The Raider Nation had to wait longer than any other franchise to watch their football team take the field, but finally, late Monday night, the Oakland Raiders will host the Los Angeles Rams in the coliseum. It’s Jon Gruden’s return to coaching, and here are a few things that absolutely need to happen if the Raiders hope to start the 2018 season 1-0.
Oakland Raiders Week One: Gameplan for Victory
Live by the Carr, Die by the Carr
As if it wasn’t clear enough, the Khalil Mack trade made one thing perfectly clear. For better or worse, this is Derek Carr‘s team. Gruden’s love of Carr’s potential is well-documented, and while Chucky is gonna pound the rock, he wants to run his offense through number four. This is as true week one as it will be in week seventeen, if the Raiders are going to win, it’s going to be because of what the man under center does.
If the Raiders are going to start 1-0 this season, Derek Carr is going to have to play the MVP candidate we know he can be. That means reading the defense pre-snap, making the right adjustments, and playing with confidence. However, he can’t do it alone, which leads to our next three points.
The Offensive Line Needs to Protect Derek Carr
This is probably the most important task for the Oakland Raiders. The line of Kolton Miller, Kelechi Osemele, Rodney Hudson, Gabe Jackson, and Donald Penn need to keep Derek Carr’s jersey clean. The Los Anegeles Rams have a great defensive coaching staff, headlined by defensive coordinator, Wade Phillips, and the players aren’t slouches either. The Rams boast the reigning defensive player of the year, Aaron Donald, infamous defensive tackle, Ndamukong Suh, and a dangerous new cornerback tandem in Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters.
What does Wade Phillips love to do? Blitz. And with a couple of ballhawk corners and that kind of defensive line talent, the Rams will be terrorizing quarterbacks all year long. If the Raiders want to stand a chance, they have to give Carr time in the pocket. The last thing they need is a flustered Carr forcing passes into that dangerous secondary.
It’ll be exciting to watch the battles between the Ram rushers and the Raiders interior linemen, which everyone knows is the strength of the team, but if they can’t protect their franchise quarterback, the team doesn’t stand a chance. It’s not all on the quarterback and his line though, his receivers have to come to play as well, and no pass-catcher is under as much pressure as Amari Cooper.
Amari Cooper Has to Be Number One
Assuming the line does give Carr time, he’s going to be leaning heavily on his number one receiver, Amari Cooper. Jordy Nelson should help, but Carr has the most chemistry with the former Biletnikoff Award Winner. Heading into the preseason, it seemed like Oakland would have a great receiving corps, combining Cooper and Nelson with burner Martavis Bryant and slot demon, Ryan Switzer. The Raiders felt like they had adequate depth at the position and traded Switzer to Pittsburgh before a drug suspension cost Bryant his spot on the team.
Now, it’s more of the same. Cooper and Nelson are one and two, but unless Brandon LaFell quickly understands the playbook or Seth Roberts becomes a completely different receiver, Carr is going to need his starters to be reliable.
That means Cooper, who was the fourth overall pick in the 2015 draft, needs to stop being “pretty good” and become the number one receiver that Reggie McKenzie hoped he would be. He’s had 1,000 yards in two of his three seasons, but he’s also struggled with drops and disappeared at points. Heading into a contract year, the pressure is on, both externally and internally, for Cooper to be the man.
Against either Talib or Peters, Cooper is going to have to have a career game. That means his trademark lethal cuts, his underrated speed, and most importantly, the retirement of his infamous drops. The Raiders go as Carr goes and Carr needs Cooper to live up to his potential.
Marshawn Lynch Needs to Go Beast Mode
As we mentioned before, Gruden loves his passing game, but he’s going to pound the rock. The now-infamous 1998 line has been repeatedly taken out of context, but the core of his statement still rings true. He wants to play smash mouth, physical football, and on paper, nobody fits a physical running team quite like Marshawn Lynch.
The man they call Beast Mode faced more loaded boxes than any other back last year, and yet, he still almost had 900 yards and averaged 4.3 yards per carry. Gruden brought back elite blocking tight end, Lee Smith, and made the offensive line an off-season priority with the selection of Kolton Miller.
As mentioned above, Phillips and the Rams are going to blitz. How do you take the blitzes away? How do you exhaust pass rushers like Suh and Donald? By running the ball, over and over. And when you’re running with a monster like Marshawn Lynch? It makes it that much easier.
If Marshawn plays like Marshawn can, it makes everything easier. He doesn’t need to Beast Quake every play, but he does need to get four or five yards every time he touches the ball. If he can keep his feet moving, he can exhaust the defense, and open up the passing game for Carr and the passing game. But enough about the offense…
The Defensive Line Needs to Come Alive
Did you think all of the tools were going to be about offense? Absolutely not! There’s a six-year, $141 million elephant in the room, and that’s the question marks surrounding Oakland’s pass rush. If you combine all of the depth on Oakland’s defensive line, that’s ten different players, they had 10 sacks last season. Now, it’s true that P.J. Hall, Arden Key, and Maurice Hurst are rookies, but Bruce Irvin also accounted for eight of the ten sacks.
Oakland had some atrocious defensive coaching last year, so there’s a chance someone likes Irvin or Justin Ellis, has a career year in Paul Guenther’s system, but there’s no question that Oakland’s defense is a mystery. There are questions about whether Rashaan Melvin, Karl Joseph, and Derrick Johnson will remain starters throughout the season, and while Gareon Conley‘s limited play in 2017 was encouraging, it remains to be seen whether he’s the number one corner everyone hopes he will be.
However, the real pressure is on Oakland’s defensive line. They have to contain the reigning offensive player of the year, Todd Gurley, while attempting to pressure Jared Goff. The Raiders may have hit the jackpot with their trio of rookie linemen, but simply put, the Raiders do not have time for growing pains. These guys have to make an immediate impact if the Raiders want to have a chance to win.
What do you think? What else does Oakland have to do to come away with a win at home against the extremely hyped up Los Angeles Rams? Let us know in the comments below.