Raiders have to put last season behind them, look to future

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A Raiders season that began with so much optimism, excitement and even Super Bowl expectations (from a few) ended with underachievement and even a remarkable sense of demoralized wonderment. Many asked how it happened.

The beginning of the end seemed to happen when the team decided best to move on from Bill Musgrave and promote Todd Downing. The Raiders plummeted from sixth in the league in yards per game to 17th and the regression from Derek Carr was an immense factor. It was reported that Downing and Carr had great rapport and that helped seal Musgrave’s fate in the off-season, but when the decision backfired, it was clear that head coach Jack Del Rio had made a mistake. And he paid for it once the season was over when he was fired.

While the season itself was a compilation of low-lights and what-could-have-been’s, the future seems to be as bright as ever as Oakland signed Jon Gruden to an enormous 10-year, $100 million deal. The team will return an offensive line that bullied defensive fronts last year and showed some signs of that same fortitude this season. Three of the five linemen were Pro Bowlers in 2016. The team hopes to have Carr back on the right track, after he went from just under 4,000 yards his previous two seasons to just 3,496 this year. It was his lowest total since his rookie season in 2014.

The Raiders never looked like themselves. It was a team that knew exactly what they were capable of, but just couldn’t seem to get over that hump of becoming the team they should have been. The fortunate thing for the Raiders, however, is that they still have plenty of time.

Mistakes are in the past for this team now. It’s time to turn the page.

It’s the cliches that sometimes describe the situation so impeccably and this is no different. The Raiders could have been a double-digit win team last season and hopefully they understand that. While many teams miss their moment, the Raiders are lucky enough to have a group of players in their primes or with that within reach in the coming seasons. But, it starts with Derek Carr. Carr has to have his motor running and as “punny” as that may be, it’s entirely true. It seemed many times this season that Carr didn’t have that killer instinct he had so consistently the year before. His “Mamba mentality” as he would call it was MIA.

Carr completed the second highest percentage of passes of his career this year, but it was due to the lack of deep ball attempts and inflated with short dink and dunks. Something the Raiders would become known for as the season went on. Carr had his second lowest yards per pass attempt average this season at just 6.79 and that hindered the receiving totals of a couple prevalent pass catchers on the team as well.

One of those affected was third year man Amari Cooper. Cooper went from being a bonafide No. 1 on a playoff team to a butterfingered afterthought for most of the 14 games he played in. Cooper dropped from over 1000 yards in his first two seasons to just 680 yards in 2017. Cooper dropped from 72 yards per game to under 50 in a season that saw him at the top of the charts in drops.

It wasn’t just the drops from Cooper that were so demoralizing, but the times in which they happened. The team went to Cooper when they needed a reception, whether it was while needing a comeback or on a big third down. Cooper was never a reliable option for the team. The defensive end is also a bit of a question, with that side of the ball being the team’s Achilles heel in the past few seasons.

The secondary is loaded with “could be” talents and players like Reggie Nelson who looked a step slow constantly just one season after he had eight interceptions and a young hitter in Karl Joseph that failed to play with enough discipline to be around the ball the way a safety needs to be. Joseph also missed tackles at a relatively high rate.

The Raiders front seven is, however, something the team can build upon. Led by Khalil Mack, the defensive line showed some serious upside this season. It’s not ridiculous to say that the Raiders can be a playoff team next season but it’s also not outlandish to think that some rebuilding may hinder the team’s push for a fourth Super Bowl, especially after seeing the far cry of this season compared to last.

It’s up to Gruden and the players to make sure they’re playing to the 12-4 potential they showed two seasons ago and not the 6-10 that was exemplified this season. It’s possible but doing it is a whole other animal.