A photo recap of the Oakland Raiders' 2015-2016 season thus far.
The Oakland Raiders are off this weekend as the team's NFL schedule prescribed bye week hits in Week 6. The Raiders sit tied for second place in the AFC West with a 2-3 record and have a matchup with the other 2-3 team, the San Diego Chargers, on the horizon next Sunday.
The Raiders took the opportunity to self-scout and work on areas of emphasis this past week. Let's take a look at some of the storylines that have developed the first five weeks of the season that we'll need to keep an eye on moving forward.
- Getting the Tay Train Back on Track**
Oakland Raiders running back Latavius Murray earned the starting job this past offseason and has had the role of the featured back the first five weeks of the season. A shoulder injury and effective defense on the other side have slowed the big back some. Murray is 10th in the NFL in rushing with 80 carries for 336 yards and 2 TDs, however, the Raiders are 27th in the NFL in rushing as a team averaging 90 yards per game. The running game has been one of those points of emphasis for the coaching staff this week.
2. Eliminating Crucial Turnovers
We've discussed it all week. The Raiders are just a few plays away from possibly being 4-1 at this point. Against Chicago, an interception and a fumble led to points for the Bears in a two-point game. Against Denver, a strip sack and fumble recovery led to a field goal and an interception return for a touchdown accounted for seven in a six-point loss. If the Raiders are going to continue to play these games close to the vest, they can't beat themselves. It's one thing if the other team makes plays; it's another if those plays are handed to them.
- Getting the Tight Ends Involved**
Mychal Rivera caught 3 passes for 33 yards, including a critical 19-yard grab, and rookie Clive Walford had a 1 for 33 yards that set up a touchdown. Raiders tight ends have accounted for 16 of quarterbacks Derek Carr's and Matt McGloin's 126 completions, just 12.6 percent. With wide receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree on the outside, they have grabbed the bulk of the receptions. As defenses look to contain these two productive players, opportunities for other players should open up.
4. Jumpstarting the Return Game
Running back Taiwan Jones returned to practice this week after missing time with a foot injury and cornerback TJ Carrie suffered a chest injury against Chicago. Carrie was able to tough it out on defense against Denver but didn't return punts. Cooper took on that responsibility after Head Coach Jack Del Rio said he'd like to only use Cooper in that role as more of a spark, pinch-hitter capacity. A combination of running back Roy Helu, Jr., and fullback Marcel Reece have been handling kick return duties in Jones' absence. The Raiders are 21st in the NFL in kickoff returns averaging 23.2 yards per return, and 21st in punt returns, averaging 7.7 yards per opportunity. Published reports say the Raiders will be adding wide receiver and kick return specialist Walter Powell from the Buffalo practice squad.
- Turning up the Heat**
Defensive end Justin Tuck suffered an injury against the Denver and Coach Del Rio said the MRI results weren't good. "I guess not good. But we'll see. We'll see where it goes," Del Rio said Wednesday. After not recording a sack in the first 2 games, the Raiders defense has 10 in the last 3. Linebacker Aldon Smith has been a valuable addition to the defense. Although he has 1 sack, his presence and pressure create opportunities for others. With quarterbacks like Philip Rivers, Alex Smith and possibly Ben Roethlisberger on the schedule, the pass rush is going to be key moving forward.
6. The Ageless Wonder
Safety Charles Woodson just turned 39. He is still making game-changing plays. He preserved a 27-20 victory at Cleveland, gave the Raiders a chance at a game-winning drive with an interception at Chicago, and picked future Hall of Fame Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning twice. Woodson is tied for the league lead with 4 interceptions so far this season. He has been banged up with a shoulder injury suffered in Week 1 yet he goes out week after week, snap after snap, and just makes plays.