In 2018, the Raiders lost four of their final six games. But they only won four games all season, so that was actually better than they had been playing.
In 2019, they lost five of their last six. But that could’ve been just how things worked out, so it wasn’t necessarily a sign of things to come.
In 2020, they lost five of their last seven games. But that…actually there’s no excuses left. It wasn’t an overall bad season. They started 6-3. It wasn’t an anomaly since it happened the season before after they had started 6-4.
And when you put those numbers together, you realize the late season collapse just got worse and started earlier. Natural to see the trend and not get too high on the early season success.
This season they started 3-0, lost two, then won two to sit at 5-2 heading into their bye week. They haven’t won since, losing the last two, first to a bad Giants team and then getting smoked by a previously underperforming Chiefs team.
Now they sit at 5-4, staring at the real possibility of being in the throes of another late season collapse. The main difference is the last two didn’t start until at least nine games into the season.
For what it’s worth, 5-4 is exactly where I had the Raiders at this point in the season in my season record prediction. Also for the record, I had them losing Sunday’s game against the Bengals and dropping to 5-5. With my final prediction for the season coming in at 8-9.
What I didn’t foresee, however, was how good the Raiders would look early in the season against the likes of the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers. Those performances, as well as their stellar games in week six and seven following Jon Gruden’s resignation showed a lot of promise in this team. Not to mention how well the defense has played under new DC Gus Bradley for much of the season.
But as has been the case all too often for these Raiders teams in recent years, the success seems to be fragile. In this case it was the loss of Henry Ruggs III that seemed to trip up the offense to the point they seem downright incapable of sustaining drives.
Last Sunday against the Chiefs the Raiders pass rush couldn’t make an impact, including Yannick Ngakoue being shutdown on the left side and Maxx Crosby unable to bring down Patrick Mahomes from the other side. And thus the entire defense was exposed. Both in coverage and in tackling.
Gus Bradley hopes that performance by his defense was a one-off.
“Well, we got to make sure,” said Bradley. “It was one of those things, I told our guys we know what the standard can look like and now we know what it shouldn’t look like. For some reason we just didn’t play up to our capabilities, whether it was tackling. I mean we had more missed tackles that game than we’ve had combined, and we’ve been trending upwards as far as team that’s tackling pretty well. So, we just did some things that were uncharacteristic as far as communication, tackling. So, that’s what we got to get corrected this week.”
Few quarterbacks are as slippery as Patrick Mahomes, and few left tackles are as dominant as Orlando Brown Jr, so there is reason to believe the Raiders pass rush can get going again too.
So, if there is hope for this team to pull out of their tailspin and do something they haven’t done in at least three years — which is NOT collapse down the stretch — the offense must find a suitable deep threat to replace Ruggs and the defense needs the pass rush to step up again as they had over the first part of the season.
The newly added deep threat is veteran WR Desean Jackson, who was signed last week. The 34-year-old clearly wasn’t ready in terms of the playbook last Sunday, seeing just nine snaps. But once he gets more familiar with the playbook, the Raiders hope he can be that guy.
“It’s headed in a good place,” quarterback Derek Carr said of Jackson’s role in the offense. “People definitely treat him different, and you can definitely tell they are going to stay on top and they try their best to when he’s out there. There was one where 49 was running and he was running for his life to get back behind him and I would too. Any safety would because he’s that fast and he’s doing his job. He’s trying to stay on top and there were some other looks where we’re running him deep and he takes two guys with him. Well, sweet, we get a big play here and having that in our offense is what we had before. And it’s good that DeSean wanted to come here . . . it helps me so much and it helps our running game so much. Whenever you have that talent, it just opens up things for everybody.
Optimism and hope is great. And you can always look back to previous positive plays to suggest it can get back to that. This is all in theory though. And we’ve been here before.
The Raiders face just one team the rest of the way with a current losing record. That’s Washington at 3-6. Alternatively, only two of their remaining opponents currently has a better record than they do — that’s the Cowboys (7-2) and Chiefs (6-4).
Up next is the 5-4 Bengals which boasts the league’s 9th best scoring offense and 11th best defense in points allowed. Rather befitting the Raiders face a well-balanced team with the same record as they try to prove the past two weeks have just been a bump in the road. That it isn’t a ‘here we go again’ situation.
How they perform this weekend could go a long way toward proving whether this season things are different.