1: I have to start with Jon Gruden. Were you optimistic about the hire when it happened, and how do you feel about him four weeks into the season?
I was. I didn’t expect instant results, but it was exciting and his passion was refreshing. Most fans felt similarly and it didn’t seem like just fans being gung ho about every change, it seemed like genuine excitement. The first glimmer that things might no be so great was the draft. The moves were weird and reeked of desperation. From getting terrible compensation in a first round trade down with the Cardinals, so they could pass up on the best player available (Derwin James) to take at tackle, to trading a third round pick for a one-year rental of problem child Martavis Bryant (who they later cut for fear he was to be suspended), to reaching again in the second round for small school DT PJ Hall, to inexplicably trading up for small school tackle Brandon Parker in the third. But even then, you had to give benefit of the doubt, being sure to make a note in case it came up again later.
The offseason dragged on with the team not signing Khalil Mack, which didn’t seem to make any logical sense either, but still we were in wait and see mode for the grand plan to be revealed. There wasn’t one. Gruden just didn’t want to pay him what he was asking, which was $22 million before Aaron Donald got his deal, so he traded the best defender in the NFL (along with inexplicably a second round pick) to the Bears. The Raiders could’ve made Mack play on his fifth year option and even put the franchise tag on him after that, but Gruden panicked and made the deal. Suddenly you start to understand the draft moves. Had he been willing to say no and hang up the phone on the Cardinals, they would have probably offered what moving up to get a franchise quarterback was worth. Had he been more patient, he probably could have gotten Brandon Parker without trading up or simply drafted another of several good tackles still on the board.
It comes down to one thing -- he may be a good coach (we don’t know for sure yet), but he is NOT a personnel man. But it doesn’t matter. He was given the keys to the castle with a clear bias toward offense while lacking the kind of patience and experience necessary to negotiate salaries and compensation. Plainly put; has no poker face and that’s very bad.
2: I was watching the draft with baited breath when the Raiders were on the clock and Derwin James still on the board, but the Raiders passed on Derwin in favor of Kolton Miller, a move that’s been widely scrutinised this week. How’s Miller looked so far, and what’s the consensus about that choice?
Miller has looked like the project he is. He has not been a disaster at left tackle, which is promising, but he clearly has a long way to go as a pass protector and especially as a run blocker. There are mixed feelings on it. I had mixed feeling initially as well. On one hand, they had a need at tackle and good ones are often hard to find. Also the Raiders had taken a safety with one of their top two picks in the past two drafts, so they may have been waiting to see if one or both could pan out. On the other hand, when you have a player like Derwin James surprisingly available at your pick, even if your plan was to get a tackle, you may want to be flexible. They wanted Mike McGlinchey but the 49ers took him with the pick before. Does that automatically mean you have to take the next best tackle? No, it doesn’t. I’ve seen fans defend the pick lately by noting that the Raiders have lost both of their projected starting tackles to injury. But that’s suggesting that the Raiders couldn’t have still gotten a tackle in the next round. Heck, with the way Gruden was throwing picks around to move around in the draft, they could have even jumped into the lower part of the first round if they really liked someone. Kolton Miller in particular had low first round grades by some and even lower by others, so it may not have been a Derwin James vs offensive tackle thing. It’s possible they could have had both and maybe even Kolton Miller specifically had things fallen a certain way. But we’ll never know. Now they will face James twice a season and thus far that looks like it’s going to suck for them.
3: Derek Carr’s performances at times have come under question. What’s the deal there?
He has made a lot of great passes and is generally very technically smart as a player. Where he gets in trouble is panicking in the pocket and making poor decisions. Gruden wants him to be more aggressive, so he thinks that means taking more chances. So, Gruden says be less aggressive and it means check downs and missing open receivers. I have said since the beginning that it could take a season for Carr to acclimate to Gruden’s system. That is bearing itself out for the most part. He has put up big numbers, but also leads the league in interceptions (7) which is highly uncharacteristic for him. Once he settles into Gruden’s offense, which could take this season and another offseason, I think he will settle down some.
4: It hasn’t been a great start to the season for the Raiders, I think it’s fair to say. What are the main issues surrounding the team, and do you expect them to improve as the year goes on?
The above Derek Carr stuff on offense, which he seemed to show some signs last week he could be correcting. It’s also an utter lack of talent on defense. They have some depth at cornerback and that’s about it. The defensive line has three rookies, a few street free agents, and Bruce Irvin who is lost without Khalil Mack on the other side. The linebackers are as bad as they seemed like they would be coming in and perhaps worse because Tahir Whitehead was supposed to be the saving grace and he hasn’t been. And the safeties are a complete mess with 35-year-old Reggie Nelson joined by journeyman (and former Charger) Marcus Gilchrist with former special teams player Erik Harris seeing time as well. Karl Joseph wasn’t seeing much playing time before he got injured. They just can’t stop anyone. Every week teams come back on them. They just managed to make a late push to pull out a win against the Browns after they lost two of their top three cornerbacks in the game.
5: Could we get a score prediction for the game?
I’m sure you can. Google is your friend.
Fine, how ‘bout Chargers 31, Raiders 27