After a 2-0 start, the Las Vegas Raiders laid an egg in Week 3 against the New England Patriots. For some, this drew comparisons to the 2016 squad. Then, they were a scrappy bunch that leaned heavily on the offense to win shootouts. However, as effective as they were putting points on the board, they ended up losing against well-coached teams. On the other hand, it brought back memories of the last time the team started 2-0, 2017. That year, they took a beating from the Washington Football Team and never recovered.
Paul Guenther’s defense continues to disappoint, even when the Raiders are winning. It’s not hard to see why the Raiders came out so flat against the Patriots. They were missing their top three receivers on the depth chart, Tyrell Williams, Henry Ruggs III, and Bryan Edwards. Also, they were without starting offensive linemen, Trent Brown and Richie Incognito. Williams is done for the year, and the other four will likely miss this week’s contest against the Buffalo Bills. It’s not hard to imagine a world where the Raiders are still banged up, and riding a two-game losing streak into their showdown with the hated Kansas City Chiefs in Arrowhead next week.
Despite that, I remain optimistic about the 2020 Las Vegas Raiders. And here’s why.
The Darkhorse Raiders: Why Raider Nation Should Stay Optimistic
Firstly, let me break down why I’m a little skeptical of the team at the moment. Defensively, there are few bright spots. Rod Marinelli has not fixed the pass rush and the Raiders are dealing with some injuries in the secondary. Last week, they couldn’t make a tackle to save their lives. Offensively, injuries in the receiving corps, plus an unfavorable matchup with Bill Belichick may have given teams the blueprint to slow down a unit that scored over 30 points in the first two games of the season.
While Ruggs hasn’t blown up the stat sheet yet, he has made an incredible impact. The threat of his speed and ability with the ball in his hands is something that every defense has to scheme for. Defenses can’t zero in on Josh Jacobs and Darren Waller without risking a huge play to Ruggs, which in turn, opens up Bryan Edwards and Hunter Renfrow. A healthy Raiders offense begs you to pick your poison and exploits the difference.
But without Ruggs, teams will focus on Waller and Jacobs, forcing Carr to challenge corners with receivers like Nelson Agholor and Zay Jones. As we saw against the Patriots on Sunday, that’s not something that he or Jon Gruden feels particularly comfortable doing. If the offense isn’t moving the ball, and the defense isn’t stopping people, that’s not a brilliant recipe for success.
Week 4 could be the start of a rough stretch
I’m going to be honest, Raider Nation. I think the team is going to lose to Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills. Their offense is good, and they’re nowhere near as banged up as the Raiders. After that, I think they get shredded by the Chiefs as well. Then, a lethal Tampa Bay Buccaneers team comes to town after the bye. If we’re being frank, I’m not hugely optimistic about traveling to Cleveland to take on the Browns.
After a 2-0 start, I don’t think it’s just my cynicism saying the Raiders could be sitting at 2-5 at the halfway point of the season. They’re inexperienced, they’re banged up, and at least on the defensive side of the ball, they are poorly coached. I would be happy to be wrong, and I think the Raiders will play better than anticipated. Nevertheless, I’m not optimistic about October.
After October though? That’s a different story.
Why I’m Optimistic
Knocking on wood, many of the team’s early-season injuries aren’t serious, just inconvenient. There’s a good chance that many of the younger, more talented Raiders players return later in the season. While Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden would surely like to have players like Trent Brown and Henry Ruggs III during this murderer’s row of opponents, they’ll be vital in the “winnable” games.
The team’s next four opponents have the same number of wins (10) as the following nine do. ESPN’s match-up predictor has the Raiders beating the Los Angeles Chargers twice. Also, they foresee them beating the Denver Broncos twice, Then, continue with the Atlanta Falcons, New York Jets, Indianapolis Colts, and Miami Dolphins to finish the season 10-6. Being realistic, I don’t know that Ruggs, Edwards, or Brown would be enough to help the team beat the Chiefs or Buccaneers, so maybe it’s a blessing in disguise that the Raiders could be getting so many talented players back as the playoff-push starts.
Let’s keep things in perspective
No team in NFL history has gone 19-0, and it’s been almost 50 years since the Miami Dolphins went undefeated. Sometimes, it’s not a matter of hiding from losses, but understanding which ones are acceptable and which ones aren’t. The Raiders aren’t a complete team yet. The defense leaves a lot to be desired, and obviously, there are some kinks in the passing game that need to be worked out.
As skeptical as I am about the Raiders in October, I’m equally optimistic about the following months. And instead of last year, where the Raiders were mostly without Renfrow, Foster Moreau, and Josh Jacobs on the home-stretch, the Raiders will have healthy, fresh-legged rookies desperate to make an impact, and other teams won’t have the film to scheme against them. I’ll go on the record right now as saying that while they aren’t bonafide contenders yet, a favorable schedule and the presumed return of young, healthy Raiders will make the Silver and Black the “team nobody wants to play” in December as they barge into the playoffs as a wildcard team.
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