Raiders

Raiders' running game must improve against vulnerable Chiefs defense

Raiders' running game must improve against vulnerable Chiefs defense

ALAMEDA – The Raiders didn’t run the ball particularly well against the New York Jets.

There’s no shame in that as a standalone. Gang Green, after all, sports the league’s best run defense.

Added to previous performances, however, it shows a negative trend. The Raiders have been less efficient running the football over the past three games, as opposing teams place a great emphasis on stopping it.

The Raiders averaged 4.8 yards per carry over their first eight games, but averaged just 3.7 against the L.A. Chargers, 3.2 against the Cincinnati Bengals and 3.1 against the Jets.

“The stats running the ball aren’t as good. I think we all take that personally,” Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said. “It’s a hard thing to do in this league, to run the way we run it. We aren’t running options and scrambling for yards. We’re turning around and handing it to a back and we’re doing it in predictable situations. But I love our line. We’re going to need to play well for sure, coming up this week.”

The Raiders must gain steady yards on the ground to compete and thrive Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs, where a victory would put the combatants in a tie atop the AFC West.

The Chiefs rank No. 30 against the run and allow 5.1 yards per carry, setting feature back Josh Jacobs up for a post-Thanksgiving feast.

The first-round draft pick’s numbers haven’t dipped steadily with the team as a whole, averaging 4.4 yards per carry against the Chargers, 4.8 against the Bengals before dipping way down to 3.4 against the Jets.

Jacobs viewed that game as both an anomaly and a wake-up call that could serve the Raiders well.

“I think this game will benefit us more than anything,” Jacobs said. “We kind of needed it. We’ll see how things play out.”

The Raiders have all the pieces required to run the ball well. They have a massive front and an excellent back in Jacobs who shouldn’t be on a pitch count in this crucial matchup with the Chiefs.

[RELATED: Carr has perfect response to ex-coach Del Rio's criticism]

The Raiders must do better right away, even with teams stacking up the box to slow down an obvious team strength.

“It’s a combination of us needing to do a better job as coaches, putting our guys in better position,” Gruden said. "I think teams no doubt see Jacobs and they want to try to commit people to stop him. We’ve got to do better, maybe throwing it at times to keep them off balance, but we’re still running it pretty good compared to other teams that I study.”

Raiders GM Mike Mayock heaps praise upon 49ers' 'culture of toughness'

Raiders GM Mike Mayock heaps praise upon 49ers' 'culture of toughness'

The Raiders have left the Bay Area, but it's not necessarily because they couldn't stand their neighbors.

Las Vegas general manager Mike Mayock made that much clear Tuesday when heaping praise on the 49ers' leadership from the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

"I give John [Lynch] and Kyle [Shanahan] a ton of credit," Mayock said. "I don’t think it happened overnight. Their quarterback got hurt, which artificially set their record back for a year. But what they’ve been building over several years is a group of talented defensive lineman, a culture -- and everybody laughs about that word. I don’t. Building a culture is way harder than people pretend it is. It’s easy to say and hard to do. That’s why I give them so much credit. They’ve built a culture of toughness. They run the freakin’ ball. They believe in getting after the quarterback. I love what they’ve done, and I give them a ton of credit. But it didn’t happen overnight."

On the way to Super Bowl LIV, San Francisco had the second-most productive rushing offense in the NFL, and only four teams finished with more sacks than the 49ers (48) during the regular season. Nine of those sacks came from Nick Bosa, whom San Francisco selected with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. The 49ers were only in that draft slot, however, as a result of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo tearing his ACL in Week 3 of 2018 before missing the rest of the season.

With Garoppolo fully healthy and Bosa in tow, San Francisco went from the second-worst record in the league to the Super Bowl runner-up. Mayock surely is hoping for a similar turnaround, and frankly, the Raiders have a shorter distance to go. 

Quarterback Derek Carr has only missed two regular-season games since moving under center for the 2014 season and is coming off the most productive season of his career in terms of total yardage and yards per attempt. That had plenty to do with the Raiders finishing 7-9, and while they consequently won't be picking anywhere near the No. 2 overall selection, they do own two first-round picks -- Nos. 12 and 19 overall -- in the upcoming 2020 NFL Draft. It will be difficult to find a prospect with a similar impact as Bosa's, but that surely won't stop Mayock from trying.

[RELATED: NFL mock draft: Updated 49ers, Raiders pick projections]

The Raiders have participated in only one playoff game over the last 17 seasons, but with the NFL reportedly considering expanding the postseason field, they have a chance to end that drought in their first season in Sin City. They have many of the necessary pieces for a 49ers-like surge. The question is: Do they have the culture?

NFL Draft 2020: How Miami's Trevon Hill can help Raiders' pass rush

NFL Draft 2020: How Miami's Trevon Hill can help Raiders' pass rush

The Raiders need help on 11 positions on the defense, that much is clear.

Yes, 2019 rookie standouts Trayvon Mullen, Maxx Crosby and Clelin Ferrell will play large roles in 2020. But improvement is needed across the board on defense, from the defensive line to the safeties. 

The Raiders once again will be looking for pass-rush help this offseason, whether it be in free agency or the draft. With three third-round draft picks and a fourth-round pick, the Raiders should look to address their pass rush on Day 2 of the draft, with guys like Bradlee Anae, Julian Okawara and Curtis Weaver possibly being available. 

But there's an under-the-radar player for general manager Mike Mayock and coach Jon Gruden to keep their eyes on: Trevon Hill.

Hill, 6-foot-3, 233 pounds started his career at Virginia Tech playing under legendary defensive coordinator Bud Foster before transferring to Miami for his final season. The 22-year-old has innate pass-rushing ability, showing good burst off the edge, solid tilt, bend and powerful hands. He possesses the quick twitch needed to rush at the NFL level and has the athleticism to drop back into coverage. 

"They'll be getting a guy who is dynamic," Hill told NBC Sports Bay Area during the week of Super Bowl LIV in Miami about what his pitch to GMs would be. "He's coming in willing to work hard, willing to take somebody's plate -- another grown man's plate -- and just you're going to get somebody who is dominant, man. Ready to work. Tenacious, savage, somebody that is going to go get it. I'm a high-motor guy, man."

Modern NFL teams always need guys who can pressure the quarterback, and Hill's potential should excite several teams, including the Raiders. 

Look at his get off on this play. 

Hill will need to work on setting the edge at the NFL level and improve his strength to be a true factor. His high motor and uncanny ability to get to the quarterback, despite what some see as athletic limitations, might remind the Raiders and their fans of Crosby. Many expected Crosby to be a project and situational pass rusher coming out of Eastern Michigan, but he exploded onto the scene due to his nose for the quarterback. 

During his college career, Hill notched 29.5 tackles for loss and 16 sacks during his time with the Hurricanes and Hokies. His time under Foster and Miami coach Manny Diaz allowed him to be a sponge and soak up different defensive philosophies. 

Hill spends time studying NFL stars all over the defensive line and tries to model his game after what Kansas City Chiefs edge rusher Frank Clark brings to the table. 

"He just got that dog mentality," Hill said of Clark. "I think we have similar body type -- he might be a little bit heavier -- but height, same, quickness, same and he got that dog mentality and he backs it up."

[RELATED: Is QB Fromm an option for Raiders later in draft?]

As the Raiders proved last year, draft-class depth is just as important as top-end talent. Crosby and tight end Foster Moreau were fourth-round picks. Wide receiver Hunter Renfrow had his name called in the fifth round. Those three were major contributors to the Raiders' surprising 7-9 season. 

On a team looking for more people who can get to the quarterback, Hill is someone the Raiders should look at to improve their weary pass rush.