It’s only Week 2, but Jon Gruden and the Oakland Raiders absolutely need to beat the Denver Broncos on Sunday.
For a half in the season-opening night nightcap, Jon Gruden’s return to coaching went well. The Oakland Raiders went in with a 13-10 halftime lead over the Los Angeles Rams, on a 48-yard field goal from Mike Nugent. But things turned quickly, as the reigning NFC West champions scored 20 unanswered second-half points to go home with a 33-13 victory.
Gruden and the Raiders will hit the road to take on the Denver Broncos in Week 2. The Broncos are 1-0 after beating the Seattle Seahawks 27-24 last week, as new quarterback Case Keenum engineered a game-winning drive capped by a touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas.
The Broncos’ defense also performed well in Week 1, with six sacks of Russell Wilson led by Von Miller’s three. Miller will now get a matchup with Raiders rookie left tackle Kolton Miller, who played well in his NFL debut.
Raiders quarterback Derek Carr topped 300 yards against the Rams, driven by tight end Jared Cook’s franchise record 180 yards (for a tight end) on nine catches. But Carr also threw three interceptions, with a least one inexplicably bad throw.
Gruden is known to be hard on quarterbacks, in his past as a coach and on the “Quarterback Camp” pieces he did for ESPN with incoming rookies each year. Questions about how his relationship with Carr would go surfaced immediately upon his re-hiring by the Raiders, and one game in Gruden turned to some passive-aggressive criticism pretty quickly.
In reference to Amari Cooper’s one catch on three targets against the Rams, Gruden illuminated what he saw as some missed opportunities.
“You look at the film we had him open — wide open — deep, we didn’t go there,” “He was open a couple times, and for whatever reason, we didn’t go that route.”
After a bad 2017 season and a bad second half in Week 1, a rebound performance for Carr against a good Broncos defense seems unlikely. The Rams hardly pressured him at all (one sack and just three quarterback hits), and Denver’s pass rush is far more formidable, led by Miller.
Poor throws and not seeing the field well (as Gruden insinuated) from a clean pocket is bad enough. If Carr is under pressure and has to move around on Sunday, the Denver defense will get some opportunities.
Keenum only threw seven interceptions all last year with the Minnesota Vikings, and then he threw three picks against the Seahawks in his Broncos debut. But otherwise he did well, competing 25 of his other 36 passes for 329 yards. Oakland intercepted a league-low five passes in 2017, and over the admittedly small sample of one game they don’t seem to be any better this year. Khalil Mack’s departure also doesn’t help the Raiders defensively, but we knew that already.
If the Raiders start 0-2, and have another poor overall showing against the Broncos, the buzz surrounding Gruden’s presence is in line to start fading already. If Week 2 can be regarded as a must-win situation so early, with the poor history of teams that start 0-2 also in mind, Gruden and the Raiders are facing it this week against a division rival.