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.”

Does Gruden see Lynch, Crabtree on Raiders in 2018?


Does Gruden see Lynch, Crabtree on Raiders in 2018?

Jon Gruden doesn’t love offseason restrictions on player-coach interaction. They weren’t so strict when Gruden last coached nine years ago, but the new collective bargaining agreement prevents the new Raiders head coach from extended contact with his players at this stage in the NFL’s downtime.

He has, however, run into several Raiders stopping by the team’s Alameda complex.

Count running back Marshawn Lynch and receiver Michael Crabtree among them. Conversations with those talented, yet mercurial players will be key as Gruden and general manager Reggie McKenzie decide how best to use the salary cap.

Both guys have a long history of NFL production. Both guys are getting up there in age, and have some drawbacks. Both guys can be cut without a salary cap hit.

Gruden had nice things to say about both guys in a Wednesday interview with the Bay Area News Group.

He was asked directly if Lynch will be on the 2018 roster.

“I don’t know,” Gruden said. “I bumped into him. Some of these players that live locally do come to the facility to get a workout, see the trainer. I’ve been downstairs and met several guys. I have talked to Marshawn briefly. We’ll see. We’ll keep everybody posted. Right now, he’s our leading ball carrier. He’s our back, and we’re counting on him. Hopefully we get an opportunity to work together. That’s a man that has a lot of respect in this league as a player and I certainly have respect for him also.”

Lynch started slow but finished strong, and was the team’s best skill player in the season’s second half. He’s contracted to make up to $6 million in 2018.

Crabtree came up later in a discussion of what he likes on the roster.

“I got to bump into Crabtree,” Gruden said. “Hopefully we can get the best out of Crabtree and his career.”

Crabtree is coming off a down year following two stellar seasons in Oakland. He had just 58 catches for 618 yards – he still had eight touchdowns – but his targets and snaps decreased the last two weeks. He seemed at odds with the previous coaching staff, a group that was dismissed at season’s end.

Crabtree is set to make $7 million next season, though none of it is guaranteed.

Gruden meeting reinforces T.J. Carrie's desire to remain with Raiders


Gruden meeting reinforces T.J. Carrie's desire to remain with Raiders

PALO ALTO – Raiders cornerback T.J. Carrie became a father on Super Bowl Sunday. Newborn son Elijah Carrie has been the sole focus these last few weeks, as T.J. learns on the job how to be a dad.

Pardon him if he hasn’t thought much about impending free agency. The 2014 seventh-round pick turned full-time starter has a rookie deal expiring soon, with a raise on the horizon following his best season as a pro.

That’ll come in March. Early February, however, has kept him otherwise engaged.

“I’ve been so busy with my little one, and I haven’t been getting any sleep,” Carrie said Thursday. “Learning how to be a dad has been so engulfing that I haven’t delved into the details of what free agency will mean to me.”

Soul searching wasn’t required to realize his dream scenario. The East Bay native wants to stay in Oakland, with a Raiders team he loved as a kid.

“My intention is to be here,” Carrie said. “I’m a Bay Area guy, a hometown kid. I couldn’t see myself being anywhere else. This is a passion for me. I dreamed about playing for the Raiders for such a long time. Now that I’ve had the opportunity to play there for four years, I want to finish (with the Raiders).”

Carrie wants to work with a new Raiders regime. He visited the team’s Alameda complex on Wednesday and met with new head coach Jon Gruden and defensive assistants. The interaction left Carrie wanting more, furthering his belief that be belongs in Silver and Black.

“Coach Gruden is very energetic,” Carrie said. “He’s a coach that likes to have fun but it a very business oriented guy. There are a lot of things, I imagine, that are going to change, just from the way he has done things. It’s going to be different, but I embrace it. It’ll be very challenging entering into a new regime, but there are a lot of positive factors involved with it.”

The Raiders don’t have many cornerbacks under contract come mid-March. They released David Amerson, and could do the same with Sean Smith later this offseason. Gareon Conley should start at one spot, but everything else is wide-open entering free agency and the draft.

Carrie could find value on the open market after recording 70 tackles and nine passes defensed in 16 starts. He’ll explore his options further next month, before free agency begins in earnest March 14.

“I know March is really when it starts to go down,” Carrie said. “My son will be a little older then, so I can focus more on free agency and make some more decisions.”