Raiders

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.

Raiders' Erik Harris explains why 'dream came true' in win vs. Chargers

Raiders' Erik Harris explains why 'dream came true' in win vs. Chargers

ALAMEDA -- Raiders safety Erik Harris intercepted Philip Rivers on Thursday night and immediately took off down the right sideline. He stiff-armed a Chargers offensive lineman and outran everyone else on his way to the end zone.

He looked into the raucous Oakland Coliseum crowd while crossing the field, searching for his family. Harris found his wife and four children and pointed right to them.

This one, Harris said without speaking, is for you.

The Harris family didn’t make it to many games last year, Erik’s first season making significant defensive contribution. His youngest son Ellis was too young to travel from their Louisiana home, but the family has made it to four thus far this season.

Thursday night was a good one to attend. Harris had two interceptions, with a third negated by penalty, including the pick-six in a 27-24 victory over the Chargers.

“Last time I had a pick-six when they were in the crowd, [his twins Isaiah and Elijah] were 2 or 3 years old [– his daughter Esme is a bit younger --] but this time the older ones knew what was going on,” Harris said. “I ran over to them and started pointing to them. They told me after they saw me doing that, which made it an emotional, heartfelt moment.”

The whole night was something out of a script. Harris persevered through difficult childhood circumstances while embarking upon an incredible football journey from a NCAA Division II college to the CFL and then the NFL, with side jobs as UPS and a potato chip factory in between, was featured on the “Thursday Night Football” pregame show.

Then Harris balls out. Then the Raiders win, and Harris gets invited up to the NFL Network set, an honor bestowed on the game’s most impactful player. He was able to bring his wife Theresa and their four kids on stage at the end to share this big moment with his family.

“I was telling my wife this morning that Thursday didn’t even feel real,” Harris said. “They shared my story, then I played well and then everybody was able to join me on the set. It was almost like it was staged. It felt like that honestly. It was pretty cool.”

[RELATED: Swearinger ready to help Raiders' secondary, win title]

Harris has had big NFL moments before, but this was something altogether different. He was able to share his backstory with a massive audience and then show on the field what can happen when you won’t quit.

“That was one of best things to come out of the whole night,” Harris said. “My goal was always to make the NFL, but on Thursday night my real dream came true. It provided a platform for my story, my testimony to be heard around the country and the world, really, and inspire people to never give up.”

NFL Draft 2020: Raiders in rare position to think playoffs, top-10 pick

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NFL Draft 2020: Raiders in rare position to think playoffs, top-10 pick

We're passed the halfway point of the NFL season, and the Raiders are in a unique position.

Yes, it's OK to start thinking about Jon Gruden leading the Silver and Black back to the playoffs. This Raiders team has been tough, gritty and resilient, fighting through a host of injuries, a five-game road trip against playoff-caliber competition, Vontaze Burfict's season-long suspension and Antonio Brown's meltdown to sit at 5-4, just on the outside of the playoff picture with a very favorable upcoming schedule.

But thanks to the much-criticized Khalil Mack trade -- which is looking better by the day (hi, Josh Jacobs) -- the Raiders also must start scouting college football's best players. The Bears, one year after going 12-4 and winning the NFC North, have been borderline abysmal as quarterback Mitchell Trubisky continues to show zero signs that he's a franchise quarterback.

With seven games left, the Bears sit at 4-5 and currently would have the No. 14 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. But because the Bears were brilliant last year, led by Mack and that vaunted defense, they were given a first-place schedule, so Trubisky and the Bears will finish the season with the Rams, Giants, Lions, Cowboys, Packers, Chiefs and Vikings.

Ouch.

The way the Bears are playing, at least four of those games are losses, and there's no telling which Chicago team will show up against the Giants or possibly the Jeff Driskel-led Lions on Thanksgiving. Even a positive view likely sees the Bears' finish at 6-10 or 5-11, and that could be enough to see them fall (or rise depending on the hat you're wearing) into the top 10 of the NFL draft.

A playoff berth and a top-10 pick in the same season? That's some kind of witchcraft only Gruden could have cooked up in his wildest nightmares.

The Raiders are just a half-game back of the Chiefs for first place in the AFC West, with a Dec. 1 meeting at Arrowhead Stadium still to come. They're just outside of the wild-card picture because of a tiebreaker loss to the Steelers based on conference record.

Still, the playoffs are a real possibility for the Silver and Black. While Gruden patches up the secondary after injuries to safety Karl Joseph and slot cornerback Lamarcus Joyner, general manager Mike Mayock is hard at work scouting what could be a top-10 pick from the Bears.

The 2020 NFL Draft class might not be as loaded as some in years past, but it does have just what the Raiders will be looking for: wide receivers, pass rushers and defensive backs.

So, let's pretend the Raiders hit the lottery and go to the playoffs for the second time since 2002, and the Bears plummet to finish 5-11. Here are six prospects the playoff-bound Raiders will be looking at with that top-10 pick.

Henry Ruggs III, WR, Alabama

Speed. Speed. More speed.

One of Crimson Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa's favorite targets, Ruggs is a burner who's projected to be the fastest player in this year's draft class. He's the perfect fit for the modern NFL. He's improved as a route runner during his time in Tuscaloosa, and would be great for a Raiders team that's thin at receiver after the AB debacle.

His teammate, Jerry Jeudy, is the top receiver in the class and likely will go in the top five, but Ruggs is no consolation prize.


CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma

Did I mention the Raiders have a need at receiver?

Lamb isn't as fast as Ruggs, but the 6-foot-2, 191-pound receiver has been dominant as Jalen Hurts' No. 1 target this season. He's a polished route-runner who has a knack for getting open and is almost impossible to tackle. Just ask Texas, which Lamb torched, pulling down 10 balls for 171 yards and three scores.

Lamb is a little taller than Ruggs, but either would be a great weapon to give Raiders quarterback Derek Carr.


Isaiah Simmons, OLB, Clemson

Have you heard Gruden kind of likes guys from Clemson?

After the Silver and Black drafted three guys from Dabo Swinney's culture factory last season, don't be surprised if they go back to Death Valley should Simmons be on the board.

That's a big if, but the converted safety is just what the Raiders are looking for in a linebacker. He has the athleticism to cover tight ends but also can run sideline to sideline to track down backs. He has the versatility to play some safety if called upon to do so.

I'd expect he'll hear his name called somewhere in the No. 6-to-No. 8 range, but if he falls a bit, this would be a huge get for Mayock and Gruden.


Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn

At 6-5, 318 pounds, Brown has the size that NFL teams covet in a disruptive defensive tackle. He's still raw, but he has the tools to be a dominant game wrecker.

The Raiders were interested in Quinnen Williams in last year's draft, but he went off the board at No. 3. Will they go back to the D-line well here?


Grant Delpit, S, LSU

The Raiders drafted Johnathan Abram in the first round last April, but he only made it one game before going down with a shoulder injury. Karl Joseph was having a productive season at the other safety spot before going on injured reserve after his game-sealing interception against the Chargers.

Joseph will be a free agent this offseason and would love to return to the Raiders. But if it doesn't work out, Delpit is the type of player Gruden would love to put alongside Abram in the defensive backfield.

The LSU star can line up just about anywhere and make plays. He's a versatile ballhawk who would give the Raiders one of the best safety combinations in the league.

As seen in the win over Alabama, Delpit has to improve his tackling, but it's not a big enough knock to warrant passing on him.


Yetur Gross-Matos, DE, Penn State

So, you need a pass rush? Clelin Ferrell has come on of late, and Maxx Crosby has been a pleasant surprise, but the Raiders still lack the ability to consistently get after the pass rusher. They'd love to land Ohio State's Chase Young, but he'll be off the board by the No. 2 pick.

Gross-Matos is a lengthy defensive end with a massive wingspan and a big motor. He's relentless on every play, and we know Gruden loves that. He's only 21, so he has a ton of room to grow both physically and as a defensive end.

The Nittany Lion star could go inside the top 10 or fall to the late first round, so the Raiders could have a few cracks at him.

[RELATED: Where Raiders sit in NFL power rankings after Week 10]

Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU

If you can't immediately fix the pass rush, you can address the coverage. The Raiders did that by drafting Trayvon Mullen in the second round in April, and the rookie has been solid since earning the starting job after Gareon Conley was traded.

Adding Fulton would give the Raiders two young, athletic cover corners on whom to build their defense. Heading to Las Vegas with the #NoFlyZone.