Who on the Oakland Raiders is under pressure for Week 2 (pressures) plus some quick thoughts (hurries) as well as some things we may have thought about the team that has proven not to be true (knockdowns) so far.
The Oakland Raiders victory in Tennessee was a nice way to open the season. The defense played better than expected, the offense efficient with room for improvement and special teams were lights-out. Giorgio!!
With the rebuilding — nah, flat-out tanking — Jets coming to town on Sunday for the home opener, the Raiders have a great chance to start 2-0 for the first time since their Super Bowl year of 2002.
Man, just typing that — for the first time in 16 seasons! Holy mama that’s a long time.
The AFC West is shaping up to be a very competitive and difficult division. Teams will need every win to compete and perceived gimmes like this one are essential.
Though the Jets are bad, it’s important the Raiders don’t look past them and bring their “A” game this weekend. Because though they are bad, the Jets still have formidable talent on defense. The Raiders must remember that in the NFL, any given Sunday still applies.
With that in mind, let’s get right to the pressures on the team this weekend. The defense — pressure candidates Sean Smith and Marquel Lee, in particular — played well enough to stay out of the pressures section this week. It’s tough to find a particular player under pressure, though there are definitely some intriguing matchups in this game.
Where does the pressure lie this weekend? Plus, some quick-hit thoughts in Hurries and a little bit of crow in Knockdowns.
As I said it’s tough to find a particular player under pressure this specific weekend. The Jets offer little on the offensive side of the ball, and the Raiders defense showed in Tennessee that they are better than people thought. Of course improving on putrid, which was the overall consensus amid the coronary Raider Nation was having in the offseason, isn’t that difficult.
But the defense looked solid. The rookies really showed up. Shalom Luani didn’t play any defensive snaps, but recovered the on-side kick to start the game off right. Eddie Vanderdoes was a bulldozer all day, routinely pushing the pocket and getting pressure on Mariota. Though “Jelly” Ellis got the sack, Vanderdoes was the catalyst, as you can see:
Eddie Vanderdoes splits the double and forces a sack. What a steal in the 3rd round. pic.twitter.com/C31JStm77O
— Chris Reed (@LVRaidersreview) September 11, 2017
And of course there’s his now-famous pancaking of Jack Conklin. Looks like the kid is for real and could be a 3rd round steal. Marquel Lee also played refreshingly well — but more on him later.
The offense was stagnant at times, Coop still has some dropsies, and points got left behind. But Jared Cook and Marshawn Lynch both showed they’re going to be hell to handle. The Beast is as advertised and the closer this team needs. The offense wasn’t the concern, and now after the defense showed out in Tennessee, particularly in the second half when it really counted, expectations are very high.
Like the Raiders are going to beat the Jets 50-3 high. So let’s slow down a bit.
The Raiders are young and inexperienced in regards to heavy expectations. Starting 2-0 is good. Since 1978, 66.8% of teams that start 2-0 make the playoffs, per an article by Rich Eisen. Starting 1-1 isn’t so bad, but 2-0 is far better. Teams that start 1-1 only have a 41% chance of making the playoffs.
This team expects a lot from themselves. Jack Del Rio isn’t one for hyperbole or effusive praise, so you can bet he’s got the team focused and ready for the Jets. As the coach said in a media session Wednesday:
“Our motto is to basically respect every opponent but fear nobody. I got asked by the New York media a little bit about their team and the spread. Those things mean nothing to us. It’s about playing the game, it’s about understanding the challenges that you face. It’s about recognizing the talent in front of you. Strengths and weaknesses and going after them and preparing accordingly … That’s how we’ll approach the week.”
It’s difficult as a young team to be labeled a favourite and then have your play validate that, and not feel supremely confident. But the Raiders have a great mix of young and veteran leaders to ensure focus is kept.
Derek Carr, Khalil Mack and company routinely talk about focus and blocking outside noise. I believe they’re good at this. But it’s hard to ignore how much better the Raiders are on paper than the Jets. The Raiders open this game as heavy favorites, as JDR previously alluded to:
#Raiders open as 13.5 point favorite vs Jets. Biggest line for Oak since -18 in 28-21 win came Dallas 10/07/01
— Josh Dubow (@JoshDubowAP) September 11, 2017
This team definitely faced pressure last season, so this is nothing new. Nor is facing the Jets in Week 2 at home anything like a road playoff game with your backup QB in Houston. But with the weight of offseason expectations amplified by the overall play of the team in Tennessee, they’re under pressure to ensure they do not take the Jets lightly and look past them.
The Raiders go into Washington next Sunday night for a primetime game on the road. Then, they travel to Denver in Week 4 for a matchup against the hated Broncos. Looking past a pedestrian Jets squad, who ran only 55 offensive plays against the Bills (for a 3.9 YPC average), netted 214 yards and gained 11 first downs, is distinctly possible. And extremely dangerous.
- Mentioned Vanderdoes earlier, but one thing we didn’t really see in Tennessee was his patented spin move. He fancies himself an interior Dwight Freeney, to the point where @RaidersAnalysis gave him the nickname “Vandernado.” Well, expect the Vandernado to spin right past the aging Brian Winters for his first career sack this weekend.
- The Jets offense is terrible, and they just lost their top two TE’s to injury. But the defense still has some horses. Demario Davis and Darron Lee brought a lot of pressure from the linebacker position in the Buffalo game, and Jamal Adams looks like the real deal at saftey. Leonard Williams is a man. Mo Wilkerson is still there (to his joy, I’m sure). They didn’t let the Bills blow them out despite being on the field more than half the game. Those expecting a Raiders offensive explosion should temper those expectations against a defense that is still talented and well-coached by Todd Bowles.
- Gareon Conley has fully practiced the past two days and is hoping to make his regular season debut against the Jets. That’s good, because now Sean Smith missed practice on Thursday. Everyone is excited to see what Conley can finally do in a Raiders uniform, considering he hasn’t yet got that chance at all. Against Josh McCown, who threw two picks last weekend. Could be a nice start for the rookie.
- Josh McCown comes back to Oakland to play his former team in one of the most unremarkable returns ever played. There is zero talk of revenge factor from either side, and McCown is simply too nice of a guy and too pedestrian a quarterback to get overly riled up about.
- The Bills only managed to sack McCown once, and the Raiders only sacked Mariota once. Does this mean the Raiders are in line for only one sack? Heck no. Mack would’ve added a strip-sack to his total if not for Irvin jumping offside, and they routinely pressured Mariota all day. The sacks are coming and with McCown’s mobility lesser than it once was they are coming at least four times Sunday.
The defense is worrisome, particularly at linebacker
It’s rare in life when being wrong is a happy thing, but this section of the column finds that happening frequently. This week we knockdown my own opinion on this defense. Specifically that it is pedestrian at best and the linebackers big question marks. Basically, everything from 2016 only worse because more rookies and no veteran presence in the middle.
Well, Cory James, take a bow. I’ve always been a James fan and he was a beast on Sunday. Wearing the green dot, he ran the defense with confidence. James routinely called out pre-snap adjustments and repositioned teammates based on offensive scheme and motion. James had only four tackles but was a presence all day and part of the reason the Raiders run defense was so effective. He looks to be one of the answers at linebacker.
Could rookie Marquel Lee be another? Lee played quite well against the Titans, particularly solid in the run game. Delanie Walker had 7 catches, but at 76 yards was under 10 yards per, and Titans backs only had 2 catches for 16 yards. The middle of the field was defended well. Cory James is a huge part of that and will be throughout the season. He and Lee played well together, and Lee ended as the 3rd rated rookie LB per PFF:
These rookie LBs made a splash in their NFL debuts pic.twitter.com/NvOdG5aJfp
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) September 14, 2017
Karl Joseph is really coming into his own the further removed he is from his knee injury. As he showed against Tennessee he’s not afraid to stick his nose in the run game and hit-stick someone. The athleticism and reaction he showed in breaking up that touchdown pass was fantastic.
Sean Smith and David Amerson both played very well. A few of the catches Rishard Mathews made were simply great plays against perfect defense. The Raiders fought for every play and brought far more mental and physical intensity than expected to the defensive side of the ball.
This bodes well moving forward. I expected this game to get into a shootout, and the Titans to score a minimum of 24 points and gain a minim of 400 yards. With about 150 of those on the ground. Instead, this defense stepped up, particularly in the second half, and held the Titans to 350 total yards, with 95 on the ground.
Playing the Jets, who’s offensive woes I outlined above, will not be as stern of a test. Holding Tennessee to 16 points on their home field is impressive. The Jets mustered 12 against the Bills.
All offseason and into the Tennessee game the defense listened to talk of how they’d ruin this team. How the offense needed to score 40 to win. So they proved otherwise. They’ve definitely gained confidence since Week 1. Expect them to want to come out and show everyone that they are capable of making big plays to carry this team as well.
After shutting up most people in Week 1, I wouldn’t expect a let down performance in Week 2. Mack, Joseph, Nelson and co. have far too much pride for that, as they’ve already shown. However it is only one week.
It’s going to take consistency week in and out for a while to truly believe in this unit. There is no reason to believe they’ve morphed into the ’00 Ravens. There were early problems on third down, only one sack, and no turnovers. But there can be no question that for one week at least they’ve exceeded expectations and look to be capable of cementing this as a dangerous overall team.
The Raiders should be up and rocking for their 2017 home-opener on Sunday. The Jets are the perfect opponent. A traditional rival that should provide a decent test from their defense but ultimately give little challenge. Expect the Raiders to be 2-0 and ready to roll into Washington with full confidence next Sunday night.