Raiders

Why linebacker Tahir Whitehead is certain Raiders will exceed expectations

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USATSI

Why linebacker Tahir Whitehead is certain Raiders will exceed expectations

The Raiders justifiably were frustrated after losing to Kansas City. They shut the Chiefs out for three quarters, but a 28-point, second-quarter outburst dashed the Silver and Black’s upset bid in the 28-10 defeat.

Linebacker Tahir Whitehead understood the disappointment permeating the postgame locker room, but knew it wouldn’t last long. He expected the Raiders to rally, not sulk.

Sure enough, he was right. The Raiders haven’t been sulking while preparing for Week 3’s game at Minnesota. Young squads can be emotional in those moments, but Whitehead knew they’d be all business.

“We have a great locker room, from the young guys all the way up to the captains,” Whitehead said on this week’s Raiders Talk podcast. “After suffering the first loss, I wasn’t worried one bit about how the team was going to react. I got to know this team and the guys I’m dealing with. They aren’t going to ride that emotional roller coaster. I knew we weren’t going to be dealing with that. Guys were upbeat, and ready to get back to work.”

That wasn’t always the case last year. The locker room was reeling most of the 2018 season, frustrated by top talents being shipped out during the year and all the losses piling up.

Veterans left regularly during that campaign, with the personnel getting younger all around Whitehead. He was a rare constant, someone who played nearly every snap of that struggle. He learned a lot about himself during that time, and the importance of being a beacon for others who have lost their way.

“I learned that you have to be a focal point in difficult times, and I played almost every snap last year,” Whitehead said. “You really have to understand what’s going on around you. When there’s chaos going on all around, you have to be a centerpiece that brings everyone together. Last year, I learned that, when things are going on off the field, I have to bring focus back to doing my job, my 1/11th. …I take that approach, and tell other guys to do the same.”

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Whitehead went through a tough time in 2018, and he knows how tense things got. He considers the 2019 experience night and day to last year’s, and takes great confidence in the progress made already knowing there’s more yet to come.

“Being in the second year of the scheme goes a long way,” Whitehead said. “Guys are comfortable. Even from the coaching staff, those guys were new. You have players trying to mesh and coaches trying to mesh. That’s hard at first, but you can see things start to pick up as the season went on. We took that momentum and carried it to the offseason and OTAs, and from there to training camp and on into the season.

"You can see that we’ve steadily been building. It’s a sight to see. It’s encouraging, and that’s why I can walk in every day with a smile on my face, knowing that we’re better than what people think we are, and we’re better than we’ve shown. We’re going to keep chasing it.”

Derek Carr comfortable spreading ball around in Raiders' passing game

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AP

Derek Carr comfortable spreading ball around in Raiders' passing game

ALAMEDA – Derek Carr beat the Detroit Lions with a tiebreaking, game-winning drive in the fourth quarter. The Raiders quarterback completed two passes to Jalen Richard for chunk yards and another to Hunter Renfrow for a touchdown. Mix in some runs and that accounts for 75 yards with the game on the line.

Carr orchestrated another game-winner at the Coliseum the following Thursday night against the Chargers, connecting with Richard, then Renfrow, then Richard, the Renfrow, then Richard again. That set up Josh Jacobs’ 18-yard touchdown run to beat the Bolts.

Tyrell Williams and Darren Waller were in the pattern on both series. Carr enjoys going to the Raiders' top targets in big moments, but they’re typically blanketed with additional coverage.

Carr isn’t one to force the issue when a path of less resistance comes available, allowing the Raiders to steadily work down the field even in a time crunch.

He doesn’t have to worry about egos or demands for the darn ball when he gets back to the huddle. The Raiders share a singular focus, and that helps the quarterback operate under pressure and in times of less stress.

“It is so special and it’s very rare nowadays. We do not care about fantasy numbers, we do not care about stats, we don’t care about anything but winning,” Carr said. “And if they are going to take Waller away, the way we are going to have to win games is for someone else to step up and win their matchup. If they are going to take the pass game away, myself and our pass game, then Josh has to win it with our offensive line. If they want to take Josh away, then our guys have to win outside.”

Carr has worked with several top receivers and tight ends, with egos of varying sizes. His past experiences have been, at times, worse than this one.

“We as a team, we have such a good group of skill position guys that do not care about that stuff and, as you know, that’s rare especially nowadays when everything is on social media,” Carr said. “If you don’t get enough fantasy points, people are tweeting you and all this kind of stuff. I promise you no one on our team cares about that stuff even a little bit.”

Waller has been the best Raiders receiver in fantasy and the real world. His 51 catches for 588 yards rank first by a large margin, yet Carr has seven receivers with at least 12 catches.

Waller’s seeing the ball go in different directions by garnering extra attention, but he’s happy others are stepping up.

“It’s really cool, but I’m not really surprised,” Waller said. “They’ve been doing it. They’ve been showing themselves in practice from spring until now. It’s just a chance for everyone else to see it now. We’ve seen it for a while so, but it’s awesome to see.”

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That attitude comes from a team-first dynamic built by weathering so much adversity through the season. This group has bonded over all that and is playing better than the sum of its parts because of it.

“We care about each other; we care about seeing each other succeed,” Carr said. “That’s why if you ever watch our team, whenever someone scores a touchdown you don’t see anyone on the field like, ‘Man, that should have been my ball or man, that should have been me.’ Nobody cares about that stuff. We just cared that our buddy scored and we are going to win the football game.”

Raiders' Maxx Crosby has made career out of capitalizing on opportunities

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USATSI

Raiders' Maxx Crosby has made career out of capitalizing on opportunities

ALAMEDA – Eastern Michigan’s football program certainly was interested in Maxx Crosby. He had a stack of recruiting letters to prove it.

That didn’t immediately result in a scholarship. It came with an invitation to the Eagles’ annual prospects camp. If Crosby wanted his first and only Division I offer, he had to go earn it.

The Crosbys packed up the car and drove the roughly 1,200 miles from Colleyville, Tex. to Michigan, a well-worn path made annually to visit family. This one, however, had big stakes.

“I knew I had to kill it, and I feel like I did,” Crosby said on this week’s Raiders Talk podcast. “They ended up offering me and my best friend right after the camp. It was crazy, and an awesome experience.”

Crosby got his scholarship. Great. Now he had to do something with it. He parlayed his one shot at D-I football into a professional one with the Raiders, who selected Crosby in the fourth round of this year’s NFL draft.

“My goal out of high school was to play D-I, and they were the school to offer me,” Crosby said. “I was going no matter what. I wanted that opportunity and took advantage of it. It’s just like this year. I knew whoever took me, it was going to be the right fit. The Raiders believed in me and are letting me play my game. Now it’s up to me to take full advantage.”

Crosby’s getting good at capitalizing on golden opportunities. He got another one in Week 4 when Benson Mayowa was unavailable. Crosby had four quarterback pressures, two big run stops, two batted passes and a forced fumble in a career-high 44 defensive snaps. That’s worth a high factor grade, which Raiders coaches value nearly above everything else.

That led to more and more snaps and now Crosby’s a full-time, three-down player operating well in all aspects of the game.

“He has a relentless playing style that we like and I talk about factor grades more than sacks,” head coach Jon Gruden said. “A lot of people count sacks out there. Sacks, I put them on a reel: ‘Who’d you sack? When did you sack them? And who’d you beat and how’d you beat them?’ Crosby is batting down passes, he’s getting pressures. I know it doesn’t necessarily show up on the stat sack ledger, but he’s impacting the game and that’s the big thing we want from all of our defenders.”

All that from a kid expected to be a situational pass rusher this year. He shed knocks from his pre-draft profile, that he was a small-school kid who wasn’t strong enough and needs to improve against the run. He was someone NFL.com expected to be a backup or a special teams player.

“I had production the last two years of college, a lot of it,” Crosby said. “When I came to the NFL, I knew that I could get it done. They break down small pieces of your game before the draft, some that don’t even matter, and I just used that as another chip on my shoulder. I’m very confident in my abilities. I really don’t listen to outside noise. I just do what I do, and it has been working.

“I feel like I’ve always been slept on and overlooked, but that’s just more motivation.”

Crosby is impacting games, like he did in last week’s victory over the LA Chargers. He had just a half sack but led the team with seven pressures and forced two errant throws that became Raiders interceptions.

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Fans love sacks, but Crosby simply is interested in making plays everywhere on the field and capitalizing on every chance to make contributions to a team that believed he could be something special.

“Sacks come in bunches. They will be there if I keep playing hard,” Crosby said. “Personally, I can’t worry about sacks and trying to get them If you’re thinking too much and getting sack happy, you’re going to do things the coaches aren’t going to be happy about. Just do your assignment and go 100 mph. That’s what I’m trying to do.”