The 2016 season is now over for the Oakland Raiders but there is no doubt that every fan is happy that the Raiders ended their 14 year postseason drought. As Coach Del Rio told the team yesterday “We aren’t finished yet” and Raider fans would agree.
For this team to go to the next level and win playoff games they need to work on their defense in almost every area. Obviously, Khalil Mack is firmly entrenched as a starter and as a leader of the team but Coach Del Rio, the ownership and the rest of the coaching staff need to spend more time on that side of the ball to really make the Raiders into the consistent playoff team that they want. People have mixed feelings about Al Davis but Davis built those great Raider teams around a great defenses. The 2017 version of the Oakland Raiders needs to do the same.
One area that the Raiders can hang their hat on is backup quarterback.
It’s likely that Matt McGloin will not wear an Oakland Raiders uniform next season as he is scheduled to be a free agent. McGloin had his share of opportunities but he didn’t make the most of them. Oakland will lose nothing by moving on and they may have everything to gain if they do.
Connor Cook showed enough promise that he deserves the opportunity to grow in this offense more and develop as a player. Derek Carr is not only our franchise quarterback, he is also our franchise player and the last two games proved that in spades. Cook was drafted for a reason and despite his struggles, he proved worthy of another look.
Some fans might view Cook as another wasted draft pick that didn’t perform up to par during his two appearances. However, not only should the Raiders make them their primary backup to Derek Carr next season but they should also be comfortable enough with the quarterback situation to focus most of their offseason attention on defensive improvements.
There are several reasons that Cook failed in his first two outings and although he deserves his share of the blame because football is a team sport, he also deserves praise too for standing in there against adversity.
Cook faced an almost unfair situation
Lets face it, Cook was put in a desperate situation.
Carr likely took 98% of the snaps in practice with the starting team and McGloin ran the scout offense all season. Cook spent the year on the inactive list and he was only fully active for one game. Cook had no experience and even he mentioned that he had never run most of the offense before in practice situations. It isn’t unusual for third-string quarterbacks to say something like that. There just isn’t enough time on any football team to allow the third-string quarterback reps when you give 98% of them to your starter and a few to your second-string quarterback.
Cook took on elite defenses
With that inexperience in mind, the Christmas Eve injury to Derek Carr forced the coaching staff to make changes that no team is ready to make after clinching a playoff berth. Connor Cook was not ready.
The two opponents that Cook faced did not help matters either. Both the Texans and the Broncos possess two of the best defenses in the National Football League and putting a quarterback in situations against them, with very little experience rarely translates into success. Moreover, McGloin took most of the reps in practice leading up to the Denver game and that made things even worse for Connor Cook when he was sent into the game after McGloin’s shoulder injury. Oakland dragged their feet during the week leading up to the Texans game by naming Cook the starter on Wednesday. He took almost all the snaps but you can’t expect a rookie, with only a handful of career pass attempts to travel on the road against a great Houston defense and be the next Jim Plunkett.
Cook’s performance against both defenses was by no means spectacular but it was not a shock. Both Denver and Houston hounded him with different looks, assorted blitzes, and his turnovers (4 INTs) and poor completion percentage (50%) attest to that he is a rookie that was thrusted into a desperate situation. Both teams knew that they could take advantage of Cook’s inexperience and lack of timing and nobody can fault either the Texans or the Broncos for that.
Cook did not have a healthy team around him
The third factor that made the Connor Cook “experiment” a failure was injures
Most people will say “next man up” but in the NFL that maxim isn’t as easy as it looks especially at left tackle. On most teams the left tackle is usually the one who receives the biggest paycheck when compared to the rest of his O-Line mates. Oakland lost their Pro Bowl tackle Donald Penn to injury and that loss was almost as big as Derek Carr. His replacement, Menalik Watson, was catastrophic.
Watson has struggled in just about every situation that they have put him and when you factor in the pressure of a road playoff game it only made matters worse. Jadeveon Clowney made mincemeat out of Watson and it was evident that he was getting frustrated as the game wore on because he could not contain Clowney. This allowed the Texans to dominate the left side of the Raiders’ offense and Jadeveon Clowney pressured Cook on nearly every one of his 45 pass attempts.
Cook didn’t get enough help from the defense
A fourth factor was the Raider defense that hadn’t performed well all season and they didn’t do Cook many favors. They did play better as a group as the season wore on but they also faced the 26th and 27th ranked offenses and they laid an egg.
The Broncos scored 24 points and the Texans added another 27, which means the Raiders surrendered 51 points in two games. Denver finished the 2016 season ranked 21st in pass offense and 26th in rush offense. Nine times during the 2016 season the Broncos rushed for 89 yards or less. Yet, the Raiders gave up 143 yards rushing to the Broncos in the regular season finale and they allowed Trevor Simeon to carve their secondary up with his passing attack.
Against the Texans, the Raiders faced the 29th ranked pass offense and yet Brock Osweiler looked like the second coming of Joe Montana against them. He rushed for one touchdown, passed for another and his 14 completions in 25 attempts were apparently too much for the Oakland defense to handle.
Defenders of the defense might argue that the loss of Carr and the high scoring offense put the defense in a bad spot. That might be but Derek Carr had to lead comeback after comeback when the Raider defense struggled to keep leads or even give the offense enough time to get on track during the early parts of games.
No team in 2016 surrendered more yards per play or more yards after contact than the Oakland Raiders. That does a rookie quarterback like Connor Cook no favors.
Cook suffered through Oakland’s dropped pass issue
The final factor that greatly impacted Cook’s performance was dropped passes. Cook showed remarkable poise when throwing the football but at the same time he looked like a rookie quarterback looks when throwing his first NFL passes.
His final numbers clearly show that but what about dropped passes?
The 2016 Raiders ranked next to dead last in dropped passes with 29. Only the New York Jets had more dropped passes with 30. Moreover, only the 1-15 49ers and the before mentioned Jets had a higher regular season drop percentage than Oakland’s 4.9.
Connor Cook completed 18 of 45 passes versus Houston but six of those pass attempts were dropped. Jack Del Rio even acknowledges this as an area of concern following Saturday’s game:
“There have been a few drops,” Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio said after the game, per Raiders.com. “Obviously, a lot goes into that, and we’ll make sure we take a good look at it and make sure that we’re working on cleaning that up. We want to be friendly for the quarterback and catch as many of those balls as we can. We had a few too many drops.”
Six completions doesn’t sound like much but after rewatching the game only a drop by wide receiver Johnny Horton could be deemed a bad throw by Cook. The rest were well-placed in the receivers’ hands but they failed to make the catch. The offenders were Seth Roberts, Michael Crabtree, DeAndre Washington, Mychal Rivera and Amari Cooper.
For his part, Connor Cook could have thrown the ball better himself and he shouldered the blame for that following the Texan game.
The reason for the drops might have been just a bunch of receivers trying too hard to help out a rookie quarterback but it was a problem all season. Michael Crabtree led the league in drops (14) during the regular season and two of those came in the season finale against Denver with Cook as the quarterback. This issue has been a problem for Oakland all year and like the defense it is something that the coaching staff needs to address.
Connor Cook was an inexperienced rookie quarterback, put into a desperate situation with the loss of the team’s best tackle, with a near failing defense and receivers who routinely drop passes. That recipe led to the Raiders going home after a one and done playoff appearance.
Cook was a true warrior though and he deserves not only the credit for doing the best he could but he showed enough to warrant another look from the coaching staff. It would be wise for the team to sign a veteran backup, once they resign Carr and Mack to long-term deals but if they don’t the team can still consider Cook as their second-stringer. More seasoning for Cook in the offseason, training camp and preseason should provide him and the coaching staff to see what they have in this former Michigan State standout.
Connor is the winningest quarterback in Michigan State history, Cook went 34-5 in his three years as a starter, and was named the 2015 Big Ten Quarterback of the Year. He is one of the few college quarterbacks to beat Urban Meyer and The Ohio State University. At 6’4, 217 pounds he possesses the perfect build and he proved he as the arm strength to make all the throws. Accuracy is a concern but that is the case for any rookie.
Cook’s performances weren’t perfect by a long shot, but he looked comfortable enough moving the offense, and he is a definite upgrade over Matt McGloin.