was a great addition to the team. He provided them with stability, which unfortunately their established receiving core did not maintain. He had 688 yards from scrimmage, which is great for a tight end, with 62.8% completion, better than both of the core receivers.
Last but certainly not least, Derek Carr. Carr has been “Captain Improvement” from year to year with the Raiders, bumping his overall stats and production each season. This season he turned into “Captain Check-Down.” His QBR dropped from a respectable 62.1 in 2016 to 47.2 this season. 15 points in a season that started with Super Bowl talk and aspirations from the team as well as outsiders.
Not all of that can be laid at Carr’s feet. Although his numbers are not what was expected, the team around him hasn’t done their best for their quarterback. Even so, Carr played hurt for most of the season. He had presumably recovered from his broken pinky and femur from last year, but a hit in Week 4’s game against the Denver Broncos caused three broken bones in his back and he was expected to be out for two to six weeks. He came back after only a week.
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The fear of re-injury is real and well-documented, and he certainly had plenty to worry about. With the offensive line not providing him the protection that he’s used to, he could ill-afford to take a chance at going down again. This may have contributed to his poor play, but it was certain that this was not the Carr that the Raiders were driving on their way to a Super Bowl.
The worst unit on the field was easily the secondary. The draft drafted two very strong candidates for plugging holes in the secondary. But early injuries deflated any hope of seeing first and second round picks Gareon Conley and Obi Melifonwu contribute to the team. While they both had limited play time, it was not enough of a sample size to give any insight.
With aging free safety Reggie Nelson showing signs of wear and Sean Smith continuing to disappoint, the struggles continued on the defensive side of the ball. The Raiders’ lead tackler was T.J. Carrie, who stepped up as the primary cornerback after David Amerson got hurt. He was tasked with covering the big hitters once the roster dwindled.
Carrie accumulated 84 combined tackles. In addition, he had nine passes defended and two fumble recoveries. The bad news is that your cornerback being the lead tackler means two things: the front seven aren’t doing their jobs and Carrie is letting quarterbacks hit their targets. The secondary’s play did pick up after Pagano took over, which is a huge plus, but with a new regime likely to invade Alameda soon, there’s no guarantee that improvement will continue.
Facing the detriments to the team is important to do. Realism is hard when fans had such high hopes for the season, and when those hopes are so drastically dashed, there is naturally going to be some backlash. However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel in a new head coach (all signs point to Jon Gruden). Let’s just hope it’s the promised land and not a train bearing down.