Here’s a link to my column previewing the Raiders-Vikings game. The full text runs below:
Another test for the Oakland Raiders. The Minnesota Vikings are in town, the 6-2 Vikings who have won four in a row and are tied for first place in the NFC North. Those Minnesota Vikings.
Sure, this is a test for the Raiders. And they should pass — win. They better pass. Get that straight. The Vikings are overrated, have a good defense but a so-so offense. Actually, so-so gives the Vikings too much credit. Their offense ranks 30th out of 32 teams. That’s bottom-feeder material. The best team they beat is the mediocre 4-4 Rams. The Vikings lost to the 49ers, for heaven’s sake. The Raiders should pass this test with an A-plus.
For a long time, the Raiders faced no tests. They flunked before the season even began. Now they are worthy of serious tests week after week, and serious people take them seriously. That’s an amazing turn of events.
But you need to know the context. Last week, the Raiders played furiously and bravely on the road in Pittsburgh. They still lost — 38-35. Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer watched the film of that Steelers game and probably licked his lips. His offense could get well against the Raiders defense. I mean, the Raiders defense played well against the Steelers except when it didn’t. Take a look at these facts.
The Raiders could not stop wide receiver Antonio Brown. Here’s how much they couldn’t stop him. He set Steelers records with 17 catches for 284 yards.
See Zimmer lick his lips.
Steelers running back DeAngelo Williams gained 170 yards on the ground.
See Zimmer lick his lips — and please pass him the Chapstick.
The Steelers gained 597 total yards.
Repeat lip-licking refrain here.
Bear with me, please. I’m not putting down the fast-improving Raiders. I’m pointing out the facts, facts that precede the Minnesota game. Here are more facts. The Raiders tied the Steelers with 1:15 left in the game. But second-banana quarterback Landry Jones led Pittsburgh down the field for the game-winning field goal?
Who in the world is Landry Jones? He’s the backup to Ben Roethlisberger, that’s who. Roethlisberger had to leave the game, so Landry beat the Raiders, completed four of six passes and had a passer rating of 109.7. The Raiders didn’t exactly stop him.
There are reasons. In spite of great improvement, the Raiders need more excellent players. They are excellent-deficient. Their secondary is merely deficient-deficient. D.J. Hayden, a first-round pick, never has played like one. And Charles Woodson is playing very hurt — bum shoulder. In close-up camera shots, you can see him grimacing. The Raiders secondary needs to prove it’s adequate for a team aiming for the playoffs. Because, really, with the Raiders we are asking: Are they a playoff contender this season, in 2015, right now? Or not?
The Raiders offense strikes fast, is a pleasure to watch, is ranked eighth in the league. The Raiders offense has a great young quarterback. Derek Carr.
Consider Carr. Because he has progressed a million miles, the Raiders offense features more vertical concepts in the passing game. That’s coach-speak for they throw long passes. That means the Raiders are going back to their roots — just heave the damn ball down the field.
But Carr, a skillful technician, distributes the ball well to all his receivers — not just the phenomenal rookie Amari Cooper. Carr throws nifty stuff to Michael Crabtree and Marcel Reece on short routes and medium routes. He’s not afraid to check down at the line of scrimmage. He rarely forces passes to bad places. He has presence and command at the line of scrimmage, way more than you expect from a second-year guy.
And he is so much better than Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, whose passes are floaters, who doesn’t have half of Carr’s arm. Fascinating factoid: The Vikings could have drafted Carr, but took Bridgewater instead. Bet they’d like to call a do-over.
Carr is one key ingredient which allows the Raiders to qualify for important tests. In a quarterback-driven league, he already is at the playoff level. Meaning, with the right players around him, he could bring a team to the postseason. Not saying he’s the next Peyton Manning — who knows? — but already he’s better than Nick Foles or Sam Bradford.
He has what coaches call “a nice short stroke.” That means he releases the ball quickly and efficiently — has a compact delivery, no long windup.
He has touch. He already can adjust the trajectory on short and medium passes unlike, say, Colin Kaepernick, who can’t. Kaepernick’s ball keeps sailing. On long passes, Carr makes the nose of the ball come down vertically into the receiver’s hands. That is a tremendous asset. As opposed to making a wide receiver strain to catch a ball accelerating away from him.
The Carr-led Raiders offense should be enough for the Raiders to beat the Vikings. And the Raiders need to win. At home. Need to avoid a two-game losing streak. This is the real test. Do what you’re supposed to do. Beat the team you’re supposed to beat. Just pass the test.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at firstname.lastname@example.org.