Raiders

Why Raiders will play five straight games away from home in 2019 season

Why Raiders will play five straight games away from home in 2019 season

The Raiders got screwed.

That’s the easiest conclusion to make following Wednesday evening’s NFL schedule release, where Oakland was granted a brutal start to their season.

The sentiment is rooted in reality, considering the Raiders play their first two games at Oakland Coliseum but don’t return home until Nov. 3.

They play five straight games away from home over a stretch that plays out this way:

Week 3: at Minnesota
Week 4: at Indianapolis
Week 5: vs. Chicago (in London)
Week 6: Bye
Week 7: at Green Bay
Week 8: at Houston

That daunting stretch is what the Raiders are up against early next season. Here are some reasons why it played out this way, after talking to those with knowledge of a situation that has some Raiders -- and their fans -- a bit perturbed.

“On schedule release day, everybody’s reaction is emotional,” said Mike North, NFL vice president of broadcast planning, who is on the scheduling committee. “After you digest it and understand a little bit about the math and factors that may have contributed to it, you don’t feel that much better but at least you understand it.

“All 32 teams get equal consideration. There have been some times where (the Raiders) got a favorable schedule and things didn’t work out well for them, and others where they were upset about their schedule and had great success.”

Let’s start with this: The Raiders’ delay in securing an approved stadium lease for 2019 didn’t factor into the schedule or its release date because the league started scheduling under the assumption the Silver and Black would be playing in Oakland.

If the Raiders decided to play at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara or University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. -- venues considered that already house NFL teams -- then that would have created headaches.

The team staying put did not complicate things further, though sharing Oakland Coliseum with the A's creates a tighter framework than schedulers have with other teams.

The A's are on the road from Sept. 9-15, giving schedule makers a window to have the Raiders play a Monday night opener -- West Coast teams are almost always featured in the second portion of the opening night doubleheader -- and a Sunday afternoon game in Week 2.

The Raiders had to go on the road in Week 3 with the A’s playing at home and were consequently shipped to Minnesota against the Vikings. The A’s are away in the NFL’s Week 4, but the Raiders requested a game farther east before heading to London to battle Chicago in Week 5 (as a side note, international dates are generally decided in advance of the regular schedule).

They ended up in Indianapolis in Week 4, one of just two Raiders road opponents from the Eastern Time Zone.

The bye always comes after a game in the U.K., so the off week was locked into Week 6.

There were no direct conflicts against coming home for Week 7 or Week 8 -- the Raiders play at Green Bay and Houston, respectively -- but the A’s made the playoffs last year and so there's a chance of a postseason conflict again this season.

The Raiders experienced one such conflict in 2013, when their game against the Chargers had to be postponed into the night due to an A’s playoff game and the subsequent time required to rearrange the stadium for football. The odds of that happening again are slim, but schedulers had to be cognizant of that when fitting the Raiders slate together.

Even still, Weeks 7 and 8 are a spot where the NFL could have worked a home game into the mix and kept their fingers crossed to avoid an A's conflict. 

Coaches, players, and fans can find further gripes with the slate, including the tough competition that is featured in their brutal start and seven kickoffs at 10 a.m. PT.

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Prolonged road trips are an issue the NFL hopes to avoid. Along with the Raiders, Tampa Bay also plays five straight away from home. Additionally, Oakland's AFC West-rival Chargers play four straight away from Carson.

It’s no coincidence that all three have international home games, undoubtedly a complicating factor when trying to create a schedule. Even so, the NFL doesn't like teams playing more than three straight away from home and it's something they'll work to avoid in the future, where possible. 

Raiders at early crossroads, must rally during season-defining stretch

Raiders at early crossroads, must rally during season-defining stretch

MINNEAPOLIS – The Raiders suffered some setbacks early last season and immediately went into the tank. They had an incoming talent deficiency, but the Khalil Mack trade started an avalanche that swept that team asunder.

They were outmanned and outclassed, leading to a 1-8 start that had fans talking NFL draft by midseason. Veteran stopgaps quickly tuned out, and either were traded or cut as the team skewed younger as the season carried on.

The Raiders chose to tear the whole thing down and rebuild, a multi-year effort that started in earnest this offseason. Head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock set out to upgrade this year’s group in terms of talent and veteran leadership, and largely were successful in that endeavor.

The Raiders weren’t supposed to be great in 2019, but they were expected to be better. Sunday’s 34-14 loss to Minnesota calls that notion into question. The Silver and Black got worked by a superior team, and it wasn’t due to a series of mistakes or coaching innovations. They got beat the old fashioned way, by a solid ground game and a sure-tackling defense that denied explosive plays.

It happened at the start of a five-game stretch played away from Oakland, one that could define the entire season. Struggle through this stretch and the Raiders could be in a similar spot to last season, stuck in a huge hole that kills hope during the team’s last year in the Bay Area.

This team is built of stronger stuff, with more mettle in the ranks. Will it be able to avoid similar results?

“No, I think we’re more of a close-knit team,” linebacker Tahir Whitehead said. “I’m not seeing it and neither do I want to see it. And that’s why I just put that in guys' minds, look, we’re too good of a team to experience what we experienced last year, another losing season. I think for a long time around here it’s been losing season after losing season.

“We have the team to get back on track, we have the team to get things rolling. We have an explosive offense to go out there and put points up and we have a tough defense to go out there and keep the points down and keep teams out of the end zone. And the special teams group, they’re fast. You put on that tape, they’re fast, they’re physical. We just have to play a complete game of football top to bottom from start to finish, all three phases.”

That needs to happen next week against a tough Indianapolis Colts team that didn’t lie down and die after Andrew Luck’s retirement.

It’s entirely possible the Raiders rebound well, especially after Sunday’s postgame locker room environment. The Raiders were upset by what happened in Minneapolis, with defenders especially holding others accountable for game-defining mistakes. There was a healthy dialogue between veterans about what needs to get fixed, between Whitehead and Josh Mauro, between Lamarcus Joyner and Vontaze Burfict. Some of these guys aren’t used to losing, and they want to right the ship quickly to avoid a losing skid that takes them out of contention.

“The moment we start doing that and we all start clicking, that’s when we’re going to start playing our best football,” Whitehead said. “And until then, until guys take on the ship in their work and take pride in their work, it’s not going to happen. And we’re too good of a team to allow that to happen.”

This year’s Raiders have suffered some early setbacks, just like last year’s group. Antonio Brown’s exit was a big deal, even if the team was justified in cutting ties with the mercurial talent now on the street after getting cut by the New England Patriots.

The Silver and Black are worse without him, lacking the explosive playmaker that can single-handedly change games.

That was evident Sunday, when they stood no chance of coming back after falling into an early hole. The Raiders did exactly what you can’t do against a rugged Vikings team. They fell behind early, on the road, against a team that plays old-school football.

“Once they get a lead it's tough, man, very tough,” quarterback Derek Carr said. “We obviously could have played better, and I could break down everything, but at the end of the day, you get down like that against that team, it's going to be hard to fight back.”

[RELATED: Grading Raiders's offense, defense in blowout loss to Vikings]

Games like this happen, even to good teams. Strong ones don’t let individual setbacks turn into losing skids. The Raiders have to do avoid that at all costs, and rally during the practice week.

“It is not getting any easier for us, but I do not think that the guys in this locker room are looking for easy,” tight end Darren Waller said. “They are looking to take that road that is tough as possible because that will bring the best out of us. It will bring the worst out of us sometimes, but in the end, it will push that all out and bring out the best in us. We are looking to forward playing a football game next week and just getting back at it.”

Raiders report card: Grades on offense, defense in 34-14 loss to Vikings

Raiders report card: Grades on offense, defense in 34-14 loss to Vikings

MINNEAPOLIS – Positives for the Raiders were tough to spot after the Vikings dismantled Oakland 34-14 at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Jon Gruden's squad was down three scores after three Vikings series, and results barely got better from there. The Raiders struggled in all three phases of the game, exposing some real weaknesses and showing they aren’t currently on par with an upper-echelon NFL team.

This loss wasn’t due to poor preparation or a litany of major mistakes. The Raiders just got beat -- they were out-executed by a superior team.

Let’s take a look at the Raiders report card from this loss to the Vikings:

Rushing offense

It’s tough to run a ton when you’re down so big so fast. Josh Jacobs only had 10 carries in this one, without much production beyond an 18-yard run. The offensive line had a rough time against Minnesota’s defensive front, with few clean holes to work through.

The Silver and Black had 88 yards on 20 carries, but the backs couldn’t make a significant contribution in this game. Jacobs needed to be a real factor to win this contest, and a negative game script took him out of it.

Grade: C

Passing offense

Derek Carr’s passing line isn’t half bad. He completed 27 of 34 passes for 242, two touchdowns, a pick and a 103.7 passer rating. That doesn’t look bad, but it also doesn’t reflect the passing game’s struggles. They weren’t able to work the ball downfield, with most of Carr’s passes thrown five yards or fewer in the air.

Tyrell Williams wasn’t a real factor. Darren Waller played well as the primary target, but the Raiders couldn’t protect Carr well – Kolton Miller had a rough game – and couldn’t generate the explosive plays required to make a comeback attempt.

Grade: D

Rushing defense

The Raiders' run defense walked into Sunday’s game with heads held high. They left with tails between their legs after Dalvin Cook ran wild for 110 yards and a touchdown on just 16 carries. The Vikings churned out 211 yards on 38 carries, and never even passed in the fourth quarter. That’s how dominant the run game was throughout this game, which leaves the defensive front to do some soul searching heading into Week 4.

Grade: F

Passing defense

Kirk Cousins didn’t have to do much to win this game, with Cook running strong and the Raiders unable to score points. The pass rush was non-existent, with Cousins hit just three times and never sacked. Adam Thielen had 55 yards and a touchdown, making safety Curtis Riley look bad on one big play. Free safety is a real issue for this team, and it might require a personnel change.

Grade: C-minus

[RELATED: Raiders defense preaches accountability after ugly loss

Special teams

The Raiders never started a drive beyond their own 25-yard line, and lost the battle for field position. Former Viking Daniel Carlson was booed relentlessly in his first trip back to Minnesota, and it seemed to rattle him on a 51-yard attempt that hit the upright. Dwayne Harris is sorely missed in the kicking game.

Grade: D-minus

Overall

The Raiders just got beat, plain and simple. It was tough to excuse, showing real weaknesses that may crop up against quality competition down the line. There’s plenty to fix but it has to happen fast. A prolonged losing streak could send the season down the drain shortly after it started.

Grade: F