The Raiders go into the mile-high air of Denver in need of visible improvement over their performance against the Rams.
After falling to the Los Angeles Rams in week one, the Raiders face a difficult AFC West division foe in the Denver Broncos this week, desperate to avoid a 0-2 start.
Here are three things to watch for as the Raiders head into the Mile High city:
Can Derek Carr Bounce Back?
Carr looked every bit a franchise quarterback in the first half of the Monday Night Football opener. The same could not be said for the second half where, at times when he clearly was spooked in the pocket, had difficulty protecting the football.
Of his three interceptions, the first is most concerning because it occurred in the red zone on what was an underthrown ball to tight end Jared Cook. Carr has been overthrowing intermediate and deep routes ever since his return from a broken leg and this needs to be rectified immediately. Additionally, Carr has emphasized the need to remain conservative and just taking what the defense gives him.
That all sounds well and good, but he can’t be conservative in his decision-making and still be turning the ball over three times. Conservative without errors is great because it usually keeps the offense on schedule and in manageable situations. When the turnovers occur, it allows the opposing defense to be the team applying the pressure and that doesn’t bode well for him or the Raiders. It’s way too early to push the panic button on Carr but improvement needs to be seen on Sunday in Denver.
Can the Defense Generate a Pass Rush?
Against the Rams, the pass rush was borderline non-existent. In the first quarter there was a bit of a push, but for the rest of the game, Jared Goff had more than ample time to push the ball deep down the field to his receivers. There have been some personnel changes this week, with Justin Ellis going on injured reserve and the team signing defensive tackles Johnathan Hankins and Clinton McDonald with the hope the acquisitions improve the rush. Oakland badly needs Bruce Irvin to step up and play his best. He’s the leader of the defense now.
The secondary was fine on Monday night. With a better pass rush, this defense has real potential as one of the more stingy units in the league under defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. Lastly, the offense needs to move the ball in the second half this week. That will give the defense some much-needed time to rest. Against Los Angeles, they clearly were gassed in the second half and the Rams were able to do as they pleased. The Broncos offense is nowhere near as proficient as the Rams.
Will Gruden Get Wide Receivers More Involved?
Gruden claimed that the Raiders loved the matchups with the Raiders tight ends and running backs against the Rams linebackers and this was one of the major reasons why Amari Cooper and Jordy Nelson were barely sighted. Gruden did say that Cooper, in particular, was open down the field a few times and for whatever reason, Carr didn’t go that way. There seems a bit of difficulty between Carr and Gruden right now in terms of finding a happy medium of knowing when to be conservative and when is the right time to take a deep shot down the field.
Additionally, Next Gen stats this week showed that both Cooper and Nelson were in the top 10 (out of more than 60 receivers) for average yards of separation on their matchup at the time Carr released every single one of his passes. This despite being matched against Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters. They were open enough to suggest they should have had more balls thrown their way. Chris Harris and Bradley Roby are no slouches at cornerback for the Broncos but Carr needs to force feed his top two targets if the Raiders offense is going to be productive.