At this stage in the NFL regular season, some games are clearly more important than others. There are division champions to crown. There are playoff places to be won. There’s even the battle to be the worst team in football and secure that lucrative 2020 NFL Draft first overall pick. One game, however, will mean more to its fans than any other today. Today, the black hole says goodbye as the Jacksonville Jaguars travel to the bay area for the Oakland Raiders last game in Oakland.
The Oakland Alameda County Coliseum (and all it’s former guises) has played home to the team, and the Raiders fans, for the most part of the team’s history. They’ve seen Super Bowl trophies and they’ve seen low times. The black hole is one of the most iconic and intimidating environments in all of American sports.
Today is their final goodbye as the team leaves for Las Vegas at the end of the regular season.
The 2019 NFL season has followed the same roller coaster of emotion and expectation that summarizes the history of the Raiders. There’s been highs and there’s been lows. The expectation that came with the trade for Antonio Brown and the plethora of 2019 NFL Draft picks gave way to the Antonio Brown debacle and two defeats in the opening three games.
Three straight November wins had the Raiders fans dreaming of the playoffs. Then followed three heavy defeats, including last week’s 42-21 loss to the Tennessee Titans.
The expectations will be high for the Oakland Raiders’ last game before heading to Las Vegas, and that needs to start with their franchise quarterback.
Derek Carr needs to drive the performance
Earlier in the year, I wrote that this season needed to be a big one for Derek Carr. His early career performance that led the Raiders to the playoffs and rewarded him with a big contract needed to be replicated for success in 2019.
Although there have been some standout games for Carr in 2019, he hasn’t elevated his play consistently to the point where he’s been able to provide that success. In fact, using Pro Football Network’s Offensive Share Metric, you can see that where the Raiders have been successful, it has been due to his surrounding cast.
This is most evident when looking at the overall grade for the season.
Of the six qualifying Raiders players, Carr has the fifth highest grade, 21.49. This shows us several other players are more responsible for the offensive production of the Raiders than Carr himself.
Tight end Darren Waller has an overall grade of 40.45, good enough for the sixth ranked tight end in the league. He has really stepped up to the challenge of replacing the expected production of Antonio Brown in this offense. Below is a great example of the type of impact that Waller has made.
“I didn’t know if I would ever play in a game again.”
— Oakland Raiders (@Raiders) December 17, 2018
Another Raider who has made a huge impact is Hunter Renfrow.
The rookie out of Clemson has an OSM grade of 37.4, good enough for the 10th ranked wide receiver in the NFL. He has been a revelation in 2019, and a testament to the draft strategy of general manager Mike Mayock and head coach Jon Gruden.
When you look at the weeks where Carr has had his best OSM grades, those supporting cast members are also in the top 10 at their positions for that week.
This was most noticeable in the Week 11 win over the Bengals. Carr was the fifth highest graded quarterback with a grade of 31.8. However, Renfrow was the second ranked wide receiver with a grade of 45.02 and Waller was the fifth ranked tight end with a near elite grade of 39.95. Josh Jacobs chimed in with a running back OSM second ranked performance.
Can Carr cement legacy in Oakland Raiders last game?
Jacobs should have given Carr the opportunity to shine this year.
The last time that the Raiders made the playoffs, in 2016, an efficient ground game allowed Carr to succeed.
As did an offensive line that ranked as one of the best in the league. That was another part of the supporting cast that was addressed during this off-season with the addition of Trent Brown. Despite suffering injury setbacks throughout the year, the line has allowed the run game to thrive, and Carr has only been sacked 20 times this year.
Despite this support, Carr hasn’t delivered on that 2016 potential.
Although his 70.8% completion percentage is the third best in the league, he languishes around mid-table for most other quarterback statistics. With 3109 passing yards, he is some way short of even last year’s yardage total, and his average yardage per game is good enough for just 20th in the NFL.
Jon Gruden spoke prior to the season about wanting to stretch the field vertically, and Carr just hasn’t been able to do that this season.
The game against the Jaguars gives Carr one last opportunity to light it up for the Raiders fans in Oakland. Jacksonville have been poor against the run this season, so if Josh Jacobs is fit to play, he can be that supporting threat to demand the attention of the Jaguars defense. Having lost Jalen Ramsey to the Los Angeles Rams during the season, Carr has one less cornerback to worry about when looking for that deep threat.
History is also on Carr’s side today. The Jaguars have lost the last three games against the Raiders and are 2/14 in trips to the west coast.
With 21,844 yards, Carr is the leading passer in franchise history. In the Oakland Raiders last game in the city, he’ll be looking to have a big performance to cement that legacy, and give the black hole the fond farewell it deserves.