2021 Las Vegas Raiders Preview

by Wayne Root

For the 2021 season to be a success, the Raiders MUST:
 Make the playoffs. Is their HEAT on Jon Gruden??
 There was a lot of praise heaped on the Raiders for nearly pulling off the season sweep of the Chiefs last year. But the time for moral victories is over. The Raiders need to reach the postseason. Gruden is one of 14 coaches to coach the same franchise since 2018 -- and he's the only one of those coaches to not make the playoffs in that span. He -- along with the 49ers' Kyle Shanahan -- are the only two to be below .500. Las Vegas has to be playing into mid-January.
 What happens if Gruden doesn’t make the playoffs?  He’s halfway thru his $100M contract and Marc Davis loves him. Can’t possibly get fired!!
 The Raiders could start out behind the eight ball. Las Vegas has the second-toughest schedule in the first four games of the season -- because the Dolphins (in Week 3) and Chargers (in Week 4) are also challenging games.
 Gruden has Josh Jacobs. Dude is the first player in club history to have 2,000 rushing yards in his first two seasons. Is he the answer?
 The Raiders have allowed just 57 sacks since 2019, which is tied for sixth-fewest in the NFL. But they traded parts of their offensive line away. How will that affect them?
 Can Henry Ruggs -- the first of six receivers selected in the first round in 2020 -- step up in Year 2? Ruggs did have four receptions of more than 40 yards. Will they finally GO DEEP? Or stay conservative?
 Last year, some Raiders fans hoped the team was going to make a move for Tom Brady. This year, some of them are pining for Aaron Rodgers. 
 Does this start to take a toll on Derek? What if the start out 1-3?
 What all the Derek Carr doubters seem to miss is that he had one of the best statistical seasons of his NFL life in 2020, with a career-high 101.4 passer rating. His passing-yards-per-attempt mark (7.9) also matched a personal professional best. And he's one of three quarterbacks with 4,000 passing yards and a passer rating over 100 in both 2019 and 2020 -- the other two were Patrick Mahomes and Russell Wilson. Why doesn’t Raiders Nation bow down to him? It’s as if he can’t win them over. 

 This is a must. Offense will live to see another day if they have one thing. 
 In the three seasons since the start of the Gruden Era, Part II, the Raiders have posted the NFL's worst scoring defense, ranking in the bottom three in passing touchdowns and rushing touchdowns allowed over that span. They are last in sacks. Last in third-down percentage. The defense also doesn't create turnovers. It's pretty bad. DC Bradley is going to be charged with rebuilding this thing. Some might want to just knock the whole thing over and rebuild from scratch -- like they did when they knocked down the Las Vegas Club and built Circa.
 The Raiders' defense has not been kind to Derek Carr. Here is how the Raiders' defenses have ranked in scoring during the years since Carr was drafted in 2014:
 2014: Last
 2015: 22nd
 2016: 20th
 2017: 20th
 2018: Last
 2019: 24th
 2020: 30th
 Get help from the rebuilt pass defense? Bradley is great at working with secondaries. I mean, he was the Lex Luthor of the famed Legion of Boom -- which is perfect casting, like way better than Jesse Eisenberg (no disrespect). The key will be getting the most out of Damon Arnette and Trayvon Mullen. Arnette was a first-round pick last year, but he's likely to be feeling a little heat from offseason free-agent signee Casey Hayward.
 Hayward played for Bradley with the Chargers and would offer a bit more consistency than the Raiders have had in recent years.
 The current Raiders depth chart in the secondary is filled with first- and second-round picks from the last three years. You have Mullen (second in 2019), Johnathan Abram (first in 2019), Arnette (first in 2020) and safety Trevon Moehrig, a second-round pick in 2021. This is a good place to note the team used five of its seven picks in 2021 on defensive players. 
 Note: Even if the defense starts to come around, they still play KC and San Diego twice. And if Denver get the QB clicking, how will the Raiders ever make the playoffs???

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