JBB Staff Roundtable: Oakland Raiders at the Halfway Point

JBB Staff Roundtable to recap the first half of the Oakland Raiders 2016 season, and also to preview the rest of the year.

The NFL season is officially past the halfway point, with Week 9 in the books. It’s a perfect time for the bye week, and the Oakland Raiders were fortunate enough to have their schedule fall that way.

So even though at 7-2, the Raiders are technically one game past their halfway point, because of the bye week, let’s just call this the halfway point.

To recap the first nine games of the season, and also to preview the second half of the year, some of the Just Blog Baby staff has complied some thoughts for a roundtable.

Let’s jump right into it.

Sep 11, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; Oakland Raiders wide receiver Michael Crabtree (15) makes a catch for a two-point conversion while defended by New Orleans Saints cornerback Ken Crawley (46) late in the fourth quarter at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Raiders won 35-34. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 11, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; Oakland Raiders wide receiver Michael Crabtree (15) makes a catch for a two-point conversion while defended by New Orleans Saints cornerback Ken Crawley (46) late in the fourth quarter at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Raiders won 35-34. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

1. What was your favorite play/highlight of the first half?

Austin Gayle: The Oakland Raiders are knocking on the door of their first season opening victory since 2011, and rather than knocking the easy PAT through the uprights to seemingly push the contest to overtime, Jack Del Rio keeps his offense on the field. Derek Carr drops a perfect pass into veteran receiver Michael Crabtree’s hands for the go ahead two-point conversion, leaving Raider Nation speechless.

Blackhanside: I think my favorite play of the first half was Michael Crabtree catching that touchdown right on Eric Weddle brushing himself off. Easily the swaggiest play that we’ve had in recent Raider history.

Brazy: I’m going with the two-point conversion in New Orleans for the win. That really set the tone for the first half of the season. I think it showed the team how much confidence the coach had in them and in turn, probably helped the guys feel confident in themselves right out the gate. It said to the world and everyone that this is a new era of excellence for the Raiders.

Evan Ball: Easily the two-point conversion at the end of the Saints game in Week 1. Right then, I knew we were going to have a good season, a more confident team, and the proper culture to make winning an expectation.

Justin Smith: Going for 2 on the new Orleans game because it symbolized a new attitude and a commitment to playing to win.

Maliik Obee: My favorite play/highlight of the first half of the season was Seth Roberts game winner against the Bucs. Ignore the penalties and the stakes at hand for a second, it was just a beautiful play. He gets a bad rep sometimes for his drops, but he showed that he can be a playmaker in that situation.

Nick Hjeltness: Just scanning through my Vine feed, there are so many options to choose from. Carr avoiding three defenders and airing out a pass to Crabtree, who made a jump call catch. Reggie Nelson delivering a hit stick straight out of Madden to clinch the Baltimore game. Seth Roberts’ game-winner in overtime. Derek Carr front-flipping for a first down, and so many more. But the #1 play so far has to be the two-point conversion to win the New Orleans game. That set the tone for the year.

Robert Pfeifer: Everything King Crab — his circus catch/losing his helmet against Denver, what proved to be the winning TD just before halftime in Jacksonville, the go-ahead TD on 4th down that gave Oakland the lead for good against San Diego, the game-winning TD just before the two-minute warning in Baltimore, and the two-point conversion in the final minute for the win in the Super Dome.

Ryan Prime: My highlight of the season came on a play that didn’t count. Week 2 against the Falcons, 7:32 left in the fourth quarter with the Raiders driving, down seven. 3rd & 3, Carr takes the snap out of the shotgun, makes his first read to the far right of the field. He comes off of that almost instantly and makes a hard look back toward his left, looking for Amari Cooper. He keeps his feet moving, readying himself to throw, but the pocket collapses. He scoots up to evade the pursing defensive lineman behind him, then makes a lateral move to juke the linebacker closing in on him from ahead. Falling away to his left, he makes a short but accurate throw (without ever setting his feet!) to lead Cooper, who then effortlessly runs away from the entire Atlanta secondary to score.

Again, this play was called back for illegal touching, with the officials determining Cooper came back in from out-of-bounds and was thus ineligible to catch the ball.

But if you’re not a fan of the Raiders, your quarterback probably never gets that pass off, and your receiver isn’t taking that to the house. I simply can’t relate.

Segun Giwa: My favorite highlight of the first half would have to be Seth Roberts game winning TD in overtime vs. the Bucs. Given what was at stake, the situation, and my reaction as Roberts was dashing to the end zone, this is easily my 1.

Seth Murphy: My favorite play has to be Jalen Richard’s long TD run against the Saints. It’s just such a great story. We didn’t see much of him in the preseason and only heard that he looks good. A UDFA that was from Southern Miss by way of Baton Rouge scoring a 75-yard TD against his home-state team in his first game on his first carry. He immediately contributed to the win and has proven to be a valuable asset to the team.

Tyler Dickson: My favorite play has to be that game winner vs. the Buccaneers. It showed that certain type of swagger this team hasn’t had in years.

Tyler Randolph: Top highlight of the year for me was the 233-yard rushing performance against the Broncos. Obviously because we flexed our muscles and played some bully ball, but also because we showed an ability to adapt from game to game. Having the prolific offense the Raiders have, many envisioned Carr tossing the ball around the field and try long to attack a strength that many have had trouble with, especially with Talib out.

Del Rio and his staff made the proper game plan while trusting his running game and the money up front, and allowed them to impose their will on a weakness of the defending super bowl champs.

Aug 12, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Oakland Raiders tackle Menelik Watson (71) and guard Denver Kirkland (79) against the Arizona Cardinals during a preseason game at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Aug 12, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Oakland Raiders tackle Menelik Watson (71) and guard Denver Kirkland (79) against the Arizona Cardinals during a preseason game at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

2. Which players on offense and defense have been the unsung heroes of the first half?

Austin Gayle: To highlight one of the Raiders’ right tackles as an unsung hero wouldn’t be just, so I believe the best answer is to recognize all three of Oakland’s right tackles that have rotated in this season. With injuries to Menelik Watson and Austin Howard, seventh-round rookie Vadal Alexander could have crumbled within his increased role, but he rose to the occasion. Similarly, Howard has improved with each week in Watson’s absence.

Defensively, Denico Autry has shined above the rotating carousel Ken Norton Jr. has installed in Oakland’s defense. He often disrupts passing lanes and rarely gives up on the play, a level of effort that shouldn’t go unnoticed.

Blackhanside: I have to throw a curveball here because there are so many players playing at a high level I have to accredit that to Mike Tice and Jethro Franklin. The development and improvement of these guys, both of the young players and the old ones, is unreal.

Brazy: For offense, I’m going with the two rookie running backs. Everyone expected the o-line to be good, but we all knew that Latavius couldn’t shoulder the workload and expect him to last all season. Those two kids have really stepped up and allowed Murray to stay fresh through the first half.

Evan Ball: Offense: Kelechi Osemele. No doubt in my mind. The Raiders have the best left side of the OL in the league and it’s largely because of Osemele. He has fit in perfectly with the pass blocking dominance these Raiders have shown previously and has stood out as the best run-blocker by far. His mobility, given his massive size, is beyond impressive. I love watching him every week. PFF has him as their second highest graded LG to this point, and ESPN locked him in on their mid-season All-Pro Team.

Defense: Karl Joseph. It took a couple of games for the rookie to come into his own, but since then he’s been a pillar of the defense. He’s third on the team in tackles, despite his late entrance into the lineup. Good field vision and a thirst for a big hit. He’s been essential in helping to plug up some of the holes left by weak middle linebacker play through much of the season. I love this kid. Looking forward to seeing how he improves over the course of the next few years.

Justin Smith: Some other OL get more love, but Donald Penn is again playing at a Pro Bowl level. He has allowed no sacks and continually opens holes in the run game. The Raiders defensive improvements have coincided with Perry Riley’s arrival at MLB. His veteran presence has stabilized the defense and he’s been a force in the middle in his short time thus far.

Maliik Obee: Unsung offensive hero in my opinion by far is Latavius Murray. He has taken losing carries on the chin. He has taken previous years criticism of being soft on the chin. He does what we need him to do in the situation he is in. After initial contact, he has came correct all season and fought for extra yards.

Unsung hero on D is D.J. Hayden. We as a fan base have been so hard on him, and rightfully so. Since Week 2 he has shown up, getting better every game. Another unsung guy on Special Teams is Brynden Trawick — I have been talking about him all year. He has been key in nailing returners inside the twenty. Another great nab by Reggie, people forget he was hated in Baltimore for injuring Jaboby Jones on a punt return.

Nick Hjeltness: On offense, the unsung hero has been Latavius Murray. No player on that side of the ball faces as much criticism than Latavius, and with two new rookies in town and in a contract year, the pressure was on. He’s responded with a great season thus far.

On defense, it has to be D.J. Hayden. A player that probably 99 percent of Raider Nation was ready to get rid of, Hayden has carved out a role for himself as this team’s slot cornerback. He’s played very well for the majority of the year, and he has maintained that quality level of play even with increased playing time the last couple of weeks. Honorable mention to Darius Latham.

Lastly, special teams players often get little recognition, and Brynden Trawick is no exception. He’s been phenomenal on special teams all year, and is a big reason why that phase of the game has gone so well for Oakland thus far.

Robert Pfeifer: On offense, Michael Crabtree. On defense, rookie Safety Karl Joesph.  If my math is correct he leads the team in tackles since getting his first career start at Tennessee.

Ryan Prime: It’s hard to find a member of the offensive unit that hasn’t received effusive praise this season, but my vote would be Denver Kirkland. When professional boogeyman and world-class mauler Lee Smith went down for the year in Baltimore, there was legitimate concern about the nature of the offense going forward, and what we would be able to do scheme-wise without Smith’s great blocking and sheer nastiness. Denver Kirkland, a practice squad player signed early in the season, has stepped in to Lee’s role nicely, more than handling himself up front.

Defensively, D.J. Hayden simply deserves real credit for his improved play. Sure, he got spanked in the Saints game, and he’s still prone to being taken advantage of every so often, but he’s leaps and bounds better than he was last year, and has had some huge plays in huge moments. I’ve both defended and lambasted D.J. publicly, and had he shown up to fight my friend at Raiders HQ earlier this year, he would’ve had to meet me somewhere in Houston this offseason for a fair one as well. But I’m man enough to give him his due for how he’s balled this season.

Seth Murphy: On offense I’m going to go super deep here and say Denver Kirkland. He’s played surprisingly well for an UDFA and played a huge role in the win vs Denver. He was talented in college but when he signed as an undrafted free agent, I didn’t expect him to have this kind of impact.

On defense, I’ll pick another UDFA; Darius Latham has injected some much needed life into the interior DL. He’s big strong and quick. He can stuff the run and he gives interior OL fits with great athleticism and full repertoire of pass rushing techniques.

Segun Giwa: Unsung hero on offense has to be Keleche Osemele. His impact is undeniable in both the run and pass games. His versatility and durability have helped stabilize the second best o-line in the game. On defense, it has to be David Amerson. In the beginning of the season when the Raiders were having problems across the board on D, he held it down as the #1 corner, even as Sean Smith found his footing on the other side.

Tyler Dickson: On offense I think it’s been Murray — to be quiet honest I was harsh on him coming into this year, but he has run more physical this year and the team looks better with him on the field. On defense, Perry Riley. This guy has given us iron in the middle of our defense finally and the defense has improved since he joined the team.

Tyler Randolph: Offensively, most of the unit has gotten plenty of praise given their success and efficiency. If I had to go with an unsung hero, I’d have to go with Rodney Hudson. Him and Carr are tethered in their communication and it shows on Sunday’s.

Defensively, as displayed last Sunday night, the undrafted rookie Darius Latham. As the season progresses, so does his play. Snap count goes up, chances to make plays go up. The impact he makes goes beyond the stat sheet, much like Mario Edwards last season.

Nov 6, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack (52) points towards the crowd after a defensive stop against the Denver Broncos in the third quarter at Oakland Coliseum. The Raiders defeated the Broncos 30-20. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 6, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack (52) points towards the crowd after a defensive stop against the Denver Broncos in the third quarter at Oakland Coliseum. The Raiders defeated the Broncos 30-20. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

3. The Raiders are 7-2 with seven games remaining. What will their record be?

Austin Gayle: With some of their toughest matchups still in front of them, the Raiders should finish the season 10-6. Oakland must take on all three of their division rivals on the road in a span of four weeks to finish the season, and before that, the Raiders have to topple the Houston Texans in Mexico City and both the Carolina Panthers and Buffalo Bills at home.

Blackhanside: For the remainder of the schedule I have us going 4-3.  As a Raiders fan I am used to us losing a game that we should probably win, and I think that may happen in San Diego. I also don’t know if we are going to beat the Chiefs yet. And for some ridiculous reason we lose to Carolina.

Brazy: Well my prediction before the season started was 16-0. So, I’ll go 14-2. Would be surprised if they did worse than 12-4.

Evan Ball: I usually err on the side of caution with predictions, but right now it feels like 11-5 is the most likely outcome. They have three games that should be solid wins in Carolina, Houston, and Indiana. Considering the inconsistency this team can show, they’ll probably lose one of them. The Bills game will be tough, but at least it’s at home. I’m calling that a tight win. Where this team will really show what they’re made of are in the three in-division away games. San Diego, Kansas City, and Denver are not to be underestimated. I’m guessing they go 1-2 over that stretch.

Justin Smith: I think they go 12-4 and challenge Kansas City for the division title.

Maliik Obee: I’m a realist, I see the team going 4-3 the rest of the season. The D has improved, but I’m scared of getting abused by Olsen when we play Carolina. I don’t see Raiders beating Chiefs and I think the Bills give us problems with Shady.

Nick Hjeltness: On the most recent episode of the JBB Podcast, we played the schedule game. I had Oakland losing to Carolina, Kansas City and Denver…so 11-5.

Robert Pfeifer: ESPN’s FPI predicts they will likely finish at 11-5, which seems very reasonable.

Ryan Prime: There are seven games left in the season, and as the old adage goes, you need at least ten to get into the playoffs. That means, in the very least, the Raiders have to win three of their next seven. That seems easy enough, but in an era where 3-1 leads are blown as readily as candles on a Kardashian’s birthday cake, it’s a roundly terrifying prospect to consider.

Every team left on the schedule is dangerous in some form or fashion. The one game I think we stand the biggest chance of losing is the Buffalo game (recent performance aside, run defense is not exactly our strength). The most assured victory at this point might be the Colts on Christmas Eve. Overall, I say we go 4-3 down the stretch with losses coming to Carolina, Buffalo and San Diego (inexplicably), finish 11-5, and clinch the division on the last day of the season in Denver.

Seth Murphy: 12-4.

Segun Giwa: I see the Raiders going 10-6 this season. Raiders still have away games @ Denver, KC, and SD, and home games vs. the Panthers and Colts.

Tyler Dickson: I think the Raiders end up 10-6 our division is quiet tough, we have some tricky road teams and playoff hungry teams too.

Tyler Randolph: Winnable games are riddled throughout the rest of the Raiders’ schedule, but there still some tough ones ahead. I’m saying they go 11-5.

Oct 9, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) reacts after throwing a touchdown pass against the San Diego Chargers in the third quarter at Oakland Coliseum. The Raiders defeated the Chargers 34-31. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 9, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) reacts after throwing a touchdown pass against the San Diego Chargers in the third quarter at Oakland Coliseum. The Raiders defeated the Chargers 34-31. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

4. What is your final prediction for the Raiders this year? Playoff bound? And if so, how far do they go?

Austin Gayle: With a 10-6 record, the Raiders should earn a playoff birth, and until they square off against the Kansas City Chiefs or New England Patriots, the Silver and Black will continue to earn wins in the postseason. If that means an AFC Championship in Foxborough or Arrowhead Stadium, the Raiders’ storybook season would likely come to an abrupt ending.

Blackhanside: The Oakland Raiders are going to the playoffs. I’m going to leave it at that, because so many things change so fast in this league, I’m afraid to say anything beyond that.

Brazy: It would take a major meltdown for the Raiders to miss the playoffs this year. They can play with anybody in the league and should make it to the AFC title game. I would love to see us get revenge for the tuck rule game and begin our Silver & Black dynasty. No reason they can’t make it to the Super Bowl and win it.

Evan Ball: Oh, yeah. Playoffs are happening. It’s going to be interesting to see where they end up in the scramble of it all. I’m guessing they lose their first playoff game. This team is clearly talented enough to go deeper in the playoffs, but in the playoffs the defense needs to come correct, and that has been a major problem for the team so far. I also have some concerns about the offense’s ability to produce given the increase in defensive adjustments made due to playoff scouting.

Justin Smith: I think they will win the division and a home playoff game and lose to the Patriots in the AFC Championship.

Maliik Obee: I see the Raiders going 11-5. I think we can beat New England in the AFC Championship for the sole fact that we can put up numbers with the best. By that time, our defense will continue to gel, and if we can even marginally contain their two TE’s we will be okay. Raiders vs. Cowboys Super Bowl to restore order in the NFL as the two most important franchises in football duke it out.

Nick Hjeltness: This is a tough question, because you never want to predict your favorite team to fall short of a championship, but I think that is what happens. I think the Raiders win their first playoff game, make it to the AFC Championship and fall short there. Which is a hell of a season for this young team, and we’ll definitely be back. And even better.

Robert Pfeifer: I predict they lose the AFC Championship game in Snowy Foxboro to “The Hoodie” and the Patriots in a rematch of “The Tuck Rule Game.”

Ryan Prime: Football is fickle and unforgiving. If the season ended today, we’d be the two-seed and AFC West champs, but the Chiefs are going to have something to say about that in one way or another. If you thought the stakes of last Sunday’s home stand against Denver were high, Thursday Night Football IN Kansas City in December is going to be something else entirely.

I can’t fully wrap my head around a Raiders postseason appearance just yet, and I’m almost immediately prompted to say “IF THEY GET IN THE PLAYOFFS THEY’RE GOING ALL THE WAY IDC”. But realistically, my gut tells me we’ll see a division foe for a third time this year. For now, I’ll leave it at that.

Seth Murphy: I’m predicting a playoff game and a win in the wildcard round. I think they’ll stumble after that. That’s okay though. Playoff experience is a great first step.

Segun Giwa: I think the Chiefs will win the division with the Raiders and Broncos in the playoffs as wild car teams. The Raiders are undefeated on the road this year, but in the playoffs, it helps for a young team to have the crowd behind them, so hopefully they get in as division winners. I’ll give Andy Reid and the Chiefs the nod for division winners because everybody knows the Chiefs are a regular season team.

Tyler Dickson: I think we get the division home wildcard game. After that I see us going to the AFC Championship, and if our defense can continue to improve, we could go even further.

Tyler Randolph: Playoffs definitely, with the possibility of a first round bye and home game. 11-5 won’t cut for a first round bye, but 12-4 should, if they get there. I see an AFC championship rematch in Foxboro.

September 18, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders running back Jalen Richard (30) runs with the football past Atlanta Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (56) during the third quarter at Oakland Coliseum. The Falcons defeated the Raiders 35-28. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

September 18, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders running back Jalen Richard (30) runs with the football past Atlanta Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (56) during the third quarter at Oakland Coliseum. The Falcons defeated the Raiders 35-28. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

5. Who is your current favorite Raider not named Carr, Mack or Cooper? Why?

Austin Gayle: Newly acquired offensive guard Kelechi Osemele has quickly earned my respect, for his ability to physically dominate opposing defenders each and every play has left me no choice. Before Osemele, I never truly understood the benefits of a dominant, physical interior offensive lineman. Now, I never want to see him go.

Blackhanside: This is a tough one for me. Donald Penn is a raider to his core so I appreciate that. Gabe Jackson was my favorite last year. But number 70, Jesus Christ number 70 will f*** you up.

Brazy: I think Latavius is the obvious answer. I still can’t let go of how Crabtree acted when he was drafted. I keep waiting for the diva in him to come out. But, I’m going to say this rookie safety is growing on me. The way Karl Joseph is flying around in the secondary is getting my attention. He had a couple of ball separating hits against Tampa Bay that had me jumping off my couch, hoot’n and hollar’n. He’s also been sticking his nose in there good in the run game. I’m looking forward to watching this kid the rest of the season.

Evan Ball: Marquette King. The punting meme himself.

Justin Smith: It would be too easy to say Crabtree, so I’m going Osemele. Watching him maul people and just work guys until the whistle blows is awesome. His nasty attitude is I think a big reason the team has been as so successful thus far, and he’s brought a real toughness every team needs.

Maliik Obee: Favorite guy would have to be Marquette King. He is defying so many odds as a black Punter. He is Reggie Roby with swag and confidence, and he is having fun. His body type and athleticism show that he can play a different position if he so pleased.

Nick Hjeltness: Like the “favorite play” question, there are so many choices here. Michael Crabtree stands out, especially because I never expected to be as much of fan of his as I am. Kelechi Osemele and really the entire offensive line, sans the right tackle, would all be good choices. And so would Marquette King — the best and most entertaining punter in the NFL.

With that being said, I’m going with Donald Penn. He’s been phenomenal since joining the team, and he’s really embraced being a Raider. He’s been a leader in the locker room, and as someone who has badly wanted a dominant offensive line for a long time now, I’m thrilled to finally have one to cheer for. And Penn was the first building block of making that happen.

Robert Pfeifer: Michael Crabtree, easily. I’ve enjoyed watching him ever since seeing him haul in that game-winning score from Graham Harrell live on TV against Texas. Those fade routes he snags in the end zone from Carr are a thing of beauty and he has a knack for the big play.

Ryan Prime: Jalen Richard runs like a man possessed, as though his entire life he’s been told “no”, “you can’t”, “you won’t”. The thing is, that may not make him unique or different from any other guy in the league — what does separate him is that you can see emanating from his very being every single time he touches the ball. He came into the season very good and is continually improving. He’s easily been my favorite guy to watch this season.

Seth Murphy: This is tough, a lot of names come to mind and I can’t pick one. First I’ll say Bruce Irvin, he’s an incredibly vocal leader that can back up his talk. He plays like he’s 30 pounds bigger and is a huge influence in the locker room, very well respected by his teammates. He’s outspoken at times but he just wants to win. That’s a Raider.

My bonus is Jalen Richard, and he’ll always have a place for my especially after the preseason game. So humble and a hard worker that wants to help the team win. He’s very grounded and he understands his routes. It also helps that he plays like a seasoned vet, he can squeeze the most out any play.

Segun Giwa: Marquette King! Easily. No debate. Good to see that he is finally getting national media attention.

Tyler Dickson: Karl Joseph, the little pitbull. All over the field and he’s just so physical for someone his size.

Tyler Randolph: Crabtree. Dude has completely remade his status in the NFL. Him and Cooper are the most potent duo in the league, and the Raiders have him on a bargain discount. His toughness and leadership are too important for the Raiders not to have.

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