Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) signs autographs at the end of an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins, Sunday, Nov. 5, 2017, in Miami Gardens, Fla. The Raiders defeated the Dolphins 27-24. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
By Joe Hawkes-Beamon
Sports Radio Service Writer
OAKLAND — With nine games in the books, the Raiders are 4-5 at the bye week. Coming into the 2017 season, not many people had the Silver and Black under .500 especially with the offensive talent the Raiders sport led by starting quarterback Derek Carr.
In eight games (Carr missed Week 5 with a back injury), Oakland’s signal-caller has thrown for 1,954 yards with 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Carr is completing a career-high 65.2-percent of his passes this season and is on pace for another 3,000-yard passing season (his fourth-straight).
As much as wide receivers Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper get most of the praise in the passing game, it has been tight end Jared Cook that has proven to be Carr’s most trusted pass-catcher through the first half of the season.
Cook leads Oakland in receptions (39) and receiving yards (499) this season. The nine-year veteran is just 13 receptions away from tying his career-high of 52 he established in 2014 as a member of the then-St. Louis Rams, and is just 261 receiving yards away of from surpassing his career-high of 759 yards he set in his third season with the Tennessee Titans in 2011.
Cook caught a team-leading eight passes for 128 yards in Oakland’s 27-24 win in Miami last Sunday in prime time on NBC Sunday Night Football.
For Oakland, it was a much needed win coming off a 34-14 loss in Buffalo the previous Sunday, and entering Hard Rock Stadium having lost the previous five straight matchups to the Dolphins.
Despite struggling with dropping the football early in the season, Cooper is second on the team with 38 receptions for 462 yards and three touchdowns. His 11 catches for 210 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-30 victory over AFC West rival the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 7 helped snap Oakland’s four-game losing streak after starting the season 2-0.
Crabtree has 36 receptions for 451 yards and a team-leading six touchdowns, three of those scores came in Oakland 45-20 demolishing over the visiting New York Jets in Week 2.
Running back Marshawn Lynch leads the Raiders ground game with 323 yards rushing and four touchdowns this season. The Oakland-native hasn’t put up big numbers this season in his return to the football field after a year of retirement, but his ability to slow down the game and pick up first-downs could be key for the Raiders down the stretch.
If Oakland is leading in the fourth quarter, the ball should be fed to No. 24. No questions asked. Lynch had a bounce back performance against the Dolphins, rushing for 57 yards on 14 carries for two touchdowns after serving a one-game suspension the previous week for making contact with an official against the Chiefs in Week 7.
The NFL’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year in defensive end Khalil Mack leads Oakland with 4.5 sacks this season and continues to be a terror to opposing offensive linemen, but its been the play of cornerback TJ Carrie that flies under the radar.
Carrie is tied with fellow secondary mates Reggie Nelson and Karl Joseph for the team-lead with 50 tackles and has four passes defensed in eight games. The in-season pickup of inside linebacker NaVarro Bowman, who was released by the San Francisco 49ers after seven seasons on Oct. 13, has added a veteran presence and leader with big-game experience to the locker room.
In three games with the Raiders, Bowman has registered 32 tackles (11 tackles in back-to-back games and 10 tackles against the Dolphins), immediately paying dividends for Oakland.
But the fact that the Raiders haven’t recorded an interception through the team’s first nine games (an NFL record), is still a problem. The team’s top pick in last April’s NFL Draft in cornerback Gareon Conley was expected to be a big part of the defense, but has only played in a handful of plays this year while battling shin splints.
For those of you who are wondering, the 1982 Houston Oilers own the record for fewest interceptions recorded by a defense in a season with three, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Along with the then-1982 Baltimore Colts, the 2005 edition of the Raiders are tied for second in NFL history recording just five interceptions.
When Oakland returns from the bye week, they will have to prepare for quarterback Tom Brady and the Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots in Mexico City on Nov. 19.
The 40-year-old Brady is still going strong in his 18th season in the league, second among passers in yards (2,541) and touchdowns (16). His two interceptions are the second-fewest thrown by starting quarterbacks behind Kansas City’s Alex Smith, (league-high 18 touchdowns) who threw his first interception of the season in Week 9.
Before Oakland plays New England, the Raiders will be rooting for the Patriots (6-2) in Week 10, who travel to Denver to take on the Broncos (3-5) Sunday night at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on NBC’s Sunday Night Football in prime time.