2019 Season: A “Midway Point” Look-in-the-Mirror

The title sticks, although we’re now over halfway through the season — somehow. If I wanted to make this article about a couple hundred words, I could simply type how, through Week 10, this Raiders team has already hit my predicted win total for the year. Now, that’s pretty exciting news for me, the football fan, but also borderline terrifying news for me, the guy with a Twitter account. My mentions will stay open and the account will stay up through these possible trying times, however. I respect the game too much; you stick your neck out, you have an opinion, and you take a stand. There’s no harm in doing so: When you you log off, none of those people exist anymore. When you’re right, nobody cares, and when you’re wrong, you’re going to know about it quickly. Perhaps it’s not commonplace, but I have no issue admitting when I’m wrong. Let me peel back some of the layers here and explain my initial thinking, some of my concerns, and then explain why those issues didn’t really come to be or matter very much (so far, anyway).

Jon Gruden: Good coach and play-caller, better leader of men?

I’m obviously going to link Gruden taking a lap in the Black Hole after the victory of the Chargers. That’s what you guys want to click on. And that’s more or less the story about Gruden, and why things may be looking up for 2019, and for seasons beyond. We know about the legendary Al Davis’ speeches and propaganda about all-things Raiders. The history, the mystique, everything. Coaches have come and gone, but upon their arrivals, they’ve all spoken about and praised the history and allure of the Raiders. Gruden feels different. Despite my outspoken disdain for the coach and hiring, there’s little question in my mind that he can lead men, and perhaps more importantly, how he truly buys into everything Raider-related. That’s just off-field. On the field, over the last few weekends notably, he’s been on fire. The Chargers contest wasn’t his best work, but the way he’s using personnel (think about tight end usage after his coveted wide receiver group disappeared, the rookie fullback, what he’s doing with the ground game, game script, etc.) has his name popping up for a certain annual award from a certain website. I joked about the length of his contract, and what the future of the Raiders could look like, but if 2019 is any sort of indication, the team looks to be in good hands.

Derek Carr: Shades of 2016 once more?

Much like my Gruden commentary, my stance on the Raiders’ signal-caller is well-documented. I’ve fallen out of love over time, but have settled on the fact that you can certainly win with Carr. To win, however, nearly all the stars have to align — which is okay, albeit a process, and a frustrating one at times. That’s what happened in 2016, where he was in MVP-form behind an all-world offensive line. This year, his play has elevated, given some skill position additions throughout the offseason and the return to dominant offensive line play. I’m not sure Carr can elevate talent on a consistent basis, but he can definitely take advantage of a situation. And while it’s cliché, he’s a “gamer” through and through. The fourth quarter comebacks and game-sealing drives are only adding up, and it’s time to take notice if you haven’t done so already. The buzz is growing once more. These are only a few examples here, here, and here. There should no longer be a question about the bond between quarterback and coach, and who will be under center when the Raiders debut as the Las Vegas Raiders next season. Carr’s stability (and, if we’re being honest and hopeful, his growth) is obviously key going forward.

Josh Jacobs: Running backs might not matter, but Jacobs does — a lot — for this team.

I legitimately laughed when the Raiders selected Jacobs in the first-round. We know that’s no place for running backs. This Oakland team had so many needs across the board, notably on defense, investing such early-draft capital on a largely replaceable position would be something that “only Gruden would do”. We know Gruden wants what Gruden wants, and as it turns out, at least early on in his rookie campaign, he hit on a difference-maker for the Raiders in Jacobs. You can search my name for Jacobs pre-draft content. Despite the limited reps and tape, which made him a polarizing player coming out, what we were given on film was super-impressive. It was easy enough to understand the early-round buzz. We’ve seen him do all that and a lot more on Sunday’s now. Nearly every Sunday, in fact. He’s carried this Raiders’ offense at times. Through nine weeks of football, he was at the top of PFF’s list. With his game against the Chargers in the books, the running back may have just put his stamp on the case for Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Tom Cable: Future head coach candidate?

Okay, I don’t believe that myself, but now that I have your attention, Cable has been coaching his butt off. Will Blackmon speaks for all of us here. It almost doesn’t make sense, given the issues last year and all the issues in Seattle for multiple seasons at a time before that. I had less expectations for Cable than I did either Gruden or Carr, and as is the theme this year, Cable’s blown them all away. He has the Raiders’ offensive line looking and playing like a top-3 unit. Kolton Miller‘s growth is obvious (although I’d still draft Derwin James over him 10/10 times, but we don’t have to talk about that again). Bringing in Richie Incognito was talked down on, given his history, but his Pro Bowl-level of play still appears to be there. Rodney Hudson continues to be one of the most overlooked, elite talents in the league, given the position he plays. Paying Trent Brown, much like signing Incognito, was laughed at. They yelled about how much money Gruden and Mike Mayock spent on “just a right tackle”. Brown’s paid dividends the moment he took the field, and it was very evident against the Chargers. Returning Gabe Jackson has been a boost, as well. Everything has come together for Oakland up front, and I can’t believe what Cable’s been able to do with this unit — credit where it’s due.

Early rookie contributions in a draft class that looked a little shaky on paper.

We highlighted the Raiders’ rookie running back above, who certainly deserves his own spotlight. While their fourth overall selection on the defensive side of the ball still is coming into his own, we cannot ignore what the rookies have been bringing to the table on offense:

Hunter Renfrow brings safe, consistent pair of hands, and could be a staple out of the slot for seasons to come. He’s scoring touchdowns. Foster Moreau is a plus-athlete that forms one of the better tight end duo in the league with Darren Waller. Moreau’s just scratching the surface, as he’s running behind Waller, but his ceiling is so enticing. Moreau, too, is scoring touchdowns. Alec Ingold, who has scored a touchdown, shares a special bond with fellow rookie and first-year phenom Jacobs out of the backfield. The Raiders appear set there for years. Now, as I alluded to above, Clelin Ferrell‘s impact has been delayed, but last week versus the Chargers, he arrived, if only for one weekend. The hope is that this is the confidence boosting outing that he needed to keep the foot on the gas going forward. Opposite Ferrell, rookie Maxx Crosby has been playing like the player that went fourth overall. Pass rush remains a need for Gruden’s Raiders, but if Crosby and Ferrell can come into form sooner than later, plans may change.

Schedule loosening up at the right time.

Nearly everything about this season has done a 180 for me, and the Raiders schedule of opponents is no different. Entering the season, it was far-and-away the league’s toughest. But, given the dominoes that have fallen since, other franchises find themselves in some precarious positions, and it could play out in Oakland’s favor as they go down the homestretch.

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Raiders remaining schedule. Doesn’t look nearly as daunting as it did entering the season given some of the situations these other squads find themselves in.

Bengals and Jets are in shambles. Those two look like gimme’s. Chiefs are returning all-galaxy quarterback Patrick Mahomes, albeit off of injury. Assuming he’s healthy, or gets healthier, I imagine the Chiefs are favored in that one, going against a questionable Oakland defensive unit. Titans made a quarterback change during the season this year. Their defense looks stout, but I don’t have a lot of confidence in their offense. Carr has to hang 30-plus on them, which I think is doable. Jaguars pass rush remains legit, but there’s a possible quarterback controversy brewing with the return of Nick Foles. No idea what that team looks like next month. Rattle Phil Rivers, slow down the Chargers offense, and it’s a winnable game I suppose. Broncos are unsettled, making a quarterback change of their own. Another winnable game.

At best, I see 5 wins to close the season. At worse, 2 wins. Oakland should be in the playoff discussion if things break right, but I do have my reservations about the defense bringing enough to the table to make any sort of notable or deep run. But hey, I’ve been wrong about nearly everything thus far into the season — buckle-up, my pals.

Catch me on Twitter: @StillRyanFive


3 thoughts on “2019 Season: A “Midway Point” Look-in-the-Mirror

  1. It’s refreshing to hear a sports analyst admit when they are wrong, so congrats on that. After the draft, when so many were questioning the Raiders sanity–and that’s when they still had a potential legit Antonio Brown in the fold–I couldn’t wait for the team to shut everyone up. Think where they might have been if AB has worked out? Pair that disaster with early key injuries (Jackson & Abrams), and it’s pretty remarkable how far they’ve come this year.

    The Raiders are back, even if they miss the playoffs this year,and that is good for the NFL, whether Roger Goodell likes it or not. It just makes things more fun.

  2. It’s so encouraging to see such young talent , playing together so well , as team and with in the scheme. Gruden and Mayock , have reset the organization’s foundation for today and beyond .
    It’s a win win , if we get into the playoffs so we can get the rookies experience and getting that taste makes you hungry and will create more of a desire and focus going forward . Commitment to Excellence! Just Win Baby!

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