For the third week in a row, the Oakland Raiders went to halftime with a lead. And for the third week in a row, they blew it.
This time, it was the Miami Dolphins who scored 21 straight to erase the Raiders’ 17-7 lead and pull away for a win. In Week 1, the Rams roared back from a 13-10 deficit to win 33-13. Then it was the Broncos who overcame a 19-7 deficit in Week 2 to beat the Raiders, 20-19.
“I’ve been a part of years where finishing was easy and the beginnings were the problem,” Derek Carr said after the team’s Week 3 loss. “This is just what we have to deal with right now. I think we need to finish our practices better, finish our lifts better, finish our meetings better, finish everything better, because clearly we’re doing a good at the beginning, right? I think we can finish in all phases better.”
Collectively, the Raiders have won the first two quarters of the season, 35-17. But in the second half, opponents are outscoring Oakland, 64-17.
So what’s the deal?
The defense has been the bigger problem in the second half
Yes, the Oakland offense has scored twice as points in the first half than in the second half so far in 2018, but the team has been able to move the ball after halftime.
In the first two weeks, the Raiders averaged 6.16 yards on first half plays and 6.24 yards on plays in the second half.
That trend continued in Week 3. Heading into halftime against the Dolphins, they put up 228 yards before adding another 206 in the next two quarters. Oakland could do better at finishing drives with points, but the real problem is the defense hasn’t been able to get off the field.
In the first two weeks, Raiders’ opponents ran 41 offensive plays in the first half for an average of 4.83 yards. In the second half, it ballooned to 83 plays for 6.51 yards.
In Week 3, the Oakland defense held the Miami offense to just 126 yards in the first half. But then the Dolphins came climbing back with 247 second-half yards.
Part of the problem is the obvious: the Raiders don’t have Khalil Mack.
Through three games, Oakland has just three total sacks. They’ve managed to get one in the first half of each game and none so far after halftime. Meanwhile, Mack already has four on his own with the Chicago Bears after he was traded by the Raiders earlier in September.
“There’s going to be hindsight, 50/50, all that stuff,” coach Jon Gruden said after a Week 2 loss. “We would have loved to have had him here, but he’s not here.”
The team’s top pass-rushing threats now are 30-year-old Bruce Irvin and a group of young players who haven’t done anything yet. The Raiders have high hopes for second- and third-selections P.J. Hall and Arden Key, but neither rookie has a sack.
Unless the Raiders can find a way to get to opposing passers, they’re going to be in danger of continuing to get picked apart on a weekly basis.
Derek Carr has played poorly, no matter the quarter
The defense is the one playing Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde from half to half, but Carr isn’t doing them many favors.
First half, second half, it doesn’t matter. Carr hasn’t played like a quarterback worth $25 million per year.
With one touchdown and two interceptions Sunday, Carr has now thrown two touchdowns and five interceptions in 2018. His 76.6 completion percentage has been a buoy for his passer rating, but at 88.3 he’s still well below the group of players with a similar paycheck.
His high completion rate also hasn’t mattered much. In Week 2, Carr completed 29 of 32 passes and the Raiders still only scored 19 points. The game made Carr the first quarterback ever to lose when completing over 90 percent of his passes on at least 13 attempts.
Carr has struggled to deal with pressure throughout his career, and his statistics have continued to regress annually.
He’s still just three games into his time with Gruden — the man who was tasked with getting the 27-year-old quarterback back on track — and he doesn’t have the best cast of talent surrounding him. But eventually he has to start throwing touchdown passes instead of costly interceptions.
With less than three minutes to play and a chance to take the lead, Carr threw his second interception to Xavien Howard.
It proved to be a back-breaking mistake for the Raiders when Miami scored a 74-yard touchdown two plays later that put the nail in Oakland’s coffin.
The defense needs to stop its disappearing act, but the Raiders aren’t scoring enough points to close the door on teams either. That mostly falls on Carr’s shoulders.
The buck stops with Jon Gruden
Trading Mack meant there was a large shadow cast over the Gruden era in Oakland before the regular season even began. That’s not going anywhere, especially with the Raiders’ defense struggling to rush the passer and Mack dominating every week with the Bears.
It’s also fair to question the people Gruden has chosen to surround himself with in Oakland. Hiring Dave Razzano — a man famous for bad Twitter takes — to be his director of football research has reportedly ruffled the feathers of other Raiders scouts.
But when there are stark differences between a team’s quality of play from half to half, the logical conclusion is that coaches are to blame.
The best minds in the game are able to set a game plan, but make adjustments to it at halftime based on what they’ve seen in the first two quarters. If the Raiders look terrible in the second half, the blame would seem to fall on the shoulders of Gruden and his coordinators.
“It’s my responsibility to fix it,” was all Gruden said when asked about the team’s atrocious fourth-quarter performances.
If there’s one reason not to panic, it’s that the Raiders played three good teams to open the year. The Rams and Dolphins are two of the NFL’s four remaining undefeated teams, and the Broncos are now 2-1 after a loss to the Ravens in Week 3.
But the Cleveland Browns may not be an easy out in Week 4 after they rode the Baker Mayfield wave to their first win since 2016. There are easier days ahead, but catching the Kansas City Chiefs or the Broncos in the AFC West looks like a tall ask.
If the Raiders were able to finish games, they could be in the mix right now. That’s why it’s not particularly surprising the numbers say they’re better than their winless record. But there are real problems in Oakland that have caused three straight collapses, and the offense, defense, and especially the coaching staff all deserve blame.