Raider Nation was on top of the world two weeks ago. Oakland had won five of their last seven games and had everyone on the edge of their seats. The Raiders were in complete control of their own destiny with a win against the lowly Jets. Instead, a 34-3 blowout loss occurred. A demoralizing blow to a team that was in prime position to make the playoffs for the first time since 2016. There was still hope that the Raiders were going to have their performance of the season for a division game in Arrowhead. Instead, another cauterizing 40-9 loss against the Chiefs ensued.
It begs the question, just what happened to this team? What happened to the team that wasn’t playing perfect football but was ultimately winning games? We know Oakland has a young football team that will eventually go through growing pains. The mind boggling part is how this is happening now? How does this happen in the middle of a campaign where if they win one game in the past two weeks, they still control your own postseason fate? After the blowout loss last Sunday, head coach Jon Gruden stated “we need to play with more discipline. That’s a reflection on me.” This is the second most penalized team in the NFL (only behind the Jaguars), but that is nothing new. What is deeply concerning is that there are two veteran players in leadership roles that aren’t walking the walk. Not saying the past two losses have been entirely their fault, but people in a position of leadership are in the front lines.
When an ideal team captain is drawn, someone in the realm of Charles Woodson, a player whose actions far surpassed his words is drawn up. Upon being drafted by the Raiders in 1998, the former Wolverine immediately became a playmaker that obtained defensive rookie of the year honors. His ability to play anywhere in the secondary and his unrelenting work ethic did the walking and talking to a Hall of Fame career and a Super Bowl Championship. In reality, Tahir Whitehead and Derek Carr have been missing in action and ultimately a detriment in their performances and words the past two weeks as captains. In the end it, it makes you ponder if they are potentially stunting the growth of the youth movement that shows up every week for this team. Josh Jacobs said this after his fifth 100-yard rushing game this season and reaching the 1,000 yard rushing mark as a rookie yesterday:
“I tried to go out there and do my job as a running back and inspire the team, inspire the play calling and all that. I tried to do my best, but I have to be better.”
Jon Gruden was also critical after his two tackle for loss and four tackle performance on Sunday.
“We put ourselves in horrible situations. We had the turnovers in the kicking game. We had, I think, four defensive false starts. We had a pick-six, and we just never found our rhythm at all. That’s disappointing, but I know where we are. I know where they are as a football team. We have work to do and we’re going to continue to try to catch the Chiefs.”
Safe to say, the two rookies on both sides of the ball have shown more leadership with their performances on the field than their captain counterparts of their respective units.
An honorable mention for his performance is rookie cornerback Trayvon Mullen, you don’t hear him speak often, but his play on the field against the Chiefs was moving.
This season, Whitehead has been a liability and has consistently taken poor angles and made terrible reads in all facets of his game.
His inability to cover anyone and looking bewildered in zone coverage has been hindering this team. While his play is subpar, his demeanor and complete lack of discipline is even more astounding. Against Kansas, he managed to jump offside AND commit a 15 yard unnecessary roughness penalty on a critical third down.
Jumping offside on third down as an 8 year NFL veteran linebacker should not happen. However, jumping offside and then shoving Patrick Mahomes to the earth (As much as I hate the Chiefs) is something that CAN NEVER happen after you already know that the play is dead. Overall, he exhibits poor sportsmanship (celebrating a tackle for loss being down 21-0) and is devoid of any leadership qualities with his play. Just after that penalty, he was in man coverage on tight end Travis Kelce on a would be touchdown if Kelce doesn’t drop the ball. He is arguably the worst defender on our team that sees consistent playing time. If Oakland elected to cut ties with him this offseason, they could shed the $6.2 million to be earned in the final year of his contract.
The most polarizing man of the hour, Derek Carr is in his sixth NFL season and has managed to earn the lofty gold captain patch on his uniform, which means, he’s been a team captain for four years. It could be hard to find a better human being than the him, a great family man, a man of faith with a love for people. He had always managed to speak the truth until yesterday.
Yes, he did just say that he had an efficient outing against Kansas, but on the opening drive, he threw an interception, which ultimately led to a Chiefs touchdown. In the second quarter, he was responsable for another egregious turnover that was returned for a touchdown. By halftime, the Raiders were down 21-0, with 14 of those points being a direct result of his poor decision making. Carr pilfered the team’s ability to even have a fighting chance as the defense contained Mahomes to only 93 yards passing in the first half. It’s telling that in the game Oakland needed Carr the most, he discussed how efficient he was when his unit put up zero points. The most important stat is Oakland lost, and his fingerprints are all over the murder. After the Jets game, he was asked about critics and he converted it into talking about parent teacher conferences with his kids while in the same breath saying “I give everything for this team.”
Giving everything for this team, starts with better performances on the field against quality competition. It also involves playing the game with a fearlessness. For example, be calm and collective and make this throw to Jacobs. You’re going to get hit either way here, at least make an attempt for it to be positive yardage instead of a sack.
It’s great to be a family man, but at times it feels that Carr pushes the family man narrative to a point where it is as if he is the only NFL player with a family. Phillip Rivers has an army of children, and he has had a long and successful NFL career. Do you think Rivers would love more time with his family? Case in point, family is important but Carr is not making over $20 million a year for being an outstanding citizen. The NFL is a business, this offseason the Raiders have a multitude of draft picks and an abundance of cap space. The front office is looking to improve this team and a severance with him would save $16.5 million. Not saying it will happen, but nobody is safe if they aren’t producing for the amount of money they are making/desiring. (Ask Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper)
In the end, leadership needs to transcend from words and NFL experience, to more positive performances on the field. If not, the Las Vegas future could be in jeopardy for both Derek Carr and Tahir Whitehead.
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