No NFL fan wants to think their season is over before Halloween, but for Raider Nation, this is the case.
The team is 1-4 through five weeks, and the only team in the AFC West that they don’t have a head-to-head loss to is 5-0 and rolling.
The team has one win after five games, and it was an overtime steal, plagued by shoddy officiating, against a team that had won two games in the last three years.
No Silver (and Black) Lining: 2018 Is Not Oakland’s Year
All season long, the Raiders had excuses. Week 1, they faced off against the best team in the NFL, the currently undefeated Los Angeles Rams. The next week, they fell victim to the hottest game in Mile High history, paired with that bruising altitude. In Week 3, the Raiders lost to 90 degree humidity and black jerseys.
Finally, in Week 4, they were at home against a young Browns team, and after forcing OT, they were able to steal a win. Derek Carr had a great game, Marshawn Lynch had his best showing as a Raider, and both Amari Cooper and Jared Cook had over 100 yards. The lights were finally on in the Black Hole.
This week, the Raiders faced off against the Los Angeles Chargers, a team that was giving up 30 points a game, and barely staved off the Jimmy Garoppolo-less San Francisco 49ers the week before. The Raiders were on the road, but only on paper. The Los Angeles crowd was still very pro Raider Nation, and it felt more like a home game for the Silver and Black.
There was talk of the team going on a run, beating Philip Rivers and the Chargers and getting hot as the second quarter of the season kicked off. Instead? It was a massacre.
Dr. Derek and Mr. Carr
Everything the Raiders had been doing wrong all year-long came back with a vengeance. Carr refused to pick up yards with his legs, had yet another hideous redzone interception, and recorded his season low in passing yards. Everyone who may have been reassured by last week’s performance against Cleveland was quickly silenced.
They had an opportunity to hand the ball off to Marshawn Lynch in the redzone, but they didn’t, and as the game went on, it didn’t seem like they were too keen to give him the ball at all. A week after his best game as a Raider, they only gave him nine carries for 31 yards.
Martavis’ Mixed Bag
The receivers didn’t show up either, as the receiver with the most productive game, Martavis Bryant, fumbled his biggest play away. Jordy Nelson proved to be Carr’s only reliable target in the redzone yet again this week, but failed to do much else, and the weekly drama of whether or not the Raiders will include Amari Cooper in their gameplan continued as the former first round pick was targeted once, for a ten yard catch.
Jared Cook, who had been a bright spot for the Raiders all year-long, had his worst game of the season, catching four of his six targets for a measly 20 yards.
No Penn, No Osemele, Big Problems
The offensive line, missing Donald Penn and Kelechi Osemele, looked dreadful as well, giving up three sacks and failing to make any room for the backs against a defense that didn’t even have Joey Bosa. Kolton Miller played terribly, giving up three sacks, but admittedly, he was also playing with a grade II MCL sprain. And that was just the offense. The defense also didn’t show up against the Chargers, and it wasn’t pretty.
“He knows the system”
Philip Rivers could’ve taken a nap and won this game. He completed 22 of 27 passes (81%) for 339 yards and two touchdowns. That’s over 12 yards per attempt. The Raiders managed to slow down the run game a little, holding Melvin Gordon to only 58 yards on 19 carries, but the way the passing game was dominating, they didn’t really need to run the ball all that much.
They didn’t just get beat, either. It’s not like last week when they were going up against a talented young team. They were outplayed, outsmarted, and like it or not, outcoached. The Chargers hit screen after screen and the Raiders looked completely unprepared and out of sorts. For all the players that Paul Guenther insists on playing because they know the scheme, a lot of players were out of position, over and over again.
Lose the Battle, Win the War
Here’s the reality though, this shouldn’t be a surprise. The minute that Jon Gruden traded Khalil Mack, Raider Nation should’ve realized this team wasn’t going to be competitive this season. Derek Carr isn’t comfortable in the offense yet, Gruden seemingly has no idea how to call plays in the redzone, and this team just failed in all three phases of the game against a squad they should’ve beaten in what was essentially a home game.
But it’s not all bad. The painful part isn’t that the Raiders aren’t good, the painful part is that we thought they would be. There were so many reasons last year’s team struggled, but fans were optimistic about a superior coaching staff making this squad competitive again, like they were in 2016.
If Raider Nation had more grounded expectations, this season wouldn’t have been so disappointing. Instead of an eight/nine win team with playoff aspirations, it’s a year of growing pains.
This team does have a ton of young talent to build around. Despite a rough couple of weeks, Kolton Miller is a good young player, and the rookie trio of Arden Key, Maurice Hurst, and P.J. Hall looks great. Marquel Lee is starting to show signs of being a good linebacker after all, and if the Raiders could just find some kind of consistency in the secondary, the younger guys there might show what they can do as well.
Maybe Next Year
Next season, Derek Carr will have a full year of Jon Gruden’s system under his belt with what should almost definitely be a younger, more talented roster. Carr’s continued stay as Oakland’s quarterback might make some fans groan, but you have to be patient. Carr was a MVP candidate the last time he played in the same offense for more than a season, and if they can work out the kinks, he’ll be better next year.
Meanwhile the Raiders will have money to play with in free agency (approximately 60 million dollars), and two first round picks, one of which will likely be in the top five.
Nobody ever wants to hear “maybe next year” because it means “definitely not this year” but unfortunately, barring a historical turnaround and a colossal Kansas City collapse, it will not be this year. In sports, politics, and business, the first year of a regime rarely bares fruit, but the second year can show a lot of promise. Hopefully this is true for the Raiders and Jon Gruden or the next decade could be ugly.