OAKLAND -- Jon Gruden’s return to the NFL was a big deal. That’s why the Raiders and the Rams opened the season on Monday Night Football, the very broadcast Gruden worked on during nine years away from coaching.
This had a big-game feel, one the Raiders wanted to win and curtail negative press after trading a certain All-Pro edge rusher to Chicago.
While Gruden and defensive coordinator Paul Guenther pulled out all the stops to get things going, one thing was crystal clear in a 33-13 loss: There’s a huge talent disparity between the Rams and the Raiders.
The Rams are legitimate Super Bowl contenders, but this game shows the Raiders aren’t at that level. Or anywhere close. That’s especially true after a certain All-Pro edge rusher was shipped to Chicago.
The Silver and Black scrapped and clawed throughout the game, but the offense couldn’t sustain late drives, Derek Carr fell apart late, and the Jared Goff-Todd Gurley combo wore down the Raiders' defense.
Here are three quick takeaways from the season opener where the Raiders just couldn’t compete over four quarters.
Raiders can’t generate pass rush
Bruce Irvin made a huge play early in this game, with a third-down strip-sack that pushed the Rams back and contributed to a missed field-goal attempt.
There was solid coverage on the play, which allowed Irvin to get home and make a big play.
That was a rare moment when the Raiders actually generated a pass rush. Goff was hit just two times, and the Cal product had time to carve the Raiders' secondary. Rookie Arden Key was excitable but not always effective, and P.J. Hall and Maurice Hurst didn’t get much push inside on passing downs.
So, after three paragraphs, I’ll just come out and say it: The Raiders missed Khalil Mack. They struggled pressuring the quarterback one day after Mack dominated the Green Packers on national TV, which isn’t a great look for those looking to move past the Mack trade.
Draft picks received for Mack won’t come until next year and the year after, meaning this year’s Raiders lost Mack for nothing. He might not have won the game, considering the offensive struggles, but he certainly would’ve helped a Raiders defense that played decent in the back but couldn’t produce steadily to be impactful.
Raiders lose offensive momentum
Gruden planned to give Carr great freedom at the line of scrimmage, and the signal-caller’s scheme mastery allowed him to put the offense in positions to succeed.
The Raiders got to the line of scrimmage pretty quickly, giving Carr time to survey the scene and make proper adjustments. That worked incredibly well on the season’s opening drive, where the Raiders marched right downfield for a touchdown. He hit Jared Cook down the seam, found the right times to let Marshawn Lynch run and was smart with his targets.
That was a good first start for the Gruden-Carr offensive machine, but it didn’t last. The star-studded Rams defense slowed offensive momentum in the second half.
The Raiders struggled mightily in the third quarter and into the fourth, and they couldn’t generate the steady production attained in the first half.
Carr fell right off track, and couldn’t find any receiver not named Jared Cook or a running back. Amari Cooper was invisible. Jordy Nelson was, too.
There was tons of talk this winter about Gruden and Carr’s working relationship, but the duo has meshed well throughout the spring and summer. Carr was confident and authoritative running Gruden’s offense in practice, and he was again in the first half. The Raiders didn’t adjust well to the Rams in the second half, and couldn’t get anything going while Los Angeles added to its lead.
Carr finished 29-of-40 passing for 303 yards with three interceptions, a forgettable night that started well and went south from there.
Lynch can still go Beast Mode
Marshawn Lynch barely touched the ball this preseason. He had a 60-yard touchdown run called back by a holding call and never touched the ball again. He showed surprising breakaway speed on that run, and flashed great burst and acceleration in practice.
Early in this game, however, Lynch went full Beast Mode. The Raiders were 10 yards from paydirt when Lynch took a carry up the middle. He made it roughly five yards on his own, and slowed enough to be swarmed by the Rams defense.
The group couldn’t bring Lynch down. He pushed and pushed and got some help from Gabe Jackson kick-starting his momentum. Lynch rumbled right over the goal line for a touchdown.
Gruden used several running backs over the course of this game, so Lynch finished with 41 yards and a score on just 11 carries. That isn’t a heavy workload for the team’s main running back, but Lynch showed great power with some sneaky speed. That’s a good sign for a rusher the Raiders will count on in 2018.