The Oakland Raiders had their best season in years in 2016, riding breakout star quarterback Derek Carr to a 12-4 record and their first playoff appearance since 2002.
Losing Carr to a broken leg in Week 16 prevented Oakland from advancing past the wild-card round, but with the QB returning well before the 2017 season began, the Raiders again were expected to challenge the likes of the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers for AFC supremacy.
Uhhh, yeah … about that.
The Raiders equaled their 2016 loss total in just six weeks this season, losing four straight after beginning the year 2-0. They snapped that losing streak with a dramatic win over the Kansas City Chiefs on “Thursday Night Football” but then proceeded to get blown out by the Buffalo Bills before squeaking by the tailspinning Miami Dolphins.
That 27-24 win on “Monday Night Football” brought Oakland to 4-5 on the season, where it sits entering this Sunday’s matchup with the Patriots in Mexico City. The Raiders probably can’t afford to lose more than one of their final seven games, and they still have dates with the Chiefs, Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles looming on their schedule.
So, things aren’t going particularly well for the franchise that soon will call Las Vegas home. With all that said, here’s a closer look at what to expect from the Raiders this Sunday:
He’s nowhere near an MVP candidate this season, but Carr has been solid in his return from injury, completing a career-best 65.2 percent of his passes thus far and boasting a respectable 91.8 passer rating.
“He’s a problem,” Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said Tuesday in a conference call.
The Raiders’ offense as a whole has cratered under new coordinator Todd Downing, though, going from sixth the NFL in total offense and seventh in points per game in 2016 to 24th and 16th so far this season.
The run game, which ranked sixth in the league last season, has been almost nonexistent (32nd in rushing attempts), and many of Downing’s play calls have not played to the strengths of Oakland’s massive offensive line or its top deep threat, Amari Cooper. Carr has attempted just 31 passes of 20 yards or more this season, 22nd-most among all QBs, according to Pro Football Focus.
Cooper certainly isn’t blameless, however, as the third-year pro has been wildly inconsistent. He had one of the best games by any receiver this season in Week 7 (11 catches, 19 targets, 210 yards, two touchdowns vs. Kansas City) but otherwise has fluctuated between mildly impressive and downright bad.
The former Alabama star has caught just 49 percent of his targets (38 of 77), leads the NFL with 10 drops and was held below 10 receiving yards in three consecutive games in September and October. No. 2 receiver Michael Crabtree (36 catches, 55 targets, 451 yards, six touchdowns) and tight end Jared Cook (39 on 55, 499 yards, one score) have been more reliable targets for Carr.
Running back Marshawn Lynch is coming off one of his better games as a Raider, rushing 14 times for 57 yards and two touchdowns against Miami.
Despite boasting the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year in defensive end Khalil Mack, the Raiders are tied for dead last in the NFL with just 13 sacks through nine games. Mack has 4 1/2 of those sacks (down from his 11 last season and 15 in 2015), while Mario Edwards Jr. has 3 1/2 and Bruce Irvin has 2 1/2.
Mack still ranks 12th among all edge defenders in PFF’s pass rush productivity metric, though, and tied for eighth in total pressures with 41.
Interceptions, meanwhile, have been even more hard to come by for the Raiders. They have yet to pick off a single pass this season — the first time in NFL history a team has gone deep into the season without one — and only the Dolphins have fewer pass breakups.
Oakland’s secondary is the team’s greatest weakness.
Opposing quarterbacks have recorded an incredible 110.4 passer rating against the Raiders this season — the worst mark in the league by a sizable margin. They’re 28th in yards allowed per pass attempt and 22nd in passing yards allowed per game, and this week they’ll face a signal-caller in Tom Brady who ranks near the top of the league in almost every statistical category. That’s a recipe for disaster.
Thumbnail photo via Isaiah J. Downing/USA TODAY Sports Images