2018 Season Recap: Oakland Raiders

2018 SEASON RECAP: OAKLAND RAIDERS

Division: AFC West

Record: 4-12, 1-5 in the division, last in the AFC West

Disclaimer: The original writer of this post bailed, so I decided to step in last minute to put something together. This is my first time doing this and I'm not that great at formatting so bear with me. Anyway, thanks to /u/therealDoctorKay for giving me the opportunity and guidance along the way!

Statistics

Offense

Stat Value Rank
Total Yards For 5,379 23rd
Total Points For 290 28th
1st Downs 300 24th
Passing Yards Gained 3,751 18th
Passing Touchdowns 19 24th
Interceptions Thrown 10 8th
Rushing Yards 1,628 25th
Rushing Touchdowns 9 27th
Fumbles Lost 14 31st

Defense

Stat Value Rank
Total Yards Against 6,102 26th
Total Points Against 467 32nd
1st Downs Allowed 317 14th
Passing Yards Allowed 3,835 19th
Passing Touchdowns 36 32nd
Interception Forced 14 14th
Rushing Yards 2,249 30th
Rushing Touchdowns 16 21st
Fumbles Forced 3 32nd

The Season in Context

In order to understand the 2018 Oakland Raiders’ season, we have to analyze this season in context. Back in 2016, the Raiders seemed poised to take the next step into constant contender territory. Then-coach Jack Del Rio, MVP candidate QB Derek Carr, 2 position all-pro DE/OLB Khalil Mack, and the lethal WR duo Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper led the Raiders to a 12-4 finish, a post-season appearance, and the first winning season for the Raiders in over a decade. The future was bright.

Unfortunately, fate is not so kind. Four quarters into a dominant performance against the Colts, Trent Cole sacked Derek Carr, breaking his fibula and ending his season (RIP Titan bros). Matt McGloin of PSU fame stepped in but couldn’t take the heat. The Texans handedly defeated the raiders 27-14 in the first round of playoffs.

The beginning of the 2017 season was filled with hope and high expectations for the raiders to return to form and back to the playoffs. And that seemed likely two games into the season, sitting at 2-0 after a blowout win against the Jets and going into a prime-time game against the Redskins.

I don’t think we’ll ever know for sure what caused it. Rumors say the anthem protests split the locker room, but I don’t know if I believe it. Maybe they were just a bad team, and it took a game like this to show their true colors. But that Monday night the raiders got their teeth kicked in by the Redskins, 27-10. Derek Carr looked shook, throwing an interception on the first drive while the defense couldn’t stop a thing.

Things just got worse after that. Derek broke his back the next game, returned too early, and was a shell of former self. Despite continually dominant play by Khalil Mack, the defense never quite got it together. Jack Del Rio lost the locker room and following a couple of embarrassing losses against the Patriots in Mexico City and the San Diego Chargers on New Years Eve, Mark Davis relieved him of his duties. The hope and magic of the 2016 Oakland Raiders disappeared as fast as it had arrived.

The Prodigal Son Returns

So, going into the 2018 season, the first order of business was to find a new coach. The Jack Del Rio era had come to a crashing end, and there was a desperate need for direction. But who would it be? There were discussion of John Harbaugh leaving the Ravens. Maybe they’d take a shot on someone new?

But in the end, the honor of coaching the silver and black would go to an old, but familiar face. After years of trying to coax him out of his cushy ESPN Monday Night Football gig and back into the game, Mark Davis finally landed his proverbial Moby Dick. Jon Gruden, the prodigal son, had returned. Mark Davis offered Jon Gruden a long-term contract worth around $100 million dollars over 10 years- the largest ever in NFL history.

The Coaching Staff

Offense

Position Coaching Hire
Offensive Coordinator Jon Gruden/Greg Olson
Offensive Line Tom Cable
Wide Receiver Edgar Bennett
Running Back Jemal Singleton
Tight End Frank Smith

Defense

Position Coaching Hire
Defensive Coordinator Paul Guenther
Defensive Line Mike Trgovac
Linebackers David Lippincott
Defensive Backs Derrick Ansley
Special Teams Rich Bisaccia

Offensive Coordinator: Jon Gruden/Greg Olson

Being an offensive minded head coach, Jon Gruden was always going to have the final say over offensive game plan and play calling. Greg would take on more of an assistant type role so it’s hard to directly assess what impact/influence he had on the offense.

During his first stint as head coach of the Raiders, Chucky was known as an offensive guru with a complex scheme that depended upon and brought the most out of aging vets such as Rich Gannon, Tim Brown, and Jerry Rice. After a ten-year hiatus in the broadcasting booth, many wondered if Gruden had lost his touch or if the game had passed him by.

Unfortunately, the offense did not live up to expectations. The offense ended up 28th in points for and 23rd in total yards. The offensive line gave up 52 sacks despite attempts to solidify it with 1st and 3rd round draft picks. Derek Carr struggled early in the season, plagued by poor offensive line play and check-down tendencies. Amari Cooper continued his disappearing acts, following an 8 catch, 128-yard game against Cleveland with a 1 catch, 10-yard game against the Chargers. Beast Mode played well until a groin injury put him on IR, thrusting Doug Martin into the starting role. It became clear as the season progressed that the offense lacked playmakers and the offensive line would need to be solidified.

I think a lot of fans, and Mark Davis as well, will give Gruden a pass for this season as the front office looks to infuse the offense with talent for the 2019 season where the offense as a whole will be re-evaluated.

Defense Coordinator: Paul Guenther

Guenther came over from Cincinnati after a couple of moderately successful seasons from 2014-2017 with a defense that ranked 5th in points allowed over that span. Paul is from the Mike Zimmer school of defense and plays a 4-3 scheme that demands a lot of versatility out of his lineman, corners, and safeties. After a couple of seasons of terrible defensive performances, and a failure to develop young talent, fans were glad to see Ken Norton Jr. hit the road and get replaced by an experienced coach with a history of success.

Things didn’t really go as planned for Guenther either, as the Raiders ended up with the worst ranked overall defense in the league according to Pro Football Reference. It’s hard to truly evaluate Guenther’s job performance, as again, it quickly became apparent that the entire defense lacked playmakers. Three rookies starting on the defensive line with Frostee Rucker holding down the strong-side DE spot led to a league worst 13 sacks. Our linebacker core was led- yes led- by Tahir Whitehead. Jason Cabinda, Nicholas Morrow, and Marquel Lee (two undrafted free agents and a 5th round pick) would rotate in throughout the season. There is still hope that these three can develop, and they showed some promise as the season progressed, but were a liability in 2018. Gareon Conley and Karl Joseph struggled to learn the defense early on, only seeing significant playing time in the second half of the season. That means, for most of the early 2018 season, Pro Bowler Reggie Nelson (/s) was our starting safety.

Gruden has given Guenther a pass and I think so have most of the fans. As with the offense, the hope is to infuse the defense with talent and re-evaluate his job performance in 2019.

Offensive Line Coach: Tom Cable

This hire, in my opinion, is the worst decision Jon Gruden has made as a Raider. And yes, that includes the trade of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Gruden hired Cable after seven seasons in Seattle as their offensive line coach and run game coordinator. Over those seven years, the Seattle Seahawks’ offensive line never graded above #20, with some truly awful years at #30 (2015) and #32 (2013) according to Football Outsiders. The argument can be made that Cable wasn’t given enough talent to adequately judge his skills as a coach, but he also did extremely poorly with the talent he was given and failed to develop linemen into quality starters. He’s also a piece of shit.

Unsurprisingly the offensive line graded out as the 29th worst unit in the league. Now I am going to preface this by giving a few caveats in Cable’s defense. Donald Penn got hurt early on in the season, forcing 3rd round pick Brandon Parker to start at right tackle. Parker was a developmental piece and wasn’t expected to start all season. Kolton Miller played well for the first couple of games before hurting his knee and later on his elbow, leading to a severe drop-off in performance. Kelechi Osemele had a down year and battled knee and toe injuries and RG Gabe Jackson was sent to IR week 14. So, there was a lot of turnover and discontinuity in the offensive line as a whole. But having said that, Cable failed to develop Miller and Parker over the course of the season. Miller seemed to get worse as time went on, and Parker had some downright terrible reps. Miller and Parker graded out as some of the worst starting tackles in the league, and Derek Carr was sacked 52 times. Also, (and I’m not sure how this works tbh) Seahawks fans seem adamant that Cable’s influence had a negative impact on the health of their players. It might not be a coincidence that so much of our offensive line went down with injuries throughout the season.

2018 Free Agency

Player Position Contract
Rashaan Melvin* CB 1 yr, $6.5 million
Tahir Whitehead LB 3 yr, $18 million
Marcus Gilchrist* S 1 yr, $14 million
Jordy Nelson* WR 2 yr, $14 million
Doug Martin* RB 1 yr, $1.475 million
Daryl Worley CB 1 yr, $630,000
Dwayne Harris KR/WR 1 yr, $1.0 million
Keith Smith FB 2 yr, $2.4 million
Jonathan Hankins DT 1 yr, $2.25 million
Clinton McDonald* DT 1 yr, $1.95 million
Frostee Rucker* DE 1 yr, $1.04 million
Daniel Carlson K 1 yr, $570,000
Leon Hall* CB 1 yr, $1 million
Derrick Johnson* LB 1 yr, $1.5 million
Emmanuel Lemur* LB 1 yr, $787,000
Kyle Wilbur LB 2 yr, $2.75 million
AJ McCarron* QB 2 yr, $10 million
Brandon LaFell* WT 1 yr, $1.75 million
Derek Carrier TE 1 yr, $5.55 million
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie* CB 1 yr, $1 million
Tank Carradine* DE 1 yr, $1.25 million
Martavis Bryant* WR 1 yr, $1.9 million
T.J. Clemmings* OT 1 yr, $1.9 million
Justin Murray* OT 1 yr, $480,000

*These players are no longer on the roster or have not been re-signed as of this writing

Offense

Jordy Nelson (WR) 2yr, $14 million

Jordy was a fan favorite in Green Bay but was released in 2017 after 10 years with the team. Nelson suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2015 and lost a fair bit of his speed. After cutting tie with Crabtree, a sure-handed #2 WR was a big priority. Both Amari Cooper and Crabtree suffered from drops throughout their careers and Derek needs someone he can trust on 3rd downs and key situations. Jordy missed some time due to injury, but finished well down the stretch, ending the season with 63 catches for 739 yards and 3 TDs.

Doug Martin (RB) 1yr, $1.475 million

The Muscle Hamster himself, Doug Martin, was signed for RB depth after an exciting conversation with Gruden about reviving his career in Oakland. After an up and down early career, with two 1,000-yard seasons marred with suspension and disappointment, Martin was looking for an opportunity to reignite his career. Early in the season he was used to spell Marshawn Lynch, but the team began to rely on him quite heavily after Lynch was put on IR by week 8. He did fine as a backup, but never really showed any above average skill and is easily replaceable.

Defense

Rashaan Melvin (CB) 1yr, $6.5 million

Melvin was a quality starter for the colts in 2017, but frequent injuries have prevented him from reaching his full potential. He had a career high in interceptions (3) and 13 passes defended in 2017 before a season ending hand injury in week 12 forced him to miss the rest of the season. The Raiders gave Melvin a one year, prove-it deal with the hopes that he would outplay this contract and be awarded a new, long term contract the following year.

Melvin had an up-and-down year and ended up getting benched for Daryl Worley. Melvin and the coaching staff had a bit of a falling out, as evidenced by the tweet he sent saying “I’m done trying to change my style. Its not me. Back to what I know and what got me here.” Melvin did not live up to expectations and was not re-signed by the team.

Daryl Worley (CB) 1yr, $630,000

Daryl Worley was originally drafted by the Carolina Panthers in third round of the NFL draft. After a decent rookie season, he was traded to the Eagles but was released soon after due to an altercation with police. The Raiders signed him to a minimum contract after Karl Joseph (a former WVU teammate) vouched for his character. Worley served a 4-game suspension early in the 2018 season, but jumped Rashaan Melvin in the depth chart upon returning, serving as the team’s CB2 for the second half of the season. He played adequately but could definitely use another year or two to develop. The coaches really like him, and Worley wrote a long Instagram post thanking coach Gruden for taking a chance on him, so the feeling seems mutual.

Tahir Whitehead (LB) 3yr, $18 million

With the loss of our best LB in Navarro Bowman (yes, I just said that), linebacker was once again a massive need going into this offseason. Tahir was more of a role player for the Lions, but he’s a versatile, tackling-machine with over 242 tackles the last two years. Overall, I think Tahir did ok. The lack of overall talent on defense definitely did him a disservice, and he’s not the kind of player who elevates those around him. He’s still under contract and if the coaching staff gets a couple playmakers around him, I still think he can be a solid piece of our defense.

Jonathan Hankins/Clinton McDonald (DT)

I’m including both Hankins and McDonald in the same discussion because they both made a solid impact on the defensive line after Justin Ellis and Eddie Vanderdoes were put on IR. The DT position needed depth aside from Maurice Hurst and P.J. Hall, and both Hankins and McDonald provided solid rotational depth and leadership. McDonald’s biggest impact play was against the Steelers, coming in unblocked on a stunt to sack Roethlisberger on 3rd and 8 to set up a missed field goal. Ben would go on to miss most of the second half with a rib injury from this play. Meanwhile, Jonathan Hankins played so well he was recently re-signed to a 2yr, $8.5 million contract.

2018 NFL Draft

Round Pick Player Position
1 15 Kolton Miller OT
2 57 P.J. Hall DT
3 65 Brandon Parker OT
3 87 Arden Key DE
4 110 Nick Nelson CB
5 140 Maurice Hurst DT
5 173 Johnny Townsend P
6 216 Azeem Victor LB
7 228 Marcell Ateman WR
#15 Kolton Miller, OT UCLA

The first pick in the 2018 NFL Draft for Jon Gruden and the Oakland Raiders was a bit of a surprise and almost universally seen as a pretty massive reach for the OT out of UCLA, Kolton Miller. Most of the fanbase, myself included, did not think offensive tackle was even much of a need for the Raiders, especially not with the #15 overall pick. But in hindsight, tackle was actually a massive need for this team as Donald Penn ended up getting injured and the right tackle position was still a big question mark. What made this pick worse was passing up on Minkah Fitzpatrick and Derwin James, both premier defensive talents. It’s rumored that Gruden wanted to draft a tackle no matter what and was eyeing Mike McGlinchey who was taken one spot before their original pick at #10 by the 49ers. The staff (namely Tom Cable) still liked the Miller’s upside enough to draft him at #15, but most had him as a late day 1 guy at best.

Miller played well the first few games of the season but got a knee injury week 3 and never fully recovered. He ended up ranked #76 out of all qualifying tackles after allowing a league high 16 sacks. Thanks Tom Cable.

#57 P.J. Hall, DT Sam Houston State

In true Reggie Mackenzie fashion, the second-round pick of the NFL Draft was a high-upside, small school project player in P.J. Hall out of Sam Houston State. P.J. is versatile as he played both DE and DT in college. P.J. lacks ideal size but makes up for it in speed and explosiveness.

P.J. had a couple decent games throughout the season (see tape vs Arizona) but was mainly a non-factor. He combined for 22 tackles and no sacks in 14 games. He did show some flashes, and both the coaching staff and fans expect a big jump from the small school project in 2019.

#65 Brandon Parker, OT North Carolina A&T

Going back to the trenches on the offensive side of the ball, the Raiders selected Brandon Parker, offensive tackle out of North Carolina A&T. Similar to P.J. Hall, Parker was a well decorated, 4-year starter coming out of a small school but would need considerable development to become a starter in the NFL. He has the length, strength, and agility to play the position, but needs to fill out his frame and work on his technique in order to be a consistent starter.

The original plan was to move Donald Penn to RT and have Parker sit a year as he learns and develops. Unfortunately, Penn’s injury after week 4 pushed Parker into the lineup early and forced him to start the remaining 12 games. I would like to say that after some rookie struggles, Parker really came into his own and played really well towards the end of the season. But I cannot. Parker struggled all season, ranking #79, 3 spots below fellow rookie Kolton Miller on PFF’s OL grading scale. His worst game by far came against the Baltimore Ravens, where he let up three back-to-back-to-back sacks to Matthew Judon, culminating in a strip-sack that was recovered for a touchdown. Ouch.

#87 Arden Key, DE LSU

Arden Key was a polarizing prospect. In 2016, he was a dominant force off the edge, racking up 12 sacks and 14.5 tackles for a loss and 3 forced fumbles. Arden utilized his agility, speed, and length to consistently beat tackles at the point of attack. Another season building on this success likely would have had Key drafted in the first round. However, he took some time away from the team in 2017 after checking himself into a rehab facility for marijuana use. When Key finally did return to the field, it was clear he had gained considerable weight and only managed 4 sacks in eight games. The question marks surrounding him regarding substance abuse and possible motivational issues dropped Key well into the third round, where he was finally selected by the Oakland Raiders.

Arden Key was originally drafted to be a situational pass rusher behind Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin. However, after Khalil got traded and Irvin got cut, another one of our developmental third round picks was thrust into a starting role. Key finished the year with 30 tackles and only 1 sack. He was a liability for the most part against the run but was much more of a factor in the passing game than his 1 sack leads you to believe. Key came close on about 8-10 more sacks, with the quarterback just narrowly slipping through his fingers. Gaining some functional weight and a year of experience under his belt should do wonders for Arden Key in his second year as a starter.

#110 Nick Nelson, CB Wisconsin

With the 110th pick of the 2018 NFL Draft, the Raiders selected Nick Nelson, cornerback out of Wisconsin. Nelson led the nation in 2017 with 21 passes defended and had 42 during his career, but zero interceptions. He’s a versatile corner with adequate athleticism who can play both inside and outside. Nelson likely would have been a higher pick if not for a torn meniscus on his pro day in April.

Nick Nelson was drafted to be the Raiders nickel corner but required a lengthy rehabilitation period to recover from his torn meniscus which put him out of commission for the first half of the season. Upon returning to the starting line-up, Nelson played below average, finishing with only 10 tackles and 1 pass defended. I have the image of Nelson getting torched by Tyreek Hill for a 67-yard touchdown permanently burned into my brain. A full offseason and training camp should go a long way in his development, and I’m interested to see how he looks next year.

#140 Maurice Hurst, DT Michigan

By far the most impactful rookie in the Oakland Raiders 2018 draft class was Maurice Hurst, the defensive tackle out of Michigan. Hurst was a first-round lock, and a top-15 player prior to a heart condition that was found during medical checks at the NFL combine. Although Hurst had known about this issue since he was a college freshman and was cleared by college doctors throughout his time at Michigan, the unknown heart condition caused him to slide all the way to pick #140 in the fifth round of the NFL draft.

Maurice was a force on the defensive line, ending the season with 31 tackles, 4 sacks, and 3 QB hits. Hurst had one of the most impressive rookie campaigns since Khalil Mack and is expected to build on this in 2019.

#173 Johnny Townsend, P University of Florida

After Gruden unceremoniously cut punter Marquette King, it was clear the position was a major need for the Raiders going into this draft, although many people, myself included, didn’t expect them to spend a 5th round pick on one.

Johnny Townsend, the punter out of UF, finished the 2017 season with second team All-American and All-SEC honors. Townsend finished second in the FBS with a 47.5-yard gross average and pinned 27 punts inside the 20-yard line.

Unfortunately, Townsend had a pretty rough year for the silver and black. He shanked the ball numerous times and does not have a particularly strong leg. Coach Gruden says he needs more time to adjust to the speed of the NFL, but I’m dubious. The staff will give him another year but will likely bring in a veteran to fight for the starting job in training camp.

#216 Azeem Victor, LB University of Washington

Azeem Victor had success early in his career on special teams before breaking out in his sophomore and junior seasons with 95 and 63 total tackles, respectively. He’s an aggressive, instinctive player. However, after breaking his leg late in 2016, he gained weight and lost his starting job upon returning in 2017. A November DUI would get him suspended and continue the slide of his draft stock.

Victor was a late round lottery pick. He has some really good tape out there, but the motivational and behavioral issues that plagued his last season in college don’t seem to have gone anywhere. Azeem was on the practice squad all season and didn’t start a single game despite a pretty weak linebacker core.

#228 Marcell Ateman, WR OSU

Marcell Ateman is a strong handed receiver with good size. He finished his last season at OSU catching 59 passes for 1,159 yards and 8 touchdowns. Ateman does not have above average athleticism and his questionable speed was a concern at the next level.

Ateman finished his rookie season with 154 yards and 1 TD. He was mostly a nonfactor throughout the season but did have a clutch catch against Arizona and caught a nice fade against the Chiefs. His functional speed is definitely a limiting factor and I doubt he contributes much as a weekly starter in 2019.

The Trades

Khalil Mack

So now to address the elephant- or a guess bear- in the room; The Khalil Mack trade.

Khalil was drafted 4th overall in the 2014 NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders and then-GM Reggie Mackenzie. He quickly became the corner-stone of the defense as an OLB/DE, showing a ton of promise his rookie year and quickly ascending to dominant status after the 2016 season and a 2 position All-Pro designation.

Still under contract going into the 2018 season, Khalil Mack decided to hold out due to ongoing contract negotiations. This was just common hard-ball tactics. Khalil would hold out, the front office would cave, and we’d pay our teams’ best player and one of the top defensive players in the league. That’s just how these things go.

Soon OTA’s became training camp. And training camp became preseason. And still no Mack. There were rumblings from some of the Raiders’ beat writers that the front office had started listening to offers, but most of the fanbase ignored these articles as rumor and gossip. A lot of us just didn’t want to believe it was ever a possibility that we would trade Khalil Freakin’ Mack.

But on September 1st at 5:39 AM, Adam Schefter broke the news on Twitter. Jon Gruden had traded Khalil Mack, a 2nd round pick, and a conditional 2020 5th round pick for the Bears’ 2019 1st, 2020 1st, a 2020 3rd round pick, and a 2019 6th round pick. The bears then proceeded to sign Khalil onto the highest defensive contract ever received. 6 years $141 million, with $90 million guaranteed.

Now I don’t want to sound dramatic, but this move was truly devastating. After a decade of mediocrity, it finally seemed like this team had turned the corner, with Khalil Mack leading the way. This man is truly a force to be reckoned with. He has speed. He has power. His long arm is a thing of beauty. He’s immune to double teams. He doesn’t get injured and has no off the field issues. He’s the closest thing to a perfect player as you can get. And we let him walk. I don’t think the fanbase will ever truly get over it, and believe me when I tell you Giants fans, we empathize with you.

Our defense never really got over it either. Bruce Irving momentarily assumed the role of captain- before giving up on his team and getting cut midway into the season. Three rookie lineman and Frostie Rucker ended up with 15 total sacks, just beating out the 14 Mack got by himself. Just to twist the knife, we had to watch the bears defense dominate on national television the first week of the season against the Packers. Mack finished with a sack, a forced fumble, and an interception return for a touchdown.

However, the justification for the trade would become apparent over the course of the season. The team was absolutely devoid of talent on both sides of the ball. By tying up more than a quarter of the salary cap on two players (Mack and Carr), the front office would be severely hamstrung from building a complete roster. Four 1st round picks in two years and over $70 million in cap space gives a lot more opportunity to rebuild a team. Raider’s fans continue to hold out hope that in the end, it will have all been worth it.

Amari Cooper

This one is much less emotional than the Mack Trade. Khalil was consistently the best player on the field, dominating week in and week out, and performing in the clutch when his team desperately needed it. Amari Cooper was none of those things. Consistency was not in his vocabulary. He’d pop for 200 yards and 2 TDs one week, and then go for 1 catch and 8 yards the next. Owning him in fantasy was like the world’s worst slot machine. Although he did have a couple of good years early in his career, something never quite clicked for him in Oakland. The guy never seemed to smile. He didn’t seem to play with a lot of passion and didn’t quite have that “dog” mentality that most elite receivers have. He also had a pretty significant drop issue, leading the league in 2015 and 2017 with a drop percentage of 20 and 17.2, respectively.

So when the Cowboys offered a 1st round pick in exchange for Cooper, the front office jumped at the chance. A lot of people dogged the Cowboys for this trade, myself included. But it ended up being a huge help for them, turning their season around and making it to the second round of playoffs. Unfortunately, that turned their mid first into a late first round pick.

The Raider’s leading receiver would go on to be Brandon Lafell before he tore his ACL. Fans were excited to see Marcell Ateman in action but were disappointed with a mediocre performance. Jordy Nelson stepped up as a possession receiver but wasn’t a game changer. Jared Cook ended up leading the team in receiving yards as a tight end with 896. Despite the lack of talent in the WR room, this trade ended up being a win-win for both sides and overall Raider’s fans are happy with the move.

Martavis Bryant/AJ McCarron

I’m putting the Martavis Bryant and AJ McCarron trades together because ended up being pretty insignificant to the performance of the team and cost the Raiders some decent draft capital to acquire. Martavis had requested a trade from the Steelers after falling behind JuJu Smith-Schuster on the depth chart due to a drug-related suspension that cost him the entirety of the 2016 season. Jon Gruden decided to roll the dice and trade the 76th overall pick in the 2018 draft to secure a deep-threat playmaker with a history of drug problems. Sadly, Chucky rolled a snake-eyes and Bryant was suspended again, this time indefinitely.

AJ McCarron was acquired from the Buffalo Bills for a fifth-round pick and never started a game. His 2019 salary ($5 million) was too much to stomach and he was released.

Weekly Game Recaps

The first game of Jon Gruden’s return as head coach of the silver and black came against an old friend and familiar face in Sean McVay, Jon’s old assistant receivers’ coach in Tampa Bay. The first game of Monday Night Football for the 2018 season had all eyes on the Raiders and Jon Gruden. They came out hot, with a successful first drive that ended with a truly beast mode finish for a touchdown. Jared Cook would also go on to have one of several great games with 9 receptions for 180 yards. Things looked promising as the half ended 13-10 LA. The hopes of raiders fans would once again be crushed, as Derek Carr went on to throw two ugly interception in the second half as the Rams defense smothered our offense and Todd Gurley gashed our defense.

Coming off a tough loss against the Rams, the Raiders looked to bounce back against their division rivals in Denver. They actually played quite well through the first two quarters of the game, going into halftime with a 12-0 lead. Amari Cooper showed up, catching 10 receptions for 110 yards, and Rashaan Melvin had an interception at the 5-yard line. But, in what would become a theme for this Raiders team, they let the game slip through their hands in the second half. A late touchdown on a 4th and goal conversion off a QB sneak would put the Broncos within 2 points (19-17). A 26-yard pass to Tim Patrick would set up the game winning field goal from the 18-yard line.

Jordy Nelson came alive in this one, catching 6 receptions for 173 yards and a touchdown, including 61-yard slant and a 12-yard touchdown on the opening drive. The defense even played pretty well for the most part, holding 6 of 10 dolphins’ possessions to punts. Unfortunately, those other 4 possessions all went for touchdowns off of a couple big plays. Kenny Stills caught a 34-yard dime. Albert Wilson threw a pass to Jakeem Grant off an end-around for a 52-yard touchdown, and on the next possession took a shuffle pass from Ryan Tannehill to the house for a 74-yard TD.

This was one of the most exciting games of the season for the Raiders. Coming off of three tough losses, it was important that the team stabilize themselves with a win at home against a questionable Browns team. Derek Carr put on a show, throwing for over 400 yards and 4 touchdowns. Marshawn Lynch carried the ball for 130 yards and Amari Cooper showed up again, catching 8 receptions for 128 yards and a touchdown. The defense would even get in on the action. Gareon Conley had his first interception return for a touchdown on the Brown’s second drive and Maurice Hurst had his first forced fumble later on in the game. Nick Chubb did, however, gash the Raiders for 105 yards and 2 TDs on 3 carries and a questionable spot on 3rd and 2 could have led to the Raiders fourth straight loss. In the end, the offense played up to their potential and the defense played well enough to win.

After putting on a show against a solid Gregg Williams defense, many Raiders fans thought the team was starting to really come together. A couple close losses had derailed the start of our season, but last week’s win at home was the turning point! Nope. The Raiders’ drives would end as follows: Punt, Field Goal, Punt, Punt, Fumble, Missed Field Goal, Punt, Interception, Touchdown. Amari had 1 catch for 10 yards while Derek only passed for 268 yards with 1 touchdown and an interception. The Chargers had 3 sacks, Keenan Allen had 90 yards on 8 receptions, and Rivers threw for 339 yards and 2 TDs. A pretty lackluster showing to fall to 1-4.

This game is one of three truly awful games by the Raiders this year. Just total domination from start to finish. Frank Clark manhandled our rookie tackles, finishing the game with 2.5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles. Russell Wilson threw for 222 yards and 3 TDs on 17 attempts. 17!!!! The Raiders managed all of 3 points in 60 minutes of game time. Jon Gruden growled at reporters when he was asked about playing in London and I guess I can see why.

This was actually a lot closer than the box score may indicate. Through three quarters of play, the Raiders were actually winning 28-21. Andrew Luck and Derek Carr went toe-to-toe, each throwing around 240 yards and 3 TDs. The real difference maker in this game was the run game. Doug Martin managed 72 yards on 13 carries, while Marlon Mack and the offensive line for the Colts churned out 132 yards on 25 carries and 2 late touchdowns to put them over the top.

Remember those three truly awful games I mentioned? This is number two. After losing both Jimmy Garoppolo and back-up C.J. Beathard to injury, the 49ers were forced to start 3rd string QB Nick Mullens. On Thursday Night Football, in front of the whole league, he proceeded to absolutely torch the Raiders defense. He finished 16/22 with 262 yards and 3 TDs. His passer rating of 151.9 was the highest since 1970 for a quarterback with at least 20 attempts in his debut. The Raiders defense looked completely uninspired, letting backup running back Raheem Mostert outrun them with minimal effort for a 52-yard touchdown. The offense was similarly putrid. Carr threw for 171 yards and no touchdowns. The leading receiver was our scat-back Jalen Richard. The offensive line let up seven- seven- sacks. A total blow-out against our rivals from across the bay on national television. This was rock bottom for a struggling Raiders team.

Looking to turn things around once again, the Raiders returned home to face off against their division rival, the LA Chargers. On the opening drive of the game, Johnny Townsend took a fake punt 41 yards to the Chargers 21-yard line. The crowd came alive. This might have just been the spark they needed. The offense continued to make its way down the field and decided to go for it on 4th and goal from the 1-yard line. A short pass to Dwayne Harris would get stuffed for no gain. Turnover on downs. The next nine possessions would go as follows: Field goal, Fumble, Punt, End of Half, Punt, Punt, Field Goal, Turnover on Downs, End of Game.

Coming in at 1-8 and 2-7, respectively, the Raiders and Cardinals were- by record and talent level- the worst teams in the league. Josh Rosen completed 9/20 for 136 yards 3 TDs and 2 INTs. It is incredible to me that out of 9 completions, 3 of them went for a touchdown. That truly encapsulates the 2018 Raiders defense. Carr played just slightly better, going 19/31 for 192 and 2 TDs. Somehow our defense still only managed one sack against one of the worst offensive lines in the league. I guess our line was that much worse because the cardinals managed four *shrug*

This is another one of those games that was much closer than the final box score would have you believe. Doug Martin punched in a touchdown on the opening drive and this highlight reel catch by Jared Cook would keep things close heading into the 4th quarter only down 20-17. Gareon Conley would also force an interception by deflecting a pass for Michael Crabtree into the arms of Marcus Gilchrist. The pass rush of Baltimore would prove to be too much for our rookie tackles, however, as Matt Judon took Brandon Parkers lunch money three plays in a row for 3 back-to-back-to-back sacks and a forced fumble recovered for a touchdown.

The first matchup between the Chiefs and the Raiders was surprisingly competitive. While Patrick Mahomes continued his MVP-level sophomore campaign with a 295-yard, 4 TD game, Derek Carr would follow close behind with 285 yards and 3 TD. Travic Kelce and Jared Cook faced off for AFC West tight end supremacy with 12/168 and 7/100 games, respectively. What would really prove to be the main factor in this loss for the Raiders was the three lost fumbles from each of the Raiders three running backs. The team would end up 31st in the league in lost fumbles.

This was by far the best game of the season for Raiders fans. After everything we’d been through, the trades and the 2-10 record, the team and the fanbase needed a win. Fortunately for us, you can count on three things in life: Death, Taxes, and good Steelers teams losing to bad Raiders teams. Down 10-7 and driving on the Raiders 15-yard line, Ben Roethlisberger got sacked by Clinton McDonald who came free off a stunt, injuring his ribs and sending him to the medical tent during halftime. Josh Dobbs came in to start the second half and led possessions ending in: a Punt, Turnover on Downs, Interception, and Punt. There are rumors that the x-ray machines weren’t working properly, and it just took Ben a long time to get evaluated, but I think its pretty clear that Tomlin thought he could be us with Josh Dobbs. After a 4th quarter touchdown pass to Lee Smith put the Raiders up 17-14, Roethlisberger returned to the game. On the very next possession, the Steelers drove 75 yards for a touchdown to put them back up 21-17. Derek Carr had a little 2016 magic still left up his sleeve, dropping an absolute DIME through double coverage and right into Seth Robert’s hands. A perfectly executed play to Derek Carrier put the Raiders back up 24-21 with 21 seconds left in the game. A 5-yard pass-turned-lateral on the very next play put the Steelers in field goal range with 5 seconds left on the clock. With the game on the line, Chris Boswell lined up for the 40-yard field goal, slipped on his plant foot and shanked the game-winning field goal.

It’s only right that after an emotional victory against a good Steelers team, we’d play horribly and lose to a JEFF DRISKEL led Bengals team. To be fair, Driskel only managed 130 yards and 1 TD, but Joe Mixon gashed our defense for over 125 yards and 2 TDs. Geno Atkins and Sam Hubbard continued the assault on our offensive line with 5 combined sacks and a forced fumble.

The narrative for this game was the last goodbye for the silver and black in the Oakland Coliseum. The Raiders and the Oakland Coliseum have a storied history together, going back as far as 1966. The stadium holds immense sentimental and historical value, but at the end of the day needs massive repairs/upgrades and a professional football team cannot continue to share their facilities with a baseball team. Unable to come to an agreement with the City of Oakland, Mark Davis took the team to Las Vegas, where a brand-new stadium is being built just for the Raiders. The lease for the Coliseum ended after the 2018 season, so the assumption was that this would be the final game in Oakland for the Raiders. The black hole was raging, and the team needed to send off their fans in the most appropriate way possible: by destroying the donkeys. The game started with a magnificent 99-yard punt return for a touchdown by Dwayne Harris. Doug Martin ran for over 100 yards with a touchdown. Marcus Gilchrist and Erik Harris both came down with an interception. And Karl Joseph got a sack! In the end, the Raiders dominated the Broncos and brought home their final win on their final game in the Oakland Coliseum (well, not anymore but don’t ruin the narrative). Also enjoy this picture of Marshawn Lynch lighting a blunt off Al Davis’ eternal flame.

I guess the Raiders were a bit hungover after partying all night after their win against the Broncos, because this game was embarrassing. The Chiefs began the game with a 67-yard touchdown to Tyreek Hill. Doug Martin then fumbled (again) on the Raiders’ first drive of the game. On the next Raiders’ possession, a miscommunication between Jared Cook and Derek Carr led to a pick-six. That was followed up by a Justin Houston strip-sack. Things did not get better. This was the last of the three truly awful games this season, and its only right that such an awful season ended on such a terrible note.

2019 Outlook, Free Agency, and the Draft

Shortly after the season ended, Jon Gruden put the 2018 season behind him and got to work preparing for the future. Reggie McKenzie was relieved of his duties and Gruden brought in his long-time friend and talent evaluator Mike Mayock as the new general manager. No offense to Reggie, but he and Gruden never really worked at the same speed, and Jon needed someone he could trust absolutely. Even though Mayock has never held an official GM title before, he has spent his entire career evaluating college talent and with five first round picks in the next two years, Gruden needs all the help he can to get them right.

With over $70 million in cap space now available due in part to the trade of Khalil Mack, Gruden and Mayock decided to use free agency to infuse this team with talent. The most exciting addition to the 2019 Raiders is arguably the best receiver in the game, Antonio Brown. After a falling out with Big Ben, Mike Tomlin, and the Steelers ownership, AB demanded a trade. While the Steelers were originally asking for a 1st round pick, Mayock and Gruden held steady and waited for the price to drop. When the deal with Buffalo fell through, and it became apparent that they could acquire AB for only a 3rd and a 5th, they jumped at the chance. They also restructured his contract to a 3-year, $50 million deal, making him the highest paid WR in the league.

Their next move was to acquire the top tackle in free agency, Trent Brown from the New England Patriots. As I have mentioned numerous times in this write-up, our offensive line was absolute trash this year, and it desperately needed stability at the tackle position. Gruden and Mayock watched Trent Brown dominate the Chiefs and the Chargers defensive ends in the playoffs and immediately put him at the top of their FA list.

A somewhat surprising move considering the signing of Antonio Brown, was the signing of Tyrell Williams to a 4-year, $44 million deal. Tyrell is only 27 and has the speed to take the top off a defense, as well as the size and strength to win 50/50 balls. He could be what Gruden envisioned Martavis Bryant to be in 2018.

The last big move in free agency was the signing of Lamarcus Joyner to a 4-year $42 million contract. Joyner is an intelligent, versatile safety that can play NCB, FS, or SS. I believe the plan is to use him at nickel corner to matchup with the speed of Tyreek Hill. A rotation of Joyner, Joseph, and Harris isn’t too bad.

Going into the 2019 NFL Draft, the Raiders still have a bunch of holes to fill. There is still a massive question at RB, they need a G to replace Kelechi Osemele, and they have a couple of TEs they like, but would Gruden and Mayock pass on one of the Iowa boys if they are still there at 24? On the defensive side of the ball, they NEED defensive ends. The draft will have been a failure if they do not end up with at least one DE by the end of the first round. Their strongest position is DT, but if Quinnen Williams falls to them at #4, you have to think they’ll take him. Linebacker is still a huge question mark with a lot of young potential, but Devin White might be a trade back target if they move back from #4, and Devin Bush would certainly get a look if he’s still there at #24. They could also look to add another corner, although Conley has shown a lot of promise and the coaching staff really likes Daryl Worley. As I said, the current safety group isn’t bad, but if they fell in love with Nasir Adderley at the senior bowl, they might take him with one of their late firsts. With three first round picks and four in the top 35, the combinations of picks are endless.

After all the heartbreak and disappointment, things are finally starting to look up for Raider Nation once again. We have a smart, experienced talent evaluator, a hard-working, dedicated coach, five first round picks in the next two years, and we just acquired some high-level talent at key positions of need. It’s going to be very exciting the next two years to see how Mayock shapes this roster and what Gruden does with it. As a great man once said, “Just win, baby”