Any Given Monday: Raiders Playing Spirited Football For One Another

Travis Kelce is always tough to contain and the Raiders will have their hands full.

The Oakland Raiders may have lost to the Kansas City Chiefs yesterday, but they were far from disgraced. The term ‘moral victory’ gets thrown about a little too loosely these days, but some form of the term is certainly applicable to the Raiders performance on Sunday at the Coliseum.

The Raiders needed to play smart football on Sunday to have any chance of beating the Chiefs. When you’re going up against a team as good as the Chiefs, the margin for error is slim to none. So given that the Raiders running backs fumbled three times (all recovered by the Chiefs) resulting in 13 points off the turnovers, the margin for error was the difference between a win and a loss.

Sure, it’s a little simplistic to put it down to that, but a closer look at the game shows that the Raiders played fundamental football and were cognizant of the game situations at all times. Despite giving up 40 points, this was one of the better defensive performances of the season. In my opinion, it was defensive coordinator Paul Guenther’s best game plan and I’d go as far to say that there were a number of wrinkles in the game plan that teams will be using against the Chiefs going forward.

The plan put the Raiders in many advantageous situations to force turnovers. It limited red zone opportunities to field goals as opposed to touchdowns. Ultimately, it gave the Raiders enough opportunities to establish the run game on offense to keep the vaunted Chiefs offense off the field for long periods at a time.

The Raiders knew what was coming but they simply didn’t have the talent to stop it. Too often did Chiefs QB Pat Mahomes have an eternity to throw; so much so that at times, Mahomes was holding the ball for well over five seconds without getting the ball out.

Going into the weekend, it was evident that the Raiders needed to stop the Chiefs three top playmakers in Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and Kareem Hunt. That task was made a lot easier given Hunt’s release on Friday, but it’s almost impossible to stop the other two guys. The Raiders did a remarkable job keeping Hill contained, making the Chiefs offense for the most part, predictable. The Raiders knew what was coming but they simply didn’t have the talent to stop it. Chiefs quarterback Pat Mahomes has the luxury of time to throw on Sunday, so much so that at times, he was holding the ball for well over five seconds without getting the ball out.

This speaks to two things:

  • One is that the Raiders pass rush is downright horrible, but even the football novice knows that.
  • The second is that the Raiders secondary may have a few more building blocks for the future than previously anticipated.

The Raiders shopped cornerback Gareon Conley and safety Karl Joseph at the trade deadline, but received little interest and didn’t come close to receiving an offer matching their asking price. Since the deadline though, these two young players have steadily increased their contributions and appear to have clearly defined roles that play to their strengths. Conley’s cover skills have always been impressive, and he has reduced the amount of glaring mental mistakes leading to busted coverages. He should have had an interception early yesterday, but he is getting in the right positions and that’s reassuring (for now).

Carr plays much more at ease when the Raiders rush the ball effectively.

The staff never really knew how Joseph fit, given that his lack of size makes it difficult for him to get into any favorable coverage matchups. Joseph was given some snaps in the run game and his performance over the last few weeks has warranted him getting extended time on the field. Joseph still has those fierce hits in him, and this showed up multiple times against the run yesterday. He may never be a three-down safety, but Guenther seems to have found a role for him that maximizes Joseph’s skill set while fitting within the overall defensive scheme.

On offense, Derek Carr extended his streak of games without throwing an interception to seven, while throwing three touchdowns and completing over 76-percent of his passes. Carr’s performances have always been hot and cold, though it’s clearly evident that he thrives when the Raiders are able to establish their run game. Against the Chiefs, the Raiders had over 170 yards on the ground averaging over five yards per carry. This helped Carr get comfortable in the pocket and reduced the pressure around him. Carr’s stellar play with a solid run game is the primary reason why I’m an advocate of making Le’Veon Bell the Raiders top free agent signing this off-season.

The Raiders are going to have a conundrum on Carr in 2019 because he’s not good enough to carry an offense by himself, though if his role is as an elite game manager, is that worth a 2019 cap hit of $22.5 million?

The Raiders are going to have a conundrum on Carr in 2019 because he’s not good enough to carry an offense by himself, though if his role is as an elite game manager, is that worth a 2019 cap hit of $22.5 million? Carr’s place within the Raiders organization will no doubt be the number one topic of conversation during the early portion of this upcoming off-season.

Regardless of who is under center, the Raiders need to improve their personnel at playmaking positions. The Raiders may have scored 33 points yesterday, but to expect that to occur on a regular basis with the bottom of the barrel personnel they have on offense right now would be asinine. Regardless, the overall performance of the offense against Kansas City shows that Jon Gruden’s offense clearly works and looks every part of belonging in the NFL in the present day.

For a large portion of the year, the question has been whether time has past Gruden by. That is the (proverbial) $100 million question. If yesterday is anything to go by, the Raiders are going to be fine once they have some more talent on their roster. They just need to build it and that takes time. Barely a month ago, the Raiders looked to have checked out on Thursday Night Football against the 49ers. Since then, Gruden has pulled the team together and has them once again fighting. Right now, the wins aren’t necessarily going to reflect that but Gruden has prevented anarchy within the Raiders locker room. A head coach who doesn’t have buy-in from their players wouldn’t see their team fighting in a meaningless game in December like Gruden had the Raiders playing yesterday.

The Raiders are going to be the Bay Area and national media laughing stock in themeantimee. But if yesterday is anything to go by, it may just be the Raiders who do indeed have the last laugh.

A Quote to Remember

“Earlier this year, we were made aware of an incident involving running back Kareem Hunt. At that time, the National Football League and law enforcement initiated investigations into the issue. As part of our internal discussions with Kareem, several members of our management team spoke directly to him. Kareem was not truthful in those discussions. The video released today confirms that fact. We are releasing Kareem immediately.”

Kansas City Chiefs public relations statement on former Chiefs RB Kareem Hunt after a video surfaced of him depicting a violent act against a woman.

A Tweet of Amusement

3rd-and-7

3 Predictions:

1. The Steelers will just barely beat the Raiders on Sunday. This game was scheduled for Sunday Night Football, but was flexed out of that slot due to the Raiders poor record. I don’t see how the Raiders defense will stop one of the most explosive offenses in the league. Steelers running back James Conner should be a fantasy lock (provided his lower leg injury doesn’t keep him out), especially given the Raiders have not been able to stop the run all season. This game appears on paper to be very similar to yesterday’s game, so I won’t be surprised to see a similar performance by the Raiders this Sunday. The only caveat: the Steelers will be in a must-win situation given their loss to the Chargers last night.

2. Ben Roethlisberger will throw at least one interception on Sunday. Big Ben gives his opponents half a dozen throws each week that are turnover worthy. The Raiders were in position against the Chiefs to convert on some turnover opportunities, but didn’t make the play.

3. The Raiders will continue to fight. I don’t expect any blowout this week. Gruden has the team fighting for each other, which is somewhat remarkable given such a thought seemed absurd barely a month ago.

7 Things I Think – Break the Internet Edition:

I saw a tweet from an Australian sporting journalist asking their followers what sporting events would have ‘broken the Internet’ had the relevant social media platforms be available at the time of the event itself. So given the monotony of this season, let’s take a look at a few of the more memorable moments Raider Nation has in its history books, which certainly would have ‘broken the internet.’

1. The Tuck Rule

Arguably the most controversial video review in NFL history, the Tuck Rule will forever be a turning point for both the Raiders and the New England Patriots. The fallout from the video review reversing the on-field decision of a Tom Brady fumble, a Greg Biekert recovery and a Raiders win, was truly extraordinary. Gruden was subsequently traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, while the Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl that season, starting the beginning of a dynasty under Brady and head coach Bill Belichick.

2. Bo vs the Boz

Bo Jackson was one of the most athletically gifted players to ever grace a football field. His rare combination of speed and power is still spoken about today as the stuff of a mythical legend. On Monday Night Football, the Los Angeles Raiders faced off against the Seattle Seahawks, whose star linebacker Brian Bosworth was outspoken to claim that Jackson would be nullified. So once the Raiders were goal-to-go, all eyes were on Bo and the Boz. Not only did Jackson truck Bosworth over onto his behind, he went right into the end zone.

3. Bo’s Hip Nightmare

In the divisional round of the 1991 playoffs, Jackson made a dash up the left sideline on a simple running play, only for him to severely injure his hip after staying in bounds to fight for extra yardage. It ended the Raiders Super Bowl aspirations (they lost 51-3 to Buffalo in the AFC Championship Game the following week) and Jackson never played on the gridiron again.

4. 1973 NFL Draft

The Raiders hit a home run with their first round pick in the 1973 draft, but the selection itself would have most definitely ‘broken the internet.’ That selection? None other than Pro Football Hall of Fame punter Ray Guy. After 14 seasons in the Silver and Black, Guy’s selection will forever be remembered as a masterstroke, but it certainly wouldn’t have been seen that way at the time if social media had existed.

5. The Holy Roller

The Raiders have always been considered a love or hate type of renegade. After the Holy Roller in which a number of players fumbled the ball forward to the end zone as time expired, this stereotype only was further ingrained in the Silver and Black’s culture.

6. The Sea of Hands:

Going into the 1974/75 NFL Playoffs, the Miami Dolphins had been to three straight Super Bowls and were destined to reach a fourth. That is, until they saw a Kenny Stabler miracle heave into the endzone, whereby RB Clarence Davis caught the ball for a touchdown amidst a slew of Dolphins defenders. It marked a fitting end for what many considered to be the two best teams in the NFL that season.

7. The Immaculate Reception

If the Tuck Rule was the most controversial video decision, the Immaculate Reception is without a doubt the most controversial decision by NFL referees in the history of the league. It is an absolute shame that the cameras installed for the AFC Championship Game between the Raiders and the Pittsburgh Steelers did not show definitive evidence to corroborate or change any final call on the field; though this only adds to the mystique and intrigue. Had social media existed when Franco Harris caught a deflected pass off the ground before running into the end zone, the Internet at the time would most definitely have been broken.