With two games remaining, the Oakland Raiders still have valuable game time to evaluate the roster and coaching staff. Full Press Raiders writers Ray Aspuria, Chris Simmons, and Anthony Zaragoza give you a look into a possible Raiders future
What can Pagano’s last four games tell you about him going forward?
Aspuria: Pagano has gotten the most out of the talent as defensive coordinator, compared to his predecessor. Whether it is simplifying things or providing keen attention to detail, the defense that was so abused looks rabid under Pagano’s direction. If Gareon Conley and Obi Melifonwu return to full strength next season, Pagano’s defense has a chance to highlight energy that is even more frenetic.
Simmons: He will bring the heat. For years, the Raiders have been a line up and play team featuring very little creativity on defense. The progenitor of this mentality was of course Al Davis, but he got away with it for years thanks to a cacophony of defensive backs that could cover with the best of them. The 2017 Raiders do not feature even one DB close to that level so they can no longer only rush four down linemen.
Couple this with Bruce Irvin being a natural linebacker, who was being asked to drop in coverage no less, and it is easy to see why they only notched 14 sacks over the first three quarters of the season. Pagano has been bringing extra defenders on both pass and run-downs and it has helped get one-on-one looks for Irvin and perennial all-pro Khalil Mack. If this trend had begun week one the Raiders likely notch at least one more victory before this point in the season.
Zaragoza: Pagano has earned himself a job next season. The new coordinator has created a much-needed buzz and a sense of urgency from this group. More importantly, brought the play of Bruce Irvin back to a fast and aggressive nature. Good things are in store for this unit, if Pagano receives the right tools.
Where can Khalil Mack improve in 2018?
Simmons: In my opinion, the only way Mack, who remains a stellar run defender and terrifying pass rusher, can continue to improve is if he gets some help on the inside. Sitting at 10.5 sacks some may cite consistency as an issue but more often than not Mack is singled out by offenses that are stacking the deck against him. If he had any kind of consistent interior pass rush he would easily clear 15 sacks that season. Just in the last few weeks alone, with the extra pressure generated by Pagano’s blitzes, Mack and Irvin flashed. I do not think it is a coincidence that their numbers have exploded at the same time. Get him one-on-one or Right Tackle/TE match ups and you will watch him eat.
Zaragoza: Coverage. Mack took a big step this season in run defense. In contrast. he still struggles when forced into coverage. The all-pro defender will not cover tight ends and running backs much, but if Mack can improve in that area, the man will be unstoppable.
Aspuria: Avoiding lulls in sack numbers and impact plays. This is not all on Mack. Teams are able to focus a bevy of attention to one of the league’s most-feared defenders. However, with Pagano as the conductor, Mack should have a sack (or more) every game next season. He has all the tools to get that done — and then some.
What position coach (not Downing) needs to go and why?
Zaragoza: Rob Moore, Wide Receivers coach. Even though this unit is very talented, drops and miscommunication, hurt the Raiders in games the last two years. Some of the blame must find Downing, but it starts with the position coach. Amari Cooper struggled this season. Seth Roberts seems to be plagued by drops once again.
Aspuria: Rob Moore. The ex-NFL wideout has to take the fall for his group’s butter fingers, fair or foul.
Simmons: Rod Woodson. In his first go-around, the Raiders learned that he had difficulty connecting with his players. Granted, we know now that in 2011, Stanford Routt was on his way out of the league. All the same, he has consistently talked about getting his players to react at “the moment of truth”. Yet, his players fail to make a play. On his watch, there have been consistent communication issues specifically between Cornerbacks and Safeties. His time has come.
Who earned more reps in 2018?
Aspuria: Treyvon Hester. The seventh rounder out of Toledo has the tools and skill set to be an every-down starter. He has outshines fellow third round rookie Eddie Vanderdoes.
Zaragoza: Nick Morrow. Since Pagano took over four weeks ago, Nick Morrow has really stepped up. Having former all-pro linebacker NaVorro Bowman has really helped the rookie from Greenville. Linebacker has been a position of need for the Raiders the last few years. Nevertheless, with Morrow’s recent play, the Raiders could focus on other positions of need.
Simmons: Cordarrelle Patterson is probably the most under-utilized asset on the entire offense. In the opening few games, Todd Downing featured Patterson. People stood up and noticed. He continues to make plays on special teams and has earned the right to push more snaps. If not the slot, certainly moving Amari Cooper, inside and playing Patterson as the flanker. In an ideal world, he will not have more than 60 total touches. I believe he could total 1000 combined yards from scrimmage as a runner, receiver, and returner.
In essence, the Raiders still have a future to plan. While it may not thrill fans, but planning cannot begin soon enough.