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The Raiders were supposed to be fun this year. What happened?

Green Bay Packers v Oakland Raiders Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

The 2016 Raiders were 12-4, and probably would’ve been 13-3 if Derek Carr had been healthy at the end of the season. They were an offensive juggernaut, at the top of the league in many offensive categories. This season, after starting 2-0, they’ve lost four in a row, totaling the same amount of losses they did last year in just six weeks this year. What is happening in the East Bay? It’s eerily similar to what’s happening in Dallas.

Lacking production on offense (with or without Carr), being bad on third down in their losses, and fielding a defense that can’t get off the field are some of their problems. The Raiders are built to run the football. They have an excellent, super-physical offensive line. They are averaging 4.3 yards per carry, slightly down from 4.4 yards per carry last season. Here’s a clip from Sunday where the Raiders’ right tackle and left guard finish their guys while the right guard executes a sweet reach block.

These guys can still run block.

However, they are transitioning to an outside-zone scheme after being a downhill-rushing team for years. New OC Todd Downing is an outside-zone guy and, according to offensive line coach Mike Tice, the move to outside zone was necessary because teams were crowding up the linebackers to stop the run.

At times, they are still struggling getting used to this new run scheme and have more negative plays than last season. (Btw, thank you to Ted Nguyen, @raidersanalysis, for some good information on the Raiders. He’s an excellent follow for all Raiders fans.)

Another issue I see in the run game is the lack of rushes, which is the same issue the Cowboys are facing. This season the Raiders are averaging just under 22 carries per game. Last season, they averaged 27 carries. That’s a product of multiple things:

1) Being behind in games. Can’t run the ball when you’re losing.

2) The lack of a passing game, which I’ll get to later, is giving bad box counts, daring the Raiders to pass the ball.

3) Poor play calling. When EJ Manuel is starting a game and playing the bulk of another, you run the football.

4) The defense can’t get off the field on third down. The Raiders D is allowing 45 percent on third-down conversions. Overall, the 2017 Raiders are running a total of 54 plays per game, dead last in the NFL, while last year’s team ran 65.7 plays per game. The Raiders are also dead last in the NFL in first downs per game. Being low in those stats doesn’t add up to much winning.

Offensive issues

The issues on offense are mostly with the passing game. Lets start with Carr. This was supposed to be the year he led the Raiders to some playoff success. That’s going to be tough when you’re putting up small numbers so far.

While Carr is completing 68 percent of his passes, they aren’t going anywhere. He’s at 6.7 yards per attempt, near the bottom of the NFL. There’s a major lack of play action in the Raiders offense this season, only nine play-action attempts. No other team has thrown fewer than 26 attempts on play action. That lowers that yards-per-attempt number. That’s the best way to exploit defenses who want to stack their linebackers up in the box.

Amari Cooper has struggled, too. Word is that his confidence is low. He’s getting far fewer targets than last season, almost two fewer per game. His catch percentage on is low. Last season, he caught 62.9 percent of passes thrown in his direction. This season, only 46.2 percent. The Raiders have lots of options on offense, and they seem to be favoring others more often.

The pass protection just hasn’t been as stellar. They’ve allowed 13 sacks, after leading the league in fewest sacks per attempt last season. It would be unrealistic to expect them to continue being first in sack rate every season, but it’s been different for the quarterbacks seeing just a tad more pressure.

The defense is struggling, too

The defense, which was poor last season, has actually seen some improvement in certain areas. Its run defense is much better, ranking 13th in yards per attempt after being 26th last season. However, they are still poor in certain areas.

They have no interceptions this season, the only team in the league without a pick. They are near the bottom of the NFL in sacks, with only 11, even with Khalil Mack.

What’s most concerning to me is that the Raiders are near the bottom of the NFL in third-down defense, allowing a 45 percent conversation rate. This keeps their offense off the field for long stretches of time. It’s hard to pinpoint a reason for this, but looking back to last week, Rivers found ways to beat third-down pressure often.

This is just a bad ass play from Rivers. The Raiders get pressure, and Rivers makes a move and completes the pass.

But this play highlights the biggest issue Oakland has in their pass defense. According to Football Outsiders DVOA, the Raiders are 31st in the NFL against an opponent’s No. 1 wide receiver.

Here’s one example of two in the Ravens game where Mike Wallace outruns the Oakland secondary for a big gain. It’s nothing special from the offense. The Raiders’ cornerback and safety just aren’t good enough here. I have no idea what the safety is looking at. He’s got the deep middle of the field and allows Wallace to run right by him.

The Raiders are 30th covering running backs in the NFL. Here they are against Washington on Monday Night Football. This is early in the game. It’s third-and-6. The Raiders bring pressure and forget to cover the running back. No bueno.

This Thursday the Raiders play the Chiefs, who have feasted in the past on the screen game against the Raiders. I would know. We scored on three of them in the first half at Oakland in 2013, plus another long touchdown catch for Jamaal Charles. If the Raiders want to win on Thursday, they better find a way to clean this up.

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