Tag Archives: Oakland Raiders

Loss of Derek Carr cripples Oakland’s Super Bowl dreams

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A sight no one in Black and Silver wanted to see, their quarterback limping off the field on Christmas Eve. Source: Houston Chronicle

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.

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Mack has been a machine but it may be in vain. Source: Bleacher Report

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.

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Del Rio has changed the culture in Oakland and should have a shot at stardom for years to come. Source: San Francisco Chronicle

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.

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The tactical interest in the extra point decline

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Tomlin is a two-point purist but more will follow his suit in the next year or so. Source: Fox Sports

The NFL set an unwanted record last week. Well, at least the kickers did.

The unheralded, first-to-blame, bit-part players missed a record 12 extra points at the weekend. Formerly seen as gimmes before being moved back last season, the extra few yards have seen some tumble into drivelling messes and this has been the culmination of what has been a poor year for kickers in general.

When a game will be forever known as the one where two easy kicks were missed, you know they are having a bad time. The 6-6 tie between the Arizona Cardinals and the Seattle Seahawks will live in infamy for two terrible field goal attempts that would have won it for either team.

With that, we look at the point after. It was moved from the two-yard line when it turned into an almost pointless exercise, with the knowledge that moving it to the 15 yard line still almost guaranteed a safe hit.

However, the 12 missed in Week 11 highlighted two things that NFL teams may need to think about next season. The standard of kicking across the league has regressed, with more long-distance kickers keeping their job over accurate, safe ones and now whether it really adds to the value of going for two points after a touchdown.

There are a few teams that are already moving towards that line of thinking. Mike Tomlin has had the Pittsburgh Steelers routinely going for two over the last few years, knowing that converting just one can give you a big boost against teams that aren’t as willing to risk it.

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Del Rio showed the guts to go for it and was reSource: SFBay.com

That can also become a disadvantage if you continuously go for it and fail. They were 0-4 against the Dallas Cowboys earlier this season, points that could have changed the complexion of the game if they weren’t constantly trying to make up for what they had lost.

But at the same time, converting the first can be such a big boost and would have negated some of the shortcomings, it’s a real tactical piece.

Take the opening game of the season from the Oakland Raiders, where Jack Del Rio was seen as ballsy enough to call for a two-point conversion to win the game rather than a kick to tie it. Sebastian Janikowski is one of the best kickers in the league, one of the most reliable and a sure-fire Hall of Famer, so why risk it?

Because they succeeded and won the game.

Many will cry that if they missed, they would have lost but that kind of attitude can really pull a team behind you. That’s not trying to say that the Oakland Raiders’ success was created solely from that but the early momentum it gave them was undeniable and that gutsy attitude has pushed them further than people could have imagined at the start of the season.

The hope will be that with these missed points, there’s a view to try and add to our options rather than restrict them. There were outcries to get rid of the extra point altogether, which is an interesting point but takes away some potentially exciting tactical ideas and opportunities from that.

What should take place is more two-point attempts, more risks and more teams willing to pile on the pressure if they can. Do you take the relatively safe, 95% extra point or the riskier two that could be the difference between a win and a loss? It adds an extra layer of intrigue, and that can only be a good thing.

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NFL teams who won and lost in the first week of free agency

This past week in the NFL has been the classic case of hype and hope. Players are signed on big deals, some rightfully so and some not so deservingly, but we gift big awards on the hope that teams have done something right. However, at least on paper, here are the real winners and losers of free agency.

 

WINNERS

New York Giants

Vernon could be a difference maker.  Source: Fox Sports

Vernon could be a difference maker. Source: Fox Sports

The Giants defence was the definition of a mess last season. Bad at rushing the passer consistently, poor against the run and embarrassing against the pass so with a new look coaching team comes a new look defence to go with it.

They spent big on Olivier Vernon, who has 25.5 sacks in his past three years and should offer pressure opposite the resigned Jason Pierre Paul, who could either be great or absent. Damon Harrison was a solid pick-up from the team across town and Snacks should help shore up their porous run defence.

They also did well to pick up Janoris Jenkins from the LA Rams but there will still be a need to add a lot more to the secondary, which is where they may go in the draft. They spent high but brought in young guys that could hit their prime soon, which they are absolutely banking on.

 

Oakland Raiders

Irvin opposite Mack is a scary prospect.  Source: Bleacher Report

Irvin opposite Mack is a scary prospect. Source: Bleacher Report

With a young core, Oakland would have wanted to fill some holes with experienced veterans before looking ahead to the draft again. What the Black Hole will love is that is exactly what they have tried to do.

Bruce Irvin hasn’t set the world alight with 11.5 sacks in his past two years but adds a solid threat opposite the freakish athlete in Khalil Mack. Grabbing Sean Smith from the Kansas City Chiefs not only gives them a solid corner with playmaking ability, it weakens a divisional opponent.

Getting a great guard in Kelechi Osemele will help both the run and the pass game, especially if he’s not kicked out to tackle and while possibly being overpaid, he could be a foundation for their offensive line. There’s a lot to like despite a few risks, they could be a contender in a very interesting AFC West.

 

San Diego Chargers

Some even said Hayward was the Packers' best corner last year, could be a real steal.  Source: jsonline.com

Some even said Hayward was the Packers’ best corner last year, could be a real steal. Source: jsonline.com

This may be a little biased and ideally I would like to keep it quiet but it’s difficult to ignore that the Chargers made some really solid moves without an enormous amount of outlay or risk than others have.

With Malcolm Floyd retiring, Travis Benjamin looks like a solid replacement as a genuine deep threat to add to the likes of Keenan Allen and Stevie Johnson, especially off an almost 1,000 yard season with a 14.1 yard average. Casey Hayward has been good as a slot corner for the Green Bay Packers and will be valuable either there or opposite Jason Verrett for San Diego.

Signing former Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Brandon Mebane finally fixes a problem position for years and he could be a real force in the run game. If they can shore up their line a little or find another playmaker in the secondary, Mike McCoy’s men could be a real bounceback candidate.

 

LOSERS

Cleveland Browns

Getting rid of Manziel hid a lot of bad moves for Cleveland.  Source: CBS

Getting rid of Manziel hid a lot of bad moves for Cleveland. Source: CBS

It looks like a complete rebuild job in Cleveland for Hue Jackson as he has almost zero talent left on an already thin squad of players.

Alex Mack, Mitchell Schwartz and Travis Benjamin all left town on reasonable deals and with the Browns not shifting on their original offers, it seems like such a strange move. All might have been part of their 3-13 team last season but they were all solid pickups for those that did want them in their talent pool for the 2016 season.

There wasn’t much coming through the door either, other than the speculation that they are in the hunt for Colin Kaepernick. When your biggest news in the month of March is that you cut a player that couldn’t win games and couldn’t stop drinking, you know you’re in a big hole.

 

Denver Broncos

Osweiler must have felt shaded by the team, hence his departure.  Source: CBS

Osweiler must have felt shaded by the team, hence his departure. Source: CBS

The reigning Super Bowl champions were keen for a Hall of Fame quarterback to retire so they could usher in a new era, only for the incumbent player to jump ship for a team he feels give him a better chance to succeed.

Brock Osweiler was supposed to take the keys from Peyton Manning but after they didn’t want to risk too much on an iffy seven-game vet, they let someone else do it. It’s not that decision that’s bad, it’s the fact that they now have Mark Sanchez as their number one quarterback heading into the season.

Malik Jackson was paid heavily to leave, which isn’t too much of a blow but the market for decent-to-good pass rushers should worry them. It’s good DeMarcus Ware cut his base salary but Von Miller is going to be very expensive (yet worth it) and it’s hard to see the defence completely carrying the team next season.

 

Miami Dolphins

I just can't get excited about Miami signing Mario Williams.  Source: CBS

I just can’t get excited about Miami signing Mario Williams. Source: CBS

A team that always like to get involved in American Football’s version of March Madness, the Dolphins brought in plenty only to seem stagnant and older where it mattered.

They allowed Oliver Vernon to walk, signing 31-year-old Mario Williams who has never looked like the superstar he was briefly with the Houston Texans. Then they trade for the Philadelphia Eagles’ bust candidates in Byron Maxwell and Kiko Alonso in the hope they can rediscover their form, a risk move indeed.

Lamar Miller moved on, giving the team no run game and they didn’t sign any of the capable offensive lineman to shore up a pretty poor unit. They simply only filled holes they had created for themselves, fixing none of their real needs and some would even say downgrading for not much of a discount.

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NFL Honors Award Show 2016 predicitons

As we head towards Super Bowl 50, I thought it would be ideal to look at the night before the big event and predict the potential winners for the NFL’s Honors Award Show.

Most Valuable Player – Cam Newton

Woah, Cam. Dab away sir, dab away.  Source: USA Today

Woah, Cam. Dab away sir, dab away. Source: USA Today

Although there are a few names in the hat in this one, Cam Newton is the clear front-runner. Having led his team to a 15-1 regular season record and the Super Bowl, Cam has really matured into the leader on this team and into a very good quarterback capable of carrying his team across the line.

This season, he recorded 35 passing touchdowns to just 10 interceptions, throwing for 3,837 yards with a 59.8% pass accuracy. Add onto that his 10 rushing touchdowns, as he himself added 636 yards on the ground as he lost just four fumbles.

It’s been a sensational year for the former Heismann trophy winner and he, along with Russell Wilson, are making the duel-threat quarterback a legitimate option. He’s inspired comebacks, he’s danced a lot and given some young kids moments they will never forget, this one is an easy call.

Coach of the Year – Ron Rivera

Riverboat Ron has had a masterclass of a season.  Source: panthers.com

Riverboat Ron has had a masterclass of a season. Source: panthers.com

This is a very close award between two-time winner Bruce Arians and Panthers coach Ron Rivera and by a slight margin, Rivera comes out on top. He helped his team continue the excellent work from the end of last season and really attack the 2015 campaign.

A superb 15-1 record, where he kept everyone in check and then added to that two superlative playoff wins against two strong teams really puts him above everyone.

Rivera has bread an atmosphere in Carolina that his players clearly both enjoy and thrive within. They have a superb team, credit to the general manager Dave Gettleman there too, and Riverboat Ron has continued ploughing away as his team only gets better and better.

Offensive Player of the Year – Carson Palmer

Palmer is an MVP candidate but will gladly accept this award.  Source: Fox Sports

Palmer is an MVP candidate but will gladly accept this award. Source: Fox Sports

There is a number of names that could quite easily win this award, Tom Brady being one of them, but the NFL should recognise how good the Arizona Cardinals were in some way and this will be how they will do it.

Carson Palmer threw for 4,671 yards with a 63.7% pass completion percentage, notching 35 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions. He had a QB rating average of 104.6 and added a rushing touchdown as the 36-year-old came back healthy to lead the Cardinals to a 13-3 record.

Despite playoff disappointments, Palmer had a very strong year and just came up short against the best team in the NFL. If he can stay healthy, along with the entire team, they’ll be a force to be reckoned with again next year.

Defensive Player of the Year – Luke Kuechly

Kuechly is a tackling machine.  Source: Bleacher Report

Kuechly is a tackling machine. Source: Bleacher Report

The preview I had a month ago saw JJ Watt, Aaron Donald and Tyrann Mathieu ahead of this man but when it came to the business end, Luke Kuechly stepped up and showed why he absolutely should win this award.

In 13 games, he notched 118 combined tackles, a sack, 10 passes defended and a career-equalling four interceptions, including his first touchdown. In the post-season, he has 19 combined tackles, a fumble recovery, two interceptions returned for touchdowns and three passes defended.

He has been the heartbeat of the superb Carolina Panthers defence and if he was fit all season, he would have won this award with his eyes closed. His two tempo-setting interceptions in the playoffs should seal the deal, the middle linebacker changes games.

Rookie of the Year – Todd Gurley

More of this next season, just in LA. Source: USA Today

More of this next season, just in LA. Source: USA Today

It’s hard to predict this award as no-one really separated themselves from the crowd but Todd Gurley might have just done enough to win this one.

The first-round running back rushed for 1,106 yards in 13 games, averaging nine yards a carry and scoring 10 touchdowns. He did lose a few fumbles, three to be exact, but  he still flashed explosive talent that could torment the NFL for years to come.

Many thought he may struggle after missing his final year in college through injury but Gurley proved doubters wrong very swiftly. He’ll be the face of the Rams as they move to Los Angeles and they need to build around him and that strong defence to push forward.

Offensive Rookie of the Year – Amari Cooper

Cooper shined and will have a big future in the Black Hole.  Source: sacbee.com

Cooper shined and will have a big future in the Black Hole. Source: sacbee.com

He may have won the above award had he not slowed down towards the end of the season but Amari Cooper has shown people enough to let them know he’ll be a success in the NFL.

The Alabama alumni caught 72 balls for 1,070 yards, scoring six touchdowns and fumbling just once. He was used sporadically and only caught three balls in his final two games that may have hurt his cause but there’s no doubt that the rookie deserves at least one of the awards.

Cooper will just lose out to the running back who carried a sorry offence but make no mistake, he is one to keep an eye out for in the future. The Oakland Raiders are building again and the young wideout will be a big part of their next few seasons at least.

Defensive Rookie of the Year – Marcus Peters

Peters has settled in nicely with the Chiefs.  Source: thescore.com

Peters has settled in nicely with the Chiefs. Source: thescore.com

A rightful Pro Bowler in his first year, Marcus Peters has really impressed since he was drafted in the first round by the Kansas City Chiefs.

The young cornerback has had 60 tackles in 16 games, 26 passes defended and eight interceptions, with two returned for a touchdown. He also forced a fumble in a terrific year that has been a position of need at the Chiefs and has been duly filled by Peters.

The former Washington standout has a really bright future within a solid defence. Some may have had questions about him starting before the start of the season, now he’s even starting in Honolulu, it’s been a meteoric rise.

Comeback Player of the Year – Eric Berry

Berry's story is one of real triumph. Source: Kansas City Chiefs website

Berry’s story is one of real triumph. Source: Kansas City Chiefs website

Absolutely no questions about this one, Eric Berry will be the Comeback Player of the Year. He absolutely deserves it and no one will argue with it, his comeback this year has been monumental.

Berry was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in December 2014, ending his season and he began treatment straight away. He was cleared for action nine months later and despite not starting one game, he has been sensational yet again.

61 combined tackles, 10 passes defended and two interceptions as he became a key cog in the Kansas City Chiefs defence again and was selected to the Pro Bowl. To come back so quickly and at such a high level, you can only admire the terrific resolve of a real quality football player.

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Who should win the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year?

Watt deserved it last year, who's getting it this year?  Source: Houston Chronicle

Watt deserved it last year, who’s getting it this year? Source: Houston Chronicle

In one of the more difficult to predict awards that will take place just before the Super Bowl, usually the Defensive Player of the Year is more obvious by now. Realistically, there are at least five players that could arguably win the accolade so here’s a look at the contenders.

Special mentions to two players that would have been close, Charles Woodson has had a fantastic year but hasn’t maintained the success and Josh Norman might have courted too much controversy to be chosen.

 

JJ Watt

Watt has been great again but has his previous amazingness shadowed this season?  Source: NFL

Watt has been great again but has his previous amazingness shadowed this season? Source: NFL

Last year’s winner is unsurprisingly a front-runner again, as he was before the season even started. A real once-in-a-generation kind of player, JJ Watt is someone you have to gameplan for and then gameplan again when he ruins it.

This year, he has 66 tackles, 13.5 sacks, five pass defences and a forced fumble, which is a little down from last year. They are still pretty damn good numbers but the knock will be that it’s not Watt numbers, maybe we expect a little too much from the genetic freak.

The face of the franchise, the spiritual leader of the team and the fans, Watt is an example every young player should follow. Dedicated, humble and someone who puts everything into every game, it’s very hard not to admire his ability on the field.

Even a cast can’t stop this monster, who will finally help his side potentially sneak into the playoffs. If he does, it will be difficult not to back him again this season.

 

Aaron Donald

Donald has been an absolute machine for the St Louis Rams.  Source: helmet2helmet.com

Donald has been an absolute machine for the St Louis Rams. Source: helmet2helmet.com

After winning the Rookie Defensive Player of the Year, everyone would take notice of Aaron Donald in his second year. A defensive tackle that can cut right through offensive linemen, he’s a dangerous man indeed.

The St Louis Ram has 64 tackles this season, 11 sacks and a fumble recovery. His numbers don’t really jump off the page like some others, but when you watch him play, it’s easy to see just how big of an impact he has on the game.

In the first game of the season against the Seattle Seahawks, he wrecked their running game. He had nine tackles, two sacks and two stuffs and essentially won the game when he denied Marshawn Lynch stone dead on fourth down in mid-field.

Donald has established himself as a big name and someone we will need to keep an eye on in the future. In a Rams unit that looks likely to be a potential juggernaut, he is the real centrepiece.

 

Khalil Mack

Mack is a stud and a young piece Oakland will build around for years.  Source: sportsworldreport.com

Mack is a stud and a young piece Oakland will build around for years. Source: sportsworldreport.com

What a breakout year for Khalil Mack, who was pretty damn good already, now he’s beginning to look special. The Oakland Raiders needed some new names and they certainly have one in the linebacker.

Mack has 60 combined tackles, 14 sacks and two forced fumbles, really impressive numbers as he has taken to Jack Del Rio’s schemes like a duck to water. A nightmare for any tackle, the youngster has been a real difference maker on a team that could barely create any pressure two years ago.

Against the Denver Broncos, Mack took over and dominated unlike anyone else has this season. Seven tackles, five sacks, a stuff and a forced fumble in a game where he created pressure on every play, it was a game that should be watched over and over again.

The fact that Oakland will miss out on the post-season might just hurt him a little, like it will others, but he is just as deserving as the others. The Black Hole will be a team to watch next season and Mack will be the one for teams to fear next year.

 

Tyrann Mathieu

Mathieu would have been so good to watch in the playoffs.  Source: azcental.com

Mathieu would have been so good to watch in the playoffs. Source: azcental.com

A real beast in the secondary and a nightmare for every quarterback in the league, the versatile Tyrann Mathieu has been spectacular on a great defence

In 14 games, he has made 89 tackles, 16 pass defences, five interceptions with one returned for a touchdown and a forced fumble. He has been used in the slot, he has covered tight ends, he has a sack because he can blitz, he’s a real all-rounder.

He’s a key cog in a really impressive secondary with Patrick Paterson, Jerraud Powers and Rashad Johnson. Mathieu helps glue it all together, he is able to play anywhere they need him and he can really wreck offensive gameplans.

A torn MCL knocks Mathieu out of the rest of the season and the post-season, which is a real shame. That may hurt not just his chances of DPOTY but also the Cardinals’ Super Bowl aspirations.

 

Luke Kuechly

Kuechly is a tackling machine.  Source: Bleacher Report

Kuechly is a tackling machine. Source: Bleacher Report

Not many would deny that Luke Kuechly is the finest inside linebacker of this generation and yet again, the 2014 DPOTY should be under consideration again.

On Sunday, the Carolina Panther recorded 15 tackles, with 10 being individual efforts and it was the fourth time he crossed double digits this season. Kuechly has 101 tackles in 11 games, with him missing some of the early part of the season due to injury.

Because of that, his numbers are down with just one sack but surprisingly, his four interceptions is a joint-career high with two games to go, he’s scored his first touchdown on a return and has forced two fumbles, a career high.

He just keeps getting better and better and is a leader on what can be a very good defence. If he was showing this form without missing any games, he might be ahead of the entire pack.

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