Derek Carr, Jon Gruden Disappoint in First Chance to Prove They’re the Future of the Raiders

Robert Klemko
Sports Illustrated

Here are three thoughts from the Rams' 33-13 win over the Raiders on Monday night.

1. Forget Khalil Mack, for a moment. Derek Carr, for all of his talent, for all of the money the Oakland Raiders have invested in his future with the franchise, cannot play like this. His two interceptions in the fourth quarter of a 33-13 loss to the visiting Los Angeles Rams were among the worst, most avoidable turnovers in the NFL's first week of the 2018 season. Carr, the fifth-year pro, was 20-of-24 for 199 yards with an interception (83.9 QB rating) in a first half marked by a bruising power running game led by Marshawn Lynch. Against a stacked front seven and some inspired play from Michael Brockers, the running game didn't last, and Carr crumbled, tossing up a duck to Rams linebacker Cory Littleton and a pick-six invitation to Marcus Peters, which was happily accepted by the All-Pro cornerback. As heavily as Jon Gruden's roster moves have been scrutinized this offseason, his development of Carr after a regressive 2017 should be the measure of a coach who spent the better part of a decade scouting quarterbacks for television. Early returns aren't promising.

2. Back to Mack, whom Oakland traded to the Bears for two first-round picks (among other picks swapped in the deal). The Raiders certainly could have used arguably the best run-stopping edge defender in the game, especially when Rams running back Todd Gurley was icing the game away with downhill running in the fourth quarter. Would he have ultimately made a difference in the outcome? Probably not. Oakland was surging in the first half with a raucous crowd at its back and an outstanding performance from free-agent acquisition Jared Cook (nine catches, 180 yards). Then reality set in, and the team which spent the offseason sacrificing draft picks in the interest of stockpiling talent wrestled control from the team which traded its best player for future draft picks. Los Angeles won in the trenches, exhausting Oakland's interior line with heavy doses of Ndamukong Suh and Aaron Donald, and bullying the likes of Bruce Irvin and Arden Key at the line of scrimmage. If not for Los Angeles' inability to connect on a handful of play-action deep shots, this might have gotten much, much uglier.

3. The takeaway for each team: The Rams are as advertised, and perhaps even more resilient than expected. After Carr could do no wrong in the first half, they rallied and won on first and second down, creating second- and third-and-long situations that sent Lynch to the sideline. Success on deep attempts to Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks will come with time, and should develop quickly as long as Gurley is commanding seven-to-eight men in the box on running downs. For Oakland, there are two options, and both of them are bad. Carr could throw 20 more unfathomable interceptions and the Mack trade will still sting, but won't be judged as the impetus for a lost season. OR, the Raiders could play the rest of the season like they played the first half of the opener, claim a playoff berth and see their subpar secondary get picked apart by someone like Patrick Mahomes or Ben Roethlisberger. Then, the inevitable question: What if we had Khalil Mack?

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