It would be too much too soon to declare the Oakland Raiders (1-1) relevant again in the NFL.
But after Sunday’s 37-33 comeback victory over the Baltimore Ravens, things do appear to be headed in a positive direction for the franchise that hasn’t seen a winning season since 2002.
The core group expected to lead the Raiders’ resurgence is led by second-year quarterback Derek Carr, second-year defensive end Khalil Mack, rookie receiver Amari Cooper and first-year head coach Jack Del Rio. But there are also a few youngsters in Oakland’s secondary who are making an early-season impact. From USA Today:
Guard Gabe Jackson helps anchor a line that rarely allowed the vaunted Baltimore pass rush to touch Carr. Cornerback TJ Carrie did a nice job in coverage and also forced a fumble on the Ravens’ first play from scrimmage, leading to an Oakland field goal. Both players were drafted after Mack and Carr in 2014.
Even virtually unknown role players like (WR Seth) Roberts and cornerback Neiko Thorpe, who picked off Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco with 19 seconds left to ice the win, are stepping up as part of a long overdue youth movement.
“There’s a lot of young guys on the squad,” said Latavius Murray, who just began his first season as the featured running back. “We’re just getting better and going to continue to get better so we can go out there and put performances like that out there.”
Thorpe is a reserve behind starting corners Carrie and D.J. Hayden, a first-round draft pick in 2013. Oakland’s starting safeties are fourth-year pro Larry Asante and 38-year-old future Hall of Famer Charles Woodson. Former USC star Taylor Mays is a backup safety.
Despite the good vibes of the win over the Ravens, the Raiders’ secondary (along with the entire defense) has a lot of room to improve. The team has allowed 33 points to each of its opponents so far, including a 33-13 loss to the Bengals in Week 1.
In that game, QB Andy Dalton threw for 269 yards and two touchdowns. His primary target, however, was tight end Tyler Eifert (9 rec, 104 yds, 2 TD), suggesting that Oakland’s linebackers also left something to be desired in their pass coverage. The Raiders’ DBs did a solid job against star receiver A.J. Green (5 rec, 63 yds) and fellow wideouts Mohammed Sanu (2 rec, 34 yds) and Marvin Jones (2 rec, 19 yds).
Against the Ravens, the Raiders surrendered 384 passing yards, and were again lit up by an opposing tight end: Crockett Gilmore had five catches for 88 yards and two TDs. Baltimore’s receivers fared better than Cincinnati’s, with Steve Smith catching 10 balls for 150 yards, and Kamar Aiken hauling in five catches for 89 yards.
The Raiders have an intriguing challenge in Week 3 when they travel to Cleveland to face emerging big-play receiver Travis Benjamin and either Johnny Manziel or Josh McCown at quarterback. The next week they play the Bears, who are currently without starting QB Jay Cutler and top receiver Alshon Jeffery, before Peyton Manning and the Broncos come to Oakland on Oct. 11.