Raiders

Mark Davis hints Amari Cooper trade falls on Jon Gruden, Derek Carr

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USATSI

Mark Davis hints Amari Cooper trade falls on Jon Gruden, Derek Carr

There are two versions of Amari Cooper this season. There's Amari Cooper the Raider, and there's Amari Cooper the Cowboy.

Same face, different number, completely new player.

Going into Sunday's games, Cooper had played six with the Raiders and six with the Cowboys. He caught 22 passes on 32 targets for 280 yards and one touchdown in Oakland. However, in Dallas, he's earned his star with 40 catches on 53 targets for 642 yards and six TDs.

Cooper went from averaging 46.7 yards per game with the Raiders to 107 with the Cowboys on his way to a possible huge payday this offseason.

So, what's been the difference? Raiders owner Mark Davis had quite the answer.

"Amari had a couple of good years with us and a couple of not-so-good years," Davis told NFL Media's Ian Rapoport earlier this week at the Winter League Meetings in Dallas. "It was more how he was used in our system versus how he actually is as a player. As you see, we don't throw a lot of balls down the field. We started to last week, and it worked out pretty well. ...

"I think (Al Davis) would've loved Amari. But it just didn't work out in our system. In the future, we might be saying, 'Damn!' "

Let's dissect Davis' comment real quick. Cooper was a Pro Bowl wide receiver in his first two Raiders seasons before seeing his production drop off last year when he totaled 680 yards and seven TDs. Before this year, Cooper worked under the same coach (Jack Del Rio) and quarterback (Derek Carr).

So, is Davis really blaming Jon Gruden's offense for Cooper's lack of production in Oakland this season? That's hard to imagine, considering he handed the coach a 10-year, $100 million contract.

If Davis isn't blaming Gruden, perhaps he believes it's Carr's fault. The quarterback has been blasted this season for checking down too often with short passes to running back Jalen Richard and others, not willing to air it out. At the same time, Carr is averaging a career-high 7.5 yards gained per pass attempt this season.

As for who executed the Cooper trade, the wide receiver has said it was Davis' call, but not according to the owner, who said it was all Reggie McKenzie, the recently fired Raiders GM.

The Raiders desperately need a No. 1 receiver in free agency or the 2019 NFL Draft now that Cooper is gone. But if he can't fit in this offense, who can?

Surging Raiders face tough upcoming tests in Packers, Texans offenses

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USATSI

Surging Raiders face tough upcoming tests in Packers, Texans offenses

The Raiders haven’t played a true home game in forever. That's true, even though the Silver and Black have two games left in a five-game stretch played away from Oakland that will define this season.

They have started it off well, with two quality wins in three attempts. The team has rallied together during this time, facing in-game adversity and practice-week setbacks head on. This group doesn’t wilt, finding ways to beat Indianapolis and Chicago after what could’ve been a demoralizing loss in Minnesota.

Head coach Jon Gruden deserves credit for guiding the Raiders through with expert game plans. The coaching staff and the locker room’s leadership core have kept the team together during tough times playing difficult opposition.

The path doesn’t get any easier as this road trip winds down. In fact, the competition ratchets up. The Raiders face Green Bay on Sunday and Houston the following week before returning to Oakland for a three-game homestand.

Yeah, that’s Aaron Rodgers and Deshaun Watson in consecutive weeks. Those elite quarterbacks are as tough as they get, with an ability to score at will and perform well in the clutch.

The Raiders have scored 55 points in the last two games with a solid run game and efficient passing, with strong starts in both wins. That will be essential yet again if the Raiders are to continue performing well against a run of legitimate playoff contenders.

This two-game win streak, punctuated by an excellent win over the Bears in London, has brought positive press about the coaching staff and the team's toughness. The next two games could offer a reality check -- or densely pack the bandwagon. 

The Packers and Texans offer stiff competition to a Raiders team right in the thick of the AFC West race. The division is bunched up at the moment, with the Chiefs and Chargers each losing two straight games. The Broncos have won two in a row. The Raiders are in a position to make some noise in the division, especially if they can get at least one win out of the next two games.

The schedule gets a bit easier after these two, with golden opportunities down the stretch. There are weak sisters on the schedule that a quality team should handle and a flood of division games. The Raiders can remain highly competitive if they maintain a strong ground game offensively while shutting down the opponent’s rushing attack.

Early leads allow the Raiders to play their way, with a steady diet of Josh Jacobs working behind an imposing offensive line. The Raiders seem committed to playing solid run defense, but the back end must hold its own against excellent quarterbacks. Doing so puts most every game in play, even those where the Raiders look inferior on paper. 

[RELATED: Why Jackson sees so much potential in this Raiders O-line]

The Raiders have played quality competition tough, and found ways to win three important games through five attempts. They aren’t going to win every game, nor should that be expected from a team managing significant talent losses via injury, suspension or other.

Coming out of this two-game stretch with a win, or even two, would show the NFL these Raiders arrived before many expected, and that they’re a legitimate playoff threat heading into the season’s second half.

How Raiders' Isaiah Johnson improved his game while on injured reserve

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AP

How Raiders' Isaiah Johnson improved his game while on injured reserve

ALAMEDA – Raiders cornerback Isaiah Johnson lost valuable development time during his rookie season through no fault of his own. It was stolen from an inadvertent knee to the head by teammate Marquel Lee in the first preseason game, where Johnson suffered a concussion and a facial fracture that put his professional career on hold.

He didn’t play or practice again during the preseason and was placed on injured reserve right after the 53-man roster was set. That final act gave Johnson belief that the entire season was not lost.

The Raiders planned to designate him for return near midseason, when he was healthy and able to contribute on defense and special teams. Defensive contributions will be harder without nine weeks of practice and playing time, especially for a former receiver with just two seasons experience at cornerback, but Johnson isn’t bitter about that.

He applied proper perspective to his downtime and set to handle this setback as best he could.

“I feel like everything happens for a reason,” Johnson said Monday. “I believe in marathons, not sprints. Everybody has a time and place for something to happen. My time just wasn’t then. When I got hurt, it didn’t really destroy me mentally. I knew there were steps to take to get where I want to go. I used it as a learning experience.”

That wasn’t always easy. Johnson was merely watching others practice and play, trying to learn conceptually without an ability to apply it on a practice field.

“I’m going to be honest: It’s really hard sitting in meetings, watching tape that you’re not on,” Johnson said. “After a while you mature and learn how to be a pro. Once you do that, you watch all that film and start applying it to yourself, so when you come back [to practice], you can use that knowledge.

"I kind of felt that today. I found myself applying some of the tools I learned during the six weeks I wasn’t playing.”

Johnson started practicing on Monday, opening a 21-day window for the Raiders to activate him or place him on season-ending injured reserve. Johnson expects activation when he’s eligible to play after eight weeks on IR.

He’ll have nine regular-season games left if all goes to plan, offering plenty of time to accomplish this year’s primary objective.

“My only goal is to help the team win games,” Johnson said. “That has always been the case, so I can do everything I set out to do. Whatever they need me to do, I’m going to come in and do it.”

Johnson is a top-tier athlete perfectly built for press-man coverage, though some development was required and understandable for someone who took up the cornerback position as a junior at the University of Houston. The Raiders need cornerback depth with Daryl Worley moving into more of a hybrid role, with Nevin Lawson and Trayvon Mullen as options to pick up Worley’s outside cornerback snaps when he roves across the defensive backfield.

Johnson will be involved in that but should be an immediate contributor on special teams.

[RELATED: Jackson, Johnson practice as Raiders prepare for Packers]

He was known as an excellent gunner in punt coverage and should give special teams a lift the moment he’s eligible to play. That’s a role he’s ready for right away.

“I have always enjoyed playing special teams,” Johnson said. “I feel like [special teams coordinator Rich] Bisaccia has a great system, and I feel like I can contribute the moment he puts me back on the field. I’m trying to show the coaches that I’m ready to go.

"I know I’ve been out, but I’m working to come back.”