Who on the Oakland Raiders is under pressure for Week 1 (pressures) plus some quick thoughts (hurries) as well as some things we may have thought about the team that has not proven to be true (knockdowns) so far.
Hello Raider Nation, and welcome to the first regular season edition of Pressures, Hurries, and Knockdowns. The Oakland Raiders have a lot of hype and expectations coming into this season — unfamiliar territory. Some teams crack under the weight of pressure. But Jack Del Rio, Derek Carr and Khalil Mack have proven formidable leaders in their short tenures and this team seems focused and ready to play some ball.
The pressure is amplified a bit after watching the Kansas City Chiefs last night. They played a solid all-around football game, and Kareem Hunt looks like the real deal as a three-down lead back. Their defense gave some yards but stepped up every time necessary. It’s a terrible shame about Eric Berry. While I acknowledge the competitive advantage it may give the Raiders (or may not), he is a great person, a man who survived cancer and is still an All-Pro in his community and on the field. Tough blow.
On to the Raiders, who have a stiff first test in Tennessee to open the season. The Raiders open as +2.5 point underdogs in most sports books, and this should be a close game. Both teams have young QBs coming off the same injury at the same time and both are being touted as ready to make the leap to the elite.
Another season is upon us, and for once the Raiders are expected to win by people outside of Raider Nation. That puts a lot of pressure on a young team, particularly one dealing with some nagging injuries and with question marks on the defensive side of the ball. Two AFC powerhouses slugged it out last night and both looked very good at times. The Raiders will need every ounce of talent and skill they have to fight for the AFC West title, and it must begin on Sunday with a good opening effort.
The whole team is under pressure to start a season with high expectations out right, but who feels it most? That, plus a few quick points and some things about this team we thought that may not be the case.
This is a no-brainer. If you know anything about the Raiders, they have a talented, versatile offense that can score at will. You also know they have a defense that let’s their opponents move the ball and pretty much score at will.
Well, it’s time for the defense to start pulling their weight. And not just Mr. Mack. The entire defense.
The Titans love to play old-school smashmouth football. They have their big nasties on the line, flanked by Jack Conklin and Taylor Lewan, and excel at punching it through with DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry. The no. 3 ranked run offense in the NFL in 2016, look for them to come after the Raiders early and often on the ground. The Raiders, ranked 23rd in run defense in 2016, did little to bolster their front seven in regards to stopping the run, at least on paper.
The two rookie defensive tackles, Eddie Vanderdoes and Treyvon Hester, are both more comfortable and adept at rushing the passer. Justin Ellis is a solid nose and played well in the preseason, but Marquel Lee is another rookie at middle linebacker. He’s flanked by Bruce Irvin, who will play most of his snaps on the edge rather than in space, and Cory James, a solid tackler who could develop into a great player but has a ways to go regarding pursuit angles and diagnosing plays faster.
The linebacking corps has Raiders fans and media alike scratching their heads and pondering potential disaster. That isn’t good for a team with real Super Bowl aspirations. No position group on a contender should be this unstable or shallow.
Many expect Marcus Mariota to make the leap from good to great this season. A promising 2016 was soured by a broken leg on the same day Carr’s leg was broken against Indy, making the two irrevocably tied together forever. Mariota excels in the red zone, where he is the highest rated passer in the NFL since 2015. His arm talent, combined with his football IQ and athleticism in read option plays, make him incredibly dangerous and versatile.
The Raiders were last in the NFL in sacks last season despite having Mack and Irvin (combined 18 sacks) on the edges. That puts a lot of pressure on a secondary that did not look good in the preseason and still awaits the debut of first-round pick Gareon Conley.
T.J. Carrie struggled mightily both in slot — ask Cooper Kupp — and on the outside during the preseason. David Amerson was good as usual when he played but suffered a scary concussion in the third preseason game. All indications are that he’s fine.
Sean Smith, perhaps distracted by his family situation, looked slow, lost and lethargic throughout most of the preseason. Second round pick Obi Melifonwu is sidelined until at least Week 9 with a knee injury.
Reggie Nelson, though named captain, looks slower than ever and his tank is clearly emptying. Shalom Luani, a 7th round pick, has been a bright spot and may yet steal some reps from Nelson. The kid is always around the ball and is a solid tackler and has shown great chops on special teams.
Karl Joseph made some big hits in the preseason but is still adjusting to NFL coverage challenges. Joseph is almost there but he’s still a little tentative at times, and it’s cost him in coverage. He’s rounding into an excellent player and the more time removed from his knee injury, the more aggressive he’ll continue to be.
This is a defense that is young in the wrong spots, aging at others, and lacking in overall continuity. Ken Norton Jr. continues to be an issue as the players are routinely lined up incorrectly pre-snap, fail to adjust when they are, and have little to no communication on backfield motion, audibles or offensive shifts. Gap discipline in the run game is still a problem. Middle of the field coverage is a massive problem. Luckily, it seems John Pagano is taking a more active role in the defense and hopefully will help clean up mental mistakes.
This defense is under enormous pressure. With Marshawn Lynch and Jared Cook added to an already talented and explosive offense, scoring points will not be a problem. The offense will take this team far — but the defense will be the one to either hold it back or put it over the top.
Every eyepatch in Raider Nation is on this defense to see if they can hold water for the offense and give the team a fighting chance to win each game. If the offense is asked to score 30+ points per game, it’s reasonable to think with this schedule they may falter somewhat. If the defense can play at even a passable level, then this team should have success. It starts this weekend, and either serenity or panic will flood the hearts and minds of every Raider fan depending on the play of the defense.
He’s Beast Mode, so it’s all goodbaby. Still, he hasn’t played since 2015 and was looking a little on the decline when he called it quits.
He doesn’t now, looking like the old explosive, angry Beast running in both practice and limited preseason action. He’s back in his hometown of Oakland, where he’s in his element helping the kids and the community. The Beast is a happy man and the team and Raider Nation happy to have him. He’s ’bout that action, boss – and he shows it. He looks locked and loaded and ready to feast.
So what could go wrong?
He could look terrible, that’s what. I don’t expect that to happen, but if it does panic along the lines of a poor defensive performance may ensue. Granted, there is still Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington to take up slack if that happens.
But everyone is invested in Beast Mode and his success with the Raiders. It’s a feel-good story, a prodigal son returning just at the right time type of story. It’s Hollywood-esque.
So Beast is under pressure to come out and Beast, because it’s what has to happen.
- Don’t want to harp on this too much, but Kareem Hunt was special last night. It’s not many players, let alone rookies, that can fumble like that and bounce back for a monumental game. Powerful and decisive as a runner, elusive and shift as a pass-catcher, and willing to stay in and block for his QB. This kid has a bright future.
- The Raiders must beat the Chiefs if they want to take the next step. Kansas City owns the Raiders in Carr’s tenure, and until that monkey is off his back they will always stand in the way. Last night’s performance served notice they aren’t going anywhere and will be a tough out this year
- The Patriots, on the other hand, looked a little strange. Brady alluded to it post-game, saying they were not competitive or intense. It did seem that way. After Brady was sacked on consecutive plays in the fourth quarter, they just seemed to give up. Not the Patriots we’re used to seeing — and likely won’t see them again. Still, they looked vulnerable. So much for an undefeated season.
- It may be bad luck – although he made the conscious choice twice — but Reggie McKenzie just can’t nail down an early round defensive back.
- McKenzie’s first first-rounder, D.J. Hayden, struggled mightily before moving on to Detroit. Hayden was drafted despite suffering a life-threatening injury his final season at Houston. Karl Joseph came into his rookie season rehabbing a serious knee injury and never quite felt comfortable or rounded into form. Gareon Conley hasn’t seen the field yet, though apparently he’s getting closer. Obi Melifonwu was just placed on IR, designated to return.
- That’s four first or second round DBs who have all underperformed or not performed at all and who have all been injured to start their NFL career. Maybe he should just wait until the 6th or 7th round to draft a DB — it’s worked out better for him.
The Raiders will sign a linebacker
Unless you count Xavier Woodson-Luster, that hasn’t happened. With Melifonwu and Denver Kirkland starting the season on IR, the Raiders signed Woodson-Luster and safety Erik Harris to take their spots. XWL is not the linebacker from the preseason cut list I wish was back on this roster. But options are limited.
That’s because they foolishly cut LaTroy Lewis and he peaced out to the Houston Texans rather than sign to the Raiders practice squad. Perry Riley is still out there. Few serviceable veterans were released and available on the market after the cut down to a 53-man roster. Scooby Wright’s name was tossed around, but he’s just been re-signed by the Cardinals. Not what the Raiders need anyway.
Riley still looks like the best option on the market right now, though the Raiders seem content to roll with Lee and let the kid learn on the job. He showed flashes of talent in the preseason, but had a penchant for being walled off too easily and when he was free, over running plays and being out of position.
DeAndre Levy is out there and was elite not long ago, but has suffered catastrophic knee injuries and just had another surgery in April. He’s not game-ready and the chances of the once-great Lion returning to full health are slim.
There just aren’t that many options out there. Ben Boulware was an intriguing prospect coming out of Clemson but has signed across the Bay with the Niners.
Still, the Raiders can’t go into the season with just Irvin, Lee, James, rookie Nicholas Morrow and second-year man Tyrell Adams can they? James Cowser is listed as the backup to Irvin — both players played predominantly on the edge last season. Lee, James, Morrow and Adams are the only pure linebackers on the roster. They have a combined two years of NFL experience.
We all thought they’d sign someone by now. They haven’t. No time to do so and get someone ready for Sunday now. It’s a very bold — and foolish, frankly — move to enter the realm of such a smashmouth rush offense with so little in the middle. Delanie Walker is a formidable tight end as well. Time to see what the kids have got.
It’s back, football is here again! Last year was a pleasant surprise. After many dark years throughout the 2000’s the Raiders are moving back to glory and success. It all starts Sunday in Tennessee. It’s imperative the team get off to a good start to gain confidence and get the season rolling right. Especially after the Chiefs won last night.
This team has a lot of talent, but more questions than you’d like from a contender. Hopefully some get answered positively Sunday.