Jon Gruden’s third season back as coach of the Raiders looked an awful lot like his second with a strong start, disappointing finish and no playoff appearance once again.
While the Raiders (8-8) did become more potent on offence and ended up winning one more game in their first season in Las Vegas, there still wasn’t a lot to feel good about.
“Our goal is not 8-8. Our goal is to win a championship,” Gruden said Monday. “You shouldn’t go on a cruise or go on a vacation when you’re 8-8. We got to take a good look at how we can close the gap. We feel like we did to a degree with the best teams in the league, but we’re not there yet.”
The Raiders did manage to post impressive wins in the first half of the season over defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City, New Orleans and Cleveland on the way to a 6-3 record.
But five losses in the next six games derailed any playoff hopes and the only difference in the record came because they converted a 2-point conversion in the final seconds of a 32-31 win at Denver on Sunday instead of missing one against the Broncos in a 1-point loss in 2019.
“It’s a work in progress,” quarterback Derek Carr said. “We feel like we’re heading in the right direction if I’m being honest. We feel like we’re heading the right way. We just have a lot of work to do.”
The offence showed improvement, especially in the passing game. The Raiders increased their scoring by 7.5 points per game and finished tied for the league lead with 17 TDs of at least 20 yards.
But the defence was once again a major problem as free agents like Cory Littleton and Maliek Collins made little impact, and young players such as Damon Arnette and Johnathan Abram struggled in the secondary.
“We just have hold ourselves to a standard that is acceptable for professional football players,” linebacker Nicholas Morrow said. “I think in some cases, to be honest, we lacked the accountability from the players, the coaches. We all just have to be more accountable to ourselves.”
SHORE UP THE D
The Raiders finished in the bottom four in the league in points allowed (29.9), takeaways (15) and sacks (21). That led to the decision to fire co-ordinator Paul Guenther after 13 games and replace him with Rod Marinelli. Gruden said the search for a full-time co-ordinator will start Tuesday with Gus Bradley, Raheem Morris and Joe Barry expected to get a look.
The Raiders spent two high draft picks on receivers Henry Ruggs III (12th overall) and Bryan Edwards (third round) with little immediate payoff. Ruggs finished with 26 catches for 452 yards and two TDs, ranking outside the top 10 among rookie receivers despite being picked first. Edwards had 11 catches for 193 yards but did get his first TD in Week 17.
Both will need to step up their play, especially if Nelson Agholor doesn’t return after catching 48 passes for 896 yards and eight TDs after signing a bargain baseman $1 million, one-year contract.
PROTECT THE CARR
The Raiders have invested heavily in the offensive line in recent years but will have some big questions this off-season starting with whether to bring back Trent Brown for a third season at a salary of $14 million. Brown has played less than half the time since signing a $66 million, four-year deal and the Raiders must decide whether he’s worth a hefty investment.
Las Vegas also has big commitments to guards Gabe Jackson ($9.6 million) and Richie Incognito ($6.35 million) but could choose to look for cheaper options to save money for the defence .
The biggest highlight of the season for the Raiders was star tight end Darren Waller taking another big step forward. He broke Hall of Famer Tim Brown’s franchise record with 107 catches and his 1,196 yards receiving were the second most for a Raiders tight end to Todd Christensen’s 1,247 in 1983. Waller exploited matchups and made the passing game click all season.
The first season in Las Vegas was disappointing, especially because fans weren’t allowed to see the team in person or the new stadium. The Raiders had a 2-6 mark at an empty Allegiant Stadium but are hoping for better results in 2021 once the stands are full.
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Josh Dubow, The Associated Press