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Jon Gruden's Raiders Officially Proved as Frauds, Must Focus on 2021

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystDecember 14, 2020

Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) looks to pass against the Indianapolis Colts during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)
Isaac Brekken/Associated Press

There was a time not that long ago when it appeared the Las Vegas Raiders may have turned a page. It seemed the team could really be onto something during its first season in Sin City.

The Raiders stunned the Kansas City Chiefs on the road back in Week 5. After pounding the Denver Broncos in Week 10, they were 6-3 and in the thick of the playoff hunt.

Since that win over the Broncos, though, the Raiders have dropped three of four—the latest being a lopsided 44-27 loss to the Indianapolis Colts at home. They've gone from 6-3 and humming along to 7-6 and on the outside of the playoffs looking in. And were it not for some astonishingly bad defense by the New York Jets at the end of a Week 13 matchup, they would be riding a four-game losing streak.

Simply put, the Raiders have been exposed over the last month. They might not be a bad team, but they aren't an especially good one, either. They certainly aren't good enough to knock off the likes of the Chiefs, Buffalo Bills and Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC.

And until Vegas does something about a defense that has been absolutely embarrassed in recent weeks, it's a paper pirate of a franchise and a pretender of a challenger to Kansas City's throne in the AFC West.

Isaac Brekken/Associated Press

Again, the Raiders aren't a bad team.

Offensively, they're quite good. 

Quarterback Derek Carr topped 300 passing yards for the fourth time Sunday and entered Week 14 with a career-best passer rating of 104.1. Running back Josh Jacobs is within striking distance of a second consecutive 1,000-yard season on the ground.

Wide receiver Nelson Agholor is averaging 16.7 yards per catch and scored his seventh touchdown of the season Sunday. Darren Waller trails only Travis Kelce of the Chiefs among tight ends in most offensive categories.

Add in a few complementary players like rookie wide receiver Henry Ruggs III and you have an offense that entered Week 14 ranked 15th in yards per game and 11th in points per game. It's admittedly not Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, but it's still pretty good.

Then there's the defense, which is…not.

Damian Lillard @Dame_Lillard

We the worst defense in the NFL.

Longtime Raiders fan (and Portland Trail Blazers star) Damian Lillard is exaggerating when he says the Raiders have the worst defense in the NFL. But he isn't exaggerating by much.

Las Vegas came into Sunday's game sporting the league's 22nd-ranked defense in terms of yards allowed (378.2 per game). It ranked 24th in pass defense, 28th in scoring defense (28.9 points per game) and 29th in sacks with 15.

Before Sunday's loss, head coach Jon Gruden said the Raiders needed to improve across the board after a lackluster Week 13 performance that saw the woeful Jets tally 28 points and rack up 376 yards of total offense.

"I think need everybody needs to have a sense of urgency in the NFL, or you get your block knocked off," he explained. "We got to play better in all phases, we got to coach better, we got to be ready. There is a lot of chips on the table."

That didn't happen even a little.

The Colts spent much of Sunday's contest moving the ball at will. They rolled for 456 yards of total offense and scored 44 points. After allowing the Jets to gouge their defense for 206 rushing yards, the Raiders gave up 212 yards on the ground at 6.8 yards per carry in Week 14.

You aren't winning many games allowing almost seven yards per pop on the ground, and you certainly aren't beating good teams that way.

It's not just one facet of the defense, either. There are issues at every level.

Jeff Bottari/Associated Press

The front four can't generate pressure with any consistency. Maxx Crosby has regressed significantly after a promising rookie year. Clelin Ferrell has had a big game here and there, but he hasn't come close to living up to his status as the No. 4 overall pick in 2019.

The Raiders spent big in the offseason on the linebacker position, but to date, there's been little return on that investment. Nick Kwiatkoski has been OK, but he's been in and out of the lineup with injuries. Cory Littleton is making almost $12 million per season but has struggled so badly that he hasn't been on the field for more than 60 percent of the team's snaps since the Raiders beat the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 9.

The Raiders have spent significant draft capital on the back end, as well. But youngsters like safety Johnathan Abram and cornerback Damon Arnette have had injury problems of their own.

It's a defense that lacks a strength but has varying degrees of weaknesses from back to front and ranks 24th in defensive DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) at Football Outsiders.

It's also not going to be an easy fix. There's not just one problem to address. And frankly, given the success (or lack thereof) Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock have had using early picks on defenders in recent years, confidence in their ability to spark a quick turnaround shouldn't be especially high.

One thing at least appears certain: Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther had to go.

Whether it's the broken-record nature of the defensive lapses, the inability to develop younger players or just the all-around sloppy play (all six penalties against the Colts came on defense), it had become clear to anyone with eyes that Guenther wasn't the guy who would mold this unit into even an average defense.

The Raiders appeared to see that, too. Per Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, he was let go after the game.

Ian Rapoport @RapSheet

The #Raiders fired DC Paul Guenther.

Making that move would, on some level, indicate that the Raiders know 2020 isn't their year and the defense isn't ready. Cutting bait now gives Gruden a head start on other teams that will be making coaching changes after the season ends.

But so long as the Las Vegas defense continues to pitch and lurch its way around the field, the Raiders aren't going to be any kind of legitimate contender in the AFC. Contenders don't allow 298 yards of first-half offense and multiple scores of 40-plus yards. They certainly don't roll over defensively like the Raiders did last week in New York.

All this isn't to say the Raiders aren't headed in the right direction. With games left against the Chargers and Broncos (teams with plenty of their own issues), they have a good chance at their first winning season since 2016 and just their second such campaign since 2002.

But the Raiders aren't ready to hang with their rivals in Kansas City yet. Or with Pittsburgh. Or with Buffalo.

In Week 14, it was made abundantly clear that these Raiders aren't even ready to hang with the Colts.

Not with a defense so offensive.

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