It seemed near impossible a mere six months ago. However, the NFL finished all 269 games for the 2020 season. And following another disappointing year, the Las Vegas Raiders, as well as the 31 other teams, are looking to play in Super Bowl 56. Although the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the championship, the Kansas City Chiefs will be the biggest obstacle for the Silver and Black.
A big problem for the Raiders is that they and the Chiefs are both in the AFC West. They went into Kansas City this season and punched them in the mouth. Nevertheless, a lack of consistency kept them away from winning the division and making the playoffs. This Las Vegas team knows it can go round for round against the defending AFC Champions, but what can they do to actually keep up with them for a full season?
The Raiders must figure out the defense
It’s like beating on a dead horse for Raiders fans, but the defense has to be fixed. Gus Bradley will hopefully be a sight for sore eyes, and the Raiders have a few pieces in place that can help him succeed. However, they still need to add talent. Bringing in a dominant pass rusher should be a top priority for head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock.
Players such as Shaquil Barrett, Melvin Ingram, and Bud Dupree are all free agents this offseason. Players that can get a push should be on the Raiders’ radar in 2021. The draft is also rife with pass-rush talent, so the team’s brass will have options.
Also, the Raiders’ defense ranked 30th in turnovers, mustering just 15, in 2020. They have to find a safety to play alongside Johnathan Abram. The glaring needs in the secondary were prevalent all year, and as the season went on, it was obvious it was far from a finished product.
This Las Vegas team needs to work on sustained success
The past two seasons, the Raiders have been 6-4 and 6-3, respectively, and in the thick of the playoff race. However, their record afterward has been less than stellar. If they could have sustained that success, they would more than likely have been in the postseason in both years. They haven’t made the playoffs since 2016. Accountability, addressed by Nelson Agholor in a fiery speech following the Week 16 devastating loss to the Dolphins, commitment, and work ethic have all been a topic of conversation amongst Raider Nation for the past few seasons. It all starts with Gruden, who has to take control of his team. The leaders in the locker room need to lead by example. They need to work together to keep the season’s early urgency into the latter half.
Reasons for optimism
Kansas City has had continued success for years at this point, winning five straight AFC West titles is a big feat, but the Raiders showed that they can bleed. Going blow for blow on offense is not a strategy that many other teams can employ against the high-powered Chiefs’ offense. Gruden and the Raiders can. They also have some pieces on defense that can be effective in every game, not just against the Chiefs. Players such as ‘Mad’ Maxx Crosby, Nick Kwiatkoski, Abram (at times), and Trayvon Mullen all have shown that they can play at a high level. Now, it’s Gus Bradley’s job to bring that out of them.
For the foreseeable future, it seems as if the Raiders will be looking up at the Kansas City Chiefs. The high-powered offense as well as great coaching does not look like it’s going anywhere any time soon. The Raiders have the ability to match it. This offseason will be pivotal for the Raiders and the future of the organization as they chase their fourth title. As the late, great Al Davis said, “the greatness of the Raiders is in its future”.
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Top Photo: Charlie Reidel/Associated Press