The fact that they went 6-10 may hide the reality that the Oakland Raiders suffered not one, but two 4-game losing streaks in 2017. After a 2-0 start, the Raiders dropped to 2-4, then recovered to 6-6, before losing their last four games of the season.
Overall, Oakland was bad, especially on the road where they went 2-6. Did the Raiders do enough over the offseason to get back to playoff status in 2018? How about at least enough to beat the Seahawks in Week 6, when Seattle will already be playing their fourth road game of the season?
Much of Oakland’s chances comes down to the player that Derek Carr turns out to be this time around. The truth is that Carr has never been great, even when he looked great; his 28/6 season in 2016 looks good on traditional paper but his 7.0 Y/A and 62.1 QBR for that season is entirely mediocre. That showed up in 2017, with Carr dipping from 16th in QBR to 22nd even though he was likely the best-protected quarterback in the NFL with a decent supporting cast of skill players around him, like Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, Marshawn Lynch, and Jared Cook.
Crabtree is gone, but new in town are Jordy Nelson, Martavis Bryant, and Doug Martin. That gives Carr a supporting skill cast of Cooper, Nelson, Bryant, Lynch, Martin, and Cook, plus Seth Roberts, Dwayne Harris, Jalen Richard, DeAndre Washington, and Derek Carrier. It’s at least a league-average skill cast, but it should be even more hyphy with a quarterback who is protected by Donald Penn, Kelechi Osemele, Rodney Hudson, Gabe Jackson, and 2018 first round pick Kolton Miller.
The Raiders were 13th in offensive DVOA last season, including 12th with the pass and 15th with the run. Anything less than a top-8 finish has to be considered a disappointment and a further condemnation of Carr, who has every opportunity to do better than 7 Y/A. Not that Derek Carr was “the problem” though, as Oakland was 29th on defense, by DVOA.
An issue that they chose not to address with the pick they used on Miller, though improvement could come in other forms.
In free agency, the Raiders signed inside linebacker Derrick Johnson and outside linebacker Tahir Whitehead, cornerbacks Rashaan Melvin, Daryl Worley, Senquez Golson, Shareece Wright, Leon Hall, and defensive lineman Tank Carradine. Out of that, a couple of quality starters could emerge, though Worley is facing charges following an arrest that took place before the Raiders signed him, which they were well aware of.
And while Oakland didn’t use their first pick on a defensive player, they did take defensive tackle P.J. Hall in round two, defensive end Arden Key in round three, cornerback Nick Nelson in round four, and defensive lineman Maurice Hurst, consider a first round talent by some, in round five.
They join already-established defensive starters Khalil Mack, Justin Ellis, Mario Edwards, Bruce Irvin, Reggie Nelson, and Karl Joseph, plus second-year pros Gareon Conley (CB, 1st round pick in 2017), and defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes.
Part of the improvement on defense, if there is any, will be credited to the firing of defensive coordinator Ken Norton, Jr., who of course now holds that same position with the Seahawks. I guess now is as good a time as any to mention that the Raiders did also re-hire Jon Gruden as head coach; Gruden tabbed Greg Olson as offensive coordinator (Olson is a native of Washington, got his start at WSU, and this is his sixth stint as an NFL OC); former Seattle assistant Tom Cable as offensive line coach; former Seahawks center Lemuel Jeanpierre as offensive line assistant; and Paul Guenther as defensive coordinator after he served in that position with the Cincinnati Bengals from 2014-2017.
So while much will be the same for the Raiders (Carr, Cooper, incredible offensive line, Mack), there are likely major changes already in motion with the new staff. That could be good, it could be bad, or it could result in another 6-10 season. Oakland is one of the hardest-to-predict teams in the NFL right now but they’ll be getting a Seattle team that is traveling for the fourth time in six weeks, and just salivating for the bye in Week 7.
Is this a game that you’ll feel confident about?