Despite one of the most unprecedented seasons in the modern era, the Las Vegas Raiders are sitting proudly at 5-3 and second place in the AFC West. A hot 3-0 start propelled the season in the right direction and the unbelievable leadership of QB Derek Carr has kept the Raiders afloat and in the mix for a playoff berth.
Now, the Raiders are halfway through the season. As they continue their playoff push, here are the team’s strengths and weaknesses this far.
It goes without saying that the Raiders ability to deal with adversity is unlike anything the NFL has seen before. Through injuries, the loss of their head coach and WR1, and many other off-field distractions, it is clear the leadership of both Derek Carr and interim head coach Rich Bisaccia has been the secret to keeping this team going. To continue their success, the Raiders will have to lean on these two leaders to guide them through the remainder of the season and into the playoffs.
On top of his leadership skills, Carr has also been playing at the highest level of his career. NFL analyst Gregg Rosenthal continuously ranks Carr in the top-five QBs in the league this season, and each week Carr proves why. He currently ranks 3rd in passing yards with 2,565. He has thrown for 13 touchdowns with 7 interceptions. If Carr continues playing at this level, the Raiders offense will be set up for an impressive second half of the season.
On the other side of the ball, the Raiders defense has been playing better than anyone expected. After concluding the 2020 season ranked 28th in defense, the Silver and Black defense is now ranked 11th under the coaching of defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. Third-year veteran Maxx Crosby has blossomed this season with 22 QB hits, 5 sacks, and 22 pressures according to Pro Football Reference.
New Raiders LB Denzel Perryman has also come to life in Vegas as he leads the league in tackles to this point. The Raiders’ defense has kept them in the game on multiple occasions and continues to get better week after week. The second half of the season should bring more development and progression for Gus Bradley’s defense.
Off the field distractions have been the name of the game in the desert this season. After the resignation of former head coach Jon Gruden, the arrest of former WR1 Henry Ruggs III, and the release of CB Damon Arnette, the Raiders are hoping for a break in the second half of the year.
“It feels like there’s been something every week,” Carr said to the media on Wednesday. “…You don’t even want to go on a plane flight and check your phone.”
The Raiders front office has made it clear that if your behavior is detrimental to the team, you are no longer welcome to be a part of it. The NFL as a whole is ready to see the Raiders out of the breaking news headlines as they make the push towards the post season.
The Raiders offensive line has also received its fair share of criticism over the course of the season. After losing Gabe Jackson, Rodney Hudson and Trent Brown, the new O-line had big shoes to fill. After an offensive line rearrangement early in the season, the progression has been clear.
Andre James, who has spent a considerable amount of time as the lowest ranked center in the league, made a massive jump in Week 9. James was the highest ranked center in Week 9 according to PFF. Rookie RG Alex Leatherwood has also shown much improvement over the course of the season as his penalties and sacks allowed have decreased exponentially.
Despite tremendous improvement, the Raiders offensive line still has a ways to go. As the line progresses, there is hope the run game will progress as well. RB Josh Jacobs has struggled to get going through the first nine weeks of the season due to the inefficiency of the Raiders’ run blocking and various injuries.
Jacobs currently sits at just 280 rushing yards on the season. Getting the run game back to its 2020 production level will be crucial through the remainder of the season to take the heat off Derek Carr and his receivers.
The Raiders have shocked the NFL this season for many reasons. If the Silver and Black defense are able to continue playing at a high level and the offensive line continues to make strides, the Raiders may be looking at their first playoff season since 2016.
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