How the Raiders’ Las Vegas stadium is looking
When Jon Gruden took over as the head coach of the Raiders in January 2018, he said his goal was to build “the best football team we can for the people here in Oakland.”
As we enter the final season of the Raiders’ Oakland run, that much is clear. As soon as Gruden started his second, non-successive term, he began building for a grand debut in Las Vegas rather than a strong finish in the East Bay.
Don’t get me wrong; rebuilding the Raiders was and remains a justifiable decision. Gruden took over a franchise that last won a playoff game in 2003, the year after he was traded to Tampa Bay, and he inherited a roster that wasn’t worth keeping together, as it had little chance to be anything better than mediocre.
Yes, in a vacuum, the moves made sense. But we’re not in a vacuum; we’re in one of the most peculiar situations in modern NFL history, and the way the Raiders have played out this Oakland exit is cold as ice.
And despite some interesting additions this past offseason, the truth remains that the Raiders’ retooled roster isn’t contending for anything of true value this year. In their future desert home, they’re 60-to-1 to win the Super Bowl, though that’s a number that is better-than-advertised year after year because of a rabid fanbase that now has short commutes to the ticket windows.
But while Gruden and new general manager Mike Mayock’s incoming crop of highly paid players won’t make the Raiders playoff contenders, when it comes to combustibility, the Raiders are second to none. They’re the Real Football Dudes of Alameda.
So at least fans have that.
Gruden — after proving in over his head in his return as Raiders’ grand poobah last season — relinquished personnel calls to Mayock, who subsequently replaced all of the Raiders’ starters at wide receiver, running back and tight end this past offseason.
The biggest addition, Antonio Brown, brings incredible showmanship to the Silver and Black proceedings, and while he’s a future Hall of Famer and unquestionably one of the best receivers in the NFL today, his addition to the Raiders’ offense seems to spark more concern than excitement around the league. After all, this guy fell out with a quarterback with two Super Bowl rings and one of the strongest organizations in the NFL — what’s he going to do with a quarterback who is playing for his job this year and has issues getting the ball downfield if the pocket is anything less than pristine?
“I told Antonio [to] try not and yell at Derek,” Gruden said at the start of training camp. “Yell at me when you have a problem. Then he started yelling at me and I said, ‘Don’t yell at me, yell at [Greg] Olson, he’s the offensive coordinator.’”
Here. We. Go.
Even if Carr and Brown, and, by proxy, the Raiders offense, overcome the unwittingly subversive efforts of one of the worst offensive line coaches in the NFL, Tom Cable, and can make beautiful music together this year, scoring four touchdowns a game, it probably still won’t be enough for the Raiders to make much noise in the AFC West.
That’s because, contrary to Gruden’s deepest desires, defense is an important part of the game of football.
Last year, the Raiders registered only 13 sacks and pressure on 22 percent of snaps, far and away the fewest in the NFL. But instead of spending on a known pass-rusher this past offseason season, they’re hoping that rookie Clelin Ferrell (the No. 4 overall pick) and second-year defensive end Arden Key can bookend a competent pass rush. Best of luck with that.
Even if the Raiders are able to increase the pressure on opposing quarterbacks this season, it probably won’t help much. Last season the Raiders allowed 6.8 yards on downs where they created pressure, more than 20 percent worse than the second-to-worst team in the NFL in that statistical category. They are the only team in the NFL that allowed opposing offenses to gain more yards than average on downs in which their quarterback was pressured — something I didn’t think was possible.
Front to back, this Raiders’ defense looks like a sieve.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s some promise — some hope — that Oakland’s defense will improve year-over-year, but that only exists because it’s hard to imagine one of the worst defenses in modern NFL history somehow becoming worse in 2019.
The best-case scenario for the Raiders in this, the last season in Oakland (unless there are serious issues in the final stages of the Las Vegas Stadium construction process) is that they can win with Big 12, Arena-style football, and that brand is admittedly fun and exciting to watch. Everyone loves touchdowns.
And if that doesn’t come to pass, well, at least the drama will be engaging. It’s a fitting but wholly unfair ending to the Raiders’ tenure in Oakland.