Raiders are developing into an AFC contender
LONDON — Maybe it took a week in England for coach Jon Gruden’s vision for the type of team he wants the Oakland Raiders to become to materialize.
The young players he hoped will form the foundation for the future finally started to deliver and quarterback Derek Carr ran the offense with the efficiency Gruden wants. It added up to a 24-21 victory that gives the Raiders (3-2) a winning record after five games for just the third time since the team went to the Super Bowl following the 2002 season.
“I think we’ve been talking about our young players since they’ve been here, the kind of effort that they provide and the smartness that they play with,” Gruden said. “And these are smart guys that are doing a lot of different things.”
The most notable of the young stars was running back Josh Jacobs, who ran for 123 yards and two TDs against one of the league’s most dominant defensive fronts led by former Raiders star Khalil Mack.
“We’ve been building the run game every week,” second-year left tackle Kolton Miller said. “We really took this challenge personally that Chicago has the best defense in the league, nobody has been able to run the rock on them. But we stepped up to that challenge and we took it.”
Miller did a good job keeping Mack away from Carr, holding him to no sacks and only one quarterback hit and a young defensive front shut down Chicago’s running game and sacked Chase Daniel four times.
Running game. Gruden has built his offense around the running game and it’s paying off now that he has a featured back. Jacobs overcame a mistake that led to a fumble in the third quarter to have his best game yet as a pro. He ran hard all game, breaking tackles and avoiding them and has shown a knack for the end zone with Marcus Allen-style leaps into the end zone. He has 430 yards rushing and four TDs through five games.
What needs help
Wide receivers. With starters Tyrell Williams and J.J. Nelson out with injuries, the Raiders didn’t get much production from their wideouts. The unproven group combined for seven catches for 65 yards and Trevor Davis lost a fumble at the goal line in the fourth quarter. Getting healthy should go a long way to improving that group.
Miller. A rough rookie season had many outsiders questioning Oakland’s decision to draft Miller in the first round as he often got overwhelmed by stronger pass rushers. But he has been much improved in year two, shutting down Denver’s Bradley Chubb in the opener and then neutralizing Khalil Mack against Chicago. He got help from tight ends, backs and quick passes, but Miller fared well when he was left on his own as well.
“He’s a stud,” teammate Richie Incognito said. “He’s playing really well. Any time you shut a guy out like Khalil Mack, that’s something to hang your hat on.”
Punt coverage. The Raiders have little margin for error so allowing big plays on special teams can be especially costly. Chicago’s third-quarter comeback was fueled in part by a 71-yard punt return from Tarik Cohen that set up the go-ahead score.