The Oakland Raiders start the year off on Monday Night Football for the second year in a row. Last year they took on the Los Angeles Rams, pitting one young offensive genius, Sean McVay, against an older genius, Jon Gruden. Though Gruden’s squad looked better than expected through three quarters, by the end of the game, it was obvious that he was outmatched from top to bottom.
This year, however, he has a year under his belt since he returned, and a roster that is light years ahead of 2018’s team. Against a divisional foe, it provides a perfect opportunity to set the tone for 2019.
Oakland Raiders Looking For Better Outcome on Monday Night Football Than Last Season
Started Off Great Last Season
Oakland also began 2018 on Monday Night Football, but it was against the upstart Los Angeles Rams, who were Super Bowl favorites with a stacked roster on both sides of the ball. The Raiders received the ball first and got off to a great drive that had to make any fan feel good about the season.
Marshawn Lynch was heavily featured, bowling through defenders. Carr looked sharp, unloading a 45-yard pass to tight end Jared Cook. The drive ended with the offensive line pushing Lynch, who refused to go down despite being draped in Rams defenders, into the end zone.
Fans everywhere rejoiced. It looked like Gruden could still coach, and the Raiders were hungry.
All Down Hill from There
Unfortunately, that would be the only touchdown Oakland scored all game. The Raiders put up a good fight for the first part of the game, actually going into halftime up three. They lost the lead for the first time when Jared Goff tossed a touchdown to Cooper Kupp as the third quarter expired.
It was a bloodbath after that. Oakland’s offensive line wore down as Aaron Donald and company had Carr looking frantic in the pocket. Many wondered if Carr was damaged goods after his leg and back injuries he had sustained the last two seasons. He looked panicked at the slightest bit off pressure. Carr would throw three bad interceptions that game, one of which went back for a touchdown.
It became apparent after just a few weeks that 2018 was a feeling-out season for Gruden. The team lacked the talent to compete, which was further complicated by injuries across the offensive line. Gruden continued to unload players he didn’t think fit his mold, including Amari Cooper, and the team limped into a 4-12 finish that included some embarrassing losses.
Much Improved Team, Against Much Lower Competition
Coincidentally enough, one of the few high points of the 2018 season came on a Monday Night Football game where the Raiders hosted the Denver Broncos. It was the night before Christmas and fans in the house thought it could be the final game in Oakland. And the team came to play that week.
The Raiders defense showed up and held Denver to seven points through three quarters. Dwayne Harris returned a punt 99 yards for a touchdown after it looked like he would be tackled at the one. Doug Martin might have had his last hurrah in the NFL, rushing for over 100 yards. Oakland can only hope for similar results when they suit up for the time of the season in 2019.
But the Broncos are Not Scrubs
While the Broncos offer a much better matchup than the Raiders were given to start off last years, they shouldn’t be overlooked. Sure, they were third place in the AFC West, but Oakland was fourth. The team brought in veteran quarterback Joe Flacco and a new head coach in Vic Fangio.
The defense is full of studs, including Von Miller and Bradley Chubb as arguably the best pass-rushing tandem in the league. Their secondary is still above average, headed by Chris Harris Jr. at cornerback. On the offensive side, Phillip Lindsay will look to build on his surprisingly good rookie season at running back, and Emmanuel Sanders will be out to show he can still play in this league.
Oakland will be best off to take advantage of intermediate routes and pick on the Broncos thin linebacker corps. Darren Waller will be given a shot to put the league on notice, and Josh Jacobs will get to show off his versatility that got Mike Mayock to take him in the first round. Oh yeah and Antonio Brown will be there too.