The Raiders are in the bye week of a season that many would characterize as disappointing. However, disappointing doesn’t accurately describe the first half of the season. Oakland’s 2017 season is best characterized as weird.
The Silver and Black have beat teams who sit above them in the playoff standings like the Chiefs and Dolphins but have suffered embarrassing losses to the Broncos and Chargers who are below them in record.
Oakland is blitzing, taking fewer chances and running less play action by many accounts. EJ Manuel started one week for an injured Derek Carr. Carr was supposed to miss two-to-six weeks but returned after a game.
Still, the Raiders offensive line has been a shell of itself as they currently rank No. 16 in run blocking per Football Outsiders’ DVOA. We saw the team move to a run blocking scheme that features more zone plays, despite being one of the league’s most intimidating downhill attacks only a year ago. Amari Cooper, Derek Carr and Michael Crabtree have largely also been inconsistent over the first nine games.
Beyond the X’s and O’s, this team is even weirder off the field. Left tackle Donald Penn started his season by holding out of training camp for more money. A few weeks later, he confronted a trolling fan after the game. He also got in an altercation a few weeks later. Weird occurrences from a veteran left tackle that has been a class act while with the Raiders
There was also the protest versus no-protest narrative that seems to be an on-going issue for the Raiders and other teams. Oakland had Marshawn Lynch run onto the sideline during an altercation and we still don’t know if he was aiding his QB Carr, his cousin and Chiefs corner Marcus Peters or both. Nonetheless, the altercation resulted in a suspension for Lynch.
Don’t forget Carr was the only Raiders player to join the Bills for a small prayer-circle after Oakland was stomped by Buffalo in a road game.
Oh yeah, the franchise also has an unprecedented two-three year rental on the Bay Area before they inevitably move to Las Vegas. That cloud awkwardly hangs over one of the NFL’s most historic franchises despite it being the distant elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about.
It’s been a weird 2017 for the Raiders and now there are blasphemous rumors that the O-line tried to get Carr hurt. In my opinion, these rumors only gained any steam because Raider Nation is seeking answers for a season that is strange on and off the field. Fans are desperate to attribute this team’s weird performances and distinction to something.
As a colleague of mine said, this season is much like Marshall Newhouse’s infamous fumble recovery, run, fumble and trip through the air versus the Dolphins (Also a weird play). The Raiders seem so lost but they give you a shimmer of hope before ultimately just letting you down. This is weird for a team that many experts, including myself, expected to be a Super Bowl contender.
At 4-5, the Raiders offense is ranked 19th in total offense which is far below the expectations after last year’s high-powered attack was supposed to be better in 2017. Many bought into the squad improving after the additions of home-town hero Lynch, mismatch making TE Jared Cook, speedy returner Cordarrelle Paterson and new offensive coordinator Todd Downing. Yet, the offense hasn’t put it together consistently.
The defense hasn’t been any better. We thought a defense that seemed to bend and not buckle last year would continue to find ways to make plays in 2017. Many believed top picks Obi Melifonwu and Gareon Conley would sure up the Raiders’ trash secondary. The first and second round picks have appeared in a combined three regular season games and none of them were together.
Key players in the front seven haven’t developed as fast as many of us wished. The defense only has 13 sacks for the year, they’re dead last in turnovers and they are the first team in NFL history to not have an interception after nine games. Firing defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. rumors only get louder by the day. Jack Del Rio is feeling some of that heat too since he is a defensive coach by trade.
So where are the bright spots for the Raiders through half a season? How is 2017 not disappointing?
The truth is, this season is not over! We might not have a great idea about the identity of this Raiders team. However, Oakland is not completely written out. Now that fans and media have lowered their expectations, the Silver and Black can only get better in the final seven games.
The Raiders have the same record as the Ravens and Jets. They have one more loss than the Dolphins and a win more than the Chargers, Broncos and Bengals who are also on the outside of the current playoff standings. Buffalo is in the driver seat for the final wild card spot but history says they’ll find a way to be mediocre. The Raiders have upcoming bouts against their entire division, as well as the playoff contending Eagles, Cowboys and Patriots.
In many ways, Oakland still controls their destiny. The Raiders will need quite a few tough wins but a playoff berth is still within their grasps. After that, the postseason is an entirely new season.
Regardless, anyone who has watched a Raiders game can tell you this team has not played their best football on either side of the ball. The losses versus the Chargers, Ravens and Broncos were all ugly losses but Oakland was a possession, score or mistake away from seizing victory. Now, the Raiders are another loss or two from being completely irrelevant in the playoff picture.
As weird as this season has already been wouldn’t it be weirder if Oakland found themselves after the bye week?
It wouldn’t be the weirdest thing to happen to this team this season if they all of a sudden found themselves. All of the strange events in the first half of season and offseason have created the underdog and desperate mentality that should spring the Raiders toward their ultimate goal of winning.
It’s okay to laugh at Newhouse’s infamous play since the Raiders won the game. Raider Nation also learned to forgive Lynch after they won the Kansas City game. All the other weird occurrences of the 2017 season will also be forgotten and laughed about if the Raiders find their mojo and will their way into the playoffs.
Oakland’s first half of the season was for sure weird but 2017 can only get stranger if the Raiders pull it together and beat quality opponents. As Silver and Black faithful, this is precisely the weirdness we should expect in the second half of the season.