2017 has not been kind to the Oakland Raiders. What started off as a sure-fire trip to the Super Bowl has turned into one discouraging slip-up after another.
The Raiders came out of the 2016 season having lost their first playoff game since 2002 and their franchise quarterback to a broken leg. After one of the most exciting seasons in over a decade, fate had pulled the rug out from under Raider Nation.
But like all bad dreams, the misery came to an end. Oakland had a productive off-season; acquiring hometown hero, Marshawn Lynch, and bolstering their porous secondary with much-needed talent through the draft.
It would seem that the Raiders had made it through the fog without as much as a scratch. With a roster built to compete in the difficult AFC West, Oakland opened the 2017 season as a favorite to win it all.
Then something happened. After two impressive, relatively easy victories, the Raiders came back to Earth.
The Early Decline Of The Oakland Raiders
The Decline Of Derek Carr
This has more to do with Derek Carr’s production than his injury, and that is much more concerning. The Raiders will go as Carr goes, and over the last three weeks, he seems to be stuck in fourth gear.
Carr is the unquestioned leader in Oakland. His dedication to his craft is infectious and his leadership is undeniable.
In his last complete game against the Redskins, Carr looked pedestrian at best. He failed to move the offense against a middle-of-the-road defense and tossed two interceptions in a losing effort.
Carr went down with a back injury during the Raiders week four loss to the Denver Broncos and missed the week five loss because of it.
The injury to his back is a major issue, but his play before that is a problem. If the Raiders are going to pull themselves out of this funk, Carr is going to need to be better than he has been.
Amari Cooper Lost
When one of the most talented wide receivers in recent history is reduced to a third option, something is wrong. Amari Cooper has been as quiet as a church mouse and has played uninspiring football thus far.
Through five games Cooper has thirteen receptions for 118 yards and one touchdown. That is a far cry from the 26 receptions, 456 yards and one score over the same span in 2016.
So what changed? The team is the same, the pass-first philosophy is the same, and even the home/away split is the same. Cooper’s drop in play could be tied to the stagnant play of Carr, or the reliability of fellow wide-out, Michael Crabtree; at this point, it’s anyone’s guess.
One thing is certain, however, the Raiders need Cooper to be the athlete everyone knows he is. He needs to cut down on his drops (7), and fight for the 50/50 balls that are thrown his way.
The Raiders receiving corps is one of the best in the league. But without Cooper playing at his best, the Raiders will have an uphill battle the rest of the season.
O-Line Not Delivering
This comes down to one thing, sacks. The Raiders have allowed 12 sacks through 5 games this year; they had a total of 18 for the entire 2016 season.
That is not OK, especially if your quarterback suffers major injuries when hit. Carr missed the conclusion of the 2016 season, including the playoffs because of a broken leg sustained while being sacked. He has missed one and a half games this year because of a fracture in his back due to a sack.
The O-line must play better, period. If this unit can’t keep defenders off Carr, the Raiders are in for a long season. With Von Miller, Joey Bosa and Justin Houston patrolling the line of scrimmage in the AFC West, a quality O-line is literally worth its weight in gold.