ALAMEDA -- While last week's matchup in Buffalo had all the makings of a classic trap game for the Raiders, this week's offers the same predicament for the New York Jets.Consider: the Jets played their first two at home and the last time they came to Oakland, which, by the way, is playing its home opener before a sold-out crowd, New York handed the Raiders their worst-ever home loss, 38-0, in 2009. Plus, the Jets will be without an integral part of their offensive line and just might be looking ahead to the next two weeks with East Coast holy wars at Baltimore and New England on the horizon.A look, then, at some key matchups to watch Sunday afternoon:Raiders defensive tackles Richard Seymour (92), Tommy Kelly (93) and John Henderson (79) vs. Jets center Colin Baxter (64)TALE OF THE TAPESeymour: 6-6, 310, Georgia, eleventh seasonKelly: 6-6, 300, Mississippi State, eighth seasonHenderson: 6-7, 335, Tennessee, tenth seasonBaxter: 6-3, 310, Arizona, first seasonNick Mangold is seen as the best center in the NFL. He is also out with a high ankle sprain. Enter Baxter, an undrafted rookie who was cut by San Diego in September and will be making his first career start.On the road. In the Black Hole. Against behemoths in Seymour, Kelly and, on occasion, Henderson.Surely, the Raiders interior defensive linemen must be licking their chops, right? Meh..."Nothing really, I don't change too much," Kelly said. "We have to really redeem ourselves from last week. Buffalo put up 200 (rushing yards) on us. We can't let that happen again. The Jets run the ball a lot on first and second down. They try to establish the tempo of the game. We've just got to knock their guys back and get early penetration so we can get them into third and long."Thing is, though, through both necessity (Baxter's inexperience) and film (watching Buffalo carve up the Raiders with quick, short passes), the Jets just might switch up their gameplan, making the matchup between Baxter and the Raiders defensive tackles a non-story.Not that the Raiders are anticipating that, either."They play well as a group," Seymour said of the Jets O-line. "So, it's not like they're depending so much on one guy. It's a group effort on the offensive line. They'll do different things -- I'm not saying, cover him up -- but they'll have different plays orit's not like the quarterback's not there, or something like that, a position like that where you're out in the open."It's in the trenches, so to the average fan, they probably won't even notice it."But the grunts down in the trenches most definitely will.Other matchups worth watching Raiders cornerback Stanford Routt (26) vs. Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez (6) -- Should the Raiders stuff the Jets run game, all eyes will shift to New York's signal caller. And for good reason. With visions of Sanchez chowing down on a hot dog the last time he was in Oakland, as a rookie in 2009, he might have to beat the Raiders himself. Which would play into the Oakland's gameplan, even as the Raiders were carved up by Ryan Fitzpatrick a week ago.And with the Jets boasting a three-headed receiving monster of Plaxico Burress, Santonio Holmes and Derrick Mason, not even Routt is sure who his assignment will be on Sunday. He'll just line up on the left side. And Sanchez could take a page from Fitzpatrick's book."This is a copycat league, so whatever you don't handle one week, you will see it until you can stop it," Routt said. "So I wouldn't be surprised."Raiders receiver Denarius Moore (17) vs. Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis (24) -- Revis Island is usually on one side of the field. But with Moore's breakout performance in Buffalo, catching five balls for 146 yards, including a 50-yard touchdown, wouldn't it be just like the three-time Pro Bowler to shadow Moore to see what the rookie is all about and introduce him to the NFL?"I think he's a solid receiver," Revis said. "They have a lot of weapons on that team and there's been a lot of guys that's been hurt. (Louis) Murphy has been hurt. Jacoby (Ford) has been hurt. So, you know, (Moore) filled right in for those guys, filled some big shoes and he's out there making plays as well."
Derek Carr was asked several times during the 2017 season whether a Week 4 back injury impacted his throwing motion, his play, his ability to produce. The Raiders quarterback dismissed the inquiries each time, proclaiming full health.
That wasn’t the whole truth. Three transverse process fractures in his back did affect him. Carr didn’t admit that. He didn’t want to use injury as an excuse. His play, Carr figured, should stand on its own.
Now, with the 2017 season in the rearview, Carr was a bit more candid about his physical state.
“When you break three bones in your back, it doesn’t feel good,” Carr said in this week’s episode of the Raiders Insider Podcast (Subscribe right here). “I’m thankful God healed me to the point I could walk around and be able to practice. Injuries will never be something I talk about, especially during the season, but since it’s after the season, the (back issue) was one of those things that was there.”
Denver’s Adam Gotsis kneed Carr in the back during a third-quarter sack. The fractures occurred there, and removed Carr from that 16-10 loss. The original prognosis had Carr out 2-4 weeks. He missed but one game and never stopped to rest. He missed a Wedneday practice, was limited the rest of the week and was questionable for a game backup EJ Manuel ultimately played.
Carr pushed to get back in the lineup. He didn’t miss another game, but that doesn’t mean the back injury was behind him.
“I had to deal with it,” Carr said. “I had to do certain things to manage it, but I just didn’t talk about it. I didn’t want it to be an excuse. It was a want more than anything else. I didn’t want it to be a reason. I couldn’t let that be a reason why I couldn’t do A, B or C.”
Carr’s back wasn’t the sole reason for lackluster offensive output, but it played a part. The Raiders dealt with flux in play calling and scheme preference, especially in the run game. On-field struggles splintered the locker room some, and an ironclad confidence began to soften.
Carr stands three-plus weeks from last season’s end. Distance provides perspective, and Carr wishes he could’ve done something to pull his Raiders out of a tailspin.
“I’ve looked back at the season over the past couple weeks and wondered if I could have done something or said something or acted upon something at a certain time,” Carr said. “You’re always looking to get better. …
“I’ve looked back (at) the way things were handled, things that went down and said, ‘Man. I wish I could’ve had the knowledge I have now. I would go back and fix that.’ That’s how things work. You gain experience from every situation you go through and try to be better the next time.”
Jon Gruden has been interviewed several times since becoming Raiders head coach. Quarterback Derek Carr hasn’t listened to most of those sessions, and certainly doesn’t seek them out.
One landed in Carr’s inbox recently, and something Gruden said really resonated.
Gruden’s message, paraphrased: If Derek Carr is not successful, then I’ve failed as a coach.
There are two comments in that one. Gruden considers Carr extremely talented, and he’s taking responsibility for unlocking the quarterback's vast potential.
Gruden will be hands on in Carr’s development, with all the coaching intensity and fire and eyebrow raises that have become Gruden’s signature.
“He’s going to demand of me. He’s going to push me,” Carr said on this week’s episode of the Raiders Insider Podcast, which will drop Tuesday morning (Subcribe right here). “He’s going to make me be the best version of myself.”
Carr had a direct answer to skeptics wondering aloud whether he can thrive under Gruden’s particular coaching style.
“I want him to be tough on me,” Carr said. “For anyone who thinks I want him to be a different way has no clue about me or how I play football or how I prepare to play this game. I don’t need to tell stories about how I prepare or manage myself.
“(Jon) and I are going to get along great. I hope that he demands of me. I hope he’s hard on me. I don’t need to know he loves me. He has already told me that about 20 times. I appreciate that and we’ll be friends forever, but I know he’ll be demanding and tell me what I need to do. Let’s go fix problems that I have and let’s do what I need to do to win championships. Hopefully that will give people some insight and hopefully that’s the story that gets out, because that’s the truth.”
Carr met his new head coach briefly before his introductory press conference, but has known Gruden since filming the Gruden QB Camp segment back in 2014. They got along great then, and in each interaction since.
“We have so much more in common that people realize,” Carr said. “I think it would blow some people’s minds. Him and I are very similar in the way we go about our business and how we carry ourselves. It’s an exciting time.”
Carr’s excited to have some stability in his football life. The three-time Pro Bowl quarterback will start his fifth NFL season with his fourth head coach, fourth go-round with an offensive coordinator and third offensive scheme. Gruden signed a 10-year contract. OC Greg Olson signed a four-year pact. They’ll be here a while, and Carr’s excited about that.
“It’s going to be really nice,” Carr said. “To know Jon signed on for a 10 years and (Olson) signed on for a long time shows me a couple of things. No. 1: that they believe in me. I don’t think Coach Gruden would’ve quit his day job, which I’m thankful he did. To get (Olson) out of a good spot in L.A (with the Rams), shows that they believe in me and that’s awesome. And, No. 2: I’m going to have two people I can talk to in a different language for years to come. We can grow within the relationship, and hopefully we’ll all ride off together. It’s set up that way right now, and we have a lot of work to do to reach that point.”