As the Raiders head into their Monday Night Football face off against the Rams, this game feels like it will be defining moment for head coach Jon Gruden. Gruden encounter Sean McVay, his former assistant, after an offseason full of questions. His return to the Raiders remains surrounded by skepticism and intrigue. While he was initially welcomed with open arms by fans, with the stunning Khalil Mack trade, Gruden finds himself facing the fire. A statement win would silence his critics for now. Gruden knows he needs a win; he put his legacy on the line when he came back to Oakland. As the Raiders head into their first game of the season, here are the five questions that we should have for this Raiders team.
What will the Raiders offense look like?
This is perhaps the hardest question to answer. There is a belief among analysts that Gruden’s offense will be reliant on West Coast concepts, and it will feature a power run game, which caters to the strength of running back Marshawn Lynch. However, beyond this there is a great deal of mystery surrounding what this offense will look like come week one. Gruden has had 9 years where he has had intimate access to almost every single team as an analyst for ESPN. This means that Gruden could easily add flavors from numerous schemes into his offense to give his Raiders’ offense the ultimate edge against opponents. This question will remain largely unanswered.
Will Kolton Miller and Donald Penn be able to hold their own?
As Miller takes his first NFL snaps as the Raiders’ starting left tackle, he will have to earn the trust of Derek Carr. In their last preseason, action both Miller and Penn struggled and Carr looked flustered in the pocket. While the Raiders do boast one of the best interior lines in the NFL, the tackles are largely a question. Most expected Penn’s struggles, coming off injury and transitioning to right tackle. Miller’s growing pains come with the territory, as he was considered relatively raw as a prospect. Nevertheless, in week one both of the Raiders’ tackles will have to hold their own, as the Raiders’ interior offensive line will have their hands full with Ndamukong Suh and Aaron Donald lining up on the inside.
Will the tandem of Cooper and Nelson be enough?
In a recent interview, Cooper hinted that Gruden has had him learn every wide receiver position for the Raiders offense. Gruden will move Cooper around early and often. Cooper has already shown he can more than hold his own against Marcus Peters and I expect the Raiders to take advantage of the match up. Nelson will have to prove that he has not lost a step, but if Nelson can fill Crabtree’s shoes this Raiders offense could be the best offense we have seen in a while.
Will anyone in the Raiders new look secondary be able to cover Brandin Cooks?
This secondary is certainly different from the secondary that Cooks’ cooked last season. However, the questions remain. The Raiders brought in Marcus Gilchrist, a talented safety who has shown the versatility to be an asset in nickel coverage. In looking at the Raiders situation at corner, neither of the Raiders’ starters inspires confidence. Free agent signee Rashaan Melvin looks unable to assert himself as a reliable starter. Plus, former first round pick Gareon Conley is essentially a rookie having played sparingly last season.
Will the Raiders Defensive Line be able to pressure Jared Goff?
With the trade of Khalil Mack, Oakland’s defensive line needs to fill that void. Bruce Irvin must lead this defense more than ever. During the offseason, he spoke about wanting to prove that he can be a premier pass rusher for this team. If he can come close to reaching his goals, the Raiders defense should play well. Arden Key generated rave reviews all offseason, but will need to prove that he can be stout against the run before he gets a nod as the starter opposite of Bruce Irvin.
With the trade of Mack, Key could see action as more of a situational pass rusher. Throughout the preseason both Maurice Hurst and P.J. Hall have flashed the ability to get to the quarterback. Hall is listed as the starter opposite of Justin “Jelly” Ellis. In large part, because he flashed the ability to be both stout against the run and pass. I suspect that even though he is not listed, as a starter, Hurst will see the field quite a bit. He owns one of the faster first-steps. Ultimately, I think this unit will far better than expected. However, expect growing pains.