London was a disaster. The Oakland Raiders were a disaster. Everything has basically been a disaster. 1-5 is proof of that. The disaster that has become the 2018 Raiders may or may not be a good thing. That is a matter of perspective. What is an indisputable fact is the Raiders are now an NFL bottom dweller and the only hope for the fan base is the first overall pick. Of course that has not prevented the team from turning Raider Nation upside down on their bye week.
Marshawn Goes Down
One highlight for many fans has been the sheer force of will that has been Marshawn Lynch so far in this season. That will come to a screeching halt and there is a good chance that regardless of how fast he heals, Raider Nation will not see Lynch carry the ball for the Silver and Black ever again. Lynch has been placed on injured reserve with a core injury that was first discussed as a groin injury.
The reports originally stated the ailment was a four-six week timetable for return, but the injured reserve designation requires he sit out for at least eight weeks which should amount to eight games. Whether or not the Raiders will have interest in bringing Lynch back for two likely meaningless games at the end of the year is a highly debatable subject.
Obi Melifonwu is Done Done
Week 7 of the 2018 season marks the time when the Raiders finally removed Obi Melifonwu from their ranks. After placing him on injured reserve before the season, he has become healthy enough once again to waive him off of the list. Melifonwu had an ideal skill set and background to fit Paul Guenther’s defense, but there always seemed to be personality issues at hand. Regardless, it has been made clear that for you to be a part of Guenther’s defense you need to be an alpha personality.
Amari Goes To the Cowboys
Jon Gruden continued to shake things up when he traded Amari Cooper to the Cowboys. Amari never seemed to be a schematic fit with Gruden regardless of his claims that he would be the focal point of the offense.
The debate in Raider Nation has always been a chicken or the egg type debate. Amari always produced when he saw the targets, but whether it was Derek Carr or Jon Gruden he never seemed to get the targets consistently this season. This was the same issue as last season. Yes drops were an issue, but that is no excuse for not being utilized.
Beyond that debate, what the Raiders got in exchange for Amari is truly impressive. Receiving a first round pick is what the team should have received based on the precedence of the Brandin Cooks trade, but to actually get it is easier said than done. In that case a hat tip is due to Gruden and company for making the decision worth it.
The chaos of this trade has led many in Raider Nation to wonder who is next. The Raider have been shopping Karl Joseph all season. Gareon Conley seems to have also fallen out of favor with Paul Guenther because he struggles in zone coverage, and his early season starting partner Rashaan Melvin has not been in a good place mentally either.
Trust yourself and watch yo own back and you’ll be good cause that’s what everybody else doing
— Gareon Conley (@_gconley8) October 23, 2018
I’m done trying to change my style. It’s not me. Back to what I know and what got me here!! ✌🏾😤😤 #22
— Rashaan Melvin (@Rmelvin30) October 15, 2018
Teams sniffing around on Janoris Jenkins and Gareon Conley. The corner market is hot ahead of the deadline. PHI, NE, PIT among those exploring multiple options
— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) October 23, 2018
There was also a report from Marcus Thompson in The Athletic that Derek Carr lost the respect of his team because he may have cried when he was injured against the Seahawks. This prompted these Tweets:
I’m a Raider. It’s not a “popular” thing to be a Raider right now, but I am and I love it. I love the struggle of trying to fight back for our city when not a lot of people believe in us. People can try all they want to tear us apart, but it’s not happening to the real ones. 💀
— Derek Carr (@derekcarrqb) October 23, 2018
Don’t even waste your time with this big bro. On the ground I yelled get me up get me. Then I got to the sideline and yelled again. Not one tear. Not one time. There is the Truth. People will click on it because it sounds crazy. But stop playing with me.
— Derek Carr (@derekcarrqb) October 23, 2018
Whether or not Derek is a Raider for life boils down to what he can do in these last ten weeks. Personally, based on how Gruden has run this defense for the beginning part of the year, I am concerned they can work together long-term. However, if the Raiders leave behind the two running back sets and operate exclusively out of shotgun with either 11 or 12 personnel while they attack the hashes, they could turn this around. Weirdly, trading Amari could be the expediting factor for the change.
Marcell Ateman Could Change The Season
Seventh round rookie receiver Marcell Ateman has been called up to the active roster by the Raiders. Ateman was a preseason darling for many Raider fans, but he can be a game changer for the Raider offense. That is rare for a late round pick, but Ateman has a unique skill set that has a proven model.
Marques Colston was also a seventh round pick and the similarities between Ateman and Colston start at the combine:
6’5, 224 pounds, 4.5 sec 40, 16 reps bench, 123 broad jump, 4.43 shuttle, 6.94 three cone, and 37 inch vertical
Ateman: 6’5, 216 pounds, 4.62 sec 40, 13 reps bench, 121 broad jump, 4.25 shuttle, 34 inch vertical
The differences between the two are fairly minor. All in all, the athletic profiles are very close and maybe the notable differences may be in long speed being more favorable for Colston. On the other hand, Ateman accelerates faster.
Where Colston made his impact on the field was between the hash marks. The Saints at that time loved to attack the middle of the field with Jimmy Graham and Colston. They would line up with both guys in the slot and tight near the offensive tackles. Sean Payton would use the size and speed combination on both sides to find spaces between the safeties and linebackers to exploit. No matter what, every play Drew Brees would have a matchup nightmare on each side of the formation in the middle of the field.
Jon Gruden was blown away by this design and Colston’s play style, he narrated Colston’s placement in the NFL Network’s Top 100 Underrated Players.
Jon Gruden’s Use of Big Receivers
So far in this season Gruden has been a bit of an enigma. He has certainly not lived up to most assumptions people have made about him and moving on from a player like Cooper who seemingly had the Tim Brown skill set we thought Gruden craved proves that.
The Raiders currently have three receivers in their active roster who stand over 6’3. Jordy Nelson, Martavis Bryant, and Marcell Ateman are all taller big bodied targets who also have different attributes. Nelson has developed into the master of the back shoulder reception, while Bryant is a dynamic down field threat, and Ateman can be a weapon dominating the middle of the field. By adding in tight end Jared Cook, the Raiders now have two outside threats to stretch a defense vertically and laterally, with two interior threats to exploit those spaces created.
The key will be finding balance. With Marshawn Lynch, the Raiders did most of their running out of 21 personnel and were extremely predictable. If the Raiders decide to operate out of 11 personnel or 12 personnel while in the shotgun, they will become more balanced and less predictable. All of the play action (the few times they use it), screens, draws (if ever), would all come out of the same personnel groups which means defenders cannot key into the formation as a tell.
By achieving balance, the run game can become more effective because the Raiders will see fewer loaded boxes. This in turn will create more time to throw the ball and the defense will be less confident in blitzing against the pass game. Basically, balance will bring everything back into line.
Looking back at Gruden’s Tampa Bay teams, the only team that did not have at least two receivers and two tight ends that were at least 6’3 was 2005. Most seasons it was two receivers and two tight ends. The ideal situation seems to be the 2007 season where Gruden used Jerramy Stevens as a hybrid tight end and receiver. Having three receivers and two athletic tight ends fitting this mold may be the modern upgraded version of what he did with Tampa.
Hanging all of Raider Nation’s hopes on a seventh round receiver may not be ideal, but if Gruden seems to change the offense and it clicks with this version of the receiving corps, then at least we have a model for potential success.
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