When Jon Gruden was introduced as the new head coach of the Oakland Raiders earlier this year, many in Raider Nation were filled with optimism. Early in the 2018 season, that optimism is all but gone.
The more things change, the more they are the same. – Alphonse Karr
The Raiders are finding it hard to deal with good fortune as they suffer another late-game collapse, falling to the Miami Dolphins 28-20 to push their record to 0-3. For the third straight game of the young season, the Raiders failed to hold on to a halftime lead.
Despite flashes of brilliance and perhaps a glimpse of optimism for the future – if they ever figure out how to carry over their early success into the second half. That’s true, particularly of the fourth quarter. Oakland has dominated parts of each of their first three games, only to fail to finish again and again. It is hard to look at a team that hasn’t won a game in any positive light, but the Raiders are not as bad as their record would seem to indicate. Let’s take a look at the takeaways from this weeks contest.
Lynch Carries the Load
Just as our own Sr. NFL Columnist Hayden Nadolny said in his preview of the Dolphins game, running back Marshawn Lynch needs to be the offensive focal point as quarterback Derek Carr grows into his new head coach Jon Gruden’s system. He has proven to be one of the most difficult backs to bring down this season and should get as many carries as he can physically handle. The Raiders had the Dolphins on the ropes early buy overpowering them with a vicious rushing attack.
“We tried to run the ball,” Gruden said following the game. “We saw a lot of different coverages, we saw a lot of different blitzes. We had them off balance, we moved the ball very well.”
What the Raiders continue having problems with is actually converting that offensive movement into trips into the end zone.
Only scoring three points over a combined 45-minute period with the quality of talent the Raiders offense possesses is borderline criminal.
Lynch finished the day with 64 yards on 19 carries and this touchdown. His 3.3 yards per carry average doesn’t do justice to just how much of a handful Lynch is to get on the ground. Defensive players must have nightmares of finding themselves one-on-one with “Beastmode” and will wear down from the effort required to make a single tackle on the man. Getting him the ball has to be paramount going forward as the passing game works to gel.
4th Quarter Letdown – Again
In three games, Oakland has been outscored 37-3 in the final quarter. This is single-handedly the biggest reason they have not won a game yet this season. It isn’t fair to put all the blame on the feet of the defense, however. Only scoring three points over a combined 45-minute period with the quality of talent the Raiders offense possesses is borderline criminal. The defense does need to step up as well though, the opposing offenses have made late surges look easy.
“We got hurt on a jet sweep,” Gruden continued. “We got hurt on a trick play. We didn’t finish some drives in the red zone. That’s the story of the game.”
Their late-game execution is going to be what determines the final win and loss record this season. So far those outcomes have not gone the Raiders way. Much like it seemed every bounce went their way during their 12-4 campaign in 2016, it has looked like everything that could go wrong does for this team does.
Scripts are Working
Gruden and the offensive staff have scripted opening drives that have resulted in points every game thus far. They isolate match ups and exploit them seemingly with ease. Every week, a new players number has been called and that player has responded with a grand performance. This week it was wide receiver Jordy Nelson’s turn.
Nelson was the game’s leading receiver with six completions on eight targets. He gained 173 yards and scored a touchdown torching Miami’s defense. In a season that has started so poorly, there is light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. This really puts into focus the quality of the Raiders coaching staff. Not only are they able to identify personnel mismatches, but they are also able to exploit them.
It doesn’t matter how much better a player is in comparison to their competition if they cannot be put in a position to take advantage of it. As this team continues to grow together, they will start to finish games. While the playoffs are looking like a pipe dream at this point, they are not an impossible goal. Having a coaching staff capable of getting the most out of their roster, and also a vision of the program they intend to build, will pay dividends down the road.
“We have a lot of work to do here,” Gruden explained following the game. “We’re going to continue to work and I’m proud of the way that we’re competing. We played three teams, I think that may be undefeated, I don’t know. We played three good football teams and we played them hard. We got a lot of work to do here, and we’ll continue to work. We’ll get this show on the road, hopefully soon.”
It was another disappointing outcome for the men in Silver and Black but it is only three games into a new system, a new staff, and a remade roster. None of the goals this squad set out to accomplish have been mathematically removed – outside of an undefeated season. There is still time to turn things around and make a run at the postseason but that turn around must be swift.
One thing is for certain, this team will show up prepared and start fast. If they learn to finish in a similar manner, these losses will become few and far between.