Raiders

Conley, Melvin should lead improved Raiders CB corps

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USATSI/AP

Conley, Melvin should lead improved Raiders CB corps

Raiders defensive backs engaged in an interception drill during some of the offseason program’s on-field work, and the volley aimed at Gareon Conley sailed pretty high.

Last year’s first-round pick jumped up and caught it at full stretch, an action captured by a Raiders team photographer and posted on social media.

That sight, and head coach Jon Gruden’s statement that Conley’s ever-so-close to full clearance following shin surgery allowed Raider Nation to dream about the Ohio State product featuring prominently in the Silver and Black secondary.

That didn’t happen much last year, when a shin injury suffered during the 2017 minicamp stole most of Conley’s rookie season.

Conley’s a natural cover man, and Raiders brass believes he can be a standout member of a revamped cornerback corps.

They’ve overhauled the position group before, several times in fact. Results have been lackluster.

There’s a real chance for better this season. On paper, anyway.

We haven’t seen much of the 2018 Raiders this offseason, save stretching and individual drills on two occasions. We don’t have much to go on during this quiet time in the NFL calendar, but the talent’s there.

This position group should look much different in 2018, with a chance to show far better results.

Conley should be a feature member of the cornerback corps, and still might not be the No. 1 guy. Rashaan Melvin should take that mantle, and is comfortable covering top receivers.

The 28-year old is coming off a career year, and will be supremely motivated playing on a one-year, prove-it deal. Opposing passers had a 60.3 quarterback rating a paltry 52.3 completion percentage when targeting Melvin’s man.

Those numbers would offer a vast upgrade over last year’s cornerback corps, which featured Sean Smith, TJ Carrie, Dexter McDonald and an oft-injured David Amerson.

Unlike last year, the Raiders have some injury insurance. Daryl Worley will provide help, maybe more than that, in his first season in silver and black. The 23-year old has started 25 games in two professional seasons, with a career 94.8 passer rating against him.

Off-field concerns make him a wild card. He was arrested on suspicion of DUI and for resisting arrest, which got him released by Philadelphia. The NFL could impose a suspension for the incident, which is still working through the legal process.

The combination of Conley, Melvin and Worley is an on-paper upgrade over the Raiders’ 2017 crew.

“We think Rashaan Melvin can be a really good player,” Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said on April 24. “We think Conley can be a really good player if healthy. We have a lot of competition right now behind him, and usually that breeds success.”

The Raiders added another corner in fourth-round pick Nick Nelson, a Wisconsin product recovering from meniscus surgery. He should be ready by training camp, and could help fill a void in the slot created by TJ Carrie’s departure.

Gruden wanted Carrie back, but Cleveland lured him away with significant funds. None of the three main cornerbacks have played much in the slot – Conley can play anywhere – but safety Marcus Gilchrist has the versatility and prowess to play there.

Veteran Leon Hall has experience there and in coordinator Paul Guenther’s scheme, from their time together in Cincinnati.

Nelson can play inside and out, meaning competition for slot options snaps should be stiff.

If Melvin reprises last year’s form and a healthy Conley can realize potential, the Raiders cornerback corps could be much better in 2018.

Raiders report card: Grades on offense, defense in 17-10 win vs. Bengals

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USATSI

Raiders report card: Grades on offense, defense in 17-10 win vs. Bengals

OAKLAND – The Raiders didn’t bring their best to Oakland Coliseum on Sunday afternoon. They weren’t bad, not by any stretch, but had to battle a bit to beat the winless Cincinnati Bengals.

The 17-10 final score is absolutely all that matters here. The Raiders completed a perfect three-game homestand and have won five of their last seven games to join the AFC’s playoff race.

The Raiders will have to be better down the road, as early as next week against the New York Jets, and they know that.

But they fought hard and got another win at home to keep this good thing going.

There’s plenty of time to look at the big picture. Here’s how the Silver and Black graded out on this particular Sunday in our weekly Raiders report card:

Rushing offense

Josh Jacobs didn’t like his performance despite gaining 112 yards on 21. His 4.9 yards per attempt were above his season average and he ate up ground in chunks, but the rookie rusher was bothered by a red-zone fumble even after the game. He should have been. That’s a no-no.

The Raiders didn’t get much from other Raiders runners, with a 3.3-yards per carry average on the whole. That came against the NFL’s worst run defense – the Bengals had given up 173 yards per game entering Sunday – which probably increased frustration that the Raiders didn’t go off.

Grade: C

Passing offense

Derek Carr had a solid statistical day, much like Jacobs. The Raiders quarterback connected on his first 14 passes and finished with 292 yards and just four incompletions. Darren Waller was heavily involved, with five catches for 78 yards after getting some one-on-one or man coverage.

Hunter Renfrow had five catches for 66 yards, but a pass intended for him got picked. That was Carr’s first interception since Oct. 20, but still cut deep. The pass protection was lacking at times, which kept the air attack from finding a solid rhythm.

Grade: B-minus

Rushing defense

This is normally a team strength. Not on this day. The Bengals had 173 yards on 22 carries, for a whopping 7.3 yards per carry. Yeah. You read that stat line right. That normally means the Raiders lost a game. Not so here.

The Bengals still struggled on third down thanks to a terrible passing game. Joe Mixon gave the Raiders fits in last year’s matchup in Cincinnati and did so again Sunday, this time close to his Oakley home, totaling 86 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. This might’ve been the run defense’s worst showing of the season.

Grade: D

Passing defense

Ryan Finley struggled mightily in his second NFL start. The rookie completed just 13-of-31 passes for 115 yards and a Trayvon Mullen interception that sealed the Raiders' victory. The Silver and Black sacked him five times, including four from rookie edge rusher Maxx Crosby. One of them was a strip sack recovered by Maurice Hurst, though the Raiders gave the ball right back.

Newcomer Dion Jordan got in on the sack-tivity (get it?) in his first game as a Raider. The pass rush is starting to heat up now, with 10 sacks in the past two games. That’s a good sign for the defense as a whole, especially a secondary that is piecing a lineup together with Karl Joseph done for the season and Lamarcus Joyner out for the time being.

Grade: A

Special teams

Instead of kicking a long field goal late in the fourth quarter, the Raiders decided to punt to pin the Bengals deep for a final comeback attempt. Then A.J. Cole sent his punt into the end zone for a touchback. Not ideal, but not the end of the world. His 32.8-yard net punt average wasn’t great, and he put just one of five attempts inside the opposing 20. Daniel Carlson hit his only field-goal attempt, and it was a short one.

Grade: C

[RELATED: Jacobs hit hard by Tua injury]

Overall

The defense did more than enough to win. The offense feels like it didn’t do enough and still won. That’s the only important thing. Find a way to win a game. The Raiders did that for a third straight time thanks to more good coaching and enough good plays to beat the team on the other sideline. Do that enough and you’re playoff bound.

Grade: A

Derek Carr, Josh Jacobs unhappy with Raiders' offense in win vs. Bengals

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AP

Derek Carr, Josh Jacobs unhappy with Raiders' offense in win vs. Bengals

ALAMEDA – Raiders running Josh Jacobs had 112 rushing yards on 23 carries on Sunday against Cincinnati, the fourth time the rookie hit triple digits this season.

Jacobs couldn’t have cared less.

Quarterback Derek Carr completed his first 14 passes and hit on 24-of-29 passes for 292 yards and a triple-digit passer rating.

That stat line was met with a shrug.

The Raiders will gladly take a 17-10 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, but they openly acknowledged an underwhelming offensive performance that must be improved against better competition.

“We could have had more,” Carr said. "Honestly, that's how I feel. I left the game and I get our stat book and I looked at it and I was like, 'They look pretty, but I could have played better.' I'm hard on myself. … I think that's the standard that Coach Gruden puts on me.”

Jacobs felt the same way, disappointed to leave plays unmade despite several highlights during the game.

“We left a lot of points out there as an offense,” Jacobs said. “I missed a couple holes. Honestly, It wasn’t a great game for me. I had 100-and-something yards or whatever, but there’s a lot to improve on.”

The Raiders offense had been humming. The unit had scored at least 24 points in six straight games over a 4-2 stretch. The unit was balanced, steady and impactful against some solid teams, creating the expectation that the Raiders should go off against a Bengals team ranked 22nd against the pass and dead last against the run.

That didn’t happen. The Raiders weren’t bad, either. Not by a long shot. They converted half of their third- and fourth-down attempts. They accumulated 386 yards of offense and had nine explosive plays of 20 yards or more.

They misfired a few times, which bothered both Carr and Jacobs after this win. Jacobs fumbled in the red zone – that’s a major no-no – and Carr threw his first interception since Oct. 20 when Bengals safety Jessie Bates III cut off a pass intended for Hunter Renfrow.

“[Josh] never wants to put the ball on the ground,” Carr said. “I threw an interception, he fumbled. If Coach is going to put the ball in our hands every single play, one of us, then we need to be better."

[RELATED: Jacobs hit hard by Tua injury]

This was a day where the Raiders held Cincinnati to 10 points, and just a field goal after the opening drive. After having to win so many high-scoring games, the offense didn’t have to do much in this one. They were productive but not efficient enough scoring, and the Raiders playmakers believe it didn’t do well enough even though the box score looks good.

“I'm never into fantasy stats or my stats or anything like that,” Carr said. “I'm into doing whatever Coach Gruden wants me to do at a high level. I didn't do that well enough today.”