The sixth edition of a bi-weekly series that will discuss the current state of the Oakland Raiders, in regard to any news or happenings that are relevant to the team.
Optimistic and realistic viewpoints aren’t exactly an oil/water mix, but they do struggle to coexist sometimes. You can certainly have hope without being blind to the facts, and the lines between intuition, suspicion and speculation become blurrier and blurrier the more invested you are emotionally. Back in October, when the Oakland Raiders were fumbling between 2-3 games under .500 and a large contingent of the Nation was ready to pitch in the towel on the whole year, I tried to calmly explain that there was more than enough time for the course of the NFL season to fully develop.
Sure enough, the hated Chiefs, who were deemed Super Bowl-bound after the first five games of the season, lost five of their next six over the course of the next two months, and the conference as a whole seemed far more wide-open than it did before the start of the season, becoming more of a raucous dogfight of mediocrity as the year progressed. The Raiders, as moribund as their performance had been almost all season, were in position to control their own destiny in terms of reaching the postseason.
That fact alone was almost enough for some to begin to overlook the absolutely atrocious way this Raiders’ team approaches the game of football. A co-worker tried to convince me they were primed to go on a run.
“The defensive line is getting pressure now! Marshawn is running strong!”
But I wasn’t even remotely fooled for a second. Drinking that Kool-Aid would mean ignoring the fact that Derek Carr is playing quarterback like he’s working in an assembly line — simply throwing the ball as a function of his designed role within the organization, but with no real purpose or creativity.
It would mean simply shrugging one’s shoulders at an offensive line that doesn’t seem to be able to push anybody in any direction at any point in time. And it would mean placing faith in the likes of Dexter McDonald and Sean Smith and the cardboard box in a dreadlock wig that we’ve named “Reggie Nelson” to defend receivers and tight ends with any sort of efficacy.
The 2017 Raiders are perhaps the only team I can remember that have won begrudgingly, as though they were having victory forced upon them because the opposing team was simply too terrible or indifferent to offer up much resistance. They don’t do anything collectively with confidence or assuredness. They play as though the outcome of the game doesn’t make any real difference to them. They play like a team that has lost all trust in its leadership, and is simply waiting for Week 17 to come and go and mercifully usher them into the latter half of winter, for a much-needed vacation from a demanding boss at a job you hate.
Jack Del Rio’s persistent refusal to show any sense of accountability is undoubtedly going to be his undoing. That was never more apparent than after he finally and unceremoniously fired Ken Norton Junior; my own personal assessment is that the players’ negative reaction was less about their reverence for Norton as a person or his acumen as a coordinator, and more about his serving as the fall guy for Del Rio’s own ineptitude.
Thus, beyond the surface, the same axe looming over Todd Downing’s head isn’t much cause for celebration. That type of mistrust, once bred in a locker room, and especially in one with strong personalities like Marshawn Lynch and Bruce Irvin, is difficult if not outright impossible to eradicate. Even if the offensive players don’t feel nearly as strongly about Downing as the defense felt about Norton, they’re smart enough to know that the issues start at the top, and that Del Rio, in some form or fashion, has hands in the unit’s failure.
Moreover, it means putting faith in a guy who hired said coordinators to begin with to suddenly hire guys with more competency than them. The common thread that Musgrave, Downing and Norton all shared — unproven or unheralded guys looking to make their mark — doesn’t strike me as coincidental.
The great irony in all of this is that as the organization smolders from within, circumstances around the league have all but provided the Raiders a clean path to the postseason. Things are definitively murkier now with the loss to Kansas City, but should the Raiders win their last three games at home against a similarly-sputtering Cowboys squad, a Wentz-less Eagles team that’s clinched their division and may be looking to rest starters, and find a way to make things ugly against the surging Chargers in what will certainly be a de facto home game at the end of the season, they’ll be in good position to snatch a postseason berth right out of the threshold of hell.
The key to balancing optimism and realism is honesty. As long as you’re real with yourself and what the situation is, your level of hope and expectations will remain checked, and you can free yourself from the burden of disappointment and devastation when things don’t pan as you would’ve liked them to.
So the question you must ask yourself as it pertains to the 2017 Raiders, with three games left in the season and all you know about who this team currently is and how they play: how do you honestly want to see this season to end? Whether you’re still clinging to the chance that a backdoor entry into the playoffs could spark some new life and energy into this team come January, or you’re over the whole thing and focused on spending the holidays with your family, the time has certainly come to make your peace about it.