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Raiders look to clean up inconsistencies to make playoff run

Quarterback Derek Carr congratulates cornerback Trayvon Mullen after the Raiders defense made a stop against the Browns.
Quarterback Derek Carr congratulates cornerback Trayvon Mullen after the Raiders defense made a stop against the Browns on Sunday in Cleveland.
(Kirk Irwin / Associated Press)

An offseason of transition for the Las Vegas Raiders is translating to an up-and-down season on the field.

Moving to a new market, a COVID-19 scare, a 25-point blowout loss and an upset of the defending Super Bowl champions all happened before the end of October. The Raiders are 4-3, within striking distance of the AFC’s final playoff slot.

Now, as the NFL season reaches its midpoint, the Raiders are hoping to clean up their inconsistencies and fight for the conference’s final wild-card spot.

What’s working

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Quarterback Derek Carr has made the Pro Bowl three times in his six seasons as the starter, but has only led the team to one winning season. In March, the Raiders signed quarterback Marcus Mariota to a two-year, $17.6-million deal to back up Carr, putting pressure on the former second-round pick to respond.

So far, Carr has.

Only two of his passes have been intercepted and he ranks 11th in the league in passing touchdowns with 14. Though his touchdowns and 1,838 passing yards aren’t necessarily elite, Carr is playing at a high enough level to keep the team competitive.

The San Francisco 49ers, who are scheduled to play Green Bay on Thursday, have shut down their facility following a positive coronavirus test.

The Raiders shocked the NFL when they handed the Kansas City Chiefs (7-1) their only loss, a performance during which Carr threw for 347 yards and three touchdowns.

Darren Waller has 373 receiving yards, ranking third among tight ends. His breakout performance came during a Monday night game against the New Orleans Saints when he hauled in 12 receptions for 105 yards and a touchdown.

Second-year running back Josh Jacobs ranks seventh in the league with 552 rushing yards, which is on track to at least come near his rookie-year production of 1,150 yards. This season, he has scored five touchdowns, tied for sixth in the NFL among running backs.

What’s not

Against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-2), the Raiders gave up 369 passing yards and four touchdowns to Tom Brady in a 45-20 loss at home. The team responded the next week by not allowing the Cleveland Browns (5-3) to score a touchdown.

But their meltdown against the Buccaneers highlighted the Raiders’ need to solidify their defense. The unit surrenders an average of 29 points per game, ranked 25th in the league.

The team has yet to find a consistent pass rush since trading outside linebacker Khalil Mack two seasons ago. The Raiders have sacked opposing quarterbacks seven times, which ranks second-to-last in the league. Edge rusher Maxx Crosby, a 2019 fourth-round draft pick, has accounted for four of them. The defense has also only created four turnovers, tied for worst in the league.

What’s next

The Raiders face the Chargers (2-5) on Sunday at SoFi Stadium before facing the AFC West division Denver Broncos (3-4) and Chiefs. They then play the winless New York Jets (0-8), the Indianapolis Colts (5-2) and their stout defense, the inconsistent Atlanta Falcons (2-6), the Chargers again, the up-and-coming Miami Dolphins (4-3) and close the season against the Broncos.

Justin Herbert could help the Chargers become SoFi Stadium’s main attraction. The team has nine weeks to decide if Anthony Lynn is the right coach for the job.

Thanks to the league’s new playoff rules, the Raiders are within striking distance of the AFC’s seventh and final playoff spot. They currently sit just behind the Browns. Cleveland has played inconsistently this season, and will face the Tennessee Titans (5-2), Pittsburgh Steelers (7-0) and Baltimore Ravens (5-2).

It’s perfectly reasonable for Raiders fans to keep their hopes up of watching their team play a game in January.

What about the division

For now, the Raiders are entrenched in second place in the division.

Yes, they beat the Chiefs, but they currently have four wins on their record. The Broncos seem to be their only competition for that second spot. They boast solid offensive weapons in running backs Melvin Gordon and Phillip Lindsay as well as receiver Jerry Jeudy, which could pose problems for the Raiders defense.

The Chargers continually lose close games, and are tough to predict. The Raiders would need to go on a losing spree, along with Los Angeles going on a winning streak, in order for the Chargers to get into the playoff conversation. Their matchup Sunday could be a preview for how the Chargers will respond during the second half of the season.


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