Just one week after an upset victory over Pittsburgh, giving Oakland Raiders fans hope that the team was coming around, a regression of epic proportions was apparent in Sunday’s 37-6 loss in Denver. In a loss like this, it is extremely difficult to find bright spots, likely because there weren’t any. How this team is able to rebound from this, and the entire first quarter of the season for that matter, will soon shed light on their fortunes for the remainder of the year. As of right now, it does not look good.
Heading into Sunday, the Raiders’ injury and depth issues in the secondary were well publicized. An already thin secondary, missing their starting two cornerbacks, as well as having moved their starting free safety to cornerback taking one of the spots, is not likely to fare well in the passing game on a regular day. This Sunday, against a first-ballot Hall of Famer in Peyton Manning, they had no chance. Manning effortlessly led his offense up and down the field throughout the game. Had it not been for an unforced Demaryius Thomas fumble in the open field on his way to the endzone, the final score would have been even worse.
Due to the injuries in the secondary, it is apparent that the Raiders are playing a different and more ”safe” style of defense, and opposing teams are taking full advantage of it. In the San Diego game on opening night, we saw a lot more press coverage as the two starting cornerbacks, Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer, were healthy and on the field together. Now, with Pat Lee and Michael Huff playing corner, it seems as though they are more comfortable with playing off coverage, possibly as a tactic to be less susceptible to the deep ball. While that may be working for that alone, the Raiders defense is getting worked over on underneath patterns, as teams are completing well over 70% of their passes. Against the Broncos, the entire defense seemed to be playing deep all day, and a veteran QB like Manning was content to drop the ball off underneath for first down after first down. Why wouldn’t he? If this defense is going to have a chance moving forward, and especially in Atlanta after the bye week, they will need to get both get healthy, and start disrupting the opposing WR’s routes off of the line. Right now, playing offense against the Raiders just looks too easy.
As for the offense, who seemingly had a coming out party in the win over Pittsburgh, was back to being out of sync. The running game could not get going, and with WR Darrius Heyward-Bey out, and Champ Bailey covering Denarius Moore all day, options in the passing game were limited. At this point, despite recent cries for patience for Greg Knapp’s system, one has to begin to (if not already) wonder just how well his system and style of play fits this offensive personnel. Players have given their support of the system throughout the season, through success or struggles, but seeing the poor play of this offense, in comparison to last years explosive unit, certainly bears questioning. Whether it is the system, play calling, a combination of the two, or none of the above, something is different. When the struggles are coming with what it is relatively the same personnel as last season, where the Raiders had the NFL’s 9th ranked offense, all the while missing their best offensive weapon for the majority of which, it is quite concerning. Granted, Hue Jackson’s offense did struggle out of the gates upon his arrival as Offensive Coordinator in Oakland, only to explode later on. It is entirely possible that at some point this season, this offensive scheme clicks for everyone, and they start to reach the level that they are capable of. However, if it doesn’t, despite Dennis Allen’s support of the system, it could be a one and done year for Greg Knapp as offensive coordinator.
With a bye this week, the Raiders will have some time to get healthy, as well as try to perfect the new schemes that are struggling on both sides of the ball. Whether they can do so or not will be tested immediately, as in week 6 they travel to Atlanta to face possibly the best team in football right now. There is no denying that the Raiders have the talent to perform well on both offense and defense. Right now, it is a matter of executing, getting healthy, and the coaches putting the players in the best positions possible to make plays. If these struggles continue, it will be an extremely long season for the Silver and Black.
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