Raiders

Raiders fans can dare to dream of Jon Gruden leading team to playoffs

Raiders fans can dare to dream of Jon Gruden leading team to playoffs

ALAMEDA – Go ahead. Say it, then dare to dream.

You won’t turn to stone. You won’t get laughed out of your local sports pub. Your friends won’t mock false logic.

Playoffs. Playoffs. Playoffs.

The Raiders have a real chance to make the postseason for the second time since 2002. There’s zero guarantee they’ll get there, but the landscape is favorable to a playoff push.

Head coach Jon Gruden isn’t dangling that carrot and would prefer the “P” word stay out of the Raiders vocabulary right now.

“I don’t even think they know that right now,” Gruden said after Thursday night’s victory over the LA Chargers. “We have a long season left to play.”

That’s a plus for the Silver and Black, considering the Raiders would not be a playoff team if the season ended tonight. They are ever so close.

The Chiefs lost Sunday, considerably tightening the AFC West race. The Raiders are just a half-game back of their longtime rivals, with a head-to-head matchup set for Dec. 1.

The Raiders don’t need help. They control their own path to the playoffs through the division. Assuming, of course, they win out. There’s no chance in holy heck that happens. The Raiders win too many tight games. One or two or three are bound to go against them as the schedule winds down.

They’re currently the AFC’s seventh seed, losing a tiebreaker Pittsburgh while sitting a game behind Buffalo in the wild-card standings.

There are several teams hovering around .500 who believe they can snag a postseason spot. The Raiders are one, with the resilience and fortitude required to weather stressful periods. They are 4-1 in games decided by one possession, with game-winning drives in the fourth quarter to beat Detroit and the Chargers in a five-day span.

That has kept the season going strong despite unfavorable scheduling. The Raiders embarked on a five-game road trip – there was a home game played in London during that run – against all legitimate playoff contenders. They came out of it 2-3, with a home split prior to that making them 3-4 to start a three-game home stretch.

“When you're playing games in November that mean something, and you get a home crowd that's like that, this is exactly what we talked about coming off of our 1,800-day road trip, right?” quarterback Derek Carr said. “That we're going to come home and play games that matter.”

The Raiders already have won two of them. Now they’re a 10.5-point favorite against the winless Bengals on Sunday, with the floundering Jets beyond that. The Raiders realistically could be 7-4 heading into that Chiefs showdown, which would not be a must-win. The Raiders have a few tough games on the schedule, including the Chiefs and home games against Tennessee and Jacksonville in the Oakland regular-season home finale.

A contrarian’s view could say two things: 1. Winning nail biters is no way to live, and 2. The Raiders defense has weathered too much attrition to remain competitive.

[RELATED: Ferrell arrives with statement game vs. Chargers]

The Raiders have lost Johnathan Abram (injury), Vontaze Burfict (suspension), Gareon Conley (trade) and Karl Joseph (injury) from the original starting lineup. Backups Marquel Lee (injury) and Arden Key (injury) are also down for the count, though Lee’s coming back.

Can they survive such losses, or will it eventually catch up to them?

Time will tell on that front. We know for sure that the Raiders season will be intriguing, with the very real prospect that Gruden could lead this team to the playoffs.

Raiders' primary objective vs. Titans: Stop 'machine' Derrick Henry

Raiders' primary objective vs. Titans: Stop 'machine' Derrick Henry

ALAMEDA -- Ryan Tannehill is receiving credit for Tennessee’s recent resurgence. That’s appropriate given how well the former backup quarterback has been playing during a 5-1 stretch since becoming the starter.

Let’s not forget who’s really driving the Titans' offense. That’s the 6-foot-3, 247-pound freight train coming out of the backfield.

Derrick Henry has been a monster this season, proving as tough to take down as ever. He has 1,140 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground, currently on a run of three straight games with at least 145 yards and a touchdown.

A repeat performance on Sunday against the Raiders at Oakland Coliseum would make Henry the only player to do so in four straight games.

The Raiders would like to prevent that and are armed with the No. 12-ranked run defense. They’ll try to slow a back that never seems to wear down.

“The secret sauce in Henry is he’s got all the talent, and size, and running instincts, but he never tires,” Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said. “He does not get tired. He’s a machine, man. This guy wears you down -- physical -- he can wear you down. You’ve got to gang tackle him. He’s a better-than-advertised receiver, but he just never tires. The more they give him the ball, the better he gets. It’s an impressive human being.”

Tannehill obviously benefits from Henry’s threat and a balanced offense that has the Titans going strong. Stopping the run, or slowing it at least, will be key for the Raiders' defense in this important game. It will not, however, be easy.

“We’re looking forward to the challenge, but we know it’ll be a challenge dealing with Superman Derrick Henry,” defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins said on this week’s Raiders Talk podcast. "... He’s a great back. He’s big. He’s fast. He sheds tackles like there are kids trying to tackle him. I think, overall, we have to do a good job of keeping him in the backfield and not giving him open lanes or creases to work. We also need to hit him as much as we can, because he’s a big guy. Overall, I think we’re ready for the challenge. I’m excited for this game.”

[RELATED: Raiders' offense takes big hit with Brown out vs. Titans]

It’ll take the entire defensive unit playing disciplined football to slow Henry down. Give him an inch of space or leverage or poor tackling technique and he’ll take chunk yards by the mile.

“I just think you’ve got to be in good position,” defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. “You’ve got to have eleven guys to the ball. You’ve got to play the blocks. First and foremost, you’ve got to be in the right spots, play the block, and then when he gets through there you’ve got to have eleven guys to the ball. He does a good job of trying to get extra yards, so we’ve got to put hats on him wherever he is, on his body as he’s trying to get those extra yards. We’ve got to make sure we get eleven to him.”

Raiders launch Josh Jacobs' NFL Rookie of the Year campaign online

Raiders launch Josh Jacobs' NFL Rookie of the Year campaign online

ALAMEDA – The Raiders have launched a campaign to help running back Josh Jacobs become the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

They have opened a website extolling his virtues. They have passed out buttons. They even have fullback and "chief of interior transportation" Alec Ingold giving a fireside chat about how awesome Jacobs has been in 2019.

The promotional materials may draw some extra attention, but Jacobs’ case is easy to make.

He has smashed every Raiders rookie rushing record. He exceeded 1,000 yards in his 12th game and will have huge totals even if he isn’t able to play Sunday against Tennessee. He’s formally questionable with a fractured shoulder he's been playing through since trucking Green Bay safety Adrian Amos in Week 7.

His numbers are pretty awesome. Jacobs has 218 carries 1,061 yards and seven touchdowns. That’s 4.9 yards per carry, and he ranks fifth in the NFL in total rushing yards. He also has another 18 receptions 146 yards.

The competition must always be considered, but he has to be the frontrunner after winning back-to-back rookie of the month awards.

Arizona's No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray is certainly a candidate, but the Cardinals don’t have many wins. Washington receiver Terry McLaurin and Baltimore wideout Marquise Brown have had good seasons, but they shouldn’t be considered serious competition here.

The Raiders haven’t had an offensive rookie of the year since Marcus Allen won it in 1982, and Jacobs has smashed Allen’s records from that strike-shortened year. Charles Woodson was the last rookie of the year on either side of the ball, winning the defensive award in 1998.

[RELATED: NFL prospects for Raiders to watch on Championship Weekend]

Jacobs’ shoulder injury could hurt the campaign more than anything, especially if he misses a few games or gets shut down for the rest of the season if the playoffs become a distant pipe dream.

Outside of that, he should be the favorite to win the award heading down the stretch.