The 2017 NFL season is off an running, and the Oakland Raiders have a record of 2-2 through the first quarter.
Here's how Raiders.com writers Eddie Paskal and Kyle Martin break down the first four games of action.
Who's the first quarter MVP?
KM: On the heels of his Defensive Player of the Year campaign in 2016, defensive end Khalil Mack has started off 2017 on a high note. Through four games, big No. 52 has totaled 23 tackles, four sacks, and also has a pass defensed. Currently tied for sixth in the NFL in sacks, Mack trails only a handful of established pass rushers, and while they might have more sacks at the moment, the former University of Buffalo Bull is finding more ways to impact the game.
Among all edge defenders, Mack has the highest overall Pro Football Focus grade through four games with a rating of 91.1, and also leads in run defense (93.0). Defensively, the Florida native is the anchor that holds down the Raiders group, but it's clear that in the early going he's been the propeller as well.
EP:I have to go with Khalil Mack also. If you were wondering why No. 52 is the reigning AP Defensive Player of the Year, just look at what he's done in the first four games of 2017. Not only does he lead the Silver and Black with four sacks – which is good for sixth in the NFL by the way – he also has 19 solo tackles, one pass defensed, and if it weren't for a shall we say, questionable, call last week in Denver, he'd have a forced fumble to his name as well. Not only that, but once again, I'd make the argument that Khalil is the best player in the NFL at defending the run, and he's shown that ability once again in the early stages of 2017. Through the first four games of the regular season, Defensive Coordinator Ken Norton, Jr.'s group has been a pleasant surprise, and as good as it's been collectively, everything starts with No. 52. Mack is the unquestioned leader of the group, and when the dominant defensive end gets rolling, not only does he get his numbers, but it frees up the other guys along the defensive line as well. Mack has had a heck of a start, let's see if he can keep it going.
What was the best play of the first quarter?
KM: The Raiders have one of the most potent offenses in the league, and Offensive Coordinator Todd Downing is able to do so many things because they're such a versatile group. Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson is best known for his acceleration and burst in the return game – among players with five or more returns, No. 84 has the highest return average at 29.7 yards – but he's also a skilled asset on offense. In Week 2 against the New York Jets, that versatility showed, and in a big way.
On third and one, Patterson lined up alongside Carr in the backfield, and stormed through the offensive line, stiff-arming players left and right en route to a 43-yard touchdown. With a wide array of weapons in the running game, the offense opted to hand the ball off to the big 6'2", 220-pound wide-out. Even though the play itself might not be the biggest play of the first quarter, it's the embodiment of how the Raiders offense can attack you in different facets.
EP:For me, it's going to have to be Michael Crabtree's third touchdown of the day against the New York Jets. Not only was the one-yard score the punctuation mark on an outstanding day for "King Crab," it was also the final gut punch the Raiders offense delivered to the Jets in the convincing Week 2 win. At that moment, leading a fellow AFC foe by three-plus touchdowns, in the team's home opener, there likely wasn't a more excitable place in the NFL than the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. Even with missing the Silver and Black's Week 4 clash with the Denver Broncos, Crabtree is still tied for the team lead with 170 receiving yards, and second with 13 receptions. And of those 13 receptions, his third score against the Jets is the one that stands out in my mind the most.
Who is your surprise player of the first quarter?
KM:Mario Edwards Jr., has been on a tear. Coming out of Florida State University, the 6'3", 279-pound defensive tackle boasted a versatile skill set, which caused the Raiders to select him in the second-round, No. 35 overall. In his first season as a member of the Silver and Black, Edwards registered 42 tackles, one forced fumble, two passes defensed, and two sacks in 14 games, 10 of which he started.
The following season, Edwards was hampered by injuries and only played in two games, but is now back to full strength once again, and it's showing. While the talent he possesses is no surprise, the fashion in which he's started the 2017 campaign is eye opening. In just four games, Edwards has set a new career-high with three sacks, and added 10 tackles in the process. Accompanied by linebacker Bruce Irvin and Mack on the defensive line, Edwards has the opportunity to perform at a high level.
EP:There's certainly an argument to be made for Mario Edwards Jr. as the biggest surprise of the first quarter, but I'm going to look to the offensive side of the football for this one, and go with wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. Now, it's not surprising that Patterson is producing for the Silver and Black – that was the expectation headed into the season – but what is surprising is just how dynamic No. 84 has been. Not only is Patterson averaging nearly 30 yards a kick return, he's also been a key cog in Todd Downing's offense through four weeks as well. Patterson has hauled in nine passes for 48 yards, and he's also run the ball seven times for 69 yards, including one, very impressive, 43-yard touchdown scamper. We all knew that Patterson had the ability to break open a game, I think it's just been surprising to see how many ways he can do it.
What needs to be addressed going forward?
KM:I think the aerial attack needs to get back to the standard we've grown accustomed to seeing. Whether the offense is rushing or passing, the two have to work in unison, and it's been a major reason why the group has had success in the past. The Silver and Black have an arsenal of offensive weapons to make it easier for quarterback EJ Manuel going forward, and I believe they'll give him plenty to work with.
In the grand scheme of things, the past two weeks won't define the rest of the season; sure they've caused some eye brows to raise, but Head Coach Jack Del Rio stated during his press conference Monday afternoon that the coaching staff is adamant about getting the issues resolved.
EP:At this point, I think you have to say it's the run game. Over the past two weeks – both games that the Raiders lost – the team has run for just 56 total yards. When the Raiders are at their best, they boast a balanced offensive attack, and unfortunately, that has not been the case the past two weeks. The struggles in the run game certainly aren't because of a lack of talent; the Raiders still have one of the top offensive lines in the game, and with Marshawn Lynch, Jalen Richard, and DeAndré Washington patrolling the backfield, you'd be hard pressed to find a more dynamic trio of backs. It's only a matter of time before the spark returns to the ground attack, but the sooner that happens, the better.
One word to describe the first quarter?
The Silver and Black have experienced some lumps and bruises here in the early going, but it's the adversity that'll make this group stronger. The coaching staff and players are well aware of how the first quarter has gone, and I trust they'll get things resolved.
We still have a long way to go, ladies and gentlemen.