AFC West: Oakland Raiders

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Is a reunion at the Big House going to get in the way of the Oakland Raiders' big plans?

ESPN's Adam Schefter is reporting that Michigan is making a push for San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, who played quarterback at the school. Harbaugh is not expected back with the 49ers and is expected to be the target of the Oakland Raiders after the season.

Schefter reported Harbaugh is “considering” the Michigan job. There are reports that the school is offering Harbaugh a six-year, $49 million deal.

Here are some thoughts on how it affects the Raiders:

It’s not over yet: This is high speculation season. Lots of rumors are floated. The key is leverage. Harbaugh has plenty of it and it's being played. Let’s see what happens.

Raiders can match that deal: If Mark Davis really wants Harbaugh, he knows he has to pay big. I believe he’s prepared. So, if Harbaugh is patient, more cash could be had in the Bay Area and in the NFL.

What if Harbaugh goes to Michigan? Well, the Raiders will be bummed. Gruden is staying at ESPN. Harbaugh was the big fish. If not, the Raiders will have to lower their expectations. There will still be plenty of good candidates. But no Harbaughs left.

Raiders pleased with progress of Khalil Mack

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
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ESPN Raiders reporter Bill Williamson talks about first-round pick Khalil Mack coming into his own entering the Bills game.

QB Snapshot: Derek Carr

December, 16, 2014
Dec 16
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A quick observation of quarterback Derek Carr and how he played in the Raiders' 31-13 loss in Week 15:

Carr
Earlier in the season, there were a lot of questions about how Oakland Raiders rookie Derek Carr would endure a rough season.

With two games remaining in a miserable season for the 2-12 Raiders, there is little question how the second-round pick from Fresno State is doing.

Carr is one tough customer. While the Raiders have been thrashed on a regular basis, Carr has withstood the storm. Sunday's lopsided loss at Kansas City was a perfect example of Carr's tireless play.

He suffered what appeared to be a significant ankle injury in the second quarter and was hobbling badly. But Carr finished the drive, bounced back and didn't miss a snap for the rest of the game. He ended up throwing 56 passes in the loss.

Carr fights to the end. He will continue to do so through the rest of his rough rookie season, and he and the Raiders will end up being better for it in the future.
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For the second time in three weeks against the Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr engineered a last-minute touchdown drive.

Unfortunately for the Raiders, this scene was reminiscent of so many other Oakland games this season and not the first game against Kansas City. The Raiders were scoring in the final minute of a game Sunday that was completely out of reach. It was the sixth time the Raiders scored a garbage time touchdown.

It’s the story of their season -- production when it doesn’t count. The result was Oakland is headed back home Sunday evening knowing it failed to do what it set out to do in Week 15. The Raiders failed to find any consistency in their 31-13 loss at Kansas City. Oakland couldn’t build on a victory for the second time this season.

The Raiders followed up their win over Kansas City with a ridiculous 52-0 loss at St. Louis. Now, they produced this stinker (Kansas City ran away from Oakland in the third quarter). The 2-12 Raiders have been outscored by a combined 83-13 in games following victories. Oakland is now 0-7 on the road this season.

Interim coach Tony Sparano, who almost certainly will not be retained, has been very vocal about how competitive his team has been in the past couple of months. There have been times where the Raiders have shown improvement. But when it was time to truly make strides and show they are ready to finish the season strong, this team has been unable to answer the call.

The reason? It’s not difficult to figure. The Raiders are just aren’t a very good team. They play hard. They don’t quit. But they just don’t have enough overall talent to compile victories on a regular basis. They have ridden emotion to victory a couple of times this season and I could see Oakland -- in what potentially may be the team’s final game in Oakland with a potential move to Los Angeles looming -- finding a way to beat Buffalo in Week 16. But the bottom line is the Raiders are not good enough to compete on a regular basis.

The Chiefs, who are average at best, handled Oakland in every phase of the game Sunday. Kansas City, which was flat and lackluster in its Thursday night loss in Oakland last month, was determined to overpower Oakland on Sunday. They exploited Oakland's defense in the passing game, they harassed Carr on defense and they scored on a punt return against the 26th ranked coverage unit in the NFL.

As important as it was for the entire Raiders team to show up, it was vital for Carr to show consistency. He was terrific against the 49ers last week. He was clutch on third down and threw three touchdown passes. Carr, who struggled for several weeks in the middle of the season, wasn’t overly effective Sunday.

Carr launched 56 passes, completing 27 for 222 yards. Much of his yardage came at the end of each half. Oakland could not build any momentum on offense. Of course, the loss was not all on Carr. It was a team loss.

Change is coming in Oakland and this flat performance was another example of why it is needed.

Rapid Reaction: Oakland Raiders

December, 14, 2014
Dec 14
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A few thoughts on the Oakland Raiders' 31-13 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs:

What it means: The Raiders fell flat after a victory for the second time this season. After beating Kansas City on Nov. 20, the Raiders answered with a 52-0 loss at St. Louis. Last week, the Raiders enjoyed their season highlight -- a convincing win over Bay Area rivals San Francisco. The focus going into this game was consistency. Oakland couldn’t do it, though, and the host Chiefs pulled away in the third quarter. The Raiders are now 0-7 on the road and 2-12 overall. The best the Raiders can finish is 4-12, matching the first two miserable seasons of the Reggie McKenzie era. This poor performance is likely another indication that interim coach Tony Sparano will not be kept. The Raiders fell to 2-8 under him.

Stock watch: Offense is pointing down. The Raiders' offense was timely and sharp in the win over the 49ers, but on Sunday, it was meager and ineffective. This has been the case for much of the season. Rookie quarterback Derek Carr, who was so good last week, was under siege and rendered ineffective.

Coverage unit breakdown: The Raiders' coverage units have been porous all season. Oakland entered the game ranked 31st in kick coverage and 26th in punt coverage. Kansas City scored the first touchdown of the game on an 81-yard punt return by De'Anthony Thomas.

Game ball: Sebastian Janikowski. He had field goals of 53 and 33 yards to keep the Raiders in the game early. Janikowski has quietly had a solid season. He has made 15 of 17 field goal attempts. He missed nine field goals last season.

What's next: The Raiders host Buffalo in their last home game of the season and potentially their final game in Oakland. The Raiders, who have been heavily rumored to be a candidate to move to Los Angeles, do not have a lease to play in Oakland next season.
One of the areas the Oakland Raiders have been weakest this season has been with their coverage units.

Oakland is allowing a whopping 31.7 yards per kick return this season -- 31st in the NFL. Oakland is allowing 10 yards per punt return, which is 26th in the league. Kansas City, where the Raiders play this Sunday, has an excellent return game.

Oakland interim coach Tony Sparano said he knows it will be critical for Oakland to get better in the coverage game.

“On paper, right now it’s a major, it’s a big advantage to Kansas City and we’re aware of that,” Sparano said. “So, they have their return units are all ranked, I think, in every category in the top 5, but top 10 for sure. I would say top 5 in several. We’re aware of that, our team is aware of that and we’re trying to make and take the appropriate steps here as we go forward. … We need to do a better job in the coverage units, and I have challenged that group this week.”
As he was playing the best game of his rookie season in a win over Bay Area rival San Francisco, Derek Carr took the next step as a field general.

Carr
Carr was excellent in every facet of the game as he was dominant on third down and threw three touchdown passes. But what stood out was the way he dictated the action and worked with his receivers as the plays developed.

That was not the work of a typical rookie.

"I think it's a little bit being ahead of the curve," Oakland interim coach Tony Sparano said. "Sometimes, when you do that you've got to know what's happening on the back end because all of a sudden you can get robbed. You're there, you're there, you're redirecting traffic and you're throwing the ball -- you think he's open, but all of a sudden something comes from your blind spot. I think that he has a pretty good feel for it right now. He's starting to develop a better feel for it and kind of how to play catch that way with some of his different receivers right now."

Carr attributes his success with his receivers as a growing comfort level.

"I think that just comes with us just playing with each other, too, comes with knowing the routes, knowing route concepts, not pointing him into another route, those kind of things, all those kind of things," Carr said. "We're all just growing. It was good to see us do it, finally, in a game. We actually had a few times instances where that happened at practice today. It's good."

Raiders vs. Chiefs preview

December, 11, 2014
Dec 11
8:00
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When: 1 p.m. ET Sunday Where: Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City TV: CBS

The Oakland Raiders were winless and the Kansas City Chiefs tied for first place in the AFC West when the teams played each other Nov. 20 in Oakland. But the fortunes have turned for each team since the Raiders beat the Chiefs 24-20.

The 2-11 Raiders, who were 0-10 before beating the Chiefs, also won last week in beating the 49ers at home 24-13. In between, though, the Raiders were hammered by the Rams in St. Louis 52-0.

The loss in Oakland started what is now a three-game losing streak for the 7-6 Chiefs. They could still make the playoffs as a wild-card entrant by winning their final three games.

The Chiefs and Raiders play again Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium. ESPN Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher and Raiders reporter Bill Williamson preview the game.

Teicher: The Raiders have won two of their past three, both at home. In between was that ugly mess in St. Louis. Are they ready to take that next step here and win on the road?

Williamson: That’s the big question. Look, this season is never going to be remembered as a positive one in Oakland. The Raiders won a total of eight games the past two years, and they expected to be much better this season after a bunch of changes. Yet the losing has continued. Still, the Raiders can finish on a high note with a couple more wins to make the offseason easier to approach. But Oakland has to find a consistency. Coaches and players were really disappointed about the way they flopped after the win over the Chiefs. Now, Oakland wants to build on the big win over the 49ers with a season sweep of the Chiefs. Staying consistent is the focus of the team.

Do you think the Chiefs are a lot more nervous about the Raiders this time around?

Teicher: They should be. The result of the game Nov. 20 in Oakland didn’t look like a fluke to me. The Raiders outgained the Chiefs, and who knows what running back Latavius Murray would have accomplished had he not left the game early because of a concussion. He might have gained 1,000 yards. He’s a big concern for a defense that’s allowed a 100-yard rusher in each of the past four games. The Chiefs also need to do something to rattle rookie quarterback Derek Carr. They did nothing to get him out of his comfort zone the first time around.

Murray looked like the real deal against the Chiefs a few weeks ago, before he left the game. Have the Raiders finally given up on Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew? How will Murray fare as the full-time featured back?

Williamson: The job appears to be Murray’s for the rest of the season. He had 23 carries for 76 yards against the 49ers. McFadden and Jones-Drew have been disappointments this season. It is likely neither will be back next year. Thus, Murray will get the chance in the final three games to show Oakland it doesn’t have to worry about finding a lead back. Murray is an interesting player. After missing his rookie year last season with an injury, the former sixth-round draft pick started very slowly. But he has played well in the past three weeks, highlighted by his 90-yard touchdown run against the Chiefs on Nov. 20. The Chiefs will clearly be keying on Murray in this game. It will be fascinating to see who wins this battle.

What should we expect from the Chiefs' ground attack this week?

Teicher: I would expect a heavy dose of Jamaal Charles, if he’s up to it physically. He began the week with a swollen knee and a sprained ankle, so we’ll see. He was strong enough last week to rush for 91 yards on 10 carries and score both the Chiefs’ touchdowns. Knile Davis, his backup, has become just a bit player now. He hasn’t had more than five carries in a game since October. One thing interesting about the Raiders is historically they’ve done a better job than most opponents against Charles as a runner, at least. Charles did have a nice game against Oakland the previous time; he rushed for 80 yards and caught four passes for 42 yards and a touchdown.

It must have been an interesting scene in Oakland last week, with Jim Harbaugh coaching against the Raiders. What are the chances he’s coaching in Oakland next year? What do the Raiders do if they can’t get Harbaugh? Any chance they’ll stay with their interim head coach, Tony Sparano?

Williamson: Adam, there is certainly smoke about Harbaugh crossing the Bay. Some issues would have to be worked out, but it is certainly on the table. Harbaugh is going to be a target of Oakland owner Mark Davis. I think the odds of it happening are better now than they were earlier in the season, partly because I think Harbaugh is quietly intrigued by the Silver and Black. If the Raiders strike out on Harbaugh, they will likely look at more affordable options. That’s where Sparano could come in. Players like him, and he could be a candidate, but it likely won’t be in the first wave.

Andy Reid seems to have a strong program built. Do you think the Chiefs are set up nicely for the future?

Teicher: I think they have too many good players and are too well-coached to just drop back into a dark period, like the one they emerged from after they hired Reid. But the fact is the Chiefs have, at best, the third-best quarterback in the AFC West, and that’s going to hurt them as they try to compete with the Broncos, Chargers and Raiders -- much less try to get to a Super Bowl. Smith is efficient, and the Chiefs can win some games with him as their quarterback. But he’s not going to saddle them on his back and carry them like Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers are capable of doing. The Chiefs need to surround him with better players if they’re going to compete for titles, division or otherwise.
The Oakland Raiders faced a potential head coaching target last Sunday. They might face another at the end of the season.

Robinson
Del Rio
There is no doubt that San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh will attract the interest of Oakland owner Mark Davis in the offseason if he's released from his contract. Harbaugh will likely be the top target of the Raiders, especially with former Raiders coach Jon Gruden unlikely to make himself a candidate.

However, if the Raiders don’t land Harbaugh, another coach who could become a top candidate is Jack Del Rio. The current defensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos was the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars from 2003-11.

There’s a lot of reasons to connect the dots and believe Del Rio could create interest inside the Oakland organization.

He has experience, he is doing well in his current job, he is from the East Bay Area and he is highly respected around the league.

The search will not crank up until after the Raiders conclude their season at Denver on Dec. 28. But when it starts, don’t be surprised if you hear a lot about Del Rio.
One of the more prestigious yearly honors for NFL players is given by the USA Football All-Fundamentals Team.

Mack
It didn’t take Khalil Mack long to get noticed by the impressive five-person committee. Mack, an Oakland Raiders' outside linebacker, was named Wednesday to the committee’s All-Fundamental team. Mack, the No. 5 overall pick in the May draft, was the only rookie selected to the team.

Mack has been impressive all season. He has been a complete player and scouts, opposing coaches and players have raved about his approach. Thus, this honor is no surprise.

The committee consists of former general managers Bill Polian and Carr Peterson; former head coach Herm Edwards and former players Merril Hoge and Charles Davis. Hoge had high praise for Mack in November.

Can Raiders win back-to-back?

December, 10, 2014
Dec 10
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ESPN Raiders reporter Bill Williamson says the team is focused on beating the Chiefs and winning back-to-back games for the first time this season.

QB snapshot: Derek Carr

December, 9, 2014
Dec 9
1:00
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A quick observation of quarterback Derek Carr and how he played in the Oakland Raiders' 24-13 win over San Francisco in Week 14.

Carr
Derek Carr was able to move the sticks against the 49ers, and that helped him have his best game of the season in the highlight of the year for the 2-11 Raiders.

Carr has struggled on third down for much of this season and often targeted players before they reached the third-down marker. Carr would complete many of those passes, but the receiver would be tackled before getting the first down.

Carr was much more efficient on third down against the 49ers. In fact, he was dynamic. The rookie second-round pick completed 9-of-10 pass attempts for 98 yards, and all three of his touchdown passes came on third down.

It was a sign of real progress by the rookie, who had his worst NFL game in Week 13, a 52-0 loss at St. Louis. Carr hasn't been consistent this season, but if he can produce on third down Sunday at Kansas City, it will be an indication of major progress for the youngster in an area that's give him trouble.
There is no denying Tony Sparano has put everything he has into his assignment as the interim head coach of the Oakland Raiders. Will it be enough to convince Oakland owner Mark Davis to make Sparano the permanent coach after the season?

[+] EnlargeTony Sparano
AP Photo/Ben MargotThe Raiders were 0-4 under Dennis Allen and are 2-7 under Tony Sparano.
The odds are against him. The Raiders will likely go outside of the organization for the next coach. But Sparano, a former head coach with Miami, feels strongly about the way he has handled the job and, most importantly, how the team has responded to him since he took over for the fired Dennis Allen.

The Raiders were 0-4 under Allen and are 2-7 under Sparano. The highlight of Oakland's season came Sunday with a convincing, 24-13, home win over Bay Area rival San Francisco. Sparano received a Gatorade bath from his players.

Monday, Sparano, who was the offensive line coach under Allen and who still keeps that role, sidestepped questions about whether he wants to return, correctly saying it isn't his question to answer. But he made his point clear.

"I was given a job to do several weeks ago, trying to do the job the way that I know how to do the job, and I know, I said this after the game yesterday, too, I know where our players are," Sparano said. "I know what they think and I know how they respond. I can tell by their response, so I feel really good about where we are right now. I love this group of guys and I like coaching them and I love this team, so, that's all I'll say to you."

Sparano said the experience of the win over San Francisco was one of his favorite memories in football.

"I don't think I've ever been in a situation like that yesterday. The environment in that place yesterday was unbelievable, it really was. The atmosphere, the environment was so electric in that stadium yesterday. I've never been part of a Super Bowl. I've never been part of one of those things. I've been coaching a long time and not everybody gets a chance to do that. I'm not comparing that game to that, but the electric atmosphere that was in that building yesterday and the energy that was in that building yesterday was just tremendous. I mean, it really was."
Regional bragging rights came with a price for the Oakland Raiders.

The jubilation of a dominant 24-13 win over Bay Area rival San Francisco, for the time being, has some serious draft-pick ramifications for the Raiders. The 2-11 Raiders went from being on pace for the No. 1 pick to dropping to fifth in the draft-pick projections, according to ESPN Stats & information.

There are now five teams tied for the worst NFL record at 2-11. Here is ESPN Stats & Information’s current top five: 1. Tampa Bay, 2. Tennessee, 3. Jacksonville, 4. New York Jets, 5. Raiders. Yes, the Jets beat the Raiders in Week 1, but these projections are based on several multiple tiebreaker scenarios. Of course, everything is fluid with three games remaining.

For a team not going to the playoffs and in the middle of the rebuilding process, dropping four spots in the draft order is tough to swallow. Still, I’m sure the Raiders have zero regrets about winning on Sunday.

Still, the perk of having a top pick is the Raiders could perhaps take advantage of teams looking for a quarterback such as Florida State’s Jameis Winston or and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota. With Derek Carr looking every bit the long-term answer at quarterback, the Raiders could fetch a load in trade from quarterback-hungry team. However, if the Raiders draft out of the top three or four, that possibility fades.

The draft dust will settle in three weeks and the Raiders, who have several needs perhaps starting on the defensive line and at receiver, will surely have a premium pick. And, of course, the sweet memory of knocking off the 49ers.
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As I ease back into work after having eye surgery, here is something that is sticking out to me about the Oakland Raiders: Derek Carr is getting some help.

The rookie quarterback has struggled this season, and he hasn’t had a lot of support. But in recent games that has changed. Of course, keys have been running back Latavius Murray and tight end Mychal Rivera.

The two 2013 sixth-round picks are becoming key parts of the Oakland offense. Both players helped Carr as Oakland beat rival San Francisco, 24-13, on Sunday.

Murray
Rivera
This is good news for Oakland for the remainder of the season, but, truly, it is more important for the future. Oakland is 2-11. This season has been a disaster and that won’t change regardless of what happens in the final three weeks. The Raiders are about the future.

If Murray can be a workhorse running back and Rivera can be a top tight end option, it will expedite Carr’s development. They can be core players for the long haul.

The big, strong, fast Murray has been a revelation in recent weeks. After missing his rookie season, Murray played well in the preseason. But he was not used much in the first half of the season. The Oakland running game floundered with veterans Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew. But Murray has taken over in recent weeks. Murray, who missed a Week 13 52-0 loss at St. Louis, has 231 yards on 31 carries in his last three games. He had 11 yards on six carries in the first nine games of the season.

If the Raiders can enter January feeling strongly about him being their starting running back moving forward, that's one less position of need.

The same thing could be accomplished by Rivera. He had a terrific rookie season with 38 catches in 2013. He was expected to have a big 2014, but he started slowly. He had just 13 catches in the Raiders’ first six games. However, he has become a bigger part of the offense is recent weeks. Rivera, who had seven catches in the win Sunday, has 48 catches this season. He has had at least six catches in four of the past seven games.

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