Halfway through the 2020 season and the Las Vegas Raiders own a record of 5-3, most impressively with four of those wins coming on the road.
The Silver and Black have defeated three teams above .500 and seem to be finding their groove, gaining momentum as they trend upward for the second half of the season. It's the perfect time to reflect on what's occurred to this point and how the Raiders can improve further going forward.
Raiders.com writers Levi Edwards and Kyle Martin breakdown their observations and expectations at the halfway point; let's see what they had to say.
Who has impressed you the most through eight games?
LE: As a guy who was raised in the Carolinas, I've got to show love to the Gaffney, South Carolina, native who has been the unsung hero for the Raiders offense.
Denzelle Good has had to step in and play across the offensive line for the likes of Trent Brown, Sam Young, Richie Incognito, John Simpson and Kolton Miller. Good not only has been making do as a backup offensive guard, he's been playing exceptional football.
Good has played in all eight games this season and has played every offensive snap since Week 1. He is also coming off the best game of his career statistically against the Browns two weeks ago, as Pro Football Focus gave him a 90 PFF grade after he didn't allow a single QB pressure on Derek Carr all game.
I've been making the running joke that Denzelle Good will be the first third-string tackle to make a Pro Bowl, but seriously this shouldn't be a joke anymore. Coach Gruden and Derek Carr have come out and said that Good has been the offensive MVP so far this season, and his body of work has proven that to be true.
I feel that it's fair for me to say that Denzelle has been — yes, this pun is intended — pretty damn Good.
KM: Johnathan Abram gave us a taste of what he can bring to an NFL game, but this season we're getting a full dose, and it's a thing of beauty.
The former first-round pick received a lot of hype prior to his rookie year, partially because of his charisma, but the former Mississippi State Bulldog has lived up to expectations through seven games this year. Unafraid to talk some trash, Abram backs it up with his hard-hitting play, totaling 42 tackles, one interception, one fumble recovery, and four passes defensed this year. When No. 24 is on the field, Paul Guenther's defense is noticeably better, and he's been the biggest standout for me on defense.
What's been your biggest takeaway thus far?
KM: Derek Carr is playing some of the best football of his career.
Once an MVP candidate, Carr looks every bit as good in 2020 as he did in 2016 — a year in which he led the Silver and Black to the postseason for the first time in 14 years. Through eight games, Carr has the Raiders in contention for the postseason, has tossed 16 touchdowns (five shy of last year's total), only two interceptions and the second-best completion percentage of his career (69.8).
LE: Next man up.
Despite all of the injuries and setbacks the Raiders have had to deal with this season, they have been able to use depth and young talent to make big plays and get the job done. This has been most notable on the offensive line and in the secondary.
John Simpson and Brandon Parker have joined Good in stepping up for the offensive line and continue to excel. Tom Cable has done a great job of rallying his guys and making sure they're prepared for each contest as the Raiders offensive line is ranked 11th in run blocking and 12th in pass blocking this season, despite the starting unit only playing a collective 10 snaps this season.
The secondary has also seen guys step up in big situations for injuries sustained to Damon Arnette, Erik Harris and Trayvon Mullen. Backup strong safety Jeff Heath caught a momentum-shifting interception on Patrick Mahomes to hand the Kansas City Chiefs their only loss of the season so far. Isaiah Johnson also came up when it mattered against the Chargers filling in for Trayvon Mullen who suffered an hamstring injury. Johnson was tested at the goal-line and forced two incomplete passes to win the game for the Raiders.
What is one word to describe the 2020 Raiders?
With all the adversity and obstacles the Raiders have endured this season, they have left me astonished and amazed by their poise and level of effort.
From the fourth-and-inches stop in Charlotte, to the upset of the season against the Chiefs in Arrowhead, to coming out of Cleveland with a win in 40 mile-per-hour winds to Isaiah Johnson saving the day against the Chargers in memory of his Houston teammate.... it's just been one of those "What the hell?" kind of seasons.
It truly has made me turn my head and just question what I'm seeing and let out a "What?" from the press box in classic Stone Cold Steve Austin fashion.
Whether you listen to ESPN radio, FOX Sports, or whatever your preferred media source is, there's a common thread among NFL pundits: The Raiders are no joke.
The Silver and Black are finally earning some recognition and are competing with some of the best teams in the NFL. Coach Gruden and GM Mike Mayock wanted to build a foundation of cornerstone pieces who embody what it means to win, and through nearly two years together the duo have constructed a determined team loaded with potential. The Raiders are trending upward thanks to their youth, added offseason pieces and the leadership of Carr. With some favorable matchups going forward, I expect them to continue stacking Ws.
Where can the team improve in the second half of the year?
LE: They must get their receiver of the future more involved.
Henry Ruggs has shown glimpses of being an explosive receiver for years to come. However Ruggs and the Raiders' coaching staff need to continue finding ways to turn those glimpses into a consistent showing. Since Ruggs' 118-yard performance in Kansas City, he has combined for 3 receptions and 21 yards in the previous three games.
Granted Ruggs is only a rookie and is still adjusting to NFL speed since stymieing college defenses at Alabama. I expect the Raiders to find more ways to put the rock in this young man's hands down the stretch of the season.
KM: Against the Los Angeles Chargers, the defensive line was able to get home for a pair of sacks, but this area still needs to improve going forward. The Raiders are toward the bottom of the league in sack total with nine, but perhaps Sunday's game is an indication that the unit is finally putting all the pieces together.
On the plus side, the Raiders have played decently against the run and rank 17th, allowing 118.5 yards per game and haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher since Week 3.
Who is one under-the-radar player to watch the rest of the way?
KM: The Devontae Booker resurgence in Las Vegas has been special to watch.
Once a change-of-pace back on the Denver Broncos, the veteran running back wasn't a shoo-in to make the Raiders 53-man roster, but he's opened eyes this season. On 33 carries this year, Booker has rushed for 233 yards, one touchdown, and is averaging an absurd 6.8 yards per carry.
Now, I'm not here to incite a running back controversy because Josh Jacobs is very much The Guy and a star in this league, but Booker was expected to simply come in and spell Jacobs when he got tired; however, he's proven to be a difference maker.
It remains to be seen whether Booker's workload will increase, but he's earned the opportunity for more touches.
LE: Maxx Crosby may be the star of the Raiders' defensive line leading the way with five sacks, but his backup Carl Nassib has done a great job in his limited snaps.
The former All-American from Penn State was expected to be a big part of the defense going into the season and although Nassib has been banged up this year, he has played in all eight games this season and is second on the team in sacks (1.5) to go along with 15 tackles, 3.5 of those being for a loss.
The former defensive captain of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers has proven to be a solid leader for the young Raiders defense and has come up when needed for a pass rush still finding its way. I expect him to get a couple more under-the-radar sacks before the season is over.
With the Raiders 2020 season at the halfway point, take a look at the current stat leaders for the Silver and Black.