Link to my Monday Raiders column. Text below:
Here are five notable takeaways from the Raiders season which ended with Sunday’s 30-20 loss to the Packers. Well, their season didn’t officially end. They have two games to play, but they are mathematically eliminated from the postseason and cannot have a winning record. Kind of an ending. Time to reflect.
So, here are five notable takeaways, mostly good but not entirely good.
Derek Carr: Against the Packers, the Raiders made a game of it because they had Carr to compensate for Carr. What in the world does that mean?
It means Carr almost singlehandedly put the Raiders in a hole by throwing an interception which led to a touchdown. Immediately after that, he threw a pick six — take it to the house — which put the Raiders down 14-0 in the first quarter. But then he came back and played a strong game, showed poise and threw two touchdown passes. Because of him the Raiders almost recovered from him.
As I’ve said before, Carr is a good-bad quarterback. Or a bad-good quarterback. He does things that thrill you. He does things that make you want to smack yourself in the head. He appears to be the Raiders’ quarterback of the future. Appears. But he needs to quit making game-killing mistakes. Consider him on probation until further notice.
After the game, coach Jack Del Rio implied Carr gets himself in trouble when he throws with his feet in the wrong position. That sounds highly technical. Think of a pitcher with a faulty motion. Similar thing. “We’ve got a bright future because of guys like him,” Del Rio said.
Amari Cooper: This rookie is simply wonderful, went over 1,000 yards for the season in receiving on Sunday. Cooper has everything. Speed, strength, great hands, the ability to get free, the ability to run gorgeous routes. He is what you call a go-to guy. He is the go-to guy the Raiders absolutely needed and did not have. He will be a superstar. Maybe already is.
The Secondary: An area of concern, although it is improving. The Raiders will miss Charles Woodson at some point and, without him, the secondary is not scary. David Amerson is good — more on him below.
It helps the secondary that the Raiders have outside linebacker Khalil Mack. He takes the pressure off the secondary because he is the dominant defensive player the Raiders desperately needed. He is as important to the defense as Cooper is to the offense. Against Green Bay, he got his 15th sack of the season. The Raiders can and will build around him.
Del Rio: He is a competent head coach. A proven competent head coach. Long time since the Raiders had one of those. He is the first competent head coach since Jon Gruden the Raiders will bring back for a second season. I’m assuming they will bring him back. Hue Jackson was a competent coach but the Raiders let him go after one season.
Jackson was (is?) a loudmouth who made the narrative about him. He ripped his team to reporters after the final game of the 2011 season. A coaching sin. He began the season 7-4, went 1-4 in his last five games and missed the playoffs.
Del Rio is the un-Jackson. He never makes things about him. He never reveals the simplest things about himself. I have no ideas who he is. For all I know, he’s a great chef, or a champion fly fisherman or he knits in his spare time. You got me. He gives the sense of being a military man. A major. A guy who leads sternly and firmly and keeps his personal feelings hidden. At least that’s how he is with the media, probably because he sees no football benefit in cultivating us.
He is no hothead. I don’t think he’s a my-way-or-the-highway kind of guy. After Carr threw the pick six, Del Rio did not go ballistic. He took Carr aside and, in a calm voice, told Carr, “It’s important to stay in the fight.” He didn’t blame. He taught and directed and looked ahead.
Del Rio himself has things to prove. He must do better next season to show he’s an elite coach and not just an above-average loser.
Reggie Mckenzie: The hero of the Raiders enterprise. He inherited a substandard team. A truly horrible team. Slowly and systematically he has improved it, although the Raiders still are a work in progress, to use the current most popular cliché. And that means McKenzie has work to do.
Look at some of his achievements. He got Carr, Mack and Cooper. Nice work. He took running back Latavius Murray with the 181st pick in the 2013 draft. Call that foresight or skill or simply a man who knows his business. Murray is a big, strong, fast back. He is a borderline very good back who could turn into a flat-out very good back. He gives the Raiders a running game. Or the hope of a running game.
Other McKenzie finds. How about cornerback Amerson whom he took off waivers in September and now starts? Sure, that’s an indication the Raiders were hurting at corner. But Amerson has three interceptions and is among the league leaders in passes defensed. The guy can play.
Or wide receiver Seth Roberts. Not Amari Cooper, but a good supporting player who contributes. McKenzie signed him as an undrafted free agent.
Or rookie defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. McKenzie drafted him in the second round and now Edwards is a fixture on the defensive line.
Am I saying the Raiders are set? Of course not. But after wandering in the wilderness — or being consigned to hell — they are entering a leafy glade with a cool breeze. They are going in the right direction, toward the sun, even though their season effectively ended on a dark rainy Sunday in Oakland.
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.