It’s been nearly a month since I’ve had to write a Silver and Black Lining article, making the best of an Oakland Raiders loss, and to quote Dwyane Wade, “I love it.”
The Oakland Raiders have won three of the last five, and with the pitiful Cincinnati Bengals and New York Jets on deck, things are looking good in the town. The Raiders are a trendy playoff team, with some people even speculating they may take the AFC West, but I wanted to stop and smell the coffee for a second. Putting the post-season on the back burner, for now, let’s appreciate how good Raider Nation has it.
Silver and Black Lining: Just Because
At 5-4, the Oakland Raiders are viable post-season contenders. If the season ended right now, they’d be on the outside looking in, but just barely. They’re half a game behind the AFC West-leading Kansas City Chiefs, and have the same record as the current six-seed, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Fortunately, the season isn’t ending right now, and Oakland’s seven opponents have an average W/L total of 3-6, buoyed by Kansas City’s 6-4 record. The next two games are against the winless Cincinnati Bengals and the 2-7 New York Jets, both games the Raiders should win. I’m fairly confident the Raiders are going to make the playoffs.
But I think we need to stop and appreciate how good the Raiders are right now compared to where they were two years ago, this time last year, or hell, three weeks into this season. This is a team that very few experts predicted to win seven games all year, let alone before December started. Defensively, as always, they’re still a work in progress but now feels like a good time to stop and appreciate everything this team is doing well.
Derek Carr had a weird start to the season, but he’s been fantastic since the bye. Since then, Carr has completed 81 of 120 passes for 1,085 yards, eight touchdowns, and only one interception. That means his average game sees him complete 20 of 30 passes for 270 yards, two scores, and no picks. For scale, if he carried that pace over 16 games? He’d throw for 4,340 yards, 32 scores, and only four picks. His biggest knock throughout his career has been his yards per attempt, but this span? He’s averaging just over nine yards per pass, which would be the most in the NFL. And if that’s not enough, his average game in his now-infamous 2016 season saw him attempt seven more passes for nine fewer yards. That’s right, since the bye, he’s playing better than he did the year he was an MVP candidate.
Josh Jacobs is going to be the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year, and I don’t think there’s anyone else in the conversation. Kyler Murray has been good-not-great, Jacobs has literally hundreds of yards on the next rookie tailback, and D.K. Metcalf hasn’t done quite enough to broach Jacobs yet. Jacobs is seventh in the league in rushing (881 yards), and fifth in yards per game (90.1 yards per game) so far this season, with an offensive line that’s only getting healthier as the year goes along.
Not to mention, the helping hands, DeAndre Washington, Jalen Richard, and Alec Ingold add an additional 494 all-purpose yards and two scores. All in all, the Raiders have gotten 1,437 yards and nine scores from their backfield this season. That’s not half-bad, that’s not half-bad at all, especially when you consider this unit only had eight scores in 2019 and they’re on pace to have nearly 300 more yards than last year.
What a strange unit Oakland’s wide receiver room has been this season. With the departure of some unemployed jackass before the season started, it’s been a revolving door for Carr and company. The Raiders have started (and that’s started, not played) seven different wide receivers so far this season. Tyrell Williams started five, Trevor Davis started four, and then the group of Zay Jones, Hunter Renfrow, Keelan Doss, Ryan Grant, and J.J. Nelson have started one game a-piece.
They’ve still managed to provide adequate production. They’ve caught 112 passes for 1,012 yards and nine touchdowns through nine games. That doesn’t sound like a lot, and it isn’t, but this is a unit that’s dealt with a lot of changes. Ryan Grant and J.J. Nelson aren’t even on the team, Williams has missed time with injuries, and Trevor Davis spent the first chunk of the year as Green Bay’s kick and punt returner. This unit had roles before someone decided it wasn’t his helmet, but the thing underneath that was the problem. As the year has gone along and the offense has formed an identity, this unit has really started to find itself, especially rookie Hunter Renfrow, who will be lethal on third down for years to come.
I’ll confess, coming into this season, this was the unit I was most worried about. Jared Cook was the team’s most reliable receiver last season, and I didn’t know if the Raiders had a solution, especially after they cut veteran Luke Willson at the last second. This was silly, because as it turns out, it’s probably Oakland’s biggest strength. The trio of breakout superstar Darren Waller, underrated rookie Foster Moreau, and veteran Derek Carrier have combined for 72 catches, 799 yards, and six touchdowns. Headlined by Waller’s team-leading 51 catches and 588 yards, the Raiders probably have the best tight end group in the entire league, and they’ve made the Raiders lethal in the redzone.
Raider Nation owes Tom Cable an apology, myself included. The controversial coach took a lot of flack last year, but so far in 2019, his unit has been elite. Derek Carr is the least hit quarterback in professional football, the run game is roaring, and even with injuries and suspensions across the line, they’ve produced at a high-level. Kolton Miller is dramatically improved, Richie Incognito has been a force on the line, and it’s business as usual for Rodney Hudson and Gabe Jackson next to off-season acquisition Trent Brown. You’ll see a dozen commercials for car insurance on Super Bowl Sunday, but none of them provide protection like this group has.
Regrettably, the defense has left a lot to be desired. The team is 23rd in yards allowed, 27th in points allowed, and 20th in sacks. Raider haters everywhere will point to the fact that Oakland has given up more points (240) than they’ve scored this season (208), and it’s due in large part to this defense. But there are still reasons to be optimistic. A few Raider defenders have made an impact.
Mad Maxx Crosby, a fourth-round pick the team didn’t expect to deliver right away, has, and he’s done so in a big way. He’s consistently pressured opposing quarterbacks, having a huge game against the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday Night Football. His rookie counterpart, Clelin Ferrell, has dealt with a lot of criticism, but he’s been coming into his own too. Ferrell’s been moved around a lot, and sadly hasn’t seen his effort make too big of a dent on the stat-sheet just yet. Meanwhile, Benson Mayowa, a second-time Raider, has more sacks than Khalil Mack this season. Just in case anyone was wondering.
The front four isn’t the only place the Raiders have impressed on defense, with Daryl Worley quietly having a very strong season too, and Erik Harris making the most of every possibility. Sadly, there have been so many injuries (and unjust suspensions) around the defense, that it’s been hard to track the progress of players on that side of the ball. The biggest tragedy of the 2019 season has been that we only got one game out of Johnathan Abram before his injury took him out for the rest of his rookie season.
The Silver (And Black) Lining
Despite the nature of these articles, I’m a very skeptical person. I hope for the best, expect the worst, and I’m rarely disappointed. I hope the Raiders easily demolish the two bad teams that separate them from the showdown in Arrowhead (a different monster altogether), and I’d give anything for the Raiders to come away with a win there too. But even if they don’t. Even if the Raiders have a painfully typical meltdown, miss the playoffs, and fall apart, this team is improved, and Raider Nation has so much to be optimistic about.
Even if the Oakland Raiders don’t make the playoffs, you can bet the Las Vegas Raiders will be a trendy preseason pick. And that’s because they’re a young, hungry, well-coached team that wants to do one thing, and one thing only.
Just Win, Baby.