LAS VEGAS (KLAS) – Midway through last season it looked like the Raiders had a real shot at making the playoffs, then the bottom fell out, but there were some encouraging signs. Here is a column from CBS Sports where writer Jordan Dajani talks about what the Raiders need to do to be contenders in 2020.
(CBS Sports) – The Las Vegas Raiders are entering a new era in a new city with a new stadium. There’s reason to be optimistic for this team heading into 2020, as they have plenty of young talent on both sides of the ball with star potential. While Jon Gruden’s squad finished 7-9 last season, they appeared to be a playoff contender at one point. After reeling off three straight wins, they were sitting at 6-4 and had the NFL world wondering if Josh Jacobs could carry the Raiders to the postseason for the first time since 2016. Unfortunately, the Raiders lost five out of their last six games — including a heartbreaker in their last game in Oakland.
The Raiders may have young talent, but some questions still remain — especially when it comes to the quarterback position. Gruden has said plenty of times this offseason that he’s sold on Derek Carr, and has done quite a lot to try to build around him. But this is the most important position in football, and the Raiders absolutely have to figure out if he’s the one they want under center, or newly acquired free agent Marcus Mariota.
Coming to a conclusion at the quarterback position will be something Gruden needs to address head on if the Raiders want to become a serious contender in 2020, but it’s not the only thing. Let’s take a look at three moves the Raiders can still make that would put them in position to be Super Bowl contenders this upcoming season. Their roster looks pretty good on paper, but there are some things they can do to get the most out of this team.
1. Host a legitimate quarterback battle
I’m not necessarily calling for a change under center, but I am trying to figure out who is my guy for 2020. If Gruden is truly excited to move forward with Carr, then his quarterback should have no problem winning a position battle with Mariota. Take the Chicago Bears for example, they traded for Nick Foles this offseason to put pressure on Mitchell Trubisky. General manager Ryan Pace got straight to the point after this acquisition, saying that they have told both players this will be an “open competition.” Gruden and the Raiders should do the same thing — not hide under the guise of “competition at every position.” Put pressure on your quarterback.
When it comes to Mariota, the former No. 2 overall pick certainly did flame out with the Tennessee Titans. When Ryan Tannehill was given the opportunity to step in, he went 7-3 and helped the Titans get all the way to the AFC Championship Game. But what would have happened if the Titans held an open quarterback competition in the preseason instead of being adamant that Mariota was the future under center? Could the Titans have secured a first-round bye? Could they have been rested enough to defeat the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game? Could they have won the Super Bowl?
Many thought Tannehill had lost his chance as a starter when he was traded to the Titans, but he bounced back in a big way. Maybe Mariota can do the same thing in Vegas. He clearly has talent, and there isn’t a quarterback that Gruden has seen that he doesn’t like. The Raiders’ staff might be able to get the most out of the 26-year-old. At least give him a shot to compete for the right to start.
2. Create a package that allows Lynn Bowden Jr. to be successful
While most fans are excited about what Henry Ruggs III and Bryan Edwards will be able to bring to the Raiders’ offense in 2020, Gruden absolutely has to get the most out of Lynn Bowden Jr. The first team All-American played some quarterback, running back, receiver and even returned both kicks and punts during his time at Kentucky, and was awarded the Paul Hornung award for being the most versatile athlete in college football. Previous winners include stars like Saquon Barkley, Christian McCaffrey and Odell Beckham Jr. Bowden is a player Gruden can have a lot of fun with, and if he uses him correctly, he could take this offense as a whole to another level.
Why do NFL teams run trick plays? It’s not because it looks cool, it’s because they catch defenses off guard. Remember how incredible the Miami Dolphins‘ wildcat package that Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams ran in 2008 was? With it, they took down the New England Patriots — who had won 21 straight regular-season games at the time. Imagine Bowden running that wildcat package — someone who is an electric player that has played both running back and quarterback. While the wildcat would work perfectly, using him in any versatile capacity would work.
3. Get back to the vertical passing game
It wasn’t long ago where the wide receiver position was a weakness on the Raiders’ roster, but that is not a problem anymore. Tyrell Williams, Zay Jones, Hunter Renfrow, Nelson Agholor and then the rookies in Ruggs and Edwards make up a solid group, and Gruden is going to have to put an emphasis on getting the most out of them. Carr did record a career-high 4,054 passing yards and engineered the No. 9 passing offense in the NFL last year, but he did catch some flack for how heavily he relied on checkdown passes and short routes in general. Carr actually responded to this criticism last month.
“I also love when people say that we only throw checkdowns to Jalen Richard,” Carr said, via Vic Tafur of The Athletic “But those are called plays for Jalen Richard. You know? These are plays where we are only running routes to get him the ball. Our yards per attempt and completion are super high and they are only going to get higher and grow higher as we’re adding speed and versatility on our offense. It’s only gonna get better.”
I hope Carr is right, because while Richard is a great receiving back, it would benefit the Raiders to take shots downfield with how well they did in upgrading at wide receiver. The vertical passing game was a staple of old Gruden offenses, and this roster is built to fly downfield. We are in Vegas, so let’s put on a show. Take shots downfield and ditch having checkdowns as primary options.