The Raiders are the underdogs heading into their first matchup against the Ravens. Not many in the national media are picking the Raiders to win this game. Does that mean Las Vegas is about to start their season 0-1? Absolutely not. This is how the Raiders are going to beat the Ravens on Monday Night Football.
Will the real Derek Carr please stand up?
The Raiders have one of the most well-rounded offensive attacks in the league. They are led by TE Darren Waller, RB Josh Jacobs, and QB Derek Carr. Carr has never been under the same offensive scheme this long in his career. He’s even had his best training camp since Gruden has been back.
There are two sides to Carr’s game since Gruden arrived to the Raiders.
Carr has averaged a 68.9% completion rate, 4,068.7 passing yards, 22.3 touchdown passes and 9 interceptions per season since 2018. In the three previous seasons before Gruden, Carr averaged a 62.5% completion, 3,806.7 passing yards, 27.3 touchdown passes and 10.7 interceptions.
Perhaps the biggest area of concern for Carr since Gruden took over are his turnovers. Since 2018, only six quarterbacks have more turnovers than Carr.
While his interception numbers aren’t overly high, it’s his fumble numbers that are concerning. No other quarterback has lost more fumbles than Carr since 2018. 12 teams have allowed more sacks since 2018, so it’s not like he’s constantly under duress.
As he enters the final two years of his contract, he needs to show he can consistently perform at a high level. Protecting the ball and scoring when it matters is going to be vital for Carr and his offense. Carr has plays and games where you can see why people think he is elite. He also has games and plays where you wonder if he should be mentioned as a top-10 quarterback.
On Monday night, we will know who the real Derek Carr is.
Can Mike Mayock and the Raiders draft and develop?
Recently on the Rich Eisen Show, Raiders GM Mike Mayock said to Eisen, “If we don’t win more games, I am probably going to be back there sitting next to you.”
Mayock and Gruden have had six first-round picks and 13 top-100 picks since 2019. Out of those 13, seven are starters and two should see significant snap counts this season. DE Malcom Koonce and LB Divine Deablo may see some rotational work and special teams work during the season.
If the Raiders are going to succeed in 2021, it’s going to be because they can draft and develop. A losing record would only validate what everyone else is saying. There is pressure for the Raiders to perform this year and make the playoffs. Monday night will give these young players an opportunity to show the world they’re ready.
SS Jonathan Abram, DE Clelin Ferrell, WR Henry Ruggs II, CB Damon Arnette, and RT Alex Leatherwood are highly criticized first round picks. Jacobs, who many say shouldn’t have been drafted in the first-round, is the only productive first-rounder so far. All of these Raiders will have an opportunity to show on Monday Night Football that they are far from busts.
A strong performance from these guys on opening week will show that the young guys are ready to lead.
Is the Defense really better?
The Gruden-Guenther defense was ranked 32nd, 24th and 30th over the last three seasons. Gruden and the Raiders have used 19 draft picks on defense since 2018. They have added several defensive free agents as well, and the defense has struggled.
The Raiders brought in Gus Bradley this offseason in hopes that he can turn the defense around. Over half of the defense will feature new starters.
Rookies Nate Hobbs and Tre’von Moehrig will be starting on defense along with five veterans with experience in Bradley’s defense. DE Yannick Ngakoue, LB Denzel Perryman, LB K.J. Wright, and CB Casey Hayward Jr. will all be starting for the Raiders, with DT Quinton Jefferson in the rotation as well.
Are all of these changes enough for the Raiders to take the next step? Was moving on from Guenther’s defense to Bradley’s defense a game changer? The talk has been about simplifying the defense so they can play faster. On Monday, they’ll face an offense that will test them early and often.
The Ravens led the league in rushing in 2020 reaching almost 200 yards per game. They were a top-10 scoring offense and were third in average time of possession per game. This is an offense that wears down opposing defenses and can light up the scoreboard.
Being a bottom-10 defense will not cut it for the Raiders in 2021. It would put the future very much in doubt for many of the younger players and free agents on short term deals. However, there is plenty of reason for optimism in 2021 for this defense.
Crosby and Ngakoue are both top-20 in sacks since Crosby entered the league in 2019. Their linebacker group features 3 of PFF’s top-25 LBs, including their second-highest graded linebacker of 2020. That’s a unit that hasn’t been this deep in decades.
The secondary features young players who will benefit from having a strong unit in front of them. This defense desperately needed a new scheme and they needed more depth and talent. On Monday Night Football, the Raiders will have an opportunity to show they made the right moves to solidify this defense.
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