Raiders still struggling to find their explosive offense


Raiders still struggling to find their explosive offense

SARASOTA, Fla. – The Raiders called a timeout with a second left in Sunday’s first half against Buffalo. The Bills called another to get their house in order.

They were 47 yards from pay dirt.

Coordinator Todd Downing called for three receivers to head downfield and quarterback Derek Carr to launch one up for grabs. The ball was checked down instead. Jalen Richard got 15 yards. The half ended with an opportunity.

It was a low-percentage play, to be sure. Success likely wouldn’t have reversed a 34-14 result that dropped the Raiders to 3-5.

It has been a hot topic this week nonetheless, epitomizing the Raiders lack of offensive explosiveness. Big plays are hard to come by these days, including the Buffalo game. So, seemingly, is their willingness to stretch the field.

There are, however, two contrary examples. They threw all over the Kansas City Chiefs and New York Jets. That explosive offense is in the Raiders somewhere. It’s part of the team’s offensive identity, which requires two things: Physical rushing and skill players lighting up with ball in hand.

Fans saw it in Week 7 against the Chiefs, but didn’t get an encore in Buffalo. The non-Hail Mary at the end of the first half frustrated fans to no end.

Deep shots were called against Buffalo. They just didn’t get executed often.

“We ran some people down the field. It’s not like we didn’t call the shots and run people in those spots,” offensive coordinator Todd Downing said. “They either covered it or their progression may have taken them somewhere else, but it certainly was not a complete change in approach saying, ‘Hey we’re going to take shots against the Chiefs and when we’re in Buffalo, we’re not.’”

Carr defended his decision on that first-half closer, and has repeatedly said he looks vertical first and short second when the progression’s complete. Head coach Jack Del Rio said Carr could be more patient to let big plays develop.

The Raiders rank 13th with 24 pass plays of 20-plus yards, but they expected to be near the top with so many weapons. That hasn’t happened, and criticism has come with a low volume of attempts.

“We’re correcting everything,” Carr said. “I take it all in, ‘Yes, sir, whatever you want.’ But at the same time, I’m going to continue to play the game how I think it’s best for our team.”

Carr liked the game plan vs. the Bills. He hasn’t criticized play calling this season despite opportunities to do so as answers are sought why a talented offense continues to scuffle and play below high expectations. Downing hasn’t singled out his quarterback, saying everybody shares blame from a disappointing first half of the season. They remain together and committed to solving problems.

“Things get blown up when you lose,” Carr said. “When you’re winning and it’s going good, oh yeah, you hit a couple of them; you have to take what they give you. That’s just how it works. I’ve been doing this now a little bit too long to understand that.”

That makes sense. Take the easy yards, especially when the ball remains out of harm’s way. The Raiders haven’t been consistent enough to cash in regularly with that strategy. Too often a long drive goes off track. Offense can dictate tempo, and take even what a defense wants to eliminate with calculated risk.

“I think that is a fine line, and I think sometimes the defense is giving you more than what you may originally think,” Downing said. “So, it’s my job to design a good game plan that attacks the softness in defenses or the vulnerabilities, if you will. And (it’s) also my job or the coaching staff’s job to get people in the right place at the right time so that we can go out and execute. So, we’ll continue to improve in all of those areas and look forward to the second half of the season.”

Snap count: Raiders' Melifonwu experiment at cornerback backfires


Snap count: Raiders' Melifonwu experiment at cornerback backfires

The Raiders are razor thin at cornerback, without many bodies or talent they can trust. They were down to three healthy career cornerbacks heading into Sunday’s game against New England, with TJ Carrie, Sean Smith and Dexter McDonald available.

Head coach Jack Del Rio added a new name to the mix. He started second-round safety Obi Melifonwu at cornerback against the high-flying Patriots, an experiment that didn’t work out well.

Melifonwu played 26 snaps at cornerback, where he had been working some in practice since becoming eligible to return off injured reserve. He spent the early season on IR after having arthroscopic knee surgery.

Melifonwu was put in a tough spot, and struggled as a result. He allowed two receptions for 69 yards on four targets, including a 64-yard touchdown to Brandin Cooks where he had his eyes in the backfield when the Patriots speedster blew right by.

This position switch came in Melifonwu’s second NFL game, with just seven defensive snaps under his belt. 

Head coach Jack Del Rio admitted it was a move made out of desperation.

“Yeah, a little bit,” Del Rio said after Sunday’s 33-8 loss to New England at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. “We need more production (at cornerback). We're willing to try just about anything and we talked about being lean there and needing more production from that spot.

“(Melifonwu’s) a talented kid and it was probably asking a little too much, but we are going to roll those guys, we rolled our guys in the secondary tonight, and we're going to do that. We have got to do that until somebody starts playing well enough to stay in there full-time.”

The Raiders are in a bind at cornerback with Gareon Conley on injured reserve and David Amerson out three straight games with a foot injury. Demetrius McCray and Antonio Hamilton are also on season-ending injured reserve.

Carrie was a mainstay on Sunday, playing all 60 defensive snaps. Smith took over early, when the Melifonwu experiment wasn’t working out. He played 43 snaps, allowing three catches for 34 yards on five targets. McDonald played just eight snaps.

The Raiders are hoping someone can improve and settle into a full-time spot. The secondary has been thin for some time, but the personnel department has declined to sign anyone new off the street for depth.

That means Del Rio’s staff is still searching for answers at that position from a small pool.

“We're not playing really well on the back end and we have to find a way,” Del Rio said. “And we're going to make it competitive and let guys challenge for it and challenge for time and the guys that play the best are going to play the most.”

Quarterback – Derek Carr 74
Running back – DeAndre Washington 24, Marshawn Lynch 21, Jamize Olawale 14, Jalen Richard 11,
Wide receiver – Amari Cooper 67, Seth Roberts 59, Michael Crabtree 58, Cordarelle Patterson 25, Johnny Holton 13
Tight end – Jared Cook 54, Clive Walford 14, Lee Smith 10
Offensive line – Kelechi Osemele 74, Rodney Hudson 74, Donald Penn 74, Gabe Jackson 74, Vadal Alexander 74

Defensive line –
Khalil Mack 53, Mario Edwards 44, Justin Ellis 38, Eddie Vanderdoes 34, Denico Autry 31, Treyvon Hester 24, James Cowser 14
Linebacker – NaVorro Bowman 51, Bruce Irvin 46, Cory James 44, Nicholas Morrow 15, Marquel Lee 9
Cornerback – TJ Carrie 60, Sean Smith 43, Obi Melifonwu 26, Dexter McDonald 8
Safety – Reggie Nelson 60, Karl Joseph 51, Shalom Luani 9

Nicholas Morrow 18, James Cowser 18, Marquel Lee 15, Erik Harris 15, Xavier Woodson-Luster 15, Keith McGill 15, Jamize Olawale 15, Cordarrelle Patterson 13, Dexter McDonald 12, DeAndre Washington 11, Jalen Richard 9, Shalom Luani 9, Lee Smith 7, Khalil Mack 7, Mario Edwards 7, Eddie Vanderdoes 7, Denico Autry 7, Treyvon Hester 7, Jon Feliciano 7, Johnny Holton 6, TJ Carrie 6, Jon Condo 4, Marquette King 4, Karl Joseph 2, Cory James 2, Obi Melifonwu 2, Giorgio Tavecchio 2

QB EJ Manuel, OT David Sharpe

QB Connor Cook, OT Jylan Ware, DL Jihad Ward, CB David Amerson, LB Shilique Calhoun, RT Marshall Newhouse, DT Darius Latham

Raiders first-round pick Gareon Conley having surgery


Raiders first-round pick Gareon Conley having surgery

Raiders cornerback Gareon Conley will have surgery to repair his injured shin on Monday, a week after he was placed on season-ending injured reserve.

This year’s No. 24 overall pick announced that news in an Instagram post, accompanied by a picture of his young son.

Surgery was always a likely outcome after heading to IR, though the team never formally stated that would occur.

The Raiders believe Conley will return completely healthy for the 2018 campaign, and have high hopes for him as a lock down cover man.

They could certainly use him this season. He was expected to contribute heavily as a rookie, but a shin injury suffered in a June minicamp prevented that from happening. He missed training camp and the entire preseason slate, but eventually made his NFL debut in Week 2. He suffered a setback in a Week 3 game at Washington, and was shut down indefinitely on Oct. 6.

Conley was re-evaluated early last week, and the Raiders didn’t see enough progress to keep him on the 2017 roster.

The Raiders are lacking at cornerback with Conley down and David Amerson dealing with a foot injury.

Head coach Jack Del Rio will speak to the media Monday afternoon, and provide an update on Conley’s procedure.