Darren Waller

Raiders takeaways: What we learned in Oakland finale 20-16 loss to Jaguars

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AP

Raiders takeaways: What we learned in Oakland finale 20-16 loss to Jaguars

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OAKLAND -- Raiders head coach Jon Gruden didn’t want to get emotional or even nostalgic in the days leading to the final game in Oakland Coliseum history. He was focused solely on game prep, knowing a win over Jacksonville was the most important thing he could do for Raiders fans here in the East Bay.

It could be a small parting gift as the Raiders wrap their regular season with two road games before relocating to Las Vegas in 2020.

Gruden couldn’t give it to them.

The Raiders blew a late lead, simply giving this game to Jacksonville down the stretch.

They ruined the Oakland Coliseum finale with a 20-16 loss that easily stands as the worst of the season given the context and the level of opposition.

The Raiders couldn’t seal the victory with a late fourth-quarter drive, and kicker Daniel Carlson made life a bit easier on the Jaguars by missing two straight field goals. He missed from 50 but Jacksonville ran into the kicker and then missed another attempt from 45.

The Jaguars marched right down the field and scored to secure a shocking victory they had no business claiming.

Here are three takeaways from a disastrous result:

Raiders do fans a disservice

The Raiders had a real chance to close their time at Oakland Coliseum on a positive. It wasn’t a tough task. They had to beat a terrible Jaguars team everybody has been blowing out, with an emotional, passionate crowd attending the last Raiders game in the East Bay.

The Silver and Black couldn’t even get that right. They led most of this game, only to let the game slip away with 17 unanswered points.

This is hands down a heartbreak that Raiders fan here didn’t deserve. They watched their team throw it all away at the end. There’s simply no excuse for the team’s fourth-straight loss.

They’re formally and officially out of the playoff race, leaving Silver and Black fans stunned and dejected. The Raiders got booed on their way out, a well deserved reaction to some horrible play in the fourth quarter of a game they easily should have won.

Defense makes changes after recent struggles

Gruden promised to make defensive changes after three straight blowout losses where the Raiders got outscored 116-33. They cut several early in the week, including starting strong safety D.J. Swearinger, to show they meant business, and had several players in new and expanded roles.

Dallin Leavitt played his first defensive snaps of the season in a platoon with Curtis Riley at strong safety. Tahir Whitehead’s role diminished after a series of disappointing performances, losing his role in the nickel package to relative newcomer Will Compton. He relayed play calls on the field working with Nicholas Morrow in the sub package. He was the middle linebacker in the base defense, working with Whitehead and Marquel Lee in more obvious rushing downs.

Nevin Lawson started at outside cornerback with Daryl Worley hurt -- he was set to make a move to safety if healthy -- with Lamarcus Joyner remaining in the slot.

A lot of good it did them. The defense was terrible down the stretch after controlling the game for three quarters, showing how many upgrades are required this offseason to start playing competent defense.

Waller can be dominant force

Jon Gruden believes Darren Waller is the NFL’s best tight end. That might be a stretch in a league with Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz and George Kittle, but Waller is pretty awesome when he’s going well.

He certainly was on Sunday against the Jaguars, who had no answer for the big, athletic tight end. Waller had eight catches for 122 yards in this game, his fourth game reaching triple digits this season.

He’s frequently double-covered by the opposition, with defenses trying to force Carr to throw more to a subpar receiver corps without many weapons and an ailing Tyrell Williams.

[RELATED: Carr hits Williams for 40-yard TD to open Coliseum finale]

Waller showed just how good he can be with guarded straight up, shredding the Titans time and again to help the Silver and Black take an early lead in Oakland Coliseum’s final game.

He’ll be a fixture as the Raiders move to Las Vegas. He’s ever-so-close to exceeding 1,000 receiving yards, a rare feat in this franchise’s recent history.

Five Raiders to watch in Week 14: Darren Waller must shine vs. Titans

Five Raiders to watch in Week 14: Darren Waller must shine vs. Titans

OAKLAND -- Sunday’s game is the biggest of the Raiders' regular season.

Yeah, you’ve read that before. Maybe, you know, on this website and in this weekly series.

That’s because the Raiders had a chance to pull even atop the AFC West in last week’s game in Kansas City. The Silver and Black had a real chance to win their first division crown since 2002. That opportunity’s essentially blown, with the Raiders down two games (and a head-to-head tiebreaker) to the Chiefs.

Now we’re on to a pivotal wild-card matchup with the Tennessee Titans, who are blocking the Raiders’ path to the No. 6 seed. Beat them and pull even, with a head-to-head tiebreaker. Lose, and the Raiders can make New Year’s Eve vacation plans.

So, yeah, for the second straight week, this is as big as it gets.

The margin for error was burned on consecutive blowout losses to the Jets and Chiefs. Turn things around at home against Tennessee and optimism comes flooding back with three games remaining against 4-8 clubs.

“We’ve had a rough two weeks,” Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said this week. “I’ve had a rough two weeks. It’s time to get back on track, it’s time to get back in our stadium, it’s time to be efficient on offense, it’s time to win. I’m excited we get a chance to go compete against a really good football team. That’s the beautiful thing about this game. You rewind two weeks ago, we were the greatest story in the NFL and two weeks later we suck again, so I think we’ll be all right. We are just going to keep grinding, we’re going to stick to what we do.”

Here five players not named Derek Carr or Josh Jacobs -- those guys are obviously key -- vital to beating the Titans on Sunday at Oakland Coliseum.

TE Darren Waller

Opponents have devoted significant effort to slowing down the Raiders' best and most reliable pass-catcher. They’ve had mixed results, though Waller has worked tirelessly trying to perfect techniques to bust extra coverage and make plays. The coaching staff is also working to scheme him open. Those efforts worked out well in Kansas City, where Waller had seven catches for 100 yards.

The Raiders need Waller to be equally productive on Sunday against the Titans. Tennessee hasn’t been great against tight ends, allowing 59 catches for 675 yards and seven touchdowns to tight ends. That’s particularly exploitable with the Raiders’ tight-end personnel groupings, with Waller Foster Moreau and Derek Carrier all capable of making plays down the field.

Waller will be most active in that effort and can’t disappear into shaded coverage in this important contest. Waller believes he should succeed no matter how he’s covered. That’ll be important on Sunday afternoon.

DT Johnathan Hankins

Derrick Henry’s a massive human. The running back is cruelly efficient taking yards and levying punishment with his physical running style. Henry’s good running inside and out, but Hankins must lead the run defense by closing rush lanes on the interior.

Hankins is the Raiders' best run defender and must play his best to shut down the Titans' interior run game. Run defense against Henry is an 11-man effort, but it all starts in the middle. Hankins has 22 run stops -- meaning he shuts down a run at two yards or fewer -- which ranks in the NFL’s top 10.

The 27-year-old likes these types of challenges and must do his part well to make life hard on Tennessee’s stout run game.

RT Brandon Parker

Trent Brown might be the best right tackle in football. Not having him against Tennessee is a huge deal. The possibility of him missing extended time with a pectoral injury is a scary proposition for the Raiders' running game.

Brandon Parker is charged with mitigating the impact of Brown’s absence. It’s a safe bet he’ll often have tight-end help and a running back ready behind him until he proves a better pass protector that his rookie season.

David Sharpe fared well when Brown has missed time before, but the Raiders are going with Parker in this instance. The North Carolina A&T product gained weight and strength this offseason and has learned how to play nastier football from Brown. He must apply those lessons and be as close to perfect as possible in this one.

LB Marquel Lee

The Wake Forest alum hasn’t played since Week 3, when he injured his ankle and landed on IR. He was eligible to return last week but formally joined the 53-man roster this week in a game made for bigger, stronger linebackers. Count Lee in that class.

Lee and newcomer Preston Brown should see time here and must play solid run defense with Henry realistically busting through the line with regularity.

The Raiders must also deploy their linebackers well to maximize each player’s strengths, though Lee could jump back into a heavy workload in what should be a physical game. He needs to be a sure tackler both against Henry and pass-catchers who come into his area.

[RELATED: Raiders campaigning for Jacobs as rookie of the year]

WR Tyrell Williams

Jon Gruden said he’s going to shake things up and give new guys opportunities. That could certainly happen in the receiver corps, with Keelan Doss and Marcell Ateman possibly in line for more action. That shouldn’t eliminate Williams from the game plan where, frankly, he must be better.

Williams has dropped some key passes this season, but he has the talent to get open and warrant targets. The 27-year-old can’t leave this game up to Waller and the young guys. He has to assert himself and make big plays here to show his worth.

You can argue if Williams is a true No. 1 receiver or not, but that’s irrelevant to this particular game. This is one where he has to show up. He has to perform and make the most of the targets received.

Tyrell Williams, Raiders receivers must help get offense back on track

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USATSI

Tyrell Williams, Raiders receivers must help get offense back on track

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.”

[RELATED: Jacobs vows to get Raiders 'right' after loss]

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.”