Throughout the offseason, I will be running through a series of Q&As with our fellow SB Nation blogs across the AFC, checking up on the state of affairs for the Jets’ conference rivals.
We continue with a team in the process of bringing the NFL to a brand-new market — the Las Vegas (going to take some time to get used to that) Raiders. Cyril Penn of Silver and Black Pride was able to answer a few questions regarding the Raiders’ 2019 campaign.
1. The Raiders’ passing attack took off in 2019, ranking seventh in DVOA and sixth in yards per play. Derek Carr had a career-year as he smashed his previous bests in yards per attempt and passer rating. What were some of the factors that led to the Raiders’ passing game being so effective?
There are a lot of factors that went into the Raiders’ offensive success, but improved offensive line play is probably the biggest of the bunch. Slotting in studs like Trent Brown and Richie Incognito into the lineup, coupled with some improvement from Kolton Miller on the blindside allowed Derek Carr to stand tall in the pocket and go through progressions. People have chided Jon Gruden’s offense as not being modern enough, but his play-calling was quite effective in allowing players to rack up tons of yards after catch.
2. Josh Jacobs had such a fantastic rookie season. Do you feel he was snubbed for Offensive Rookie of the Year?
Absolutely. I would’ve been able to understand voters giving the award to A.J. Brown, but Kyler Murray getting 26.5 votes compared to Josh Jacobs’ 13 is a travesty. Jacobs was the catalyst of one of the most improved offenses in the league.
3. The Raiders have struggled mightily to produce pressure since trading Khalil Mack, ranking last in quarterback hits in back-to-back seasons. Were there any promising signs from the pass rush in 2019, and going forward, how can the Raiders rejuvenate this facet of the defense?
The Raiders are extremely young on the defensive front, and they showed a lot of growth as the season progressed. Obviously, Maxx Crosby was sensational and was probably the best value pick of the 2019 draft. And the team is looking for steps forward from Clelin Ferrell, Maurice Hurst, Arden Key, and P.J. Hall with new defensive line coach Rod Marinelli reuniting with Gruden. My biggest problem with the Raiders pass rush in 2019 was how predictable they were. They’d almost exclusively rush four down linemen, throwing in only the occasional twist. When they did bring pressure, it was almost always a double-A gap blitz, which is much easier to counter for an offensive line when they know it’s coming. I’d expect the Raiders to bring in more pass rush help and get a little more creative in 2020.
4. Mike Mayock’s first draft class as a general manager received a lot of praise. What were the biggest positives to come out of the group’s rookie season? In what areas can some members of the class improve going forward?
The biggest positive going forward regarding what fans have called “The Mayock Bunch” is a sense of hope for a fan base that hasn’t had much to be excited about over the past two decades. Six of their nine selections became starters by season’s end, and that’s without counting Johnathan Abram, who would’ve been starting a safety had he not been put on season-ending IR after Week 1. Funnily enough, the Raiders are probably looking for the biggest second year jump to come from their top pick, Ferrell, who struggled rushing the passer and was pigeonholed into a run defense role by the end of the year. The Raiders experimented heavily with placing Ferrell at the 3-tech spot during pass rushing situations, but he struggled to find consistency while trying to play both roles. The hope is that with an offseason to focus on his 6-tech role, Ferrell’s all-around performance will improve.
5. Two years back at the helm for Jon Gruden. In 2019, despite the Raiders’ slow finish, they seemed to make a lot of positive accomplishments. How strong of a job did Gruden do in 2019, and are you confident he has adjusted well to the new NFL and can lead a winner into the 2020s?
I still think that it’s too early to fully gauge whether or not Gruden can lead the Raiders toward becoming perennial playoff contenders. Head coaches typically don’t see the full fruits of their labor come to fruition until year three, so the 2020 season will likely be quite telling. After trading away Amari Cooper and Khalil Mack, Gruden was faced with quite the barren cupboard as far as talent, and he’s proven that his wisdom and overall competence is certainly a floor raiser for this team. He can certainly field a capable offense, but the defensive output has been another story.
6. It’s off to Vegas for the Raiders. Do you think the team will maintain a strong following in the Bay Area? How well do you think they will fill up the seats throughout their first season in a market that has never been home to an NFL team?
I think it will be years before the Raiders’ Bay Area following starts to dwindle. Raider fans aren’t suddenly going to stop rooting for their team, and we likely won’t see the Bay Area fully become 49ers territory for years until the younger generation grows up. I’d expect Las Vegas to be filled with fans from the get-go. Let’s not forget, more Los Angeles natives cheer for the Silver and Black than the Rams or Chargers, and that four hour drive is much shorter than the drive from LA to Oakland. Plus, with the amount of high-rollers coming through Las Vegas constantly, the team will have no problem selling luxury boxes and attracting casual fans who want to attend a game simply for the experience.