By Shawn Lealos
When the Oakland Raiders came into the 2017 NFL season, there were very high expectations for the franchise. For one thing, they had one of the best records in the AFC in 2016 until Derek Carr fell to injury. With Carr back and healthy, the Raiders looked like they could be Super Bowl contenders in 2017. Instead, the wheels fell off, Oakland finished the season with a losing record at 6-10, and they fired head coach Jack Del Rio. As a result, the future is cloudy for a team that looked like they were on the verge of greatness. Here is a look at what went wrong, what was promising, and what the future might hold for the Oakland Raiders following the 2017 season.
Coaching And Player Changes
The 2017 NFL season started out with coaching changes and ended with significant changes as well. In 2017, the Raiders finished the season with a 12-4 record and the sixth-ranked offense in the NFL. Carr was an NFL MVP candidate following his breakout season and the team ranked sixth in rushing yards as well. The Raiders also ranked 29th in the NFL in defense. That made some preseason decisions seem very strange.
The Raiders chose to let offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave leave the team and promoted Todd Downing to their offensive coordinator. Head coach Jack Del Rio had criticized Musgrave despite their excellent play in 2016 and pulled the trigger. However, he did keep Ken Norton as the defensive coordinator despite their poor play in 2016. Under their new offensive coordinator, Oakland dropped to 17th in the NFL and had trouble scoring points throughout the season. Before the season ended, Del Rio fired Norton, and the Raiders finished with the 23rd ranked defense.
The Raiders also chose to let Latavius Murray leave in the offseason, after running for 788 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2016. Murray went to Minnesota and ran for 842 yards and eight touchdowns in a timeshare with Jerrick McKinnon. The Raiders let Murray leave so that they could bring Marshawn Lynch out of retirement to lead their backfield. Lynch did end up running for 891 yards and seven touchdowns, but Oakland dropped from sixth in the NFL in rushing offense to 25th.
Raiders Still Contended For AFC West Title
Even with the Raiders’ poor play this season, they were still in contention for the AFC West title – and a playoff berth – until the final quarter of the season. Oakland was 6-6 after 12 games and held their own destiny in their hands. Thanks to an early season win over the Kansas City Chiefs, if Oakland had beaten the Chiefs a second time and then won their season finale over the Los Angeles Chargers, the Raiders could have won the division. However, Oakland lost their final four games by an average of 10 points per game, and ended up with a losing record one season after winning 12 games. This failure at the end of the season cost Del Rio his job.
Raiders Positives In 2017 NFL Season
Oakland’s defense struggled for most of the year. Three of their top cornerbacks were injured for almost the entire season, and their top two draft picks from 2017 also were hurt throughout the year. However, after Del Rio fired Norton and replaced him with John Pagano, the defense played better through the rest of the season. Khalil Mack had another double-digit sack season with 10.5, but he showed a lot of discontent, both after Norton was fired and after the Raiders let Del Rio go. The Raiders had no interceptions under Norton but finished the year with five, including two by Sean Smith. That means the talent is there, but needs to be utilized better.
Raiders Future Remains Cloudy
The Oakland Raiders didn’t just fire Jack Del Rio for losing 10 games in 2017. They fired him for bad personnel decisions, getting rid of a great offensive coordinator and keeping a defensive coordinator that struggled for a second straight season. Now, according to most reports, the Raiders plan to bring back an old head coach in Jon Gruden. While Al Davis let Gruden go over a decade ago, new owner Mark Davis likes Gruden and is offering him a lot to come back and turn the Raiders around again.
Gruden is considered a quarterback guru, so the first thing Oakland needs to do is help Carr revert to his MVP ways from 2016. Gruden is the perfect person to try to accomplish that. The Raiders also need to figure out if they want to keep Lynch for another season or try to find a new running back to help take pressure off Carr. The most significant thing Oakland needs to do is improve a defense that has ranked near the bottom of the NFL for two straight seasons. The talent is still there, but Oakland needs to get their new coaching staff in place and try to fine tune their team. A coaching change worked for the Los Angeles Rams this year, and Oakland has a template to mimic that success in 2018.