Five reasons for optimism, and pessimism, after Raiders’ slow start
Raiders can’t afford another loss when they travel to play Titans on SundayBy Case Keefer (contact)
Friday, Sept. 23, 2022 | 2 a.m.
No one with the Raiders is panicking.
The franchise’s most anticipated season in recent memory hasn’t gotten off to the start they anticipated with back-to-back-losses, but there are 15 games left to play and ample opportunities to make a push for the playoffs.
“I think it's important for us to be consistent and try to learn from the things we haven't done well,” Raiders coach Josh McDaniels said. “Whether we won or lost, there's going to be a lot of lessons to learn. Nobody plays a perfect football game, that's almost impossible to think of. We have the same urgency that we've had. We know what we have to do better and what we're trying to accomplish here.”
Not everyone is as calm and collected as McDaniels, especially after witnessing the biggest blown lead in the history of the franchise (20-0) in last week’s 29-23 loss to the Cardinals at Allegiant Stadium. Fans are despondent and even star receiver Davante Adams admitted to “all different levels of frustration.”
“We’ve got to figure it out, and the urgency is definitely there right now,” Adams said. “There’s a lot that went into why we didn’t win that football game this past week.”
The Raiders will need to figure it out in time for their Week 3 kickoff at 10 a.m. Sunday on the road against the Tennessee Titans. The big question is if they’ll be able to pull it off, so let’s investigate.
Here are five reasons to be hopeful for the Raiders’ chances, and five reasons why not to be, as a way to take inventory of where the team stands through two weeks.
Reason for Optimism: The AFC West might not be quite as daunting as advertised anymore.
The Chiefs might be slightly better expected so far — showing little to no ill effects out of losing star receiver Tyreek Hill in a 2-0 start — but the Broncos are unquestionably worse. The Raiders would almost surely be 2-0 if they started with the Broncos’ schedule. The Chargers are also formidable, but the Raiders played them close in a 24-19 Week 1 loss despite a -3 turnover margin and Los Angeles is now dealing with a rib cartilage injury to quarterback Justin Herbert that may linger all season.
Reason for Pessimism: The injuries are already piling up.
Las Vegas is shorthanded going into Week 3, especially on defense. They’ve lost four starters in cornerback Anthony Averett (who’s on injured reserve with a thumb injury), defensive tackle Bilal Nichols (shoulder), linebacker Denzel Perryman (ankle) and safety Tre’von Moehrig (hip). McDaniels praised the Raiders’ depth going into the season, and now it’s time to find out whether those were hollow words or not.
Reason for Optimism: Both quarterback Derek Carr and coach Josh McDaniels promise they’re already “very comfortable” with each other.
That’s the company line at practice this week, and they do have some evidence to back it up. Carr was electric and looked right at home in a 20-0 first half against the Cardinals last week, and also settled in nicely for several drives against the Chargers. He hasn’t put it together for four quarters in the same game yet this season, but there’s no loss of confidence from either coach/playcaller or quarterback that such sustained success is coming.
Reason for Pessimism: It sure doesn’t look like Carr is fully comfortable in McDaniels’ offense yet.
With the aforementioned exceptions, Carr doesn’t appear to be playing as freely and aggressively as he did at his best during winning stretches the last two seasons. He’s looked too mechanical, hesitant even as he’s tried to execute an offense that’s still new to him. There’s precedent to Carr struggling in a complex, foreign offense. Perhaps his worst season since his rookie year came in 2018 when Jon Gruden first took over the franchise. It’s not a perfect parallel because the Raiders have far more talent around him now, but there’s no disputing it sometimes takes quarterbacks extra time to adjust to new systems.
Reason for Optimism: Maxx Crosby continues to play like one of the best defensive players in the league.
The fourth-year edge rusher is right back at the top of the league in pressures where he spent all last season. He ranked third in the NFL with 12 pressures — behind only Myles Garrett and Micah Parsons with 13 apiece – through two weeks according to Pro Football Focus. He’s the undisputed leader of a defense that was respectable a year ago under coordinator Gus Bradley and now could take a leap and become one of the better in the league with coordinator Patrick Graham’s direction.
Reason for Pessimism: Maxx Crosby has only one sack.
The expectation coming into the year was that Crosby’s gaudy pressure numbers from last year (he had 107 total) would start to translate into more sacks (he had 11 last year) this season. That hasn’t happened yet. He brought down Kyler Murray once early in the loss to the Cardinals, but saw the quarterback slip out of his arms or hands on multiple other occasions. A pair of those near-sacks could have all but ended the game and secured victory for the Raiders. Crosby is playing too well not to get paid off for his pass-rushing success sooner or later, but it must be a frustrating trend for him to keep pushing that expectation back.
Reason for Optimism: Raiders may have hit on offseason trade acquisition Rock Ya-Sin at cornerback.
The former Indianapolis Colt cornerback — acquired in a swap for edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue — played every single snap of the Cardinals’ loss, and largely made the most of them. He led the league in Week 2 with three passes defensed, and allowed only one reception for 10 yards on six pass attempts thrown his way, per Pro Football Reference. It’s possible the Raiders acquired the 26-year old Ya-Sin at the perfect time, right as he enters his prime.
Reason for Pessimism: Raiders may have missed on offseason free-agent acquisition Chandler Jones at edge rusher.
It’s possible the Raiders acquired the 32-year-old Jones at an inopportune time, right as the 11-year veteran hits the downside of his career. It’s too early to say definitively, but Jones hasn’t made much of a difference through two weeks. He’s logged four pressures and no sacks. There’s still time to turn it around, but the longer Jones goes without tapping into the skills that have made him an All-Pro in the past, the more his three-year, $51 million deal begins to look like a risky investment.
Reason for Optimism: Las Vegas was in a much more dire situation last year and still navigated its way into the playoffs.
Sitting at 6-7 on the season after a 48-9 blowout loss to the Chiefs last December, the Raiders had below a 5% chance to reach the postseason according to all publicly available projection models. Las Vegas then of course reeled off four straight wins to earn a playoff game at Cincinnati. Even the most pessimistic systems still have Las Vegas around 25% to make the playoffs this year. There are a lot of games left; Las Vegas has fought back from worse.
Reason for Pessimism: It’s rare for a team to bounce back from an 0-2 start to reach the playoffs.
The NFL’s expanded 14-team playoff presumably makes it easier to rebound from an 0-2 start to get into the postseason, but it hasn’t happened yet. No team that started 0-2 in the last two years under the current format reached the postseason. Going back the last 20 years, only 9.6% of teams that started 0-2 reached the playoffs according to ESPN. The playoff rate falls all the way to 1% with an 0-3 start, speaking to the importance of Sunday’s game. The best thing the Raiders can do to provide their fanbase with optimism, and kill off the pessimism, is win at Tennessee.