Through three games the Oakland Raiders aren't capitalizing on opportunities the way they'd like to.
The turnover differential isn't in favor of the Silver and Black at the moment (-4), but it's an area Head Coach Jon Gruden is focused on fixing. He's been open about the team's need to get a better pass rush, and right now the Raiders have the lowest sack total in the league (3). Not only is the team struggling to bring down opposing quarterbacks, but the defense is tied for 24th in forced fumbles with one. Defensive Coordinator Paul Guenther has helped the Raiders defense improve from a season ago, but creating opportunities for the offense to get back on the field is key.
"I think we need to clean up the turnover ratio, number one," Gruden said Monday. "I think when you throw for 80 percent basically in three games for almost 1,000 yards, that's as good as I've ever been associated with. There's some really good things. Us running the football, physical runs between the tackles with different kinds of backs, different kinds of personnel groupings and plays. We have to get better field position, we've talked about that. We have to eliminate the turnovers and eliminate the big plays on defense. It's easier said than done."
To Gruden's point, while forcing turnovers falls on the shoulders of the defense, not turning over the ball on offense is imperative also. Sunday, against the Miami Dolphins, the Raiders were trailing by four with a little over four minutes left in the final quarter of regulation. Knocking at the door in Miami territory, Derek Carr was intercepted by Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard in the back of the end zone trying to connect with Martavis Bryant. The turnover led to a Dolphins touchdown that iced the game, and dropped the Raiders' record to 0-3.
"Well, obviously it didn't work out. It worked out in the Dolphins favor," Gruden said. "I thought we were too aggressive. I think at times he is trying too hard. We will talk about that extensively here in the next couple of hours, but I thought he played really good under some very tough circumstances. I think sometimes he needs to learn a little bit more patience and I think he will. I'm really excited about the way he has played and improved and mastered this offense. We are getting closer. That was a painful turnover. We will address that, and we will make the corrections."
Forcing turnovers are obviously one of the keys for success, but part of that comes with maintaining great field position. It's hard to go 99 yards down the field every time the offense takes the field, and being able to affect the game through special teams is essential.
"It's been horrible," Gruden said in reference to the field position. "It's been the worst in football. By far the worst starting position in football. I think we had numerous penalties on special teams. It's a credit to our offense really, for moving the ball out of negative territory. We have to get more out of our return game and we have to minimize the penalties. Unfortunately, [WR/RS] Dwayne Harris was injured part of the game yesterday. The penalties are inexcusable. We have to clean them up and we have to get better field position for our offense or it will continue to be tough."
The players and coaches will be the first to admit there's elements in all three phases that need to be corrected, and they'll have the opportunity to get back on track this Sunday against the Cleveland Browns. While Baker Mayfield is riding high after delivering the Browns' first win in almost two years, this will be his first career start, and like any rookie he'll experience his fair share of "welcome to the NFL" moments as his career progresses. Hopefully the Raiders can take advantage of some miscues and force some turnovers.
We'll see what happens come Sunday, but Gruden will be making the corrections a priority all week in practice.