Jack Del Rio

Raiders season at a crossroads: 'This is gut-check time'

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USATI

Raiders season at a crossroads: 'This is gut-check time'

The 2016 Raiders were well armed, with a stout offensive line, the NFL’s best defender and an MVP candidate under center.

That’ll win games. The Silver and Black went 12-4 and made the postseason for another reason.

They could take a punch.

That group absorbed haymakers but never saw stars. They’d charge right back, with some Derek Carr magic or a timely takeaway.

Jack Del Rio gave them swagger, but results bred confidence and solidified resolve.

There’s so much continuity on the roster and coaching staff between that year and this that repeat performances were assumed.

That hasn’t happened. The Raiders are 2-3, mired in a three-game losing streak following a 30-17 home loss to Baltimore.

The record isn’t all that troubling. They lost to an upstart Washington squad on the road, Denver’s top-tier defense and a hungry Ravens squad without starting quarterback Derek Carr.

Those things happen. It’s the how, not the what, that raises red flags.

Adversity is winning. They get down and stay there, which is un-Raider-like in the Del Rio era. This group looks lost and a bit shaken after three straight defeats.

“I think you’d have to have a little bit of a question about the confidence level,” Del Rio said. “You just went out and didn’t get it done three weeks in a row. To me it’s real simple. It’s a group of men, prideful men. We’ll get back in the saddle, get back to work.”

The Raiders have to work fast. They’re already three games behind AFC West pace car Kansas City. A loss to L.A. Sunday puts them in last place, miles away from their primary goal of winning the division.

Others were talking AFC title, maybe even a Super Bowl before the season. Outside expectations don’t matter, but they are heard. Maybe they created a false confidence, a belief this early season might be easy.

“Coming into the year you all were telling us how good we are,” edge rusher Bruce Irvin said. “I don’t know if we believed it or not but it’s like this. It’s not the first time I’ve been in a situation like this. It’s the 5th game. We have 11 more games. We have time to turn it around but it’s all if we want to or not. We have to come into work and take this [expletive] serious or we’ll continue to lose.”

Several things have to change. The Raiders must get their offense in order. Amari Cooper is invisible. The line isn’t its consistently dominant self. Even Carr has looked human during this tough stretch.

The defense must be opportunistic, and overcome an injury plague at inside linebacker and cornerback.

Most important, however, is proving they don’t have a glass jaw.

There’s a combination of talent and pride here required to turn things around. This season will hinge on an ability to do that.

“I see a good team with a good defense and an explosive offense,” Joseph said. “We just have put it all together. We have to practice harder, to do whatever it takes to get a win. Three losses in a row, that hurts.”

It wasn’t, however, a fatal blow. There’s 11 games left, with time to rectify a seemingly dire situation. That will only happen, however, if the Raiders get beyond this confidence crisis and start performing under pressure.

“Everyone’s to blame. This is gut-check time,” right tackle Marshall Newhouse said. “We have to look in the mirror and see what we as individuals can do better. We have to actually apply that to the day-to-day, and be honest with yourself. It really is that simple and that complicated.”

Del Rio's decision to punt backfires: 'Hindsight is always 20/20'

Del Rio's decision to punt backfires: 'Hindsight is always 20/20'

OAKLAND – The Raiders faced a 4th down-and-3 in Baltimore territory with nine minutes left. The Ravens were 10 points up at that stage, putting Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio in a tough spot.

The crowd wanted him to go for it. That part was clear. The football man went against the mob, and deciding on a Marquette King punt.

Del Rio’s decision was booed. So was the ultimate outcome.

King put one in the end zone for a touchback. Then the Ravens took six minutes off the clock. They added another field goal and left the Raiders without time to mount a legitimate comeback.

That locked down Sunday’s 30-17 result and the Raiders’ third straight loss.

Del Rio weighed that decision to punt carefully, and ultimately chose to boot it.

“It’s not easy,” Del Rio said. “Hindsight is always 20/20 on things like that. You’re thinking you’re going to pin them inside the 10. We didn’t. You’re thinking the defense will give us a stop and get us the ball back. We didn’t. We get the ball back after having to call timeouts on the plus side of the field. It didn’t go anything like what it needed to.

“A fourth-down call with nine minutes left in the game, was that the difference today? I don’t think so.”

Del Rio’s right. There were several factors at play in the home team’s latest disappointment. The Raiders went down 14 points early and never recovered. They couldn’t take the ball away and let too many third-down opportunities go.

The Raiders defense played better in the second half, and a short field could’ve been available had things gone right.

Even so, a punt was a rare decision under those circumstances.

According to the Associated Press’ Josh Dubow, the Raiders are the first team to punt on 4th-and-3 or less in the fourth quarter down two scores in an opponent’s territory since 2012.

The players didn’t second-guess the choice. There were plenty of ways that decision could’ve proved effective. Ultimately, it did not.

“You don’t expect the clock to run out the way it did,” tight end Jared Cook said. “Everybody thought we had more of an opportunity to go ahead and put more points on the board. The clock ran out on us.”

Del Rio calls out Raiders' lack of confidence, didn't show any himself

Del Rio calls out Raiders' lack of confidence, didn't show any himself

Jack Del Rio thinks that the Oakland Raiders’ fortnight-long freefall is in considerable part a matter of diminishing confidence.
 
But that’s probably giving the fellows all the best of it. In getting handled by the Baltimore Ravens Sunday, 30-17, the Raiders demonstrated that if their 2-3 record is a matter of confidence, they didn’t have much to begin with, and that it isn’t just the players giving off that vibe.
 
That they were worked by the stuttering Baltimores from start to finish is clear. Gaining only 245 yards in a mere 54 plays is a hint. Having only one offensive player – Michael Crabtree – stand out speaks a medley or two. Having its secondary reinflate Joe Flacco’s sense of self-worth from the game’s first scrimmage play is not surprising given the preseason analyses that pinpointed that as a clear weakness.
 
But even Riverboat Jack, the man who lent this team an additional air of panache by defying the precepts of doctrinaire football, emitted a sense that even in a moment where gambling was defensible, he didn’t believe that the reward outweighed the risk.
 
In other words, he punted the ball away with 8:58 to play, down 10 and facing a fourth-and-three from the Baltimore 44 – very not Riverboaty McRiverboatface by anyone’s standard.
 
The crowd, already conditioned to be in foul humor by early mistakes that gave the Ravens a 14-0 lead less than 10 minutes into the game, booed lustily as they saw their guy muck the few cards he had.
 
Not that it would have made a lot of difference given the way Baltimore’s offensive shoved the Raiders in any desired direction. As Del Rio said in his autopsy report, “Is that the difference today? I don’t think so.”
 
And he’s right. But then, he had always cast himself as the guy willing to die a gloriously frantic death, so his character as defined by the customers (and maybe by the players as well) demanded that he have backup quarterback E.J. Manuel try to convert that fourth down.
 
“It’s not easy (to call for the punt),” he said. “Hindsight is always 20/20 on things like that. You’re thinking you’re going to pin them inside the 10 and we didn’t (a touchback). You’re thinking the defense will give us a stop and get us the ball back, and we didn’t (the Ravens eat up 6:26 of the remaining 8:50 with a 13-play/10-run drive that resulted in a safety-first field goal). We get the ball back after having to call timeouts on the plus side of the field. It didn’t go anything like what it needed to.” 
 
That’s sort of when you expect him to double down, but he seemed to have lost some belief as the game went on as well. Not having Carr seems to do that to this team.
 
But this is not Manuel’s fault, either, for he is who he is. He had only one reliable weapon, Crabtree, and while Marshawn Lynch had his moments, Baltimore committed stoutly to the run in an effort to make the Raiders win by air power. It didn’t come close.
 
The defense had far fewer moments – Sean Smith beaten on the game’s first play by a Mike Wallace fly pattern was instructive, and the only time the defense impressed was when Baltimore coach John Harbaugh chosen to protect rather than fortify a two-touchdown lead in the second half.
 
In other words, this may be about confidence as Del Rio claims, but it may also be about overconfidence in what the Raiders are, and conversely, are not. Their offense is not “high-powered,” and their defense was eminently blockable for the second time in three weeks.
 
Moreover, they have stopped creating turnovers – two in the last three games, which explains in part why they are averaging 51 plays per game, last in the league. But they are also 29th in total yards, 30th in first downs, 29th in third down conversions and only the win over the New York Jets away from averaging less than two touchdowns per game.
 
They are not, in short, as advertised, which is why Del Rio answered a question about Carr’s availability next week, either for the Chargers or Chiefs games, by saying, “Yeah, I have that feel.”
 
After all, Carr’s healing gifts aside, the Raiders are already spending their margin for error too early. Whether that is confidence or underexamined shortfalls, the time for soul-searching is already nearing its end. They either do, or they do not. And time, she’s a’wastin’.