Two weeks into the season and the Oakland Raiders have yet to get into the win column.
Going to Denver to play the Broncos is never an easy task, and this game ended in a 20-19 loss. Regardless of the score, this was a team that began to create an identity and began to lay important building blocks for future success.
In terms of basic narrative, the loss to the Broncos was similar to the loss to the Rams in that the Raiders got the lead early and had dominant defensive performances. What was keenly different was the Raider offense lead by quarterback Derek Carr. In Week 1, Carr faced tremendous criticism, but he responded with a nearly record-setting performance against the Broncos. This performance however would not have been possible without a shift in play calling by Jon Gruden.
Giving Derek the Tools
Although Carr faced the most significant criticism after his opening week performance, the man who deserved that criticism most was Gruden.
In that game he called only two screen passes and only two playaction passes. In Week 2, the Raiders had 11 playaction passes and several well designed screens. The primary purpose for both types of plays is to slow down the pass rush. Play action is designed to freeze the defensive lineman and linebackers by making them honor a run threat. Screens are designed to suck in a pass rush and hit it over the top as a feint.
Not every quarterback can function in an offense that is purely spread and slinging it. What has made Carr an exceptional quarterback is his ability to dissect defenses before the snap and getting his offense into the right play. When you artificially limit the play types with no play action or screens you only limit what he can do.
Great quarterbacks are not successful because of their natural talents alone, it is about empowering them in a scheme that best harnesses their skill sets. With Carr completing 29 of 32 passes for 288 yards and a touchdown, Raider Nation saw what he can be when Gruden gives him all the tools to be successful. Derek is not Tom Brady, but he can be a pretty good version of Peyton Manning if he is allowed to be.
The Cornerbacks Are Legit
With Khalil Mack no longer being a part of this defense the pressure has been redistributed across the defense and especially on the defensive backs. Gareon Conley and Rashaan Melvin put on a very good display of cornerback play practically shutting down the entire Bronco pass offense in the first half.
Although Melvin came away with the only interception on the day, it was Conley’s incessant fighting with the receivers that was the most impressive. There were several plays where Conley was able to get a hand on the ball and separate it from the receiver causing incomplete passes. Even Leon Hall, the elder statesman of the cornerback group, had a solid game when in short zone coverage. He struggled at times with more vertical routes, but that does not take away from the fact that the cornerback position has seriously talented youth and long-term value that is beginning to show.
As the season develops Raider fans will get a chance to see Worley and Nelson take the field and prove their worth as well. If Worley can develop into a Rashaan Melvin type talent across the field from Conley, while Nelson develops his slot defense chops, this group can be one of the better ones in the NFL.
Tom Cable Was Right
Taking Kolton Miller with the fifteenth pick in the 2018 NFL draft caused a tremendous amount of doubt to seep into the minds of many Raider fans because he was a favorite of Tom Cable. Cable’s reputation as an offensive line coach has become dubious in recent years after being heralded as one of the better line coaches about a decade ago. After two games his offensive line has been very good only allowing a handful of pressures against two of the best defensive lines in the NFL.
Miller has more than held his own. Throughout the game against the Broncos, he dominated fellow rookie Bradley Chubb. Having only given up two sacks in two games, this offensive line with an old vet making a transition to right tackle, and a rookie left tackle has begun to gel nicely. The future remains potentially suspect once Donald Penn retires and Brandon Parker is asked to step in, but for now this offensive line has become the best of the Derek Carr era.
Arden Key is Gonna Get His
There is no question that the defensive line struggled to generate a consistent pass rush in Week 2 against the Broncos. With that in mind there were several plays in which Arden Key flashed some serious pass rush chops. He did not record a sack but he had a couple of pressures. For many defensive ends there is a slow start to the rookie season. This does not supply to Bosa or Garrett in recent years, but the Raiders have been slowing adding more to Key’s plate.
It is only a matter of time before Key gets his first sack and when he does it will likely end up being quite impressive. What really slowed down the Raider pass rush was the injuries at the defensive tackle spot. Injuries to both starting defensive tackles Ellis and Hall have forced the Raiders to sign Hankins and McDonald to fill those roles. Due to their lack of experience with this defensive line group, the Raiders were not able to run many stunts or twists to help create confusion amongst the offensive line.
With the youth in this group the future is extremely bright. Maurice Hurst already has one sack this season and both Hall and Key will follow. For now, the veterans on the interior part of the line need to gel while Fadol Brown and Tank Carradine need to see more reps. If this offense can continue to control the ball and get out to even larger early gains, the defense could use smaller defensive line groups who are specifically out there to rush the passer and those sacks will come.
Miami has the started the season off 2-0 with wins over the Titans and Jets. Traveling to the east coast for an early game is never easy, but this coaching staff has done a great job preparing the players to approach the game like a veteran squad. Overall the Dolphins are not a team that does anything great, but they have several components that are pretty solid.
Kenyon Drake leads their running game and is paired with Frank Gore who can still run violently when he chooses to. The passing attack features Kenny Stills, Danny Amendola, DeVante Parker, and Albert Wilson. This group features some diverse skill sets and they can be quite dangerous working out of the slot. The key to disrupting the pass game will be to force Ryan Tannehill into poor throws.
Due to the fact that the Raider pass rush is not consistently bringing it, Paul Guenther may need to consider bringing some advanced blitzes. If the Raiders can force Tannehill into early mistakes and generate an early lead, they will put more pressure on his shoulders and simplifying how they will need to defend.
On defense the Dolphins have a pair of talented but aging defensive ends, three athletic linebackers, and some talented safeties. Ideally the Raiders will need to maintain balance offensively and keep the defense guessing. What the Dolphins want to do is sit back and allow the quarterback to force balls into receivers. This is not a defense that is easy to run on. They are allowing only 3.3 yards per carry to opponents.
Early on in each of the first two games the Raiders sought to establish the run. For this game they should focus on aggressive intermediate passing routes and force the linebackers to sit further back and create some space in the running game. Most importantly, the offense will have to be efficient with its scoring opportunities.
24-20 Raiders win a tight game where they take a two score lead in the third quarter. The Dolphins have a bit of a comeback but it is stopped in the fourth quarter and the Raiders drain the clock.
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