As the season reaches the midway point, the Raiders are trying to find a formula that will lead to better consistency down the stretch. Josh McDaniels has experimented with lineup tweaks and schematic adjustments to help this squad maximize its potential, but he has not found the recipe that works best for this squad.
Although the pressure is mounting on the Silver and Black, the regular season is a marathon and there is enough time for this team to turn things around.
After taking some time to review the game tape from a disappointing loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, here are some thoughts and observations from a former NFL scout.
Finish. Finish. Finish.
The Raiders have started out fast in the Josh McDaniels' era, but the team has failed to consistently finish games in a winning fashion. The team has dropped three games this season after holding 17-point leads and the pattern continued against the Jaguars.
After scoring on four of their first five possessions and holding a 20-10 halftime lead, the Raiders couldn't score another point after losing their rhythm.
Davante Adams, in particular, was enjoying a monster day with nine catches for 146 yards and a pair of touchdowns through two quarters. But the Raiders' No. 1 receiver added just one catch to his total in the second half as the offense sputtered down the stretch. While it is hard to suggest Adams should have been more involved in the offense with 17 targets on his stat line, the Raiders must be able to throw the ball with more efficiency and consistency with the game hanging in the balance.
Whether that requires Derek Carr to rely on Hunter Renfrow when the coverage takes away Adams or utilizing Foster Moreau or Josh Jacobs as checkdown options, the Raiders must be able to throw the ball effectively when the game is on the line to chalk up wins.
That said, the Raiders have been at their best when Jacobs plays the role of the closer as the workhorse back in their power sets. The fourth-year pro had reeled off three straight 100-yard rush games prior to being stymied by the New Orleans Saints and Jacksonville Jaguars. He has to be the focal point of an offense that pounds opponents to sleep in the fourth quarter. With a strong running game enabling McDaniels to shrink the game with a series of clock-burning runs, the Raiders can take some of the pressure off of the defense to come up with late-game stops.
The offense is the strength of the team, and Carr and Co. must find a way to close out games with first downs and touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
Where is the pass rush?
Part of the Raiders' inability to finish can be attributed to the lack of pass-rush production. Despite having a pair of blue-chip pass rushers in Chandler Jones and Maxx Crosby, the Raiders have generated just nine sacks in eight games. Although the duo accounts for 72% of the team's sack production, the Raiders need more disruption and splash plays from their all-star tandem.
Jones, in particular, has gotten off to a slow start with 17 tackles and 0.5 sacks. Considering he is one of a handful of members in the 100-sack club, the veteran was counted on to make key contributions as a closer. Defensive coordinator Patrick Graham needs to find a way to unlock his star defender to make life easier on the secondary in the second half of games.
To truly unlock the pass rush, the Raiders must improve on early downs. By winning on first and second down, the Raiders can force more obvious passing downs with long yardage (seven yards or more) needed to move the sticks. Opponents have been able to stay on schedule by running the football on early downs and the blueprint continues to work well for persistent playcallers committed to a run-centric game plan.
Until the Raiders dominate the early downs, it will be hard for Jones and Crosby to work their magic as pass rushers on critical downs. While the Raiders' stars may be expected to close out games with critical sacks and pressures, the duo needs more opportunities to rush in favorable situations to flash their skills as disruptive playmakers at the point of attack.
Not in the plans
Johnathan Abram was waived this week after three-plus seasons. Although the former first-rounder flashed potential as a hard-hitting box safety with run-stopping skills, the young defender's struggles in coverage made it hard to keep him on the field in a pass-happy league.
As the league trends to more two-high shells with interchangeable safeties on the field, Abram didn't quite have the agility, movement skills and coverage ability to shadow tight ends, slot receivers and running backs in space.
Per Next Gen Stats, Abram has allowed the second-highest completion percentage (70.7%) as the nearest defender among 121 players who have logged at least 1,000 coverage snaps. Those numbers are staggering for a starter in the secondary who is tasked with winning one-on-one matchups in space.
Given the team's problems against the pass and Abrams' limitations and injury history, it should not come as a major surprise that the team elected to move on from the fourth-year defender.
View the best photos from the Raiders' Week 9 matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field.