If there is one word to describe Sunday’s game between the Oakland Raiders and Arizona Cardinals, it’s ugly. Ugly in every sense of the word. It was a classic battle between two teams who are more concerned with the off-season than the actual games on Sundays, but there were some positive signs in the mess of the rubble that suggests the Raiders are on the right track under head coach Jon Gruden.
The young players did the majority of the playmaking done on Sunday on both sides of the ball. The three rookie defensive linemen of P.J. Hall, Arden Key, and Maurice Hurst all consistency put pressure on the quarterback with youngsters Karl Joseph and Gareon Conley each recording interceptions in the first half.
On offense, Gruden leaned on Doug Martin early but then gave way to Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington in the second half as Martin was sidelined with an ankle injury. It was the first time that the Raiders had been able to successfully run the ball with any consistency with Richard and Washington as the lead backs going all the way back to 2016. The Raiders were able to control the clock with a whopping 36 minutes time of possession and it was due to their ability to run the ball on offense.
Even so, the Raiders still found themselves on the wrong end of the scoreline late in the game. Carr had a fairly poor game with many misguided decisions including being flagged for calling two timeouts consecutively, which is inexcusable for a fifth-year pro. Carr also looked shaky in the pocket and seemed to lack the correct timing on his internal clock, leading to multiple sacks. Nonetheless, Carr was able to step up when it mattered, putting the Raiders in field goal position on the back of a beautiful 32-yard completion down the left sideline to seventh-round rookie Marcell Ateman.
Ateman’s catch led to rookie Daniel Carlson’s game-winning field goal as time expired. Interestingly enough, the Raiders field goal battery is made up not only of one rookie (Carlson) but three (Carlson, punter Johnny Townsend and long snapper Trent Sieg).
With the number of major plays the youngsters made on Sunday, it suggests that they are starting to figure out what it means to be a pro in the NFL. For all the talk about how much this team has struggled, it should be remembered that at this time four years ago, the Raiders were 0-10 and staring down the barrel of a winless season. Only then, did the rookies, specifically Carr, Khalil Mack, and Gabe Jackson, really start to translate their talent into playmaking on the field.
The Raiders finished the final six games of that season 3-3 and used it to springboard into 2015. Given the number of rookies who have recently of late been making plays on the field, a similar result may not be so surprising.
A Quote to Remember
“That’s when I felt a big turn in this organization. I don’t know what the hell happened, but we got destroyed in the game and it just seemed like the team never picked itself back up. Someday, the story may come out. I don’t have the full story. … I’ve never seen a team change that quickly. And the Raiders stand for social justice. So to see any type of division is really hard for me.”
Raiders Managing General Partner Mark Davis on the shift in the team’s fortunes after last season’s week three drubbing on Sunday Night Football against Washington, in which the majority of players around the league protested for social justice during the national anthem prior to playing their game.
A Tweet of Amusement
Yesterday i played fortnite for the first time in a while and someone killed me with my jersey on.. don’t know how i feel about it…
— Patrick Mahomes II (@PatrickMahomes5) November 13, 2018
1. The Raiders suffer a beat down against the Ravens. Despite their struggles, Baltimore is a physical team, and the many players in Oakland who have begun to check out for the season, won’t be willing to match their opponents physically.
2. We saw Sunday that Chucky is very much still in Gruden’s blood. At times, it appeared as though the jawing between Gruden and Carr was more interesting than the actual game on the field. Gruden wanted this win, badly, and fortunately, he got it. It was the first time all season that Gruden appeared extremely animated on the sideline, which is a refreshing change of tune on his dour demeanor to date. Expect Chucky to come out a bit more as we surge forward through the final six games.
3. There is a distinct lack of leadership in the locker room despite having lots of veterans. It has resulted in Jon Gruden imploring the rookies to step up. After all, they are the ones who are going to be here at the end of this rebuild. Most of the young players on this roster are quite passive characters, though defensive lineman Maurice Hurst appears the most likely to step up. Hurst currently has four sacks on the season, which is the same amount Mack had in his entire rookie season. I expect Hurst to get at least two more sacks by the end of the year.
7 Things I Think:
1. Mark Davis’ comments to ESPN last week were encouraging and somewhat disturbing at the same time. As the owner, Davis owned up to the struggles of the team, and also provided some interesting insights into the machinations behind trading Mack. It was disturbing though that Davis still does not understand how the team was rocked in that game against Washington last year. It was that moment in which the tide turned, and the Raiders have not been able to recover since. There is something incredibly toxic about that story which simply hasn’t come out, and sources I’ve talked to have not wanted to comment either. It leads me to question whether a large majority of that personnel group in the locker room should be shipped out just to get rid of that negative environment that has plagued the team ever since that Sunday Night Football game.
2. The Raiders have made their last appearance on Sunday Night Football this season, with their lone game (against Pittsburgh at the Oakland Coliseum) having been flexed to an afternoon game. Given the state of the two franchises in that matchup, the Raiders have probably avoided even further national embarrassment.
3. I am disappointed that Eddie Vanderdoes has been put on IR and won’t play this season. It would’ve been good to see him in defensive coordinator Paul Guenther’s scheme to see if he could be a valuable piece along the defensive interior.
4. There have been a lot of hot takes surrounding Jon Gruden’s public evaluation of Nathan Peterman prior to being drafted by the Buffalo Bills. As a paid analyst for ESPN, Gruden was meant to be positive of everyone. The only way Gruden’s QB Camp stayed in existence was if every player who went on it received a glowing review. Otherwise, what agent would consent to their young client being on the show if the QB’s draft stock could potentially falter?
5. The Raiders are currently slated to have approximately $65 million in salary cap space this off-season. Potential candidates to be released include Tahir Whitehead, Kelechi Osemele, Gabe Jackson, A.J. McCarron, Donald Penn and Jordy Nelson. It’s not unfathomable to think the Raiders could have over 100 million to spend in free agency, which will be more than enough to mold the team in Gruden’s image.
6. With Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell hitting free agency this off-season, I’ll be surprised if the Raiders don’t make him an offer he can’t refuse. The Raiders will have the cap space, and he’s a difference maker on a team who severely lacks them despite Bell being an elite runner, he has a severely underrated pass catching ability and this makes him a perfect fit in Gruden’s offense. He could get a contract anywhere from $15 million per season. It might sound excessive, but this is a player who is every bit as good as Todd Gurley, who is on a similar contract with the Los Angeles Rams. Some may argue that such a large contract should have gone to Mack, but the theory behind trading Mack was that they get the cap space to spend on an elite player, and the two first-round picks were acquired in the trade.
7. It’s disappointing that tonight’s Monday Night Football matchup between the Rams and the Kansas City Chiefs had to be moved away from Mexico City due to the poor field surface. I understand that player safety comes first, but I’d hate to think about all the international fans who get deprived of this once a year event, not to mention the US citizens who will have traveled down to Mexico and not get to see it. The NFL is desperate to expand its popularity around the world, so I suspect games in Mexico will continue in the future, and given the amount of money involved, the field surface will be in pristine condition in future years.