The Oakland Raiders did something both shocking and kind of expected this year when they replaced head coach Jack Del Rio with longtime Monday Night Football commentator (and former Super Bowl-winning head coach) Jon Gruden. Any positive results from the hiring were not expected to be immediate, but through five games, this has to be close to the worst case scenario.
The Raiders are 1-4 with DVOA’s 29th-ranked defense and an offense that has already seen Derek Carr throw eight interceptions.
Hope for Oakland’s future (aka Las Vegas’s future) really seems to lie in the moves they make in 2019, including their additional first round pick that they received from the Chicago Bears in the Khalil Mack trade. The Raiders will probably be looking to spend money to improve the pass rush (now the worst in the league without Mack) and generally start fixing a lot of weak areas that have gotten them to this point. Can they beat the Seattle Seahawks in London this Sunday? Absolutely. But this is still probably the worst team the Seahawks have seen so far, and I think everyone kinda knows that.
To get a better idea of what has gone right and wrong this year, I sent five Qs to Levi Damien of Silver and Black Pride and in kind he sent me five corresponding As.
Q: Which five players do you expect to start on the offensive line on Sunday and what are the biggest concerns among those players?
A: From left to right it should be rookie top pick Kolton Miller, reserve interior lineman Jon Feliciano, Rodney Hudson, Gabe Jackson, and rookie third round pick Brandon Parker. Miller is probably the biggest concern in the bunch. He has a leg injury that caused him to give up three sacks last week against the Chargers. Not having Kelechi Osemele next to him doesn’t help matters at all and that position is a concern as well because Osemele is a great run blocker that is hard to replace. Brandon Parker will be starting his second game at right tackle. He did ok last week -- giving up a couple pressures, a hit, and a run stuff -- but the Chargers have just Melvin Ingram as their top pass rusher and he was busy feasting on Miller on the other side a lot of the time.
Q: The Raiders caught some flak for trading Khalil Mack instead of re-signing him, but they did add two first round picks (with some other picks changing hands); how would you most like to see them use the picks? As in, what are the big needs, or do you think they should do whatever they need to do (trade up if necessary) to find a different franchise QB other than Derek Carr?
A: Well, pass rusher. They lost the best pass rusher in the league and have been the worst pass rushing team without him. They desperately need to try and replace some of his pass rush. Nick Bosa’s name gets thrown around a lot. Obviously the Raiders would have to continue in their current trajectory so they would have a high enough pick to get him.
As far as Carr is concerned, it seems like he might get more than just this season to show whether he can get Gruden’s system down before the team dumps him. But if he doesn’t start showing progress and can’t put the team on his back to pull out a few more wins, looking for another QB could be a consideration. Though Gruden’s track record with scouting young quarterbacks has been pretty terrible.
Q: Oakland is 1-4 and Jon Gruden catches heat every time they lose, but what do you like about Gruden’s first year back at the helm? What are the positives to come out of this offseason and season so far?
A: The offseason things looked great. The players all seemed to respect him, training camp was high energy and competitive, and the chemistry between he and Carr looked well ahead of schedule. Where he has not done well in personnel decisions. The draft was a whirlwind of trades up and down and in each case, the Raiders seemed to get screwed with compensation. The draft day trades for Martavis Bryant and Ryan Switzer both turned out to be duds and then of course the insanely stupid trade of Khalil Mack when re-signing him should have been priority number one when he was hired as head coach. He’s also an offensive minded head coach, so he doesn’t see the same value in defensive players -- hence why the Raiders have arguably the worst defense in the league -- which is ironic considering he won his only Super Bowl with the great defense Tony Dungy assembled in Tampa.
Q: Do you think the Raiders are capable of playing better than they have so far? Like do you expect better things as players get healthy or as they figure out Gruden’s system and that type of thing ... or do you think this is just the team that they are in 2018 and that they might go 4-12 or worse? What would be a successful season for them?
A: I believe they’ll flare up and have a few good games this season, but they are what their record suggests. The offense is inconsistent and the defense is consistently awful. The defense is comprised of rookies and aged veterans. There is very little real talent and very few players in their prime on the defense. I predicted 6-10 this season and I am sticking with that (cuz that’s what a prediction is), but in order to get even that record, they will have to beat up on the 1-4 teams they have coming up on their schedule while stealing a couple others. They face three 1-4 teams in their next four games after the Seahawks. After that their schedule is downright brutal.
Q: Have you heard of Michael Dickson?
A: A bit. He’s the rookie who is one of the best punters in the league already which everyone could tell he would be because he was the best punter in the country, right? Meanwhile Raiders rookie punter (the third one taken in the draft) has been among the worst in the league. And of course the Raiders claimed Johnny Townsend was the guy they targeted in the draft all along.