In today's NFL, it's popular to break down the 16-game regular season in four, four-game quarters.
After falling to the Steelers 38-35 Sunday afternoon, the Raiders have now completed their second quarter of the 2015 campaign and currently sit with an overall record of 4-4.
Just like the first quarter of the season, the Silver and Black went 2-2 in the second quarter of the season, so as the team prepares for their Week 10 clash with the Minnesota Vikings, Jerry Knaak and Eddie Paskal of Raiders.com take a look at what's happened and answer questions about the second quarter of the regular season.
Your Second Quarter MVP Is…
JK:Derek Carr. The second-year quarterback has been phenomenal for the Raiders and he is what makes the offense go. Carr has become the heartbeat and emotional leader of the team. He has become incredibly effective against the blitz and has a passer rating over 104. He has thrown for more than 2,000 yards, tossed 19 touchdowns and just 4 interceptions. His lightning-strike passing led to large, insurmountable leads in wins over the Jets and Chargers, and although he threw a pick 6, he gave Denver what for. He's fun to watch, he's excitable, he's marketable and he's becoming the face of the franchise. If MVP is the guy the team can't win without, then it has to be Derek Carr.
EP:Michael Crabtree. The sure-handed wide receiver has been outstanding the past four games for the Silver and Black. He's hauled in 24 passes for 327 yards and 4 touchdowns and also gone over the 100-receiving yard mark twice. In addition to his precise route running and highly-touted hands, Crabtree also provides another legitimate weapon for quarterback Derek Carr, which in turn helps relieve some pressure from stud rookie Amari Cooper. Crabtree has been everything and more the Raiders hoped he would be this season, and halfway through the season he looks like he's rounding into form.
The Most Surprising Thing About The Second Quarter Was…
EP:How dynamic the offense has been. Heading into the season, we knew that the Silver and Black had the chance to be versatile in their offensive attack, but they've slowly become one of the most dynamic offenses in the entire NFL. Derek Carr has thrown 19 touchdowns with just 4 interceptions, and unlike his rookie year, he has two legitimate receiving weapons in Cooper and Crabtree. Add in running back Latavius Murray taking the reins as the Raiders feature back and that's an offense built to put up points – and that's precisely what they've done. Give credit where credit is due, as offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave has had the Raiders offense clicking on all cylinders as of late.
JK:How well the offensive line have played. The right side of this group was in question from the start of the offseason program. Austin Howard has stepped in for the injured Menelik Watson at right tackle and J'Marcus Webb has played admirably in his first stint as a guard in the NFL. They have kept quarterback Derek Carr remarkably clean, allowing just 1 sack in the last 3 weeks. They have blown open some serious holes for running back Latavius Murray, especially against San Diego and New York. I thought this group could be good, but they have been exceptional, especially against Pittsburgh and their attacking style that had racked up 22 sacks on the year and was pretty stout against the run.
Raiders Fan Should Be Optimistic Because…
JK: *The team is close. Very close. Head Coach Jack Del Rio has spoken about putting in the work and believing in the process. The Raiders have lost three games by a total of 11 points. Turnovers doomed the Silver and Black in each one of those three losses. Once the team learns to take care of the ball in *every situation and become more consistent when it comes to eliminating those critical mistakes, they will start to win more of these close ballgames.
EP:The youth movement is working. For the first time in years, the core of the Raiders roster is made up of young players. Offensively, Derek Carr, Amari Cooper and Latavius Murray are all 25 years old or younger, and on the defensive side of the ball, second-year standout Khalil Mack is just 24 as well. Sure, there will be some growing pains with a young nucleus, but for the first time in a long while, the future looks bright for the Silver and Black.
One Area That Needs Improvement Is…
JK:Secondary play. As much as we like to refer to Charles Woodson as Superman, he can't do it all. He can't cover five guys at once. The Raiders get safety Nate Allen back this week and TJ Carrie should be ready to go after missing the Steelers game. The Steelers were able to get behind the coverage with over-the-top speed. They'll need to work on keeping the opposition in front of them. Tackling and limiting yards after the catch was also a problem against Pittsburgh. After several weeks of steady improvement, the secondary took a step backwards. Hopefully it was a case of matchups and the Raiders defensive backs can rebound.
EP: Defensive pressure. Halfway through the season, the Raiders have only tallied 15 sacks, which is tied for 23rd in the NFL. With players like Khalil Mack and Aldon Smith bookending the Raiders defensive line, there's no reason that the Raiders shouldn't at least be in the top half of the NFL sacks leaderboard.
"When we're coming free, the coverage isn't holding up, and we did come free a few times," Head Coach Jack Del Rio said Monday when asked about the team's pass rush. "Pass defense is a combination. You want the rush and the coverage to go hand in hand, and when they do, then it looks really good."
If the Raiders are intent on making a playoff run, they'll need to rediscover the pass rush, so it'll be interesting to keep an eye on this facet of the game as the season wears on.
What Are You Looking Forward To In The Third Quarter…
EP: Can the Raiders go on a run? In the third quarter of the season, the Silver and Black only play one team (the Minnesota Vikings) that currently hold a record above .500, and while every game in the NFL is a challenge, on paper it certainly looks like the Raiders have a chance to string a few wins together if they can put together a sustained period of quality play.
Will the team be able to do that? Only time will tell, but it's definitely something I'll be keyed in on over the next month.
JK: I am going to agree with my colleague Eddie Paskal on this one.* *The Raiders were 4-4 halfway through the 2002 season and only lost one game in the second half en route to a Super Bowl berth. The Raiders were 4-4 in 2011 and lost a win and you're in game on the last day of the season. If the Raiders want to secure a Wild Card spot, or challenge the Denver Broncos for the AFC West title, they are going to have to mount a multiple game winning streak. Win 1 lose 1, win 2 lose 2; that gets you an 8-8 record. Win 3, 4, 5 in a row, now you're talking about being in the tournament.