Raiders have miles to go in quest to catch AFC West champion Chiefs


Raiders have miles to go in quest to catch AFC West champion Chiefs

The Kansas City Chiefs own the AFC West. They have three straight division titles and five playoff appearances in Andy Reid’s six years as head coach.

Sure, the Chiefs haven’t won a postseason contest in that stretch, though there’s a chance to snap that streak Sunday afternoon against Indianapolis. But, to focus on that ignores a greater point.

Kansas City is the AFC West gold standard.

Raiders head coach Jon Gruden wants to own this division. Doing so will require beating the team current sitting on top.

That means doing better than the Chiefs and Reid, his longtime friend and colleague.

The Raiders have a long way to go to reach the level of consistency that has produced a 65-31 record in the last six seasons. The Raiders have a long way to producing even a stellar one-off season capable of winning this division.

Even 2016’s 12-4 Raiders campaign was foiled by Kansas City, which finished with an equal record but won the division on a tiebreaker.

[RELATED: How Raiders can (realistically) improve Derek Carr's supporting cast]

All that was before quarterback Patrick Mahomes burst on the scene. He’s an MVP favorite in his first year as a starter, considered by many to a top tier talent at 23 years. Barring injury, Mahomes is capable of dominating the division (and the league, for that matter) for an extended stretch.

The Chiefs also have great offensive weapons in Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill. They have some holes on defense, and give up far too many yards and big plays. That unit can play well from ahead, and have a low bar to clear for victory considering the offense averages 35.3 points per game.

The Raiders were dead last in the division after Gruden’s decision to tear the roster down. He doesn’t have Khalil Mack or Amari Cooper but is loaded with assets aimed to reconstruct the roster as he sees fit. The Raiders have four NFL draft picks in the top 35 overall, including three in the first round. He has roughly $78 million in salary cap space, with flexibility to increase that sum with penalty-free cuts. The Raiders also don’t have a major extension upcoming, meaning Gruden can turn this roster over quickly.

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That provides hope the Raiders can go from worst to playoff contention. That will only happen makes the right choices and finds impact players.

He doesn’t have to copy the Chiefs model, but he needs to find quality pass rushers and athletic cover guys at linebacker and safety to complete a deep safety. The offensive line must also return to dominant form and, of course, the quarterback must be awesome.

While the L.A. Chargers are also a forced to be reckoned with, the Raiders have to be major players within the division to be the steady playoff contender and AFC force expected when Gruden was re-hired to lead the Raiders football operation.

Reaching such heights is certainly possible, but there’s a lot of work ahead and smart acquisitions to make before consistently competing within the division and its title holders in Kansas City.

Raiders appreciate Jon Gruden's coaching style, curse words and all

Raiders appreciate Jon Gruden's coaching style, curse words and all

NAPA – Jon Gruden used three choice words to describe what he wanted to see heading into the Raiders’ second preseason game.

“Better f---ing execution.”

“Hard Knocks” cameras always are recording, with boom mics overhead to catch the coach’s every word. A senior producer certainly smiled when he heard those words.

That reached HBO’s air during the second episode, along with dozens more curse words during an hour-long show.

Cameras also caught Gruden following up a stern conversation with Nathan Peterman by saying, “I’ve got to stop cussing.”

Derek Carr isn’t holding a breath for that to happen.

“I said, ‘Good luck, man!’” Carr said with a smile. “’I wish you the best.’”

Look, Gruden swears like a sailor. It shows his passion. It’s part of his charm. It’s a regular occurrence on the practice field, where local reporters respect an element of privacy on the practice field by not repeating what’s said.

“Hard Knocks” adheres by no such rules. They’re recording everything and editing it after – with team approval, of course – so there are lots of curse words to choose from.

Gruden doesn’t love seeing them all played back.

“I don’t like hearing all the profanity,” Gruden said on Saturday. “It’s like every time I swear it makes the show. I mean I just love football. I really have a lot of passion for this and I get way carried away sometimes. I apologize, but I’m not as foul mouth as people think. If you think I am, I’m sorry.”

His players don’t have a problem with it. Gruden’s a firey coach, but he cares about details and making sure his players succeed. If you work hard for him, he’ll work hard for you.

“What people don’t get to see enough of maybe, is he treats us like we are his kids, like he loves us dearly,” Carr said. “That guy, when he is getting on us is just because he wants us to be perfect and that’s just how he is. So, it’s fun to watch [‘Hard Knocks’] and I tell those guys, ‘Hey, man.’ I told them before, ‘He’s aggressive, he’s going to be like that and it’s all because he wants you to be the best.’ It has nothing to do with him coming at you or him thinking some type of way about you. It’s only because he wants you to be the best version of yourself.”

Prior to last season, Carr hadn’t worked with Gruden beyond an ESPN “Gruden’s QB Camp” episode, but he was ready for a gruff exterior because he trusted that support and good intentions were always behind it.

“You know how much he cares about you. You know where his heart is,” Carr said. “You just say, ‘Yes sir.’ He’s just trying to make you better, so we never had a problem. I’ve had some head coaches, I won’t throw their names out there. I’ve had some certain coaches in my life, especially in college, that were the same way, so I’ve been used to that for sure.”

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Tyrell Williams hadn’t experienced Gruden’s trademark intensity except for what he viewed on TV.

“Obviously, you see the mic’d up’s and stuff before I started playing for him,” the receiver said. “So, I mean just being around him he’s hilarious and fun to be around so it’s been awesome, just his one-liners and all that stuff is just fun and seeing him on the sidelines in games is comedy, too. It’s been a lot of fun being around him.”

NFL rumors: Antonio Brown's quest to wear preferred helmet hits a snag

NFL rumors: Antonio Brown's quest to wear preferred helmet hits a snag

Antonio Brown’s camp thought the superstar receiver’s quest to wear his preferred helmet was nearing its end.

Not so fast, apparently.

Brown wants to wear a Schutt Air Advantage helmet, a version of headgear he has worn, in one model or another, since high school. It has been discontinued and is more than 10 years old, making it ineligible for certification.

Brown was told he could use the Schutt Air Advantage if he could find one made less than 10 years ago. He would then have to get it re-conditioned and re-certified.

The star Raiders receiver crowd sourced his helmet search, and found some that were made more recently.

The NFL tested a helmet made in 2010 that Brown’s camp submitted and, according to Pro Football Talk, the helmet failed the test. Brown was reportedly told of the failure on Saturday. Brown also has one from 2014 that was certified by an independent body, but it has not yet been recently tested by the NFL.

PFT also reports that Brown will continue his quest to wear the helmet he prefers.

The receiver, who squashed all talk of retirement over this helmet issue, said Thursday night that he would work within the system to get a helmet that works for him.

[RELATED: Brown shows great retention during practice]

“I’m still trying helmets right now,” Brown said after the Raiders beat Arizona in their preseason game. “As long as the league certifies them, those are the ones I’m trying out. I’m trying out every one I have. There have been a lot of great fans sending helmets. I’m just following protocol, man. I’m just excited to be back. You’ll be seeing a lot of me here shortly. I’m just excited to be around my teammates in the building and reached the shared goals we’re here to achieve.”