The Raiders offense has hit the skids. A unit that scored 24 points or more in six consecutive games has crossed the goal line just once since Nov. 17, a garbage-time touchdown that only mattered to those who bet the over.
The run game keeps marching along save a hiccup against the Jets, but the air attack has fallen on hard times.
Fingers will point straight at Derek Carr for recent offensive failings, but it’s never all on the quarterback. There were several times in that disastrous 40-9 loss to Kansas City where Carr was well protected, waiting for prospective targets to create separation.
Wide receivers had just eight yards through three quarters and just 34 on four catches and eight targets.
Tyrell Williams knows that isn’t good enough, even if the conditions, early turnovers and the quickly lopsided score made life harder on the passing game.
“They were trying to take me away. They were trying to take away [tight end Darren] Waller, making sure they had two guys on him,” Williams said Monday in an interview with NBC Sports Bay Area. “I saw a couple of double teams every once in a while. Hindsight is 20/20, but in the game, we felt like we had a good game plan. We’re trying to continue to execute that game plan, but sometimes you get behind in the sticks and that takes us away from what we’re trying to do."
"We need to stay on schedule so we aren’t facing third-and-long situations, and we obviously have to avoid turnovers. Playing from behind, on the road, and in that environment is hard.”
Head coach Jon Gruden took some blame for the overall lack of receiver production against the Chiefs. The position group has struggled this season after dealing with significant personnel turnover, Williams’ difficult bout of plantar fasciitis around midseason and Hunter Renfrow’s current rib injury. The overall talent level isn’t soaring at this stage, but Gruden believes he can scheme targets open.
“Well, I’ve got to do a better job,” Gruden said. “We’ve got to do a better job getting them better looks and getting them involved in the game no question, so I put that on myself. I think we’ve got good, young receivers. We might shake it up a little bit, give some other guys some more opportunities this week, but we’ll study the Titans and see what goes.”
Keelan Doss, Marcell Ateman and recent practice squad promotion Rico Gafford are 53-man roster options who haven’t been involved much. Zay Jones has and hasn’t ever gotten in sync with Carr.
Williams scored touchdowns in his first five games as a Raider and has had a few nice moments in his return from injury, but has hit a production slump. He has three catches for 27 yards on eight targets over the last two weeks and was the intended target on two interceptions in that span, though neither pick should be blamed on him.
Williams is the team’s best deep threat and has been targeted twice on passes 20-plus yards downfield in the last two games, and five times between 10-20 yards from the line of scrimmage in that span.
Williams obviously wants to be more productive than in recent weeks, especially with the offense struggling, but he isn’t the type to yell or scream or demand the ball.
“I never want to be that type of person,” Williams said. “Of course I want to get more targets. I want to be able to stretch the field a bit more and get that deep threat out there. I think that comes with talking and communicating with coaches and being on the same page with Derek throughout the week. That should allow us to focus and hit on those opportunities.”
There’s also a danger of pressing to get out of slumps, whether it’s trying to do too much, stepping outside of one’s responsibility or Carr forcing a throw. This offense has been steadily productive before and Williams believes it can be again. One key is not overthinking it.
“You have to focus on each play as it comes and let the game come to you,” Williams said. “I’m going to go out there and play hard and leave everything I have out there, but I don’t like focusing on when targets are coming and when they’re not because that takes me out of my game. I have to just play and after the game evaluate and see what we did do and what we could’ve done better.”
There’s time to get rolling again. While losses to the Chiefs and Jets essentially snuffed their AFC West title hopes and largely erased margin for error, the Raiders can still land a playoff spot with a strong showing against the Titans and Jaguars at home and then on the road against the L.A. Chargers and Denver Broncos to close out the year.
“The season’s long and there’s still time to get back on track,” Williams said. These two home games are obviously huge. They’re against teams that are, like us, fighting for a playoff spot. The rest of the way for us, they’re all playoff games in a sense.”