By Sam Carroll @3samcarroll
The Las Vegas Raiders have started the 2020 NFL season strong. They came away from the Sofi Stadium in Los Angeles with a win on Sunday, surviving a late Justin Herbert-led drive to win the game 31-26. Currently sitting at 5-3, they are only outside the playoff spots due to a four-way tie breaker with the Indianapolis Colts, Cleveland Browns and Miami Dolphins.
Jon Gruden’s side are looking really good heading into the second half of the regular season, especially on offence. On paper, Vegas is home to one of the best offences in the league. They have an outstanding offensive line, a great collection of receivers, a fantastic playmaking tight end in Darren Waller and one of the best running backs in the NFL in Josh Jacobs.
However, the biggest question surrounding this team at the start of the season was the seventh-year quarterback, Derek Carr. Rumours of disgruntlement between Carr and his head coach have circled ever since Gruden took charge of the Raiders in 2018. The Fresno State product played mediocre in 2018 and ‘19, generating even more talk of the Black and Silver moving on from him.
But this season, Carr has really stepped up his game. On Sunday in particular, he made two outstanding throws on third down in the second half; one a 45-yard touchdown to Nelson Agholor, the other a 53-yard dime on the move to Hunter Renfrow.
His performance warranted great praise from the media, including a few making the claim that “2016 Derek Carr is back”, 2016 being the one outlier year when he was an MVP candidate in his otherwise fairly average career. It’s fair to say that the 29-year-old has turned a corner. Up until this point he was known as one of the league’s most conservative quarterbacks, but in 2020, he is one of most effective deep ball throwers in the NFL.
Not all the credit can go to Carr himself though. Gruden and general manager, Mike Mayock deserve all the praise they can get too. They have built this offence to be one of the league’s most dangerous in the vertical passing game. The solid offensive line, the elite running game to set up play action and the incredibly dangerous pair of speedy deep threats in Agholor and Henry Ruggs. This is an expertly built attack; everything works well off each other.
There have been, and there will continue to be games where this team doesn’t play up to snuff, games where Carr doesn’t look like the elite signal caller he looked like on Sunday. The defence is also indubitably poor, week-in week-out. And it doesn’t help them that they’re stuck in a division with arguably the best team in the league, the Kansas City Chiefs
But while Las Vegas probably aren’t quite good enough to get past the big three AFC teams in the playoffs, it’s now impossible to deny they are a very good team, and will be for the foreseeable future. It’s been a long time coming for Raiders fans. Over the last decade and a half, Raider Nation has had to suffer through the Jamarcus Russell debacle and the agonizingly painful Carson Palmer years. So for now, let’s let them enjoy this moment.
For last week’s edition of the ONSIDE KICK Column, click here