We did a question and answer exchange with Levi Damien, the EIC of SB Nation’s Raiders blog, Silver and Black pride.
Here are our questions to Levi and his responses:
Buffalo Rumblings: To the general public, Derek Carr is absolutely an MVP candidate right now, and maybe even the front-runner. However, I've seen some football analysts harp on his play a bit. Has there been anything concerning about his play this season?
Silver and Black Pride: Whenever there's a player who has had the success that Carr has had this year, the microscope gets bigger. It's like being a top ten draft pick. Teams are trying to dig deep for red flags to either help with their own evaluation or dissuade other teams from drafting him. In Carr's first two seasons I was as critical as anyone, but he has improved in all the areas in which he had his greatest issues. One area you wonder about in terms of long term sustainability is how he would perform with pressure. He gets superior protection in part because of a great offensive line and in part because the Raiders deploy a sixth offensive lineman more than any team in the league. But right now, Carr gets great protection so he his confidence is sky high. If I really tried to find something, I would say he often times gets off to a slow start in games which forces him to have these comeback wins so often. But part of that is the offensive game plan as the team looks to establish the run game.
BR: What has been the biggest difference or change for Khalil Mack over the past few games when he's really taken off after a slower-ish start to the season?
SABP: It's one of those weird things, really. He has gotten off to slow starts in each of his three seasons. And each season the coaches say 'he'll get his numbers' and he does. The funny thing is that even with his one sack in the first five games, by midseason he was ahead of his pace from 2015. For him it isn't all about sacks. He has arguably the best all around game of any linebacker in the league. One area I have always been amaze by is his ability to sniff out and stop a screen. Last week he was halfway to the QB, which is a recipe for a big screen, but Mack reached up and picked off the screen pass right off Cam Newton's hand and returned it for a touchdown. If you watch his early season games, he has all the moves he usually has, but just isn't quite able to get to the quarterback for the sack. I wish I had a better answer for why he eases into his sack totals. Outside of perhaps the offensive linemen being worn down some, I'm not entirely sure.
BR: Everyone knows about Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper as legit playmakers for the Raiders... who have been the underrated offensive players?
SABP: The third receiver is Seth Roberts. He does the dirty work for this receiving corps. He blocks quite well and if the defense is focused on Cooper or Crabtree, Carr will find him. An interesting stat is the Raiders are 9-0 going back to last season when he scores a touchdown. He had a couple of game winners this season as well including the walk-off 48-yarder in overtime against the Buccaneers. Other weapons include undrafted rookie running back Jalen Richard who is good for a big run or two each game and tight end Clive Walford who has been playing much better lately after a rocky early season.
BR: Can you put your finger on what Jack Del Rio has brought to Oakland? He seems like the favorite for Coach of the Year.
SABP: Respect, first and foremost. He is the most experienced coach the Raiders have had in a very long time. Perhaps ever. That respect extends across the league, which is why he was able to put together such a good coaching staff, including luring in Mike Tice as assistant head coach and offensive line coach. Also, it's good not to discount the fact that he is from the Bay Area and grew up a Raiders fan. His parents have been season ticket holders for over 20 years. It's easy to see how much making this team into a winner means to him. The players buy into his message and his passion. They also respect him as a former NFL player himself.
BR: What are the major strengths and weaknesses of the Raiders defense?
SABP: A major weakness of the defense is covering the tight end. They have struggled with it for a couple years now. It's usually a good bet the opposing tight end is going to do well when they face the Raiders, so Charles Clay would be a decent fantasy play this week.
Their run defense was suspect early in the season but improved considerably with the addition of middle linebacker Perry Riley Jr. Last week he was injured and they gave up 5.2 yards per carry to the Jonathan Stewart and the Panthers. They average 3.9 yards per carry on the season while the Bills average 5.3 yards per carry, so it's pretty clear how important he is. He is questionable to play Sunday after being limited by a hamstring issue all week.
The Raiders have been very opportunistic on defense, forcing 19 turnovers. Their +10 turnover ratio is third in the league (Buffalo is fourth with +8). So, where they have given up yards on defense, they have been able to make up for it in other areas. The pass rushing duo of Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin has stepped up lately, but they are still dead last in sacks (17.0) because there isn't much coming from anyone other than those two.