The New York Jets take on the Oakland Raiders at home in MetLife Stadium this Sunday. Previewing this matchup, Cyril Penn over at Silver And Black Pride was kind enough to answer a few questions for me regarding the 2019 Raiders.
1. The Raiders were roundly criticized when they signed Jon Gruden to an unprecedented 10 year deal to return to coaching after a long layoff, then hired Mike Mayock, a television guy with no prior experience in NFL front offices, to be the general manager. Now the Raiders are 6-4 and knocking on the door of a division championship and the critics have some egg on their faces. What were your thoughts when Gruden was hired and how have they evolved over time? Are you confident in the direction of the Raiders franchise?
When Gruden was hired, it seemed like the Raiders had felt they exhausted all options and were ready to turn the keys to the franchise over. I thought it was a logical move. After all, they made the playoffs only twice after Gruden was traded to the Buccaneers, with one of those appearances coming the year after he left. For a franchise that had debatably the least stability of any in the NFL over the past decade, handing him a 10-year contract seemed good way to change that narrative. Less than two years into that deal, the payoff has already been tremendous and it’s basically impossible to not have confidence in the front office at this point.
2. Raiders quarterback Derek Carr is having perhaps the finest year of his career in 2019, with career highs in passer rating, yards per attempt and completion percentage. Coming into this season there were questions as to whether he was the right guy at quarterback for the long term. Have those questions been answered? Why is Carr having such a good season in 2019, and do you think he can lead the Raiders to a Super Bowl in the near future?
I’m not sure if the questions of whether he’s the right guy long-term have been entirely answered, but they’re fading away with each passing week. Gruden is putting Carr in advantageous positions to make quick decisions, hit checkdowns and convert first down after first down. The Raiders are third in the NFL in converting on third down at 47.6 percent and they’re doing that by establishing the run and relying on Carr to make the right choice in key situations. The Raiders can win a Super Bowl with Carr, but I’m not sure they would be winning because of him. You don’t need an elite passer to win the Super Bowl if you have an elite team. The Raiders are trying to find that formula by investing in their offensive line and running game. Next step is to bolster Carr’s weapons.
3. Running back Josh Jacobs has been extremely impressive for a Raiders team that has put a renewed emphasis on pounding the rock. Jacobs has only been held below 4 yards per carry one game this entire season, in the season opener. That’s an almost unheard level of consistency. Jacobs faces one of the best, if not the best, run defenses in the NFL this week in the Jets. Who do you think gets the better of that key matchup, and why?
The Jets ability to stop the run is exactly why some Raiders fans are worried that the Jets could grab an upset on Sunday. Jacobs has been running behind one of the league’s best offensive lines, with the Raiders front placing fourth in the NFL by Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Line Yards. That said, I expect the Jets to give Oakland’s offense fits by selling out to stop the run and forcing Carr to beat them through the air. That may result in some open receivers off play action if Gruden can effectively scheme up ways to counter their aggression. Carr’s ability or lack thereof to hit intermediate and deep throws off play action might make the difference in this one.
4. If there is an achilles heel for this Raiders team it would appear to be the pass defense, which has struggled badly this year. 30th in the NFL in passing touchdowns allowed, 28th in yards allowed, 26th in passer rating allowed at 102.8 – it has not been pretty for the Raiders pass defense. Why has the pass defense struggled so badly, and how do you think the matchup between the Raiders less than stellar pass defense and the Jets less than stellar pass offense plays out?
The Raiders pass defense has actually looked much improved over the past few weeks in the wake of the Gareon Conley trade. With the emergence of Trayvon Mullen at cornerback and the defensive line creating more pressure, the secondary is forcing turnovers and improving overall. Previously, they were struggling mightily with blown assignments on the back end and miscommunications between members of the secondary, but those concerns have been quelled to an extent. One area that hasn’t improved much is coverage from the linebacker spot, where they’re been hemorrhaging aerial yards to opposing running backs. That could make Le’Veon Bell a huge threat out of the backfield on outs and angles. If Lamarcus Joyner is out again this week, the Jets may have a mismatch with Jamison Crowder and Nevin Lawson in the slot as well.
5. Predictions: Who wins the game this week and why, and will the Raiders win the AFC West this year?
I’m predicting that the Raiders will take this one 21-13. I think the Jets’ offensive line will not be able to hold off a budding Oakland pass rush and that Sam Darnold will be responsible for a couple turnovers that change the game. I expect that Jacobs may have his worst performance of the season and that Carr will do just enough to give his team an early lead that they conservatively cling to. As far as winning the AFC West goes, I wouldn’t bet on it. The Week 13 matchup will go a long way in determining the divisional outcome and it’ll be at Arrowhead with the Chiefs fresh off a bye.