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[author image=”https://www.the3pointconversion.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/2015-01-21-12.32.22-1-e1454992109579.jpg” ]Ryan Foley, [/author]
The Oakland Raiders have opened up the first six weeks of the NFL season with a record of 4-2, their best since 2002 which was their last Super Bowl and playoff appearance. Having built momentum with depth, youth, and a respectable 2015 season, the Raiders became a team likely to finally get over their losing hump and at least obtain a wild card spot and end the second longest playoff drought within the league (Buffalo Bills 1999 is the current longest). The AFC West is wide open for the taking as the Raiders currently share a tie for first with the Denver Broncos and also have Kansas City Chiefs sitting just a game back with the San Diego Chargers mounting losses, but have consistently been in games late.
The Raiders offense has been as good as advertised with quarterback Derek Carr leading the way with 1,600 passing yards, a 66% completion rate, 12/3 touchdown to interception ratio, and a 99.0 QB rating; stellar stats from the young leader, but it’s his fourth quarter performances and execution that has the league and the fans all keeping an eye on him with total confidence. On the receiving end of Carr’s excellent start to the season has been mainly wide receiver Michael Crabtree with five touchdowns but wide receiver Amari Cooper has gotten over his slow start and has piled up receptions and yards over the previous weeks with 36 receptions and 585 yards on the season. With Cooper’s receptions increasing, it’s only a matter of time for him to start finding the end zone on a consistent basis. The main aspect the Raiders need to focus on that will be imperative as the season progresses, is the running game. Running back Latavius Murray has gotten off to a slow injured season as he missed week 5 completely and has only 172 yards on the season thus far. Shouldering the load for the Raiders backfield has been running backs DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richards who’s shown glimpses of ability and have done a wonderful job in stepping up for Murray giving the Raiders a NFL ranked 13th overall running game at 110 yards per game. Yet still, they are not nearly as ready to be a go-to, one-two combo out of the back field. Richards is more of a specialty back that the Raiders offense needs to find space for in the open field, but could develop into an X-factor such as a Darren Sproles.
On the defensive side of the ball is where the Raiders have nowhere to go but up, literally at the bottom of nearly every statistic. Defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. needs find a way to make what was supposed to be a top defense anchored by the new duo, the NFL’s first two-position Pro Bowler linebacker Khalil Mack and newly signed linebacker Bruce Irvin (combined four sacks) with the addition of Sean Smith at cornerback. After seeing Smith get burned against New Orleans for a 98 yard go-route, his larger frame for a cornerback may not suit this Raiders man-to-man style of secondary defense. Either way the Raiders look at it, changes must be made. Strategically, Norton must find a way to create cohesion within this defense before head coach Jack Del Rio takes over play calling permanently. With that being said, that may be a decision that’s already been made schematically given Del Rio’s extensive experience focusing on the defense side of the ball prior to his head coaching position for the Jacksonville Jaguars and then again as recent as a coordinator for the Denver Broncos in 2014 before signing on with Oakland the last season.
At this point, the Oakland Raiders have to be thrilled to be 4-2 (3-0 road and 1-2 home records) given all the chaos that surrounds the franchise with a gloomy past 14 season and a pending move to Las Vegas in the future. My best advice for fans is to live in the moment. Enjoy these Oakland Raiders and all the potential they have. Put on that Silver and Black every Sunday and believe the team will find a way. Because at the end of day it’s all about one thing… “Just win, baby.”- RIP Al Davis.