The NFL giveth and the NFL taketh away. After breaking their 14-year playoff drought last week and looking like potential Super Bowl contenders for the first time since that loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2002, star quarterback Derek Carr broke his fibula on Christmas Eve.
Surrounded by his entire team on the field and many players covering the view as he was treated on the sidelines, it was clear by the mood that it was serious. On the floor and on the verge of tears, you could see number three mouth the words “it’s broken” and every Black Hole fan’s worst nightmare came true.
Now their players might be telling you through the media and social networks that this team isn’t done, that they can make an impact in the post-season, but they are wrong. This entire team swings on the quarterback and without Carr for the foreseeable future, the Raiders are cooked.
Before going down against the Indianapolis Colts, Carr was a legitimate MVP candidate. Let’s start with that offence and its leader, MVP candidate Derek Carr. The former second-round pick had been outstanding, throwing for 3,933 yards which included 28 touchdown passes and only six interceptions.
Combine that with a 63.7% completion rating and a 96.7 passer rating, it’s not hard to see why he was the lifeblood of this team. Carr finally gave them hope where they previously had none and with his drive to pull his team out of the mire, he could have been the x-factor once the post-season rolled around.
When you also look at those stats and the surging runs he led in close gains, then add the fact that the Raiders have led the league in dropped passes with 26, you can see why they were so devastated to lose him. No offence meant to Matt McGloin, but he has enormous shoes to fill.
That will likely mean the team leans on a strong run game, which is currently sixth in yards per game in the NFL. That efficiency on the ground helped open the space up for Carr and if they can continue to pound the football, it may at least alleviate some pressure from McGloin when he does throw the ball.
The issue will be whether they can lean on their defence, which should be the case when you have a destroyer like Khalil Mack on your side. With 11 sacks on the season, yet none in the last two weeks, combined with five forced fumbles and an interception, he is a difference maker on that side of the ball.
He’s even great in the run game, registering six stuffs and forcing teams like the Chargers to force their run game away from him. Mack has become a monster and combined with Bruce Irvin on the other side, who has seven sacks of his own, it has created a beast that strikes fear into every offensive lineman.
However, the worry is the secondary. They rank 30th in yards per game and 21st in points, highlighted by a ball-hawking secondary that maybe takes a couple too many chances and could get burnt by better quality quarterbacks in the playoffs.
That being said, their turnover differential is excellent. In fact, the Raiders lead the league in turnover differential with plus 15 and that is a big driving force in how they have succeeded this season. Simply put, they have given themselves more opportunities per game and restricted their opponents.
Add to that a good kicking game from Sebastian Janikowski and a solid punting game from dancing extraordinaire Marquette King, they have the start of a quality team. The coaching from Jack Del Rio and his win-or-die attitude has been really infectious as Oakland caught fire from an early aggressive call against the New Orleans Saints.
General manager Reggie McKenzie deserves a lot of credit too for building a solid unit mainly through the draft as well. Regardless of how this season now finishes, he’s given them a foundation for them to compete for years to come.
I had written a piece ready to go last week before Christmas got in the way, saying that if the defence could show something against the Colts, they had a real chance. They did, until Carr went down, now everything is in doubt.
A divisional match-up against a raging Denver Broncos who have nothing to lose could have disastrous consequences. A loss leaves the door open for the Kansas City Chiefs to steal the division from under their noses and could put the Raiders in the playoffs earlier than initially expected.
In fact, it’s hard to see them win a playoff game now. It’s clear from how they’ve won games this season how much Carr means to them and with him gone, so too go their playoff ambitions.