Raiders

Jon Gruden should let Mike Mayock's voice be heard in Raiders' rebuild

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USATSI

Jon Gruden should let Mike Mayock's voice be heard in Raiders' rebuild

The Narnia Raiders have hired Mike Mayock as their new general manager, so I see no reason why he and Jon Gruden shouldn’t start arguing about the direction of this rootless franchise.

At least you’d like to think they will, even if you’re a Raiders fan.

This needs to be a hire that challenges both to work together for their mutual benefit, because the Raiders desperately need to rethink their thinking across the board, from talent acquisition to team building. This is a poor and dispirited team, and it showed it one last time Sunday in Kansas City. If this now is the Gruden-Mayock show, they need to find a way to be fundamentally cooperative yet constructively contentious so new ideas can flourish in a franchise that has had so few of them.

The problem, of course, is things rarely go that way. Arguments over players typically turn to arguments over philosophies, arguments over philosophies typically turn into arguments over power, and arguments over power typically fester into rivalries that end with one man triumphant and the other one either neutered or fired. Gruden steamrolled former general manager Reggie McKenzie because he could, and his still is the biggest contract in the room, so Mayock had better have a firm sense of what his job actually entails, and whether he will have the kind of input that would make the job worth having.

And that is up to Gruden. This is, on all matters that do not involve relocation, his team now.

We have seen the nightmare in Washington, where football takes a back seat to inter-office politics to such an extent that one of the game’s most devoted fan bases now has been reduced by about 30 percent in the stadium and by a more considerable margin outside it.

And if the collection of power and influence is Job No. 1, then the product is by definition going to be inferior.

The Raiders are stuck in an odd stasis right now -- Las Vegas’ team except in reality, and in such a geographical bind that, unless Mark Davis is ready to cave on Oakland, could be playing 16 road games next season, a competitive disadvantage just profound enough to put off the beginning of the real rebuild another year, and maybe even two.

And Gruden, whose true devotion so far in Oakland has to been to guide the renunciation of what he inherited, needs someone (apparently Mayock) to give him the fresh eyes and freedom of speech to help with the team’s reconstruction. Not because Gruden cannot do it himself necessarily, but because the odds are grossly stacked against any one person doing it.

And no, Bill Belichick didn’t get to be Bill Belichick right away in New England. He needed a ring to establish his throne, and even at that remains the exception to a pretty clear rule -- coaches coach, general managers manage, and unless they have same general view on team construction, the relationship between the two eventually will deteriorate.

[RELATED: Where Raiders will pick in 2019 NFL Draft]

In short, Mayock should be brought in to challenge Gruden’s thinking, and Gruden should challenge back -- and both should do it in the spirit of mining the ideas that come from those collaborations to see if they will work. The Raiders were Al Davis’ fiefdom for decades, and they look like Gruden’s fiefdom for the foreseeable future. So, while there is no guarantee that Mayock is the cure for all that ails them, he should be allowed the freedom to be an equal in the room where the decisions are made.

If he isn’t, there was no point in hiring him because the Raiders desperately need new thinking, outside the family and outside its minimal comfort zone. If he’s supposed to be that guy, then let it be so.

How Myles Garrett suspension affects Raiders, AFC playoff race

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USATSI

How Myles Garrett suspension affects Raiders, AFC playoff race

The Browns might be back in the AFC playoff race, but they'll have to march on without their best player.

On Friday, the NFL suspended Browns defensive end Myles Garrett indefinitely for his actions during the brawl at the end of Cleveland's 21-7 win over the Steelers on Thursday night.

You've probably seen the video by now. After sacking Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph, Garrett and the young quarterback got into an altercation on the ground. Eventually, Garrett ripped Rudolph's helmet off, causing the quarterback to charge at him while two Steelers linemen worked to separate the two. As Rudolph charged, Garrett swung the helmet at Rudolph, connecting with the quarterback's head, leading to the full-on brawl.

After opening the season with a tough schedule that saw them go 2-6, the Browns have rebounded with wins over the Bills and Steelers to climb back to 4-6. They currently sit 1.5 behind the Raiders for the No. 6 seed in the AFC but have the second easiest schedule remaining. 

The Steelers' loss allowed the Raiders to jump them, and Pittsburgh will be without center Maurkice Pouncey for the next three games, making their path to the playoffs even tougher. 

The Raiders sit at 5-4 with games against the Bengals and Jets over the next two weeks. The Silver and Black will be favored in both those games, and will be 7-4 heading into a Week 13 game against the Chiefs should they take care of business.

Cleveland has shown life over the past two weeks, and the Browns have the talent to make a run at the playoffs in the mediocre AFC. The Browns play the 2-7 Dolphins in Week 12 before facing the Steelers again in Week 13. After that rivalry game, the Browns close with two games against the winless Bengals, a battle with the Cardinals and a tough game against Lamar Jackson and the Ravens.

All of those games are winnable. The Browns already beat the Ravens earlier this season. The addition of Kareem Hunt has given the Browns an added offensive dimension and they could get on a roll if the confidence starts flowing.

It will be tough without Garrett anchoring the defense, though. The Browns defense has played well over the last two weeks and Garrett surely would feast on the Dolphins and Bengals in the coming weeks.

To pass the Raiders, Colts, Steelers and/or Bills, the Browns likely will need to 5-1 the rest of the way and hope for a few of those teams to continue to falter. That's more than possible. The Raiders have won a ton of close games, the Bills reek of being fraudulent, Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett is banged up and the Steelers crawled back to .500 with smoke and mirrors.

Grit, toughness and resiliency have been the Raiders' calling card this season, one they are hoping can get them through what has been a trying season and back to the playoffs for the second time since 2002.

After surviving their long road trip, the Raiders won back-to-back games over the Lions and Chargers and are primed to be riding a four-game winning streak heading into Kansas City with the AFC West lead potentially on the line. Everything is in front of them.

[RELATED: What clicked for Raiders' Ferrell in signature game]

The Browns were a trendy Super Bowl pick before the season started, and some thought a late-season run to the playoffs was in the cards for Freddy Kitchens' crew.

The soft late-season schedule helps, but losing Garrett will be tough to overcome. If the Browns are to crash the playoff party Baker Mayfield will have to take his play up a notch and find the chemistry with Odell Beckham Jr. so many thought they'd exhibit from Day 1.

The Raiders have bigger goals in front of them than a wild-card spot, but they might have one less team to contend with for one of the final two spots should the Chiefs pull away in the AFC West.

What clicked for Raiders rookie Clelin Ferrell in impressive stretch

What clicked for Raiders rookie Clelin Ferrell in impressive stretch

ALAMEDA – Clelin Ferrell stepped on the scale Thursday morning, looked down at the number below and flashed his signature smile.

The readout was the reason why: 266 pounds.

The Raiders defensive lineman finally was back to his playing weight.

The experience was a lot different after coming back from a week in the United Kingdom dealing with concussion-like symptoms and a stomach flu that made it, shall we say, hard to keep things down.

“When we got back from London, I stepped on a scale and I was 250,” Ferrell said. “I couldn’t believe it, but it wasn’t just the weight. I felt bad and I felt weak.”

Ferrell hasn’t been that light in six years. Getting there wasn’t pretty. Getting back to his playing size and strength took some time, but Ferrell’s return to health was well-timed.

It came accompanied by an on-field epiphany. Or, as defensive coordinator Paul Guenther put it, “the light came on.”

“You can just tell with the look in a guys’ eyes,” Guenther said. “You know when he starts making plays, you can start saying, ‘Hey I’m starting to figure this out.’ It’s the look in the guys’ eyes and the way he’s handling himself.”

Something clicked during a Week 9 victory over Detroit, where he had three huge run stops and three quarterback pressures, including one that flustered Matt Stafford on the final play of the Lions' failed comeback attempt.

Guenther approached the No. 4 overall pick after that win and could tell right away that something was different. He was right, and Ferrell knew exactly why.

“Facing the Detroit Lions was the first game where I felt comfortable with everything that I was asked to do,” Ferrell said. “Before, it was like, ‘I’m comfortable with this and this, not so sure about this over here.’

“I have been asked to do a lot of stuff. The whole practice week leading up to it, I felt really good with everything. I felt comfortable and that I could just go out there and play and put my own flavor on it and freestyle a bit. I really understood my responsibilities and I felt really good.”

That wasn’t a one-off. Ferrell built upon that with a breakout game last week against the LA Chargers, totaling 2.5 sacks, two other quarterback pressures, a batted pass and six run stops. Ferrell paced an all-out assault on quarterback Philip Rivers, where the pass rush made a significant impact on a dramatic win.

Ferrell didn’t say much after the game, answering one question before leaving the Raiders' locker room. Many said the Clemson product needed a game like that, especially after absorbing fan criticism for not producing enough, especially relative to his lofty draft slot.

Ferrell doesn’t care much about numbers. He’s concerned with two things: wins and personal impact. He admitted, in that instance, it was nice to have a good game in ways all can understand.

“When you’re chasing stats, you’re not focusing on what you need to do to win,” Ferrell said. “It’s always good to shut people up a little bit. People can get on your nerves. Not that it’s getting to me, but you hate hearing nonsense, especially when they aren’t that informed. I don’t blame people for that. It is what it is, and I’ve been through this before when I was in college. I’ve always had the spotlight on me. It just comes with the game.”

Lights were always bright at Clemson. That comes with the territory as a perennial championship contender.

The same goes for top-five NFL draft picks, so the scrutiny was sky-high even over such an early portion of his career.

But not from inside the Raiders organization.

The Silver and Black were asking Ferrell to do a ton. He stepped right in as a three-down player, asked to play inside far more than he did in college. That was an adjustment, one he insists he’s comfortable with despite a productive athletic career playing off the edge. He has played several techniques to service defensive line needs, doing some dirty work that doesn’t show up in the stat sheet.

“He does a lot more than just rush the passer,” head coach Jon Gruden said after beating the Chargers. “He made some great plays against the run. It was a signature game for him obviously, but it’s great for him to get some sacks. Maybe some of the people who are counting sacks out there will acknowledge this.”

Ferrell isn’t counting them. He’ll evaluate himself through a different lens.

“The biggest thing for me is wins and losses and whether I feel like I played well,” Ferrell said. “I don’t really care about stats, you know what I mean? Numbers are good but seeing the success I had and the big role I played in two huge wins was really, really good.”

[RELATED: Raiders going 'all hands on deck' with Jordan, Swearinger]

Continuing this positive trend is the next step, one that renewed health and increased comfort within his role will help achieve.

“He needs to keep it going. Clelin’s coming off his best game,” Guenther said. “I really think the light came on for him in the second half of the Detroit game. Walking off the field with him I was like, ‘I think the light just came on for you. Really.’ And then he went out against the Chargers and played really well, so hopefully he can keep playing at a high level.”