It’s a short week for the Oakland Raiders — made even shorter by the need for travel to a place that isn’t exactly friendly to them: Denver, CO. The Broncos are coming off of a victory over the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday afternoon and with no travel required of them this week seem to have a major advantage over the Raiders.
For Jon Gruden and company, the short week might be a blessing in disguise as it gives them an opportunity to get the nasty taste out of their mouth from Monday’s night stinker. Then again, if they lose to Denver, that taste is only going to get worse. So, without further ado, five things to watch and one prediction:
1. Derek Carr
Derek Carr wasn’t great on Monday night, but I do think his night was more nuanced that he has been given credit for this week. In the first half? He was fine — he didn’t make mistakes, completed almost all of his passes and had the Raiders in the lead. In fact, the interception in the end zone was on Jared Cook as far as I’m concerned. Carr threw a jump ball up for his 6’5″ tight end and Cook didn’t even make a play on the ball. Was it a perfect pass? No, but it should never have been picked.
The second half, of course, was a completely different story. Carr looked scared and nervous — checking down consistently and throwing the ball away well before he needed to. I think the most terrifying stat of the night was this one:
Amari Cooper averaged 3.61 yards of separation per Derek Carr throw, per @SportradarUS, the eighth-best average in Week 1 among 69 starting receivers. Jordy Nelson right behind him at ninth at 3.59.
— Jimmy Durkin (@Jimmy_Durkin) September 11, 2018
Nelson and Cooper were on average the eighth and ninth most wide open receivers in the league last week, and they combined for four catches and 32 total yards. It’s hard to say that’s on anyone other than Carr — and if the Raiders are going to turn this thing around Sunday, he’s going to need to improve.
2. Cut down the penalties
On Monday night, the Raiders of old were back: 11 penalties for 155 yards — 10 of which came in the first half alone. Kelechi Osemele and Jared Cook led the way with two each, while the offensive line as a group were the biggest offenders being called for five different holding penalties.
In some ways, that’s excusable against a team like the Rams who boast the pass rush they do, but then again, there’s a reason you’re paying Osemele and company so much money: to block and not to hold. The Raiders clearly aren’t a good enough team to overcome shooting themselves in the foot like that, so if they don’t clean things up on Sunday, they might be in trouble.
3. Marquette King is back
Will the Raiders see King in person and regret cutting ties? I doubt it.
King has already taken his shot at Gruden and interestingly enough, he had the exact same punting average as new punter Johnny Townsend did (44.5).
4. Feed the Beast
The energy in the stadium when Marshawn Lynch scored the opening touchdown on Monday night was unlike anything I had seen before. It was as quintessential Raiders as you could imagine: smash-mouth football with Oakland’s own son being crushed into the end zone by a flock of offensive linemen.
And then? Lynch disappeared.
Beast Mode finished with just 11 carries for 41 yards after Jalen Richard took his spot on passing downs as the game became more and more out of reach. In Gruden’s press conference after the game, you got the sense that he’d like Lynch more involved moving forward, so look for a big week for Beast Mode — 15-20 carries — on Sunday.
5. Miller vs. Miller
While the Rams boast one of the best defensive lines in football, rookie left tackle Kolton Miller was fortunate in that Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh both do their damage up the middle. With Von Miller on the docket for Sunday, however, the rookie tackle won’t have it quite as easy.
All things considered, Miller played well Monday night and gave reason for optimism given that it was his first game and on a massive stage. This week, however, will be the true test of how ready (or not ready) he really is. Von Miller had three sacks in Week 1 and will be hungry for more on Sunday.
Prediction: 24-23, Raiders
Last week, I predicted a Raider loss, but this week I think they will rebound. While Monday night’s game was never in doubt, it was closer than the final score indicated considering the Raiders had the ball, down by 13 with about four minutes to go in the game.
While Denver beat Seattle on Sunday, I’m not positive that’s as great of a win as it might seem. I’m still not sold on this Denver team, and I think the Raiders will come out hungry to prove that they’re better than Monday night’s performance indicated.
Above all, this prediction is a double-down on Carr. I think he’s the real deal and that last week was an aberration. If that’s the case and he can rebound for a big week this Sunday, I think the Raiders have enough talent to eek one out on the road.