Del Rio: Raiders built to last, 'nobody wants to take one swing'

Del Rio: Raiders built to last, 'nobody wants to take one swing'

General manager Reggie McKenzie has said several times the Raiders are set up to be competitive for a long time.

“This thing is built to last,” he said last month.

He wasn’t lying. The Raiders have significant talent under contract, with the ability to pay those nearing extensions without handicapping the rest of the roster.

Head coach Jack Del Rio has firm command of the club, and has become an attraction for potential free agents.

The Raiders went 12-4 in 2016, a five win improvement over the year before. A steady ascent, however, can’t be guaranteed. Freak things happen in the NFL, as anyone at Oakland Coliseum on Christmas Eve can attest, that derail a season.

While adversity will come, there’s no doubt a competitive window is open that shouldn’t be shuttered any time soon.

“That’s part of our responsibility, to build it the right way and build it so that it can last,” Del Rio said. “Nobody wants to take one swing and hope that you have a magical year one time. I think you want to build your roster strong, build your team strong and build the culture strong so that what you’re able to put in and put together is a roster that can go out and compete at a championship level year after year. That’s what the goal is.

“That’s where we are in terms of the football team is raising the expectations, creating the culture of ‘can do,’ a lot of sacrifice, a lot of adhering to the process that we talk about all the time of how we recover, prepare, compete and continue to build the roster strong and then go out and compete the way we’ve learned to.”

Rome wasn’t built in a day. The Raiders were far more talented this season over the last, but still had glaring holes that can be fixed with proper use of draft picks and free agent spending.

Players believe this franchise is on the rise, with room to improve as a young core grows together.

“I think (the future’s) really bright,” Raiders running back Latavius Murray said. “This year we were able to do some good things. We made it to the postseason and obviously when you do that, you give yourselves a chance to play for a championship. We were one of 12 teams to be able to do that. I think we just need to continue to do the things that we did since Jack has been here. He’s done a great job and everyone has just been buying in. I think just continue to trust and embrace the process that he has. That will be just fine.”

The Raiders have 13 unrestricted free agents on their way to the open market. Some will return. Others won’t, and a few under contract could find themselves looking for another employer as the team continues to strengthen the roster into one that could compete for a Super Bowl.

“Whatever pieces Reggie (McKenzie) and them come up with it’s going to be a tremendous help to this team,” safety Reggie Nelson said. “It could help get us over the next step, get us to that next step and over that hump that we’ve been wanting to get over.”

The Raiders will have high expectations next season, in search of their first AFC West title since 2002 and a long playoff run. Del Rio and McKenzie will lead and organizational evaluation in an attempt to be better than before.

“You evaluate who you are, what you are,” Del Rio said. “Look at the things you can do better and areas where you feel like you can strengthen. You don’t always get your wish list. You try to strengthen the best you can. You don’t always get your wish list, but to me it’s a never ending process about building yourself as strong as possible and preparing for the next opportunity.”

Raiders will have hands full with Chandler Jones, Cardinals' pass rush

Raiders will have hands full with Chandler Jones, Cardinals' pass rush

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Arizona Cardinals defensive end Chandler Jones has more sacks thus far than the entire Raiders defense. That's no joke, and speaks to Jones' effectiveness and the Raiders' lack thereof. 

The Arizona edge rusher has been awesome this year, with 8.5 sacks, three quarterback hits, and 17 other pressures. 

The Raiders, meanwhile, have eight total sacks. Three are credited to since-waived veteran Bruce Irvin, leaving five on the current Raiders roster from three players: Defensive tackle Maurice Hurst (three), rookie defensive end Arden Key (one), and defensive lineman Clinton McDonald (one).
That isn’t a deep group successfully getting after the quarterback. The Cardinals, by contrast, boast 13 different defenders with at least half-a-sack. 

It’s a diverse pass rush, and one the Raiders offensive line must be ready to combat. 
“Well it starts with Jones,” Raiders coach Jon Gruden said. “Don’t forget [Markus] Golden either, he has had double-digit sacks. They have two centerpieces that can really get after you. They push the pocket. They’re big inside. It’s hard for the quarterback to step up because of the mass that they have inside. They blitz a lot. I think Cardinals must have 10 guys with a sack. They come from everywhere. It’s a wide-range of problems. It’s good pass rushers, a diverse blitzing scheme. That’s a tough combination in the crowd noise, it’s loud there.”
“There,” is State Farm Stadium, Arizona’s newly renamed indoor stadium that can generate plenty of crowd noise when things are going well. 

That could spell trouble for pass protectors going through a rough patch. They allowed 26 sacks in the last seven games entering Sunday, and at least three in the previous six. The Raiders faced tough pass rushers this season, but never a group quite so deep. The Silver and Black has to be better than before to pick up a second win. 
The offense failed to score a touchdown in the last nine quartrs, despite moving the ball relatively well, and hasn’t held a solid lead in some time. That allowed opposing pass rushers to pin their ears back, and go hard after Raiders QB Derek Carr. 
“We always emphasize pass rush; that’s every team I’ve been on,” defensive end Chandler Jones said, via the Cardinals' team website. “We have had some success rushing the passer, but hopefully we can have more success. Lot of plays we leave out there.”

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The Raiders' pass rush kicked up a notch last week against the Los Angeles Chargers. Maurice Hurst got his third sack, and the defense hit Philip Rivers five times. They had 11 total pressures, after totaling 59 through eight games. 
Can that continue against Arizona? Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther sure hopes so. He doesn’t expect a Herculean effort, but progress is mandatory in his eyes. 

“We just have to keep building off of it,” Guenther said. “We’ll continue to mix things up in there and everything kind of works in conjunction, whether it’s the rush or the coverage or a blitz in the coverage in behind it. So, we have to continue to work on those things and keep putting those things into play.”

[BAIR: Four Raiders players to watch in NFL Week 11 matchup vs. Cardinals]
Gruden says the Raiders need “at-bats,” or chances to impact the QB. That involves better run defense to keep a team off schedule – stopping ACardinals running back Davis Johnson will be a chore – and establishing a significant lead for once. 
That has been rare, but the odds will increase if the offensive line can keep Jones, Golden and the Cardinals pass rush at bay.

Four Raiders players to watch in NFL Week 11 matchup vs. Cardinals

Four Raiders players to watch in NFL Week 11 matchup vs. Cardinals

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- We’ve hit that point in this season where fans start to question the merits of a win over a loss.

The No. 1 overall draft pick is in play for the 1-8 Raiders. In fact, they’re in pole position to get it, with the two-win New York Giants, Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers just behind. A winning streak would hurt Oakland's draft position, something the players don’t care one bit about right now.

The Raiders still are striving to win games, and that’s a goal realistically reached Sunday against the Cardinals. Arizona has struggled mightily this season, on offense in particular, with both of its wins coming against a down-on-their-luck 49ers squad.

The Raiders must score against a savvy Cardinals defense that possesses an excellent pass rush, and they also must rattle rookie quarterback Josh Rosen enough to negate gains from running back extraordinaire David Johnson.

Here are four Raiders who can help achieve those ends Sunday in Arizona.

WR Seth Roberts

The Raiders are down several receivers. Amari Cooper was traded to the Dallas Cowboys a few weeks back. Martavis Bryant and Jordy Nelson now are down with knee injuries. Jared Cook will be the primary target, but Roberts must be a reliable secondary both outside and from the slot.

Roberts has a penchant for dramatic catches and scoring plays, though opportunities have been rare this season while he was mired further down on the depth chart. He’s back in the starting lineup Sunday, and must find ways to make big plays and take pressure off Cook. He’s also a stout run blocker, and could help free Doug Martin and Jalen Richard once those rushers reach the second level.

MLB Jason Cabinda

The Raiders made a position switch last week, moving Marquel Lee to strongside linebacker from the middle. That served two masters: 1. It helped strengthen the SAM spot, and 2. It gave Cabinda more opportunities from his natural position.

The undrafted rookie made his first NFL start and platooned with Nicholas Morrow in the middle. Cabinda has drawn praise all week, and coaches believe he can be a regular contributor from the middle linebacker spot.

“Cabinda, you’ve got that Penn State Linebacker U tradition all over him,” Raiders coach Jon Gruden said. “He’s got that stuff. We need that at middle linebacker. Haven’t had a middle linebacker in terms of stability here for awhile, maybe since Greg Biekert (from 1993-2001). I don’t know when the last time was that we had a linebacker that played in the middle for two, three, four years in a row.

"He’s got those leadership traits. He’s a great communicator. Passionate about the game. He’s improving.”

Safety Karl Joseph

The team’s 2016 first-round pick either was hurt or buried on the depth chart for most of the season, but he played far more against the Chargers than any other game. He spent 27 of his 48 defensive snaps inside the box, where he can be most effective against the run. He had five total tackles, with three close enough to the line of scrimmage to constitute an offensive failure, according to Pro Football Focus metrics.

“He did a good job in there,” defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. “He had some nice hits, some good blitz pass. Did a good job in coverage for the most part. He’s a guy who will continue to progress, and I think he’s coming along right where we want him.”

Raiders safety play has been lackluster at best, and Joseph was effective at times and certainly worth a longer look as coaches evaluate young players. He could help slow Johnson some as an extra run defender, or assist in middle-of-the-field pass coverage. His size (5-foot-10, 205 pounds) is of concern against bigger receivers, but his main focus is on being more consistent. He’ll have to be against the Cardinals' attack. The Raiders simply need better from the safety spot.

LT Kolton Miller

This year's first-round pick was a full participant in practice this week for the first time in some time, meaning his ailing knee is starting to improve. That will be important in what might be his toughest challenge yet.

Miller will go up against Arizona edge rusher Chandler Jones, who already has 8.5 sacks and can be dominant rushing the passer. Miller has been solid when healthy and has struggled some while battling injury. He is working through those rigors while trying to maintain solid form.

"There’s a difference between pain and injury. I think he’s realizing that,” offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. “He has done a nice job in that regard. He has played with nicks throughout the season, his elbow, his knee, a number of different things that he’s experienced since he’s been here, knowing that he still has half a season left. He’s getting a real taste of what the NFL is like and the pain you have to play with.”

He’ll have a tough battle with Jones, though he’ll get some help from tight ends, running backs and left guard Kelechi Osemele. Miller must win regularly to keep Derek Carr upright and the Raiders' offense moving.