Five telling takeaways from Raiders' Week 17 loss to Broncos
The Raiders didn’t want to play next week. A victory in Denver would’ve clinched the AFC West, a first-round bye and at least one home game. Sunday’s 24-6 loss to the Broncos dropped them into the wild card pool, with a Saturday date against the Houston Texans on the road.
Unless Miami does something Herculean, the No. 5-seeded Raiders will be a travelling band throughout these playoffs. Of greater concern – the Raiders are road warriors -- need to vastly improve on Sunday’s performance. If they play the Texans the same way, an early exit seems inevitable. Here are five takeaways from Sunday’s loss:
5) Run game must lead
The Silver and Black ground attack had exceeded 130 yards in four straight games. They were nowhere near that sum against a Denver defense committed to stopping the run.
The Raiders had 57 yards on 16 carries, a paltry sum padded by DeAndre Washington’s 20-yard run. That isn’t good enough right now. The ground game must stabilize an offense without Derek Carr, even against a Houston defense that will dare backup quarterbacks to beat them. The goal of running well when they know it’s coming must be accomplished in the future. It wasn’t on Sunday in Denver.
4) Raiders need star power
A total of seven Raiders were elected to the Pro Bowl this season. Without Derek Carr, that number’s down to six. That’s still a significant sum of top-tier players who must take over games at their positions. Khalil Mack had plenty of pressure against Denver. Now, he needs sacks and forced fumbles and batted passes.
Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree must create separation and make something out of less-than-perfect passes. The offensive line must provide time. The secondary, with Pro Bowler Reggie Nelson and high-priced cornerbacks, must make picks and prevent big plays. It’ll take a team to advance in the playoffs without a top-flight quarterback, with big plays from their biggest stars.
3) Carr earned some MVP votes
It’s hard to see Derek Carr win the NFL’s MVP award. There are too many hot candidates healthy all year, including Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers. Tom Brady has been near perfect coming off a four-game suspension. The award honors the league’s most valuable player, and Carr’s value to a 12-4, playoff-bound team was crystal clear.
The Raiders have been outscored 34-6 without Carr, who undoubtedly would’ve kept things competitive against Denver. But he broke a fibula last week and is out. The Raiders must move on to succeed, but there’s little doubt how valuable Carr is to this franchise.
2) Defense’s new world order
The Raiders defense didn’t play great against Denver’s lackluster offense. They weren’t awful either. They gave up 24 points. That’s their season average, a total that would’ve been good enough to win 10 other games in 2016. What was acceptable is not any more.
Oakland can’t get by making some big plays to counter steady scoring allowed. Not anymore. It’s unrealistic to assume this offense will average 27.3 points per game, or have the ability to exceed 30 against playoff-caliber defenses. The Raiders must be stingier than ever, especially in the red zone, to keep point totals down and keep things close.
1) Raiders QBs in tough spot
There are several examples of backup quarterbacks leading their teams to improbable Super Bowl titles. Tom Brady, Kurt Warner and Jeff Hostetler come to mind. And, of course, Jim Plunkett. Those guys had time to get in rhythm during the regular season. That’s a luxury Matt McGloin and Connor Cook don’t have.
Carr’s injury came late in the season’s penultimate game, leaving his backups just a week to capitalize on increased practice snaps. They were activated with a division title on the line and a playoff game in plain view. That’s a tough turnaround. Neither quarterback performed above expectations at Denver, with mistakes common for those thrown into the fire. Can McGloin and/or Cook – Saturday’s starter hasn’t been determined -- correct them in time to beat the Texans?