HENDERSON, Nev. (AP) — Through two games — including in the 17-16 victory at Denver a week ago — some disturbing trends have emerged for the Las Vegas Raiders.
They haven't been able to run the ball even with the reigning rushing champion in their backfield. The Raiders haven't developed a consistent vertical passing game, which isn't a shock considering that was a knock on Jimmy Garoppolo when Las Vegas signed him. And the Raiders' ever-struggling defense continues to have problems even with some new faces to buttress one of the NFL's top pass rushers in Maxx Crosby.
Sunday’s 38-10 loss at the Buffalo Bills underscored how much work there is for the Raiders.
The question is whether their problems are fixable, and with 15 games remaining, the Raiders still have time to make their case all is not lost.
“It’s our choice as to how we use this,” coach Josh McDaniels said Monday. “You can either use it as a huge positive and grow and get significantly better and improve or not.”
The lack of a running game is the biggest surprise. Josh Jacobs led the league with 1,653 yards last season, but he held out until just after training camp over a contract dispute.
He said he was rusty after gaining 48 yards on 19 carries against the Broncos, but then had minus-2 yards on nine attempts at Buffalo. It was the first time, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, the reigning NFL rushing leader finished with negative yardage in a game since the 1970 merger.
McDaniels disputed the argument that more of a downfield passing attack could create running lanes for Jacobs, saying the Raiders took their share of deep shots. The numbers back him up. The Raiders rank sixth in the league with 7.7 yards per pass attempt and seventh with 10.7 yards per completion.
But Garoppolo has never been known for possessing the strongest arm, and his inability to beat opponents over the top makes it easier for defenses to be more aggressive. His longest completion this season is 23 yards, and against Buffalo, Garoppolo underthrew speedster Tre Tucker, who had beaten his defender by at least a step but had to slow down for what turned into an incomplete pass.
“There are opportunities that we maybe haven’t converted on,” McDaniels said. “We have plenty of opportunities to do both.”
On defense, the Raiders made some notable changes in the offseason. But even against the Broncos, the Raiders got pushed around.
Denver had just six possessions, but four drives lasted more than five minutes and three went for beyond 50 yards. And then the Bills' offense did seemingly whatever it wanted, finishing with 450 yards.
“When you lose the way we did, I don’t think anybody would stand up there and say they did a great job,” McDaniels said.
The Raiders can almost always count on kicker Daniel Carlson and punter AJ Cole. Carlson, who made a 24-yard field goal, didn't hide when a kickoff returner headed his way and instead brought down Damien Harris. Cole had another strong game with a 49.7-yard average on three punts, with two landing inside the 20-yard line.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
If there is one area that needs the most help, it's the running game. The Raiders are in for a long season if Jacobs can't get going.
LBs Robert Spillane and Divine Deablo. They combined for 24 tackles, and each had a sack. They shined when few others on defense did.
Crosby's supporting cast. The Bills ganged up on Las Vegas' star pass rusher because they knew they didn't have to worry about anyone else getting into the backfield.
McDaniels said WR Davante Adams was fine after he was evaluated for a potential concussion. ... The Raiders were without WR Jakobi Meyers, who has been in the concussion protocol after a hit late in the game at Denver. McDaniels said Meyers was “headed in the right direction.”
23:54 — Las Vegas' average time of possession through the first two games. That includes having the ball for only 19:56 against the Bills.
The Raiders play their home opener in front of a national TV audience Sunday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers. There will be lots of black in the Allegiant Stadium stands, but some of it surely will be accompanied by gold instead of silver, thanks to the Steelers' well-traveled fan base.
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