Raiders.com writers Kyle Martin and Eddie Paskal break down the third quarter of the 2018 season.
Who is your third quarter MVP?
KM: I'm tempted to choose Jalen Richard, but my heart is telling me to go with Jared Cook.
The tight end is putting up Pro Bowl numbers this season, and he's coming off his third 100-yard game this season. Derek Carr has watched his receiving options dwindle as Jordy Nelson and Martavis Bryant have been injured, and Amari Cooper is now a member of the Dallas Cowboys. Cook, over the last two years, has been Carr's go-to target, and their connection has led to some impressive offensive performances. This season, the former South Carolina Gamecock has hauled in 54 receptions, totaling 709 receiving yards – second-most in the AFC – and a career-high six touchdowns. The impact Cook has made in the receiving game can't be emphasized enough, and hopefully he can keep producing down the stretch.
EP: Once again, I hesitate to use the term "MVP" when the Silver and Black are eight games under .500, but my guy for this one has to be Jared Cook. Over the past four weeks, the versatile tight end has hauled in 16 catches for 215 yards and three touchdowns, and has – which has become par for the course this year – been Derek Carr's favorite weapon. While there has been a metaphorical revolving door as far as the Raiders' wide receivers are concerned, Cook has been the model of consistency, appearing in all 12 games this year. Not only has Cook been a consistent presence on the field, the veteran tight end is in the midst of a career year as well; his 54 receptions tie a career-high he set last year, and his six touchdowns are also the best he's ever put up. Plain and simple, Jared has been that dude and it's a big reason why I think his year needs to end in Orlando at the 2019 Pro Bowl.
What did we learn about the team in the third quarter?
KM: Well, this season hasn't gone the way many of us expected, but it's taught us a lot.
At 2-10, it's safe to say this has been a bit of a learning experience for the handful of young players on the Raiders roster. As a whole, we've learned that this season is laying the foundation for the future, and it might require some patience. We've also learned that Jalen Richard has the potential to be a three-down back. Head Coach Jon Gruden has said on a few occasions he thinks the Louisiana native is capable of handling a bigger workload, and he's lived up to that assessment, totaling 294 yards of offense over the last four games.
The Raiders have some individual playmakers, but the team hasn't been able to piece it all together for four quarters and play winning football. If there's one thing that should be highlighted from the third quarter of the season, it's that the team needs to play a full 60 minutes. We've seen in spurts what the team is capable of when it's all clicking. Going forward, we'll see if the Raiders can find a solution to the problem.
EP: What did we learn? Well, looking at the Silver and Black as they're currently constructed, I think we've learned that this team is still fighting. Look, it's no secret that this year hasn't gone the way many of us hoped or expected, but all the same, Head Coach Jon Gruden's team isn't hanging their heads, not at all.
After falling behind two scores early against one of the best offenses in the NFL, the Silver and Black battled back, and gave the Kansas City Chiefs everything they could handle Sunday afternoon at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. I know it's easy to get lost in the wins and losses – heck, it happens to me sometimes – but look, this team is fighting in 2018, and that's a great place to begin.
What needs to be better?
KM: Defense needs to be addressed in the offseason.
Through 12 games, the Raiders are allowing 30.6 points per game, the second-most in the NFL – the Cincinnati Bengals are allowing 30.9 points per game. Despite last week's game against an offensive juggernaut in the Kansas City Chiefs, the Raiders secondary has played well as of late; however, the defensive line has struggled to stop the run, and generate much of a pass rush since the start of the season. There are several, young, bright spots on the defensive side of the ball, but it's no secret the team could use some help.
To that point, Gruden wants the younger players to understand that while the Raiders will finish with a losing record, this is building mental toughness, and this season can serve as a learning experience for them.
EP: It has to be the run defense.
Over the past four games, the Raiders have surrendered a total of 683 rushing yards, and for those of you – like me – who aren't great with numbers, that's an average of just under 171 rushing yards per game.
….. Not great.
There are myriad reasons why the team has struggled at stopping the opposition from effectively running the ball, but the fact remains, that over the final four weeks, that number just has to be better.
In the games that the Raiders have either won or been competitive in, they've been able to establish a tone at the line of scrimmage, and limit what the other team wants to do on the ground.
The team has four games left; I'll be watching closely to see if they show some marked improvement in that area.
What are you looking forward to in the fourth quarter?
KM: For those who listen to Upon Further Review, you'd know I'm a big draft guy. Whether it's the scouting, or overall draft experience, I'm about it. I know the draft is months away from now, but as the final four games come to a close, I'm excited to see what picks the Raiders eventually end up with. There's a lot of defensive talent in the 2019 class, and most of them can make an immediate impact on the roster. I'll also be keeping an eye out on how the Cowboys and Bears finish their seasons, considering the two first round picks the Raiders received when they traded Cooper and Khalil Mack earlier this year.
I'm going to continue doing more homework as the 2018 campaign rides off into the sunset.
EP: The young guys.
In a bit of a surprise, 2018 has turned into the year of the rookie – and second-year player – and with four chances left to go out and compete, I'm excited to see how Kolton Miller, Brandon Parker, Mo Hurst and the rest of the rookies finish out the year.
That collective has taken big steps over the past few months; hopefully they can finish their rookie campaigns in a big way.