Once the head writer for Raiders blog Thoughts From The Darkside, Asher is now just a very involved fan. If you are interested in more of his thoughts, you can follow him on Twitter: @AsherMathews.
Q: The Raiders obviously struggled to protect quarterback Derek Carr in 2018. They went out and paid Trent Brown record-setting money, signed bad boy Richie Incognito, etc. Do you think the Raiders did enough to solidify the offensive line going into 2019?
A: I like what the Raiders have done on the offensive line this year. Having Trent Brown at right tackle is literally and figuratively huge - the right tackle spot has been filled by underwhelming players for years so it’s nice to have an elite talent there. The last right tackle I remember feeling comfortable with was Austin Howard, who played for the Raiders from 2014-2016, and he wasn’t elite - he was average. By all accounts, Trent Brown has looked better than writers thought he would and will be worth every penny if he can solidify the right side of the Raiders offensive line.
I’m less sold on Richie Incognito, but there are reasons for optimism. Too often, we all fall into the trap of recency bias - thinking that the most recent example is the way something is and will continue to be. Incognito has come into camp as a model citizen but of course that’s what would happen. He’s going to want to put his best foot forward and will be on his best behavior at the beginning of the relationship. What will happen if the team starts losing and he starts feeling the pain of the NFL regular season beating up his body and mind again? Will he be the guy who has Pro Bowl talent? Or will he be the guy who starts lashing out at people around him? I’m still nervous about putting too many eggs in that basket.
Outside of the additions, there are question marks at left tackle and right guard, too. Gabe Jackson’s injury is obviously worrisome, but the team does have some options at guard and they should be able to manage until Gabe is back. If there were an injury to either starting tackle, God forbid, that would be much more devastating.
It’s funny to say that an injury at tackle would be terrible because I’m not sold on Kolton Miller at tackle (yet), but the players behind him are substantially worse. I am interested to see how Kolton fares in his second year after bulking up in the offseason. He was better than I feared in year one but really struggled against the bull rush. With extra weight and muscle, I think he may be better in that area and if he hasn’t had to sacrifice his movement ability, he could be above average. I don’t see him likely to be elite at this point, and I doubt he ever hits that level of play, but even above average would be welcomed.
Q: Speaking of sacks, let’s flip this one around. After trading Khalil Mack, the silver and black only brought down the opposing QB 13 times last year. Do you still consider that a major problem area for the defense going into the regular season?
A: Pressure on the quarterback is likely still the single biggest Achilles heal for this team. They have to be better than 13 sacks’ worth and I’m sure they will be. But the median number of sacks across the league last year was 39 and there’s a big difference between 13 and 39 - and that’s only getting to average. Is the team defensive line good enough to get 26 additional sacks in 2019? Yes, I think so. I’m not counting on it, but I think it’s possible.
Arden Key looks likely to be the team’s sack leader, especially since that’s the role the team is saving him for, dedicating him to rushing the passer. Let’s say he gets 8 sacks. I could see Ferrell adding another 6 or so. He hasn’t shown any explosive pass moves that I’ve seen, but he’ll play a lot of downs and will get sacks just through size and effort. Mo Hurst, who led the team in sacks in 2019 with 4, will get another 5 or so in 2019, Between those 3 players, that’s 19 projected sacks. If the rest of the defense gets 12-15, we’re talking 31-34 sacks on the season, which will still be in the bottom half of the league (but not dead last). That’s about what I see from the team in ’19.
Q: It’s a big year for Karl Joseph. Do you see him rising to the occasion and having a breakout year?
A: I’m a Karl Joseph fan. I think he’s been underutilized for the most part and, although he isn’t ever going to be good at covering tight ends, I think he can be an impact player. I do see him having a breakout season of sorts, yes. The team keeps trying to replace him and he keeps showing them he’s a starter in this league. Last year’s competition, Erik Harris, is no lock to make the team. Reportedly, the team is high on Curtis Riley this year but I haven’t seen anything pop from him in preseason, where he has been playing.
Although Joseph and Abram are similar players, known for their hard hitting styles instead of being rangy, ball-hawking safeties, I think they can still pair together to be a formidable duo and I do think they will be the starting tandem for the season. I do expect much tighter coverage at safety this season than in previous years when the back end of the defense was a sieve.
Q: What are your expectations for running back Josh Jacobs in his rookie campaign?
A: My expectations are high. He looked great in college and there’s not been anything in his short time in the league that gives me pause. No offense to the great Marshawn Lynch, but Josh Jacobs looks likely to be an upgrade. Lynch was a tone setter and he had some burst left the last couple of years even after all the wear and tear in Seattle. Jacobs comes in with very little wear on his body after splitting carries at Alabama. He’s fast, elusive and has good vision. He didn’t time the best in the 40-yard dash, clocking in above 4.6 seconds (for comparison, Darren McFadden was a 4.33) but the Raiders don’t need him to hit home runs all the time - they need him to consistently move the chains with his legs and his hands. I’m excited to watch him!
What does that mean in terms of numbers? I’ll SWAG (Scientific Wild-Ass Guess) it at:
210 carries for 1000 yards and 8 TDs rushing
50 catches for 350 yards and another 2 TDs
Q: Explain what you think needs to happen in order for the Raiders to be a legitimate playoff contender this season…
A: Full disclosure, I think it’s very unlikely that the Raiders make it to the playoffs. Obviously, being a playoff contender is a lower bar, but even that is a stretch for this team - especially for what appears to be an absolutely brutal schedule, full of travel with little rest, against teams that were good a year ago (many were in the 2018 playoffs).
While the team is better in many areas, there are many places on the roster where they aren’t deep. What will they do when their DEs get nicked up over the season? Or their tackles? Or their linebackers? Even at full strength, those three positions still have question marks.
They also play in a tough division where the Chiefs and Chargers dominated a year ago (both at 12-4) and neither looks likely to regress much.
Additionally, this West Coast team has to play at least 7 games starting at 10am PT, which is hard on the athletes. Five of those 10am starts come in back to back weeks (excluding the bye) and all on the road (although technically London is a “home game”). I’m not usually one to complain about the schedule too much but this one is going to be tough to overcome. Put it together and what have you got? Bippidy-Boppety-Playoff-Longshots.
So to answer your question of what needs to happen?
- Win at least 10 games - 10 games is what Indianapolis won last year to clinch the 6th spot in the AFC.
- Derek Carr regains his 2016 mojo - the team goes as far as the offense, and specifically Carr, takes them.
- Get at least 38 team sacks - most of the teams in 2018 playoffs had more than 40 (although the Pats somehow made it with only 30…).
- Antonio Brown gets another 1300 yard season, or at least close.
- Achieve a positive turnover differential. Last year OAK’s ratio was -7 and they have to turn that around.
The top bullet point is the most important and I don’t think the Raiders get there this year. I’m officially locked in on a 7-9 record, although I surely hope they win more. I do think the offense, particularly, will look much better this year and I’m excited to see them make the playoffs in 2020 with another strong draft under their belt.
(Featured Image: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY)