Oakland Raiders Week 3: Pressures, Hurries, Knockdowns

Sep 11, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; Oakland Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio talks to quarterback Derek Carr (4) in the second quarter of their game against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

The PHK series continues, previewing the Week 3 matchup between the Oakland Raiders and the Tennessee Titans.

After a disappointing loss to the Atlanta Falcons in their home opener, the Raiders look to rebound on the road against the Tennessee Titans this Sunday.

This will be the Raiders second 1:00pm start in their first three games. The team put early start demons to bed in 2015 with two victories in such games, and they continued that trend with a thrilling one-point victory in the final minute in New Orleans to open the season.

They’re itching to get another on Sunday.

Oakland’s defense had better make some vast improvements for that to happen. The Titans have struggled offensively this season, but the Raiders defense has been historically bad through two games.

That’s not hyperbole — they are the only team since the merger to allow 1,000+ yards in the first two games of the year. There isn’t much more to say. They’ve played two excellent offenses, but it’s been just plain bad.

The offense, led by third-year quarterback and emerging star Derek Carr, has been superb. Carr is completing 70 percent of his passes, he’s spreading the ball around, and he’s getting it out quickly. The offensive line is giving him platinum-level “Carr Insurance.” They’re also opening gaping holes for the NFL’s #2 rushing attack.

The offense has been efficient, fun to watch, and the only hope the Raiders have had to be in either of the first two games. They are not the problem.

With that in mind, let’s get to our weekly pressures, hurries, and knockdowns and look at who is under the most pressure this weekend, some quick thoughts, and some ideas we had that have thus far proven false. Let’s discuss.

Sep 18, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) runs with the ball after making a catch against the Oakland Raiders in the fourth quarter at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. The Falcons defeated the Raiders 35-28. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 18, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) runs with the ball after making a catch against the Oakland Raiders in the fourth quarter at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. The Falcons defeated the Raiders 35-28. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Pressures

Raiders Defense

Usually I like to reserve this spot for specific players or coaches. Sean Smith made the list last week, and he certainly could be on here again. But when an entire group of men have performed as poorly as the Raiders defensive unit has, they all need to be held accountable.

Since a Bruce Irvin strip-sack of Drew Brees on the first series of the year, the Raiders defense has managed exactly one sack, and only a handful of QB hits. Khalil Mack — who I will address later — has been virtually invisible.

Linebacker play has been poor. Ben Heeney is having the problems we all worried about. He’s struggling to get off blocks and when he does, he takes poor pursuit angles to the ball and misses tackles. Malcolm Smith has been decent in run play, but is routinely burned by tight ends over the middle.

Irvin and Mack have been lining up almost exclusively at DE, which may be a residual effect of Mario Edwards Jr’s absence. Splitting them out to LB at times and actually using the personnel to mix up looks would be refreshing. It would make almost too much sense. It’s been a bit baffling at times.

Denico Autry, Jihad Ward, “Jelly” Ellis, Big Dan Williams and Stacy McGee have all been various levels of disappointing in the middle. There has been absolutely zero push up the middle toward the QB. The Falcons, when not running off-tackle, had no problem pushing the middle with Alex Mack and company.

The Titans boast a formidable run game, even with Pro Bowl guard Chance Wormack on IR. DeMarco Murray and big rookie Derrick Henry had their way with the Raiders first-team D in the preseason, and QB Marcus Mariota is athletic and accurate.

Mariota has completed 67.6% of his passes this season, and he showed in the preseason he can run the option as well as throw the deep ball. He’s versatile and dangerous, and the Raiders need to be aware of him at all times.

The Raiders front seven has been bad, but not nearly as bad as their secondary. In particular, two new additions — Reggie Nelson and Sean Smith — appear lost and out of sorts in DC Ken Norton Jr’s defensive scheme. Consequently, the Raiders are last in the NFL in pass defense, with 808 yards and 7 TDs given up in two games. Ouch.

Smith has been routinely burned and just hasn’t found his bearings. Give credit to the man for standing up and taking accountability and then putting his name on a promise to do better. But those words will ring hollow if Tajae Sharpe gets loose or Murray or Henry bust a run through a missed tackle.

The lack of pass rush has put pressure on coverage, and the lack of coverage has put pressure on the pass rush. Neither unit is helping the other so they are both suffering.

This defense is under pressure to contain the running game. The Titans must feel supremely confident they can pull out the passing game at any time if they need it. So expect them to try and establish physicality early with Murray and Henry and if it works, Mariota can do just about anything he wants from there.

It’ll be a long day if this team doesn’t gel a little more and come out to play with some fire. For the first time in a long time the offense is frustrated as they continually ball out, while the defense lets them down. There is little passion or emotion on the defensive side, which again is baffling.

At this point they’re under pressure to show up and actually play football.

Pressures

Aug 18, 2016; Green Bay, WI, USA; Oakland Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio calls a play in the third quarter during the game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Aug 18, 2016; Green Bay, WI, USA; Oakland Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio calls a play in the third quarter during the game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Coaching Staff

Del Rio is a great coach, and rightly loved by Raider Nation. He’s a gambler, a rogue in the mold of his hometown team, and the Nation loves him for it. No doubt.

But when is enough enough? Del Rio shows infinite trust in his players, as evidenced by the two-point call in New Orleans and the 4th down TD against the Falcons.

But his decision to go for it on 4th & 2 in a tight game against an offense that couldn’t be stopped? Questionable. After it backfired, definitely foolish.

You don’t want a coach with onions to put them back on the shelf, but you do want them to coach prudently when game situations dictate. Such as in a tight game when you have an excellent punter to play field position battle.

What I’m saying is we want Del Rio to be Del Rio — but when it makes sense. Taking chances all the time isn’t taking risks — it’s being foolish.

This team has lacked discipline, which is as Raiders as it gets, but it wasn’t expected under this staff. Del Rio preached intelligence and accountability all offseason, and has seen his team rack up a frustrating 23 penalties for 199 yards in two games, second only to the Detroit Lions.

He’s also seen an expensive and touted defense do anything but play defense, so much so that he relieved Norton of play-calling duties late in the Falcons game. He benched Ben Heeney, the second defensive starter benched in as many weeks for poor performance.

In short, the “nobel prize for chemistry” that I opined Del Rio may get after a feel-good offseason is definitely in jeopardy. The defense couldn’t tell you the main elements on the periodic table and nobody seems to be teaching them quickly.

The coaching staff is under pressure to make smart coaching decisions but still play to win — a tough balancing act, but it can be done. They are also under pressure to get the penalties in order, get the defense to play with more discipline and gap control, and to get this team back on the right path.

It just seems like things are slipping a bit after nothing has worked on defense for two straight weeks.

Aug 12, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Oakland Raiders safety Karl Joseph (42) talks with defensive back Reggie Nelson (27) and outside linebacker Malcolm Smith (53) during the first half at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Aug 12, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Oakland Raiders safety Karl Joseph (42) talks with defensive back Reggie Nelson (27) and outside linebacker Malcolm Smith (53) during the first half at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Hurries

  • Speaking of Heeney being benched, word is that sixth-round rookie Cory James — who impressed in preseason play — will get some looks this weekend. He’s just as fast as Heeney and seems more instinctive.
  • We’ll also see the debut of touted rookie safety Karl Joseph. A surprise no-show the first two games, apparently it’s taking Joseph some time to get up to speed with the playbook. We’ll see how he acquits himself this weekend, but his torpedo style tackling and intensity may be just what this moribund unit needs to wake up.
  • With Carr (69.9%) and Mariota (67.6%) on the field, two of the top eight most accurate passers in the NFL will be on display. That means the Raiders will have played the #2 most accurate passer (Matt Ryan – 72.9%), the #9 (Drew Brees – 66.3%), and now the #7 (Mariota). Carr is #5.
  • Carr looks incredible. Poised, accurate, confident, and intense he’s definitely shaping up to be the leader the Raiders hoped he would be, and quickly.
  • The team needs to get the ball to it’s playmakers more, and that’s Amari Cooper. I’d also let DeAndre Washington tote a little more. I know Jalen Richard is explosive, but Washington seems like he’d be a little more consistently explosive.
Dec 28, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Oakland Raiders outside linebacker Khalil Mack (52) leaves the field against the Denver Broncos in the third quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos defeated the Raiders 47-14. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 28, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Oakland Raiders outside linebacker Khalil Mack (52) leaves the field against the Denver Broncos in the third quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos defeated the Raiders 47-14. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Knockdowns

Khalil Mack will win DPOY

It’s still possible, nobody is running away with it yet this year. J.J. Watt has looked somewhat human, Tyrann Mathieu is still not 100 percent and Eric Kendricks gets no real love.

So yes, with Mack’s reputation, cache, and talent, it is still possible. But few DPOY’s have done absolutely nothing and been the leaders of a historically bad defense through two games.

That’s where Mack sits right now. He has no sacks this season, only two QB hits, and has been frequently sealed on the edge in the run game. It’s nothing physical — have you seen his SI cover? Mack is a physical freak who works out harder than pretty much anyone.

Perhaps the pressure is getting to him, all the hype of the offseason. Some people were saying he’s better than Von Miller because of his run-stopping ability. I was one of those people. Doesn’t look to be the case right now.

It’s two games in, and the Saints and Falcons both double and triple teamed Mack, chipped him, held him, and made sure he did nothing. He was their focus. But so is Watt, every week. So are many other stalwarts, and they still make plays.

Mack is too good to stay quiet for long, and I’ll state flat out I love the guy. He’s one of my favorite players. But he can’t get a pass for his poor performance thus far, particularly when the offense is doing their part and Carr making good on his previous promise.

If Mack doesn’t disrupt at least one or two plays this weekend, it’ll be another long day for this defense. And if he doesn’t start making plays frequently — and big plays — his reputation won’t win him the DPOY.

Aug 18, 2016; Green Bay, WI, USA; Oakland Raiders running back Latavius Murray (28) during the game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Green Bay won 20-12. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Aug 18, 2016; Green Bay, WI, USA; Oakland Raiders running back Latavius Murray (28) during the game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Green Bay won 20-12. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Knockdowns

Latavius Murray is not a Feature RB

Again, count me among those who speculated this in the offseason. He runs high, he falls down too easily. He misses holes.

Yes he did last season. But he hasn’t this season. Murray said in the offseason he heard the criticisms and was ready to come out and show people what he can do. Thus far, he has.

He’s currently 15th in the NFL in rushing. However, all of the players above him save Spencer Ware have more carries. Murray has 116 yards on 22 carries, which would be a standard game for a feature back. The emergence of Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington to spell him has taken some carries away, but clearly also kept Murray fresh.

Murray has blocked well on blitzes, helping to keep Carr still clean after two games, and he’s averaging a robust 5.3 ypc, third only to Isaiah Crowell of the Browns and Ware. Staying fresh is agreeing with him — as is running behind Kelechi Osemele, who has been every bit the nasty man advertised.

With Murray leading the way, the Raiders are second in the NFL in rushing at 167 yards per game. Though Richard did have a 75-yard burst, Murray has shown that the running game can gain large chunks consistently, and they should ride him a little more.

Defensive struggles are well documented, and the offense has been lights-out. Sometimes, the offense scores a little too quickly — OH NO! — but that does leave the defense tired and playing a lot of snaps. So giving Murray the ball more when the situation warrants makes sense and it likely will happen when game flow allows.

The Raiders have a few things working against them this week, and they’re under real pressure to come together as a team and win this game against a beatable Titans team. They’ll easily be the worst offense the Raiders have faced — the Titans are ranked 21st in the NFL in offense, whereas the Falcons are #1 and the Saints #8.

Cynics would say that’s because the Titans haven’t played the Raiders defense yet. This team has too much pride and intensity to let this continue. I say they get it on track this weekend. Or else something may change unexpectedly, and nobody wants that this early into a season that was supposed to be good vibes.

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