Levi Damien of our sister blog, Silver and Black Pride, is enthused about life right now. His Raiders are 7-2 and virtually in control of their own destiny for the rest of the season. The coaching staff is taking well-calculated risks. The front office is seemingly nailing the draft every single year. As long as they keep up this pace, Derek Carr, Khalil Mack, and the rest of the boys in black could be on track to have the postseason run through the Oakland Coliseum not only this year, but for the next several years. Who could have possibly seen that coming before this season started? Spoiler alert: nobody.
To talk about the return of the Raiders to national prominence before Monday night’s crucial matchup in Mexico City, Levi joined us this week and answered some of our burning questions:
1. What does it feel like to not only have promise going into a season, but to actually exceed that promise in almost every way? Texans fans haven’t usually (ever?) really had that sensation, so we’re genuinely curious what it's like.
It's a new feeling, certainly. The optimism about the Raiders this offseason got to the point where it seemed there was no way this team could live up to it. Not just because it was the Raiders, but because usually when that happens, the team they're talking about disappoints (see the Jaguars and Washington every time they break the bank in free agency). I certainly didn't predict they would be 7-2 at this point in the season, and they could be a sub .500 team the rest of the way and still match my season prediction (10-6).
I think what we're seeing is the old adage about good teams being built through the draft. These teams that are expected to be good based on free agent acquisitions are usually the ones that falter. Mainly because (a) teams don't often let players go they really want to keep and (b) players that are great in one system may not be as great in another. The area the Raiders have consistently spent the most money in free agency these past four years has been the offensive line. That approach has served them well.
2. The Raiders put a lot of money into their defense in the offseason, but they started out the year giving up giant yardage totals. They have stiffened up a bit as of late, but what was the primary cause of that early season defensive collapse? Is it something that can be exploited by the Houston offense?
Two main factors that affected the defense early on: First of all, it was jelling. As you mentioned, they spent a lot of money on the defense. Not because they wanted to, but because they had no choice. They never addressed the cornerback position or the linebacker properly last year, and then Charles Woodson retired. The result was just one returning corner (David Amerson) and linebacker (Malcolm Smith) with five new additions, including not finding a starting middle linebacker until Week Five. They were out of sorts early on and it took them about a month to start showing some competency.
Second was facing some of the best offenses in the game. They faced the top offense in the league in Drew Brees and the Saints, then the league's top passer Matt Ryan and the Falcons in Week Two, the Titans’ top rushing attack in Week Three, Joe Flacco in Week Four, and Philip Rivers in Week Five. They somehow came out of that with a 4-1 record. After suffering their worst loss of the season to the Chiefs in Week Six, they have held up very well the past three weeks against some lesser offenses in the Jaguars, Bucs, and Broncos.
3. What are your thoughts on Latavius Murray? Will he be the featured back in Oakland going forward, or is this likely his last year in silver and black?
A lot will depend on what he does the rest of the way. He had a great game last week (114 yards, 3 touchdowns); that was his best game of the season by far. If he can put a few more games together like that, I expect the Raiders to look to bring him back and I would expect if that happens, it would be before the season is over. However, they aren't likely to get in a bidding war for his services. If he wants to test free agency, I could see them letting him walk.
4. Just how far do you think this squad can go, assuming they make the playoffs in some capacity?
It's hard to say. The playoffs come down to match-ups. I had them as a wild card team before the start of the season, and that's where they appear to be headed as of right now. If they can get revenge on the Chiefs and beat them in Kansas City, that would be huge. It would likely mean they take back sole possession of the AFC West and would help to get them a favorable match-up in the playoffs as well as the home field, even though they have played just as well, if not better, on the road this season.
5. What are your thoughts on the very likely move to Las Vegas? Is this situation a net positive for the team and the fans?
First off, I am not ready to say it's "very likely" just yet. A lot depends on the NFL's decision. There are those in Oakland who are working to make the Raiders an offer to stay. Roger Goodell has expressed his desire for the Raiders to stay. Mark Davis has set his sights on Vegas and Nevada has passed legislation to fund the stadium, but if in the meantime Oakland comes up with a viable plan, I could definitely see Goodell forcing Davis and the Raiders to go the table with Oakland. The rules for relocation are *supposed* to be that a team makes a good faith effort to remain in their current market. Davis has made that effort in the past and Oakland has not come up with anything. That could change with an investment group push headed by former Raiders and 49ers player Ronnie Lott.
As far as it being a net positive, I suppose it depends on who you ask. For Mark Davis, maybe. He would get his new stadium and end up paying the smallest share of the bill that would be split three ways -- $750M from taxes, $650M from LV Sands Co. and $500M from the Raiders and the NFL. All those luxury boxes would be filled and the money would roll in. For the fans, no. Davis suggests that it's a compromise between Oakland fans and SoCal fans that would "unite" the Raider Nation. In reality, it would be the opposite of a compromise. It would be like two kids fighting over a toy, and neither gets it. Vegas isn't really any closer to LA than Oakland (depending, of course, on what part of LA you live in), and now instead of many of the fans having the stadium in their home area, ALL of the fans in Cali will have to travel a good distance to see their team play (if they remain fans).
"But who cares, it's Vegas, baby!". Yeah, well, that excitement would soon wear off for those fans in Oakland and SoCal after ten trips to Vegas in five months. Not to mention leaving the 6th largest market for the 42nd in a city that is a good 4 hours from the nearest metropolitan area and is run almost entirely by tourism.
A big thank you to Levi for stopping by. Before I send you all over to Silver and Black Pride to check out how we answered their questions - our very own Brett Kollmann is a Southern California resident himself, and he swears that the drive from Los Angeles/Orange County to Las Vegas is infinitely easier than the drive up to the Bay Area. Would most Texans fans ever consider driving four hours (or in Oakland’s case, seven hours) out into the middle of the desert to go watch their favorite team every Sunday? Perhaps not, but who are we to judge?
Then again, if your only other alternative for professional football was watching the Rams get smacked around on a weekly basis, that four hour drive might not seem so bad after all.