Thursday 23 November 2017 / 03:19 AM

RAIDERS’ SEASON ON THE BRINK

The Raiders kept their season alive with a thrilling last-ditch effort to overcome the Chiefs in Week 7. That in itself underlines the issue: how does a team that was a legitimate Super Bowl threat (prior to Carr’s devastating injury) just a year earlier fall so far off the map? It took five drives and two after-the-clock plays to snap a four-game slide that appears to have exposed some fatal flaws in the Raiders’ system. Where does that leave their hopes for contention for this season?

Oakland had already equalled their loss total from 2016 through the first six games of the season. Concerning to say the least, especially considering an expected improvement and a strong 2-0 start. Truthfully, the confidence inspired by their Week 1 beatdown of the lowly Jets may have carried them past a Titans outfit who would be ranked on the same tier as themselves, and maybe bloated the entire organisation with feelings that proceedings were off on the right foot. Misdirected or not, all that confidence has fallen by the wayside, the Raiders now clinging to tenuous hopes of season turnaround.

Desperation has worked for them before: their 12-win season in 2016 was spurred by an outrageous seven fourth-quarter comebacks, the second-most in a single season in NFL history. Carr deserves the majority of the credit, and was a legitimate MVP candidate as a result. But it does give preview to some of the psychological issues that have plagued them so far: holding on for last-gasp efforts has an expiry date, and if things go down differently, the alternate is a 4-11 record that paints their season as a failure.

This time around, they haven’t even been able to stay competitive deep into matches with the hope of pulling off such heroics. As a result, the once relied-upon mental fortitude has disintegrated and exposed deep flaws that were once masked in competitive spirit. Reading that as black and white (pun intended) that isn’t as big of a concern: it wasn’t a stable, dependable way to win football games, and that bubble needed to burst sooner rather than later. If anything, it’s another weapon in the arsenal, but better stored deep in the tool bag for situations like against Kansas.

Being clutch is one thing, being competitive is another – and contender-ship relies on the mastery of both. The Raiders don’t know what they hang their hat on.

Here’s what needs to change before it’s too late.

The Raiders’ defence is a problem, fragile and unimposing. There isn’t hope for elite-level protection, but if they intend on a playoff run, they’ll need to scratch league-average and have a stable, dependable defence. That isn’t the case right now: the Raiders are currently 26th in yards allowed, their exact ranking from last season.

Whether through scheme or circumstance, the Raiders have played plenty of zone, employing two safeties deep and hoping their pass-rush can pressure at the point of attack to cover. That hasn’t happened, and they rank 23rd in pass defence with 246.7 yards conceded a game, only up one rank from last season (Smith’s efficient 25-of-36 passes for 342 yards and three touchdowns effort against them makes for sound evidence here). Khalil Mack is the lone hope for a change, but sitting in the bottom third of both major categories makes creating even an average defence difficult. Unsurprisingly, they sit outside the top half of the league with 22.3 points conceded per game.

With a subpar defence, they’ll be relying on their offence to outscore teams, but so far that hasn’t appeared a tenable option either.

The offence should eventually find its feet behind Carr and Cooper, but the returns thus far are alarming: ranking 18th in passing yards with 217.9 is unacceptable for a team with a borderline elite QB; and their ground game hasn’t compensated with a weak 92.9 rushing yards, good for 25th, unsupported by Marshawn Lynch’s disappointing start.

A turnaround in form for Amari Cooper will help the cause significantly: his horror early run reached a peak through Weeks 3-6, where the star receiver caught just nine passes for 51 yards. In Week 7 alone Cooper caught 11 passes for 210 yards and two touchdowns, hopefully putting his slump behind him. If so, it should help realise the Raiders’ offensive potential — Carr has had 8.4 percent of his passes dropped (second in NFL), and a team reliant on passing without a strong running game to supplement it to be putting down such a large amount of ball is restrictive, almost self-destructive.

Right now, the Raiders are simply a below .500, bottom-half-of-the-table team operating at average levels both with and without the ball. With a few tweaks, they could slide up to a borderline-elite offence, with hope that their defence may strengthen with a smaller burden. There is plenty of time in the season to turn it around, and with a combination of good (Bills, Dolphins, Giants) and tough (Patriots, Broncos) match-ups in the immediate future, the outcome of the team’s season may be decided in the next month.

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About the author

Brayden Issa

Brayden is a Sydney-based sports management student and sports fanatic, specialising in rugby league, basketball, football and cricket. He is concerned with everything related to professional sports performance and management.

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