Raiders Still Trying to Find Identity After 2-1 Start

Elias Trejo – Sep 26, 2016

The Oakland Raiders have started their season 2-1 after defeating the Tennessee Titans this Sunday. Each of their games have been decided by seven points or less. Their two wins have come on the road and their only loss was at home. The Raiders have another road game next Sunday against the 3-0 Baltimore Ravens and that will be a true test to see what this team is really made of and who they really are. This is what we know so far. 

Quarterback Play is For Real

There was a moment in time when Carr was being compared to other young quarterbacks like Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater, Jameis Winston and others. It might be time to start comparing Carr to the next tier of quarterbacks like Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Eli Manning and Andrew Luck. Carr has arrived and he is positioning himself as not only one of the best young quarterbacks in the league, but he is also playing like one of the best overall quarterbacks in the league. 

Carr is completing just over 66% of his passes and has five touchdowns and only one interception. Carr has managed to take care of the football while also taking risks and making throws that many other quarterbacks can't make. His quick release and mastery of the game also makes him a hard quarterback to sack. If his receivers can hold on to the ball and if he can survive having a revolving door at right tackle, Carr may be able to put together another Pro Bowl type season. With Carr under center the Raiders appear to have a shot at winning any game on their schedule. 

Running Game Looks to Stay Fresh

The running game is perhaps one of the most improved aspects of the Raiders game so far this year. After three games the Raiders are currently the second best rushing attack in the league. What makes this season different is the fact that Latavius Murray has help in the backfield. Jalen Richard and Deandre Washington have provided a much needed spark in the running game. Murray still leads the team in rushing yards, attempts and rushing touchdowns. He also leads all running backs in receptions and total yards so Murray is still the "featured back."

The Raiders offensive line is also a huge factor in the Raiders running success. Despite already dealing with multiple injuries along the offensive line, the Raiders have done very well thanks to Mike Tice and the veterans that were brought in by Reggie Mckenzie. For the Raiders to stay relevant and have a shot at the playoffs the running game will have to continue kicking ass. Currently, the coaches appear to be riding the hot hand behind Murray. Against the Titans, Washington has more carries than Richard, but Richard still has more yards than Washington. Overall, this Raiders running game appears to be more loaded than it's been in a long time. 

Wide Receivers

Carr has his two favorite targets in Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper. Cooper has received 29 targets so far this year and Crabtree has received 25. Crabtree, up to this point, has been the most efficient with his targets and he has hauled in 76% of his targets vs Cooper's 51.7%. Beyond these two guys the Raiders most heavily targeted players in the passing game are Seth Roberts and Clive Walford. Roberts actually leads the team with two receiving touchdowns while no other player has more than one touchdown catch.

Up to now, the receivers have been a strength for the Raiders despite several key drops. The Raiders have a top 10 passing attack in the league after three games. They are the only team in the NFL to have a top 10 rushing and passing attack after three games. The offense isn't really the issue for the Raiders after three weeks. They appear to be able to keep up with any team whether their opponent is scoring 35 points or just 10 points. 


Defensive Line

The defensive line right now has to be one of the most disappointing units on the team. Led by Khalil Mack, the Raiders defense has struggled to hold other teams in check. They did hold the Titans to only 10 points, but Tennessee isn't exactly an offense that scares anyone. The Titans rushed for 181 total yards against the Raiders but were unable to get anything going in the air. The Raiders defensive line was unable to make a major impact on the game. Mack is an elite player but up to this point in the season we haven't seen the type of plays from an elite player that you would like to see and that may be because Mack needs more help.

The reality is the Raiders need more help from their defensive line. Up to this point, there hasn't been enough pressure or game changing plays from the interior of the defensive line and on the opposite side of Mack. Until someone else can show that they can make an impact, other teams will continue to take Mack out of games. The Raiders can't afford to wait until Mario Edwards Jr. comes back in the middle of the season. Someone else has to step up and make a difference before this defense becomes a force. It starts in the trenches for the Raiders. If they can be dominant up front, the rest of the defense will have an easier time. 

Linebackers

This is a unit that is already seeing line up changes. Bruce Irvin was a solid pick up and you are seeing the Raiders depend heavily on his play, but he can't do it alone. Malcolm Smith, Ben Heeney, Cory James and company need to do better. James, a 6th round pick for the Raiders in 2016, has already earned a starting spot three games into the season. The question is, did he earn it because he is that good or are the rest of the linebackers that bad? The first two games were historically bad for the Raiders, but the third game did look much better. 

Currently the Raiders are allowing a league high of 476 yards per game after three weeks. The worst teeam in the league last year allowed 420 yards per game. Yards aren't the only stats that matter though, after all the Raiders do have a winning record after 3 games. They are allowing 26.3 points per game, which is 10th worst in the league, so I guess it could be worse for the Raiders. For Oakland to improve, the linebackers need to improve on their coverage and their ability to get to the quarterback. 

Secondary

The Raiders secodary looked a lot better on Sunday. Now they weren't facing an offense with the type of talent that the Falcons and Saints had, but you can't hold that against them. They came out and did what they were supposed to do against an offense that in all reality isn't very good. Marcus Mariota is not Drew Brees or Matt Ryan and the Raiders defense took advantage. Creating three turnovers and getting a crucial stop in the final seconds of the game was a big step for the confidence of this defense. Sean Smith came away with an interception and so did Reggie Nelson. That's what these guys were brought in to do. 

In the previous two games the secondary was a big reason the Raiders had one of the worst statistcal defensive starts in NFL history. This week it was different as the rookie, Karl Joseph, started and led the team in tackles. It was the perfect game for Joseph to start before he faces a real quarterback like Joe Flacco. Perhaps this was the plan for the Raiders coaches all along as they waited for a more favorable match up to let the rookie get his feet wet. Flacco wil be a bigger challenge for this Raiders secondary compared to Mariota. If the Raiders can build off of this defensive performance, they may be able to come away with a win in Baltimore. 

Who Are the 2016 Oakland Raiders? 

Up to now this team has shown the ability to play at the same level of their competition. It doesn't matter whether they play away or at home, their performance is really dictated by how the other team plays. This is where the team needs to change. They need to be the team that sets the tone and the team that dictates what kind of game it will be. The Saints and Falcons do better when they find themselves in shootouts. The Titans do better when they can grind out low scoring games. The Raiders played exactly the type of games their opponents need to be in. 

The Ravens haven't played a very good team yet as their opponents have a combined record of 1-8. This game is a very winnable game for the Raiders. They must take control of the pace of the game and put up points early. A 3-1 start to the season would be huge for the Raiders considering their start hasn't been pretty and has featured 3 games on the road. 



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