After a 3-0 start, the Las Vegas Raiders are now 6-6. With the playoffs looking less and less feasible, Raider Nation is left with a familiar feeling. Regardless, what makes this collapse unique, and where does Vegas go from here?
Here we go again…
For many Raiders fans, losing is nothing new. Over the last 20 years, they have had a winning record at the end of the year just three times. However, what has happened since 2019 has been just soul-crushing for the fan base. In 2019, the Raiders sat at 6-4 after a win over the Cincinnati Bengals. They would then face the New York Jets and get embarrassed 34-3, sending their season into a downward spiral where they finished 7-9.
In 2020, many expected the Raiders would learn from the collapse of 2019. After a 6-3 start, Las Vegas would take the Kansas City Chiefs down the wire on Sunday Night Football to drop them to 6-4. Alas, the Chiefs are the Chiefs, and even a close loss to them was encouraging due to how they played. Then, the 6-4 Raiders went to Atlanta and got embarrassed 43-6, sending the team plummeting to 8-8 and missing the playoffs. Sound familiar?
In 2021, the Raiders were simply a better team than they were in 2019 and 2020. With a 3-0 start, the team would lose to the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 4 for their first loss. Then came the trouble. First, it was the resignation of the head coach and offensive play-caller Jon Gruden. Following the release of some disturbing emails, this was necessary.
Admirably, the Raiders weathered this storm. The Silver and Black would win the next two games handily before heading into the bye week. The off-week brought the tragedy of the Henry Ruggs DUI/Manslaughter charge. He would soon be released. In the five games without Ruggs, the Raiders are 1-4.
Too much to handle?
For a myriad of reasons, the Raiders’ 2021 collapse is different than either of the last two seasons. The 2021 group has had to deal with an unimaginable amount of turnover. At the conclusion of the Week 13 game against the Washington Football Team, this Raiders team barely resembles the one they sent out in Week 1.
The head coach and play-caller, $100 million man Jon Gruden, is gone and replaced by Rich Bisaccia and Greg Olson. Ruggs, the number one wide receiver and a former first-round pick, is gone and facing 46 years in prison. The other first-round pick from 2020, Damon Arnette, was released as well. In addition, the offensive line has been reshuffled. Denzelle Good, the team’s starting guard, tore his ACL in Week 1, and first-round pick Alex Leatherwood has been moved inside to guard as a result of his struggles. Added to this, both Alec Ingold and Kenyan Drake have suffered season-ending injuries, and star tight end Darren Waller has missed time as well.
With all of the in-season changes, it is fair to wonder if it is all just too much for one team to handle. The Ruggs situation especially, as many players were visibly affected. Josh Jacobs and Alex Leatherwood were even college teammates with him at Alabama. It also is asking a lot from a coaching staff featuring an interim head coach to adjust to all these losses in one season, especially when they are mostly on offense.
The Derek Carr Conundrum
Of course, when a team suffers three straight mid-season collapses, people are going to look at what things were consistent across those seasons. The most obvious is the starting quarterback, Derek Carr. Drafted in the second round of the 2014 NFL draft, Carr was the starter from Day 1 and has become the face of the Raiders franchise. He is the Raiders’ all-time passing leader and a three-time Pro Bowler. However, since breaking his leg in 2016, something has always felt off. While tight window throws and scrambling plays aren’t entirely gone, they appear to be less common. With a career record of 53-69, it is fair to wonder if Carr is just simply not the guy for Las Vegas.
So what should the Raiders do?
So what is the plan then? Insert backup Marcus Mariota? Hardly an inspiring option considering what we saw from him when he was a starter in Tennessee. So maybe they will select one in the upcoming draft? Well, coincidentally, this is likely the worst crop of college passers in many years. Such is the life of an NFL team with a good but not great quarterback. While you will always look for an upgrade, it is hard to actually do so. After all, there are only 32 starting quarterbacks, and they don’t grow on trees. So unless the Raiders can swing a trade for a passer like Deshaun Watson, Aaron Rodgers, or Russell Wilson, they can’t move on.
That is not necessarily a bad thing either. It’s not like Carr is actively costing the Raiders all of these games. Currently second in the NFL in passing yards, Carr has had to carry the Las Vegas offense for much of the season. Again, he is leading an offense that lost its number one wide receiver, their head coach/play-caller, and one of the league’s worst running games. This is a difficult decision, especially with a choice to be made about a potential contract extension.
DEREK CARR HAS THE LAUNCH CODES 🚀🚀🚀
— PFF (@PFF) October 5, 2021
Truthfully, with Gruden gone, the Raiders front office is hard to judge. It is well known the former coach had a lot of power, so how much is Mike Mayock to blame? Did he select Arnette in the first round? How about Leatherwood? Fair or not, his name is tied to these picks, and it will be up to him to rebound from them. Or will it? Perhaps owner Mark Davis decides to blow it all up and fire Mayock. Much like his father before him, Davis likes to have a hand in all things Raiders.
Aside from this, the Raiders do have some exciting building blocks. Among them is Waller, who is one of the best players in the entire NFL. Hunter Renfrow is becoming one of the NFL’s best slot receivers and may top 1,000 yards this season. On defense, rookie defensive backs Trevon Moehrig and Nate Hobbs look like stud players for a long time. They also have one of the best pass-rushing duos in the NFL with Yannick Ngakoue and Maxx Crosby. The Raiders are not a talentless team, which is what makes these collapses so puzzling and the future so difficult to project.
Nate Hobbs is ALREADY one of the best CBs in the league 😤
🔒 78.1 PFF Grade (8th among CBs)
🔒 8.1 yards/catch allowed (10th)
The 5th round rookie is BALLING pic.twitter.com/77FrbcAoxC
— PFF Las Vegas Raiders (@PFF_Raiders) December 8, 2021
That brings forth the scariest word in sports: rebuild. While no fan wants to admit it, maybe it is truly what the Raiders need. Three straight mid-season meltdowns are unimaginable. Maybe, it’s time to admit they don’t have the right guys in crucial spots. Going into 2022, the Raiders have legitimate question marks at general manager, head coach, and quarterback. The three areas you never want question marks. Of course, the Raiders could potentially sneak into the playoffs, but at 6-6 and a date with Kansas City on the ledger, how likely is that? While there are many different answers to all these questions, one thing is for sure, the Raiders’ mottoes are “Commitment to Excellence” and “Just Win, Baby.” Neither has rung true recently.
*Top Photo: Don Wright/Associated Press