Raiders

Raiders takeaways: What we learned from 31-24 road win vs. Colts

Raiders takeaways: What we learned from 31-24 road win vs. Colts

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INDIANAPOLIS -- The Raiders are headed for London with a smile.

The Silver and Black snapped a two-game losing streak with Sunday’s 31-24 victory over the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil as essential a win as one can have in Week 4.

The Raiders face Khalil Mack and the Chicago Bears next week in the United Kingdom, and entering that game in that place -- the Raiders have been terrible in two previous London games -- with a string of defeats would’ve been bad news.

Now they come in confident after beating a solid Colts team at their place, making it to .500 at the quarter pole.

Here are three takeaways from an important victory on a grueling five-game stretch playing away from home:

Raiders find a way to rally

The Raiders got dismantled last week by the Minnesota Vikings. Dis-man-tled. It was the type of humbling, beat-in-every-phase loss that can stick in your teeth, making a team feel less than while working through this extended time away from home.

Tahir Whitehead and Josh Mauro said after that Vikings loss that players would apply peer pressure and hold each other accountable during the practice week and respond well from disappointment.

That certainly happened. The Raiders started hot and held strong despite a late charge from the Colts that made it a one-score game in the waning moments.

Erik Harris secured victory with a pick-six on the Colts’ formal comeback attempt, putting a solid stamp on a game the Raiders desperately needed.

This was a big moment for Jon Gruden’s crew and certainly helps foster chemistry and confidence after weathering adversity. Last year’s team would’ve lost this game. This one rebounded well. That’s important in the grand scope.

Good things happen with Jacobs involved

The Raiders took an early, multiple score lead in this game, creating an ideal environment to run the football and keep Josh Jacobs involved.

As you’d expect, feeding him worked out well. The team’s best skill player was productive on the ground and as a receiver. He wasn’t excellent, but he steadily produced with 79 yards on 17 carries. He also had two receptions for 29 yards, his first touch in the passing game since Week 1.

DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard rotated in to keep Jacobs fresh, and that trio proved an effective, valuable part of the offense that was underused in the previous two games.

All told, the backs had 152 yards of total offense and diversified the offense. That took focus from Darren Waller and Tyrell Williams, players the Colts were clearly looking to take away.

[RELATED: Report: AB to file record nine grievances against Raiders, Pats]

Solid starting script

The Raiders had started fast several times in the Jon Gruden era. They don’t always end well, but the offensive play caller’s first 15 or so plays generally run smooth.

They couldn’t have gone better Sunday, when the Raiders built a two-score lead on a Foster Moreay touchdown pass and a 60-yard jet sweep by Trevor Davis keyed by blocks from Darren Waller and Kolton Miller.

The Raiders were up big in a flash, and the defense held strong until the end of the first quarter. The Silver and Black are far better playing with a lead, able to keep the offense balanced.

The lead probably should’ve been bigger, but a few key miscues kept it relatively close in the first half. The Raiders were up 21-10 at the half and expanded the lead with a solid third-quarter field goal drive that lasted nine minutes, 42 seconds.

The solid early start set the tone, and gave the offense a lift after it looked listless last week against Minnesota. It was a positive and sure sign the Raiders rallied after a disappointing Week 3 defeat.

Raiders roster analysis: Defense still needs help after major upgrades

Raiders roster analysis: Defense still needs help after major upgrades

General manager Mike Mayock has been candid about the Raiders’ defensive deficiencies, especially in a press conference at the NFL scouting combine.

He wasn’t just complaining about the problem. Mayock and head coach Jon Gruden executed an aggressive plan to fix it. The Raiders added several established veteran free agents, especially through the middle of the defense, to improve a unit that hasn’t been good enough in recent years.

The Silver and Black even came out ahead following a crazy Thursday where the Eli Apple deal dissolved and versatile defensive back Damarious Randall came aboard.

The Raiders are much more talented heading into the 2020 campaign, though an upgrade or two could complete what has been a solid offseason to this point.

Let’s take a look at the current state of the Raiders defense, an analysis that pairs well with Friday’s edition of the Raiders Insider podcast. You can find that below, on our NBC Sports Bay Area/California YouTube channel or wherever you get your podcasts. Also, check out our Josh Schrock’s ranking of the top 20 Raiders defensive players.

Here’s our positional breakdown, where they’re set and where the Raiders need some help.

Defensive end

Starters: Maxx Crosby, Clelin Ferrell
Top reserves: Carl Nassib, Arden Key
State of the position: Crosby was a revelation last year, finishing second in defensive rookie of the year voting. He hit double-digit sacks and proved a far better run defender than people thought. Ferrell had some setbacks in his rookie season – he lost 15 pounds with the flu before midseason – and performed below expectations associated with his draft slot. He has vowed to be better in 2020 and has the work ethic required to make great leaps. Nassib’s a versatile weapon an upgrade over 2019 situational pass rusher Benson Mayowa, though he doesn’t come cheap. Nassib also is a solid run defender who can also operate as a stand-up rusher. Key has talent and bend but hasn’t performed well in games to this point.
Help wanted?: Another edge rusher couldn’t hurt, even if it’s just a situational player later in the NFL draft, but the group will be fine even without another impact player.

Defensive tackle

Starters: Johnathan Hankins, Maliek Collins
Top reserves: Maurice Hurst, P.J. Hall, Daniel Ross
State of the position: Collins makes the interior much, much better. He has the interior pass-rush ability lacking for the Silver and Black in recent seasons, which is vital to the success of Paul Guenther’s defensive scheme. Collins would’ve led the Raiders in quarterback pressures in 2019 and has excelled battling through double teams. He’ll help those around him, making the entire line better. Hankins is a solid run defender and Hurst will have a significant role in the rotation, especially in the sub-packages. Hall will be pushed by others in the group.
Help wanted?: Collins takes the edge off this need, but the Raiders could use one more piece to this puzzle. The former Dallas Cowboy is working on a one-year deal and Hankins has a season left on his deal, so adding another player would help the 2020 group and provide some help in future seasons.

Linebacker

Starters: MLB Nick Kwiatkoski, WLB Cory Littleton, SLB Marquel Lee
Top reserves: Nick Morrow, Kyle Wilber
State of the position: Adding Kwiatkoski and Littleton to the group makes linebacker a team strength. They should pair as three-down linebackers. Lee could man the strong side, but he comes off frequently for a defensive back. Morrow has experience at both interior spots and is a quality backup who could start at any linebacker position if required.
Help wanted?: The Raiders are set here in the short and long term, something unusual for a Raiders franchise that has struggled to find proper fits at the position.

Cornerback

Starters: Trayvon Mullen, Isaiah Johnson, Lamarcus Joyner
Top reserves: Nevin Lawson, Keisean Nixon
State of the position: Mullen’s a long-term solution at one cornerback spot. Joyner’s solid in the slot, where the Raiders prefer him to play. Johnson’s still raw after losing much of his rookie year to a concussion and facial fracture suffered in the preseason. Lawson has tons of starting experience and Nixon is a valuable backup. All that said, the Raiders were looking for a top cornerback to start opposite Mullen and still don’t have that player. Eli Apple would’ve been the frontrunner to play outside, but his deal fell apart this week and he’s now back on the open market.
Help wanted?: The Raiders need a top cornerback in the draft. Like, really bad. They could and probably should use the No. 12 or 19 selection on a plug-and-play cornerback and complete the position group. They could use Randall there if nobody else seizes the job, but free safety seems like a better fit for him.

[RELATED: NFL Draft 2020: Raiders should select one of these five defensive backs]

Safeties

Starters: Johnathan Abram, Damarious Randall
Top reserves: Jeff Heath, Erik Harris
State of the position: If Randall ends up playing safety as expected, this group suddenly is stout. Abram has a lot to prove but has great potential as a physical tone-setter. Randall could free him to be aggressive with his ability at free safety, though he can move around and do a lot of things well. Heath and Harris have extensive starting experience and are solid reserves. They could fill in well in case of injury or if Randall’s needed at cornerback, where he spent the first three years of his NFL career.
Help wanted?: The Raiders could’ve used another safety before Randall arrived, Now that he’s committed to the Silver and Black, the position’s a great shape.

NFL Draft 2020: EA Sports to create 'virtual moment' with Roger Goodell, picks

NFL Draft 2020: EA Sports to create 'virtual moment' with Roger Goodell, picks

The 2020 NFL Draft will be unlike anything seen in recent memory. But EA Sports is going to do its part to add a shade of semi-normalcy.

Due to the global coronavirus pandemic, the annual event, which was slated to be held in Las Vegas, instead will be held remotely. This, of course, means top prospects like Joe Burrow, Chase Young, Justin Herbert and Tua Tagovailoa won't be able to have their handshake moment with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

Not so fast.

NFL Media's Ian Rapoport noted Friday that EA Sports will create a digital meeting between each first-round pick and Goodell that will be shown as part of the broadcast.

EA Sports has reached out to those assumed to be picked in the first round and asked how they would interact with Goodell if the draft were being held in person. There have been several memorable draft moments between prospects and Goodell, including Miami Dolphins defensive lineman Christian Wilkins almost taking out the commish with a shoulder bump last year.

[RELATED: McKinney headlines top DB prospects for Raiders to target]

Each first-round pick also will get to select a high school to receive a $2,500 grant toward their football program.

It won't be a normal draft, but the virtual walk-ups will at least add something to what will be a unique broadcast.

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