The Oakland Raiders finished the first half of the season with a 1-7 record. Here’s a look at how they have fared and what’s ahead:
First-half rewind: The Raiders are in deconstruction mode after attempting to put together a competitive roster of older veterans and untested newbies in the offseason. Trading away Khalil Mack on Sept. 1 showed returning coach Jon Gruden was tired of waiting for the All-Pro edge rusher to end his holdout and was the first sign that the Raiders were not in it to win a Super Bowl this season. Not with the two first-round picks acquired from the Bears not showing up until the next two years. The trade of Pro Bowl receiver Amari Cooper, as inconsistent as he has been, was the tell-tale sign. Oakland led at halftime in each of its first three games and won its fourth game, but consecutive blowout losses to the Chargers and Seahawks and an embarrassing defeat at the regional rival 49ers changed the focus to next season. Grade: Bring on 2019
What is the biggest hole to fill?: Hey, Gruden said it himself -- elite pass-rushers are hard to find. Yes, he said it after Mack was traded but he wasn’t lying. Through Week 9, the Raiders have an NFL-low seven sacks. Or, 24 fewer than the league-leading Minnesota Vikings. In fact, 10 individual players had more than seven sacks. Paging Nick Bosa, Montez Sweat, Jalen Jelks and Co.
MVP: The most important position in team sports is quarterback, especially when it comes to a Gruden-coached team. Wait, what? Isn't Derek Carr foundering in Gruden’s offense, his fourth different system in five years? Yes and no. Because while he has looked uncomfortable in his own skin and exhibited happy feet and become a type of Captain Checkdown this season, he was completing a career-high 72.1 percent of his passes through Week 9 and was on pace to pass for a career-best 4,400 passing yards for the first time in his career. The longer he is in Gruden’s system, the better he will become in it and with the trade deadline having come and gone, knowing he will remain in Oakland -- for at least this year -- will also provide comfort. So long as the beat-up offensive line holds up.
Biggest surprise: Yeah, they remade the defense in totality, drafting two pass-rushing tackles and an edge rusher, starting from scratch with the linebacker corps and re-imagining the secondary. But did anyone see the defense being this bad? "I'm not used to giving up 42 points," defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said after the Raiders fell to the Indianapolis Colts, 42-28, three weeks after Oakland beat the Cleveland Browns, 45-42, in overtime. "This is new to me." The Raiders were last against the run through Week 9, allowing teams to gain 144.5 yards per game on the ground and the 31.5 points they were giving up per game was the second-highest average in the league. The topper? The Day of the Dead Debacle at the 49ers, when the defense made UDFA QB Nick Mullens look like Joe Montana.
Hurdle to overcome: Avoiding going winless the rest of the way while trying to find the balance between needing to be entertaining and competitive and, well, still getting something like a top-five pick. Sure, the Raiders also have two other first-rounders, those belonging to the Bears and Cowboys, and would have enough capital to control the first round, if not the entire draft. But they need to hit on all those picks. Because remember, as Gruden himself said, the Raiders are not “tanking” this season, even if cynics say that might be the smart play for the future.