The Oakland Raiders are considered one of the favorites in the AFC to challenge the reigning champion New England Patriots. The Raiders were supposed to push the Patriots in the 2016 postseason, but their season fell apart when they lost their starting quarterback Derek Carr in week 16. The Raiders lost their next two games and were eliminated during wild card weekend.
Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio wants his team to be more like the Patriots in 2017, according to MMQB’s Jenny Vrentas.
“It’s easier said than done,” Del Rio says. “But when Tom Brady was out for the first four games last year, New England still won three of those games. So, they did a pretty solid job of carrying on. That’s a great example of a team executing that.”
Del Rio told Vrentas that the Raiders want to be better all around in 2017, but it’s clear that a team living on the edge of a razor in 2016 fell apart once Carr suffered his leg injury.
Many should have seen this coming from afar. Through 15 games, the Raiders point differential suggested they were an average team masquerading as a 12-3 squad by virtue of serious luck in close games, going a ridiculous 8-1 in games decided by 7 or fewer points.
The loss of Carr ended the Raiders good fortune and the flaws of the team were exposed. Oakland had a terrible defense that couldn’t stop the run or defend against the pass and the team finished the season ranked 25th in yards allowed per rush and 32nd in net yards allowed per pass; only the team’s 1st ranked turnover differential kept the defense afloat and that advantage is unlikely to sustain itself into 2017.
The Raiders have dedicated their first three draft picks in both the 2016 and 2017 drafts to improving their defense, adding S Karl Joseph, DL Jihad Ward, EDGE Shilique Calhoun, CB Gareon Conley, S Obi Melifonwu, and DT Eddie Vanderdoes. These six players will need to emerge if the Raiders want the opposing offense to worry about someone other than All Pro EDGE Khalil Mack.
On offense, the Raiders will likely be another top unit in 2017 and the rushing attack should be great behind that offensive line, but there are additional reasons for concern. Amari Cooper is destined for stardom and Michael Crabtree is as good of a #2 receiver as you’ll find in the league- but where are the other options in the passing offense?
Wide receiver Seth Roberts and tight end Clive Walford were the only other players to catch more than 300 receiving yards for the Raiders in 2016 and they will be joined by wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson in 2017.
Only one of the 24 teams to reach the divisional round over the past three seasons had just two receivers exceed 400 receiving yards on the season (2014 Seattle Seahawks). The 2015 Denver Broncos and 2016 Green Bay Packers join the 2014 Seahawks as the only teams to reach the conference championship the past three years without four or more 400+ yard receivers.
Teams can go the distance with just two stud receivers- just look at the Denver Broncos with Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders- but the Patriots have structured their defense with Malcolm Butler and Stephon Gilmore to handle whatever elite receiving duos cross their path in 2017.
So unless Carr turns into Aaron Rodgers or the Raiders defense turns into one of the all time greats, the Raiders will need to have a third receiver step up and they might not have one capable of accomplishing that.
Meanwhile, the Patriots have improved their #1 ranked defense and will add TE Rob Gronkowski and WR Brandin Cooks to the offense that ranked #2 in points scored after Tom Brady returned in week 5.
It’s great that the Raiders want to be more like the Patriots and be capable of withstanding the loss of their star player- but it’s clear that Oakland has a long way to go.