The Las Vegas Raiders are currently sitting second in the AFC West with a 5-3 record. It has been an impressive opening half of the season for a Raiders team who played some of the toughest teams in the NFL and still sit with a winning record. This article is a Raiders halfway review and will focus on the strengths of the team, along with some areas to improve if they are to make a playoff appearance for the first time since 2016.
The Raiders have a solid offense that is running the show for them right now. They are hard to read, partly down to Derek Carr’s incredible ability to change the play at the line of scrimmage. Running is the strength of the team, averaging 131.1 rushing yards per game – ninth in the NFL. They are putting up 27.3 points per game compared with just 19.6 last year, an improvement of 1.3 touchdowns each game.
The offensive line
The Raiders offensive line is the beating heart of this team. It doesn’t seem to matter how many players they have down, they just keep on producing. After spending $54 million on the positions, a league-high, the starting offensive line has been together for just three plays all season. They have allowed just 30 total quarterback hits in nine games, the fifth-lowest in the league. Devontae Booker’s week nine touchdown versus the Chargers is a great example of the incredible effort by this offensive line in the running game, going into the end zone untouched.
The running game
Jon Gruden centers his offense around the incredible run game that this team has built. Josh Jacobs enjoying a good start to his second year, third in the NFL in rushing yards at 588 and contributing six touchdowns. The Devontae Booker signing this offseason was a shrewd piece of business. Booker is averaging 6.8 yards per attempt, which would be just behind the leader Kyler Murray, at 7.1, if he had two more attempts per game (min 6.25 rushes per game). Not only this but Derek Carr is also picking up yards scrambling. He already has 108 rushing yards on the season, the highest since his 2015 season where he rushed for 138 across 16 games.
Check out how the Raiders dynamic offense are carrying this team here
Not only is Derek Carr contributing a career-high 13.5 yards per game on the ground, but he’s also having a career year passing. Carr has the 5th highest completion percentage in the NFL at 69.8%. Along with this, he has the fifth-highest quarterback rating behind only Brees, Mahomes, Rodgers, and Wilson. Carr has the highest touchdown percentage of his career at 6.2% and only Mahomes has thrown fewer interceptions (one compared with Carr’s two). Derek is having an outstanding season and is certainly putting the doubters in their place.
Las Vegas have managed to limit their weaknesses this season, but are being let down by a few key pieces. Yet again the defense is far too weak. They are currently giving up a score on 51.9% of opposition drives, the third-worst in the NFL. Along with this, they have the worst turnover percentage in the NFL. They force a turnover on just 5.2% of opposing drives, taking the ball away just five times through eight games.
The Raiders defensive scheme has been picked apart by fans and analysts recently, leaving Paul Guenther in the hot seat as defensive coordinator. Despite only giving up six points against the Browns in week eight, the Raiders defense has struggled every game besides this. Frustratingly, the Raiders’ defense feels like it is a couple of key pieces away from being a good unit. However, they shoot themselves in the foot in potentially easier situations. This is demonstrated perfectly in this third and 16 from week nine against the Chargers. Playing soft zone coverage here shows Guenther’s faulty play-calling, which at times is crippling the team.
They have struggled to get pressure all season. Maxx Crosby and Clelin Ferrell have combined for 28 QB pressures on the year, but it just isn’t enough. Crosby is the team’s sack leader at five, but the team as a whole has combined for just nine sacks. This is the second-worst in the NFL, behind just the Texans who have eight.
Can you see an improvement on the Raiders defense from here?
However, this may be down to a scheme issue. The Raiders are blitzing on just 17.8% of their plays, the second-lowest rate in the league. The Chargers actually blitz less than this but have almost double the sacks. The key difference? The Chargers have an elite defensive line that brings pressure without the need to blitz. This number needs to increase if the Raiders are to improve their pressure on the quarterback.
One of the high points on the season for the Raiders defense came week nine against the Chargers. In two consecutive plays, Isaiah Johnson the second-year cornerback out of Houston forced two incompletions to seal the win for the Raiders. It would be good to see him used more in the future.
Wasting cap space
It may be a little harsh to say that the Raiders have wasted cap space this year. However, decent cap management could have made a real difference overall. The Raiders spent $9.125 million this year on backup quarterback Marcus Mariota. While Mariota was in essence a decent signing to sit behind Carr, he’s been a disappointment. Not only has he spent four weeks on IR, but he has also struggled to adapt to the playbook. He currently sits behind Nathan Peterman on the depth chart.
Along with this, the Raiders are spending $11 million in base cap on Tyrell Williams for him to sit out the year. While this may have worked out if he was active, this amount of money for a receiver who has never put up wide receiver one numbers is shameful. For $27 million the Raiders got back 651 yards and six touchdowns across 14 games.
If they were more shrewd with their cap spending, Mayock and Gruden may have been able to improve their dire defense this season. The Raiders were after Everson Griffen and Carlos Dunlap just before the trade deadline. Both went for relatively cheap draft capital and would have made an instant impact on the team. However, the Raiders could not afford the $5-7.5 million it would have cost to get one of them. With better spending, the Raiders could have significantly improved their defense down the stretch.
The Raiders have had a strong start to the 2020 NFL season. They are in prime position to make a run for their first playoff appearance since 2016. With the ball in their court, the Raiders have to keep up the offensive firepower and improve their defensive play. Las Vegas is going to be interesting to watch for the rest of the year and should not be underestimated.