Raiders' Cook won't excuse poor performance; 'I have high expectations for myself'

Raiders' Cook won't excuse poor performance; 'I have high expectations for myself'

HOUSTON – Raiders quarterback Connor Cook was put in a tough spot. This year's fourth-round pick made his first start in the playoffs, against the NFL’s best defense.

Welcome to the league, rook.

The Michigan State alum didn’t lament his lot. He viewed Saturday’s postseason game at Houston as a golden opportunity. Looking back on a 27-14 season-ending loss to the Texans, it was one he sorely missed.

Cook’s stats were unkind. He was 18-for-45 for 161 yards, a touchdown, three interceptions and a 30.0 passer rating.

Those aren’t numbers Cook tolerates, no matter how adverse the circumstances.

“I looked at it like I was going to come in here and I was going to play really well,” Cook said. “I was confident in the game plan, I was confident in the guys around me and I could rely on them, and I think sometimes I tried to do a little too much out there.

“I have high expectations for myself, and to come in here and play like that is not a good feeling. I want to give my team a better chance to come out and win. But, it’s a learning experience and we just have to move on.”

The Raiders will move into the offseason wishing they could’ve gone on a long playoff run. Competing without injured starting quarterback Derek Carr and left tackle Donald Penn surely didn’t help, but the Raiders believed there was enough firepower left to beat the Texans.

There was a requirement to do so. The offensive line and skill players had to help their rookie quarterback, and put him in positions to succeed. That didn’t happen often enough.

Receivers dropped far too many passes. The run game didn’t get going save a first-quarter touchdown drive. The defense allowed too many points and didn’t make any game-changing plays. The Raiders fell down early and played catch-up all game, making Cook’s life harder than it already was.

“It was a tough draw for Connor,” Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio said. “We had hopes that we’d be able to do enough around him that he wouldn’t be called to do as much. I think we ended up throwing 45 times in the game. That’s not the design. I can assure you that. We’d have liked to go into this game and pass it 20 or 25 times and run it the other 45 or 50 times. It got out of whack there.

“Once you’re behind like that, you’re playing catch-up and you’re not able to get some of the things you want to get done, done.”

The Raiders offense was stifled, and never really revved up. Cook’s 3.6 yards per pass attempt ranks third worst in a playoff game since the AFL-NFL merger, according to ESPN Stats and Info. He wasn’t able to connect deep, and threw some killer interceptions. One was intercepted by Jadeveon Clowney inside the Raiders’ 10-yard line. Another came as the Raiders were trying to make it a one-score game.

Those are the types of rookie mistakes possible when a No. 3 quarterback is thrust into the limelight without much prep. Cook said the game was a learning experience, one he wishes could’ve come with a win.

“I got pressured a little bit and it got to me sometimes,” Cook said. “That falls on me. There were a few times I held on to the ball too long. I need to get it out of my hands and check to the backs. Stuff like that I can improve on. They have very good coverage on the outside. They play good defense and the windows were tight, but that falls on my shoulders to deliver very accurate passes to our receivers.”

Quarterback drafted by Jon Gruden in 2008 signs with Raiders


Quarterback drafted by Jon Gruden in 2008 signs with Raiders

Raiders head coach Jon Gruden had a hand in drafting Josh Johnson a decade ago. The agile quarterback and Oakland native was a Tampa Bay’s fifth-round pick in 2008, Gruden’s last year as Buccaneers coach.

The pair will reunite in Johnson’s hometown. The well-traveled quarterback signed with the Raiders on Monday, the team announced.

Johnson will compete with Connor Cook to backup starter Derek Carr, and brings a veteran’s influence to the position group. It likely spells the end of EJ Manuel’s short tenure in silver and black. The strong-armed former first-round pick, who started one game last season, remains a free agent after a year with the Raiders.

This move should make Marshawn Lynch happy. He and Johnson are extremely close and together run the Family First Foundation, a charitable organization that does significant work for East Bay kids. Johnson and Lynch also played football together at Oakland Tech High.

Johnson has played 10 NFL teams prior to this Raiders stop, but hasn’t played in a regular-season game for some time.

Raiders well equipped to 'slam the ball with a beast'


Raiders well equipped to 'slam the ball with a beast'

Raiders head coach Jon Gruden needed specific tools to run his running game. He wanted blocking tight ends and a bruising fullback, relics of a bygone offensive era.

“If Marshawn Lynch is the feature back, I think it’d be nice if we serviced him with a fullback,” Gruden said at the combine. … You need a blocking tight end if you’re going to slam the ball with a beast. So, those are two things that I’m looking for.”

Gruden said he wanted to import some old-school elements to help run with brute force.

Enter free-agent fullback Kyle Smith and tight end Derek Carrier. Welcome back, Lee Smith.

Then, on Sunday, Raiders made another vital move in this old school effort. They cut Marshawn Lynch a $1 million check.

The Oakland native’s roster bonus came due and the Raiders had no problem paying it, the clearest sign Lynch will be the Raiders feature back in 2018.

He’ll have a great chance to thrive in that role. The Raiders have a hulking, expensive offensive line (that still needs a right tackle). They have new ancillary blocking elements, and the centerpiece remains in place.

That last part was expected in recent weeks. The coaching staff, offensive line coach Tom Cable especially, wanted Lynch back. NFL Network confirmed those facts, stating Lynch will be around in 2018.

That was the case, even with Doug Martin’s addition. The former Tampa Bay back is expected to be a backup bruiser, someone who might put DeAndre Washington or (less likely) Jalen Richard’s job in jeopardy.

The Raiders can cut Lynch without a cap hit. Lynch is scheduled to make $6 million in salary and bonuses, with another $2 million available in incentives. The Raiders should hope to pay those; it would mean Lynch is running well.

The Raiders have given him a great opportunity to do so. They have solid blocking and a coach in Cable who helped him succeed during dominant days in Seattle.

Lynch proved he’s still got it in 2017’s second half, with 70 percent of his 891 rushing yards in the final eight games. He struggled early on, and upset some fans by helping the opposition during a scuffle with Kansas City. That mitigated a PR bump the Raiders looked for when signing a popular Oakland native just months after committing to Las Vegas long-term.

Jack Del Rio and staff grew tired of what they perceived as leeway given to Lynch unavailable to others, and probably wouldn’t have kept him on if still gainfully employed.

Gruden seems committed to Lynch this season, though nothing is ever 100 percent with an enigmatic rusher who doesn’t make private thoughts public.

His elusive, rough-and-tumble rushing style fits well with what Gruden wants, though he demands commitment to the team and sport. Sports Illustrated relayed a story of Gruden saying he needed a “full-time Lynch.”

If he gets that, the Raiders run game should thrive.