The Oakland Raiders and head coach Jon Gruden have been the source of many a punchline since the two reunited in 2018. Whether it was last year’s train wreck of a season, or the organizational dysfunction that was on display on “Hard Knocks” this year—particularly as it pertained to the Antonio Brown situation—no one has really taken the Raiders seriously since Gruden returned.
Of course, this is the Raiders we’re talking about, so not everything is running smoothly. Let’s take a closer look at the Detroit Lions’ Week 9 opponent.
4-12 record (4th in AFC West)
28th in points scored, 32nd in points allowed
Overall DVOA: 31st (25th on offense, 30th on defense)
Key free agent additions:
WR Antonio Brown (cut), OT Trent Brown, CB Lamarcus Joyner, WR Tyrell Williams, LB Vontaze Burfict (suspended), G Richie Incognito, CB Nevin Lawson, S Curtis Riley
Key losses: RB Marshawn Lynch, WR Jordy Nelson, TE Jared Cook, OT Donald Penn, DE Kony Ealy, CB Rashaan Melvin
2019 NFL draft picks:
Round 1 - DE Clelin Ferrell
Round 1 - RB Josh Jacobs
Round 1 - S Johnathan Abram
Round 2 - CB Trayvon Mullen
Round 4 - DE Maxx Crosby
Round 4 - CB Isaiah Johnson
Round 4 - TE Foster Moreau
Round 5 - WR Hunter Renfrow
Round 7 - DE Quinton Bell
Last year, the Oakland Raiders were arguably the worst team in the NFL. But you can see just how much of a roster overhaul they went through this offseason. They made a few splash signings in free agency in offensive tackle Trent Brown and safety Lamarcus Joyner. They also made the regrettable move of trading for Antonio Brown.
Throw in three first round picks, and this roster is barely recognizable from where it was last year. In fact, their initial 53-man roster this year featured 35 players who weren’t on the team last season. 22 percent of their initial 53-man roster was rookie players.
While that’s not exactly a recipe for immediate success, it was clearly the right strategy after last year’s failures. With a specific focus on improving in the trenches and creating balance on offense, the Raiders definitely look improved from last season.
Raiders 2019 season (3-4)
Week 1: Win over Broncos, 24-16
Week 2: Loss to Chiefs, 10-28
Week 3: Loss to Vikings, 14-34
Week 4: Win over Colts, 31-24
Week 5: Win over Bears, 24-21
Week 6: BYE
Week 7: Loss to Packers, 24-42
Week 8: Loss to Texans, 24-27
- 18th in points scored; 28th in points allowed
- 17th in DVOA (8th on offense, 28th on defense)
The biggest improvement for the Raiders this year has been their rushing attack. Last year, this unit ranked 29th in DVOA. This year with the help of rookie running back Josh Jacobs they’re already up to ninth. Jacobs is fifth in the NFL in rushing yards per game (88.6) and just outside the top 10 in yards per carry (5.0).
A balanced offense has helped Derek Carr resurrect his career. Even with a ragtag group of receivers, Carr’s numbers have increased drastically from last year. Take a look:
2018: 68.9 completion percentage, 7.3 Y/A, 93.9 passer rating
2019: 72.1 completion percentage, 7.7 Y/A, 103.6 passer rating
Defensively, however, this team continues to struggle. Losing first-round rookie Johnathan Abram didn’t help and Oakland’s linebacking corps has been decimated by injury (Marquel Lee) and suspension (Vontaze Burfict).
To give you a sense of how much this entire defense is struggling, their highest-graded player according to PFF is Nevin Lawson (77.0) and by a fairly large margin. (Note: Lawson has only played in one game after serving a suspension).
Oakland is particularly vulnerable through the air, allowing the fifth highest passer rating in the league (115.5) without much of a pass rush (13 sacks, t-25th). They’ve allowed 19 passing touchdowns (t-second most) while only notching three interceptions (t-fifth fewest).
Key injuries: S Johnathan Abram (IR), RB Isaiah Crowell (IR), LB Marquel Lee (IR), C Rodney Hudson
Though the Raiders lost a few key guys earlier in the season, they’re entering Week 9 fairly healthy. The biggest concern right now is starting center Rodney Hudson, who will reportedly be out a few weeks after suffering an ankle injury last week.
Hudson is a two-time Pro Bowler, so his absence will certainly be felt going forward. That’s especially true when you consider his backup, Andre James, is an undrafted rookie who saw his first NFL action last week. All things considered, James did well as a mid-game replacement, but he’s certainly the weak point on a fairly strong offensive line.
Biggest strength: Tight end
The Lions have face a lot of good tight ends recently, and this week will be no exception. Introducing, Darren Waller. Waller had a tumultuous start to his NFL career, failing to make any sort of impact with the Ravens, the team that drafted him in 2015.
But Waller has come out of nowhere this season and just killed it every week. He already has 46 receptions on the year for 496 yards and three scores. He ranks in the top five of those categories.
With a young, raw receiving corps, Waller is the main focus of this passing attack, and he is thriving.
Biggest weakness: Secondary
As previously mentioned, the Raiders’ entire defense has really struggled this year. They can’t create pressure, they can’t cover receivers. Really, the only thing they seem to do well is stop the run, thanks to strong interior defenders in P.J. Hall and Johnathan Hankins.
But the secondary is a mess. Former Rams second-round pick Lamarcus Joyner is having an awful first year with the Raiders as their slot corner. Raiders 2017 first-round pick Gareon Conley was playing so poorly that Oakland just shipped him to Houston for a third-round pick, despite the fact that the Raiders only had Nevin Lawson waiting in the wings.
Opposing quarterbacks are beating the Raiders’ secondary with ease this year and there doesn’t appear to be a solution in sight.
Vegas line for Sunday: Raiders by 2