Raiders to host Rams in regular season opener on Monday Night Football

Photo credit: @Raiders

By Joe Hawkes-Beamon
SRS Contributor

OAKLAND — Yes, the NFL regular season is finally here. No more of watching unwatchable preseason football and hoping that both teams put on solid efforts.

The Oakland Raiders will begin their 2018 regular season on Monday night when they will welcome the Los Angeles Rams to the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. The game between the two clubs will be the second game of ESPN’s Monday Night Football doubleheader, which kicks off at 7:20 p.m. PT.

The New York Jets travel to the Motor City to take on the Detroit Lions in Game 1. Kickoff for that game is at 4:10 p.m. PT.

The Raiders met the Rams in Week 2 of the preseason in Los Angeles. The Rams won a snore of a game, 19-15, with both teams opting to hold out their starters.

This time around, things will be different as this is the regular season and the games count more than they do in the preseason.

The big story surrounding the Raiders has been the trade of defensive end/outside linebacker Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears on Sept. 2. Oakland was unable to come to terms on a new longterm contract for the star defender.

The Raiders were hoping that Mack would return to the team and play under the franchise tag of $13.8 million but when it appeared that Mack wasn’t going to show up for any of Oakland’s training camp, head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Reggie McKenzie shipped the 27-year-old former NFL Defensive Player of the Year to the Bears for a boatload of draft picks: first- and sixth-round picks in 2019, and first- and third-round picks in 2020.

Along with Mack, the Bears received second- and fifth-round picks in 2020 as part of the deal.

Oakland will miss Mack no doubt. Mack amassed 40.5 sacks over the past four seasons for the Raiders and the name of the game on defense is to hit the quarterback and Oakland just let their best pass rusher walk out the door.

Last season, the Raiders finished 24th in defense last year despite Mack’s 10.5 sacks. This season, the Raiders will need to improve that ranking if they are to return to the playoffs after a dismal 6-10 season last year following a 12-4 campaign in 2016. That means rookies on the defensive line such as P.J. Hall, Maurice Hurst and Arden Key will be tasked to pick up the slack for Mack.

Quarterback Derek Carr is looking for a bounce back season of his own in 2018.

Last season, Carr’s numbers dipped a bit: throwing for 3,496 yards, with 22 touchdowns and 13 interceptions with a 86.4 passer rating after throwing for 3,937 yards with 28 touchdowns and just six interceptions to go along with a career-high 96.7 passer rating in 2016.

With Gruden back in town (after taking over for the fired Jack Del Rio), Carr’s play is expected to take off. Gruden is credited as being an offensive genius when designing plays and Carr’s performance will be critical for the Raiders’ offense that finished  23rd in production in 2017.

The Rams defense finished in 12th in scoring defense (20.6 points per game) and are loaded.

Defensive tackle Aaron Donald, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, leads the Rams into Oakland looking to build off of the team’s first postseason birth since 2004. Los Angeles won the NFC West title after finishing 11-5 last season and are one of the favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl in Atlanta on Feb. 3, 2019.

Los Angeles added defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to play next to Donald in the offseason, along with cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters via trades to shore up their secondary.

The Rams have one of the best offenses in the league, led by third-year quarterback Jared Goff and running back Todd Gurley.

After a subpar rookie season in 2016 in which he threw for just 1,089 yards with five touchdowns and seven interceptions under former head coach Jeff Fisher, Goff exploded in 2017 under first-year head coach Sean McVay throwing for career-highs in yards (3,804), touchdowns (28) and passer rating (100.5).

Goff threw just seven interceptions during the 2017 campaign.

Gurley had a bounce back season too under McVay after a disappointing 2016 season where Gurley rushed for a career-low 885 yards and six touchdowns. The fourth-year running back rushed for career-highs in yards (1,305) and touchdowns (13). Gurley finished second in the NFL in total rushing, falling just 22 yards short of league-leader in rookie Kareem Hunt of the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Raiders could have their hands full with a Rams offense that finished first in scoring last season, averaging 29.9 points per game.

After Monday night’s game, both teams will begin their divisional schedule Sunday, September 16, with the Raiders traveling to Denver to take on the Broncos, while the Rams will host the Arizona Cardinals at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Games will be scheduled for 1:25 pm and 1:05 pm, respectively.

Raiders get set for LA trip, take on Rams at Memorial Coliseum Saturday

Photo credit: therams.com

By Joe Hawkes-Beamon

OAKLAND — For the first time in 24 years, the Raiders will play a game in Los Angeles when they face the Rams at the Memorial Coliseum Saturday afternoon. Kickoff is set for 1:00 p.m. PT.

This is the second-straight season that the Rams and the Raiders link up in the preseason.

Los Angeles won 24-21 at the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum last August. Oakland will host the Rams in Week 1 as part of a double-header on ESPN’s Monday Night Football, but don’t expect both teams to reveal any true game plans Saturday.

It was December 24, 1994 that the then-Los Angeles Raiders lost a 19-9 game to the Kansas City Chiefs that would end the Raiders’ 12-year run in Southern California. Depending on who you talk to, the Raiders still hold a major footprint in the country’s second-largest media market next to New York.

Even with the Rams back in town after relocating from St. Louis, where they won the franchise’s only Super Bowl trophy, following a 20-year stint from 1995-2015, it’s as if the Raiders have never left as you can still see people wearing Raiders’ gear.

The Raiders did win a Super Bowl in Los Angeles following the 1983 season, the third trophy in franchise history.

That’s why I’m very interested to see how much of the 93,607-seat Memorial Coliseum will be Silver and Black Saturday afternoon as both teams will play their second preseason game.

The Raiders defeated the visiting Detroit Lions, 16-10, last Friday night at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.

Quarterback Derek Carr and the first-team offense started the game, playing just one drive before heading to the sideline. Carr completed just 2-of-4 passes for 11 yards in his night of work, but the first-team offense did show some potential of being a big-play offense this season, after seeing running back Marshawn Lynch dart down the Oakland sideline for a 60-yard touchdown run before the play was called back following a holding call on rookie left tackle Kolton Miller.

Expect Carr and the first-team offense to play more than one series, after Raiders head coach Jon Gruden broke training camp Thursday giving the players the day off.

Connor Cook, who took over for Carr, completed 11-of-19 passes for 141 yards and a touchdown while playing the remainder of the first half. Cook would lead the Raiders to a 13-7 halftime lead, looked good engineering the Raiders’ second-team offense.

Undrafted rookie running back Chris Warren III played extensively, recording 13 carries for 86 yards. Its just one preseason game, but Warren III is making a strong case to make the team with impressive showings in recent training camp practices according to reports from Napa.

Defensively, Oakland was without star defensive end/outside linebacker Khalil Mack, who has been a training camp holdout as he seeks a new contract. Missing that game cost Mack $814,000. Mack won’t play Saturday, which will cost him another $814,000.

Oakland’s defense won’t nearly be as formidable without Mack, who has made three trips to the Pro Bowl, named All-Pro twice, and won Defensive Player of the Year in his first four seasons in the NFL.

Rookie defensive tackle P.J. Hall showed great activity when he stepped on the field, recording a sack and a batted pass on his first two plays in the NFL. Other rookies like defensive tackle Maurice Hurst and cornerback Nick Nelson will get more playing time Saturday.

New kicker Eddy Pineiro made a case to be Oakland’s permanent kicker, nailing all three of his field goals. The rookie made field goals from 21, 48, and 45 yards.

Fellow rookie in defensive end Arden Key is expected to play Saturday after missing the previous game with a “tweaked” ankle per reports. As a sophomore at LSU, Key would set a school-record by registering 12 sacks in 2016.

As a matter of fact, Oakland could have their entire rookie class available this Saturday for the first time since their rookie class of 2016, per Marcus Allen Krause of Silver and Black Pride.

Second-year cornerback Gareon Conley, who has been nursing a shin injury, is expected to make is preseason debut against the Rams.  It was revealed early in training camp that Conley had suffered vitamin D deficiency, which became a major talking point on the Raiders.

Last week, the Rams traveled to Baltimore to open up their preseason slate, before being toppled by the Ravens 33-7.

Backup quarterback Sean Mannion started for the Rams in place of starter Jared Goff, completed just 3-of-13 passes for 16 yards and one interception, as Los Angeles held out the majority of their starting offense. Third-year quarterback Brandon Allen fared better, connecting on 10-of-15 passes for 73 yards and a touchdown.

Star running back Todd Gurley didn’t suit up for the Rams, but was on the sideline.

Los Angeles rewarded Gurley with a four-year $57 million extension with $45 million guaranteed in the offseason following a career-year in 2017 in which he rushed for 1,305 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Gurley also finished with career-highs in receptions (64), receiving yards (788) and touchdowns (5) last season in route to being named the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year.

Los Angeles traded for former Patriots wide receiver Brandin Cooks, who is coming off his third-straight of a least 60 catches, 1,000 yards and six touchdowns, and gave the aforementioned Goff another weapon to throw to.

Los Angeles led the NFL in scoring, averaging 29.9 points per game in 2017, and were a top-10 offense orchestrated by the second-year Goff (who threw for a career-high 3,804 yards with 28 touchdowns, seven interceptions and a 100.5 passer rating), designed by first-year head coach Sean McVay.

McVay, the NFL’s youngest head coach at age 31, is a Gruden disciple, cutting his teeth as a coaching assistant on Gruden’s staff with the Buccaneers in 2008. The former wide receiver at Miami of Ohio from 2004 to 2007 eventually would work his way to being the offensive coordinator at Washington under head coach Jay Gruden, the brother of Jon.

After leading the Rams to an 11-5 season, the NFC West title and the team’s first playoff appearance in 13 years, expectations are running high for McVay and Co. in Year 2.

Whenever the Rams come to terms with star defensive tackle Aaron Donald, the NFL’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year (and former Defensive Rookie of the Year) on a new contract, Los Angeles will have one of the best defenses in the league heading into the season. The Rams added defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib via trades to bolster the defense around Donald.

Just like Mack, Donald is holding out of training camp looking for new long term deal. Donald didn’t make the trip to Baltimore last week, and he too was fined a game check.

Donald missed out on a $405,000 payday for skipping the game.

The four-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro is adamant that he’s not playing a game without a new deal after outplaying his rookie deal after the Rams selected him 13th overall in 2014.

So the similarities are there between the Rams and the Raiders:

  1. Head coaches that are offensively innovative and detailed, but don’t expect Gruden or McVay to reveal their hands prior to Week 1.
  2. Star defensive players that should get massive deals, but when will Mack and Donald sign?

Following Saturday’s game, the Raiders will host the Green Bay Packers at home next Friday, while Los Angeles will host the Houston Texas next Saturday.

Oakland Raiders host Los Angeles Rams at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Preseason Encounter

Oakland Raiders quarterback EJ Manuel (3) during an NFL preseason football game against the Arizona Cardinals, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

By Joe Hawkes-Beamon
Sports Radio Service Writer

OAKLAND — The Raiders will play their first home game of the preseason schedule when they host the Los Angeles Rams Saturday night at the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum.

Kickoff is at 7:00 p.m. PT.

This will mark the first game between the Raiders and the Rams in the preseason since 2015 (an 18-3 home win for the Silver and Black). Oakland and Los Angeles last played in the regular season in 2014, when the Rams rolled over the Raiders 52-0 in St. Louis where the Rams called home from 1995-2015 after relocating from Los Angeles originally.

Oakland dropped their preseason opener 20-10 to the Arizona Cardinals last Saturday night in Glendale.

The Raiders held out most of their top players most notably quarterback Derek Carr, running back Marshawn Lynch, wide receivers Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper, offensive lineman Gabe Jackson, Rodney Hudson, and Kelechi Osemele.

With left tackle Donald Penn still holding out due to a contract dispute, the Raiders were cautious about playing Carr in the preseason opener. Carr is the franchise signal-caller the organization rewarded with a five-year, $125 million extension following his second-straight 3,900-passing yards and 25 touchdown-passing season in the offseason.

But with the second preseason game on the horizon and the Raiders returning to their Alameda headquarters Thursday following their annual training camp in Napa for the remainder of the season, you’d expect Carr and the first-team offense to be on the field Saturday night for at least the first quarter in front of Raider Nation.

Training camp reps are great, but Carr and the first-team offense need to be on the same page and live-action in an NFL game (even if it’s preseason), is the only way teams get better especially a team that have been picked by most Las Vegas odds-makers as the AFC’s representative in Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis on Feb. 4, 2018.

Once Carr gets his work in for the evening, the battle for Carr’s backup will continue between five-year veteran quarterback EJ Manuel and second-year signal-caller Connor Cook.

Manuel got the starting nod against Arizona and played admirable in the first half, completing 10-of-12 passes for 107 yards and a quarterback rating of 103.8. The former Buffalo starter was signed in the offseason to be Carr’s backup, but Cook was drafted in the fourth round by the Raiders in 2016 and the organization believes he could be just as good as Carr someday.

Cook took over for Manuel and played the entire second half and was just 10-of-21 for 82 yards, but did lead the Raiders to their lone touchdown of the evening, a one-yard rushing score by second-year reserve running back John Crockett in the third quarter that finished off a five-play, 63-yard drive.

Remember, Cook did make NFL history last season becoming the first rookie quarterback to make his pro debut in a playoff game, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, albeit after the Raiders lost Carr to a broken leg for the remainder of the season after an 12-3 start on Christmas Eve.

Losing Carr was the ultimate lump of coal in the stockings of Raider Nation.

Defensively, defensive end Khalil Mack and linebacker Bruce Irvin sat out Saturday’s contest in the desert. Both Mack and Irvin should see the field and get a chance to play with some of Silver and Black’s younger talent in second-year linebacker Cory James and rookie middle linebacker Marquel Lee.

James led all defensive players with seven tackles (seven solo) and looked more comfortable defending the run, while Lee finished with six tackles (five solo) and a fumble recovery in his first NFL preseason game.

Lee did struggle at times covering the running back out of the backfield and tight ends on option- and curl-routes, and needs to improve his coverage skills as the Raiders face dynamic tight ends almost on a weekly basis with Kansas City and San Diego coming to mind with elite guys named Travis Kelce and Antonio Gates, respectively.

Rookie defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes may have wrapped up a starting job, but fellow rookie defensive tackle Treyvon Hester racked up two of Oakland’s four sacks in Arizona with rookie linebacker LaTroy Lewis registering the other two sacks to go along with four tackles (four solo).

Add in holdovers Justin “Jelly” Ellis and defensive end Mario Edwards, Oakland’s defensive front could be intriguing to watch in 2017 after lacking any serious punch in 2016 with a league-low 25 sacks, 18 by the aforementioned Mack (team-leading 11.0 sacks) and Irvin (second with 7.0 sacks).

The Rams enter Oakland 1-0 in the preseason following a 13-10 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in Los Angeles last Saturday.

Former California starting quarterback Jared Goff, the Rams No. 1 overall pick in 2016, started the game and finished 3-of-4 for 34 yards during his only drive. The Rams are entering the 2017 season hoping that they can rebound from a disastrous 4-12 season a year ago that resulted in a head coaching change, out goes longtime head coach Jeff Fisher and enters first-timer Sean McVay.

McVay spent the last seven seasons in Washington as an offensive assistant, but the last three as the offensive coordinator where he’s aided in the growth of Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins. Cousins has posted back-to-back 4,000-yard passing seasons in the Nation’s Capital and is line for a major contract next offseason after making  nearly $44 million (fully guaranteed) on one-year franchise tenders the past two seasons (which includes this season at $23.9 million after walking away with $19.9 in 2016).

The Rams are banking on the 31-year-old McVay (the youngest head coach in NFL history) to develop Goff into a franchise quarterback. Goff started the team’s final seven games of the season last year and completed 112-of-205 passes for 1,089 yards and a  five-to-seven touchdown:interception ratio during that stretch.

Los Angeles did add weapons for Goff to help expedite the second-year pro by bringing in former Buffalo Bills wide receivers Robert Woods (signed by the organization to a five-year, $34 million ($15 million guaranteed) contract in free agency), a USC Trojan; and former top-pick Sammy Watkins in a blockbuster trade last Friday.

Watkins is also looking to have a bounce back season in 2017 that is reminiscent of his second year in 2015; where he exploded on to the NFL landscape with 60 catches for a career-high 1,047 yards and nine touchdowns in 13 games after a down year in Buffalo in 2016; where he posted career-lows in catches (28), yards (430) and touchdowns (2) while dealing with a nagging foot injury that limited the former standout from Clemson to just eight games.

When healthy, Watkins can take the top off a defense as his career average of 16.1 yards per catch can attest, which should open things up for wide receiver Tavon Austin.

Austin, who is paid like the Rams’ No. 1 wide receiver at $42 million ($28.5 million guaranteed), doesn’t play like a No. 1. With the additions of the Woods and Watkins on the outside, the 5-foot-9, 174-pound Austin can now flourish in the slot and be utilized in the similar fashion that the 5-foot-10, 178-pound DeSean Jackson (now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) was utilized by McVay in Washington.

The Rams also added skill players via the NFL draft, utilizing three of their first four picks on tight end Gerald Everett, and wide receivers Cooper Kupp and Josh Reynolds that will give Goff or third-year backup quarterback Sean Mannion (18-for-25 for 144 yards against Dallas) more options to look to in the passing game.

Kupp had fumble recovery on the Rams’ first drive of the game for a touchdown and could be a fixture in the Rams’ offense by Week 5 as coaches have salivated over his route-running ability. The former wide receiver from Eastern Washington is arguably the greatest weapon in Football Championship Subdivision history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, setting all-time records in total receptions (428), receiving yards (6,464), and receiving touchdowns (73).

Kupp finished his senior season as the best wide receiver in FCS in 2016, hauling in a conference-leading 117 receptions, for 1,700 yards receiving and 17 receiving touchdowns.

Third-year running back Todd Gurley is still the bell-cow for the Rams.

As a rookie in 2015, Gurley carried the ball 229 times for career-highs in rushing yards (1,106) and rushing touchdowns (10) in 13 games, but dipped a bit in his second year out of Georgia. Although Gurley played all 16 games in 2016 and finished with a career-high 278 carries, Gurley had only 885 yards rushing and six touchdowns to go along with a career-high 327 receiving yards.

Defensively for Los Angeles, veteran defensive coordinator Wade Phillips brings 39 years of coaching experience to Southern California and help McVay’s transition as a first-time head coach almost seamless. Phillips was the defensive coordinator from 2015-16 where he help guide Denver to their third Super Bowl championship in franchise history in 2015.

In 2016, Phillips’ defensive unit finished tops in the league in pass defense and yards per play.

Fourth-year defensive tackle Aaron Donald highlights the Rams’ defense. Donald was selected to his third-consecutive Pro Bowl in 2016 after recording eight sacks and 62 tackles while playing in all 16 games.

The glue to the Rams’ defense, Donald is currently holding out for a new contract that will make him one of the highest-paid defensive tackles in football. Recent reports have Donald threatening to extend his holdout into the season, which would cripple the Rams.

After Saturday’s game, the Raiders will travel to Dallas for their third preseason game against the Cowboys; and the Rams will return home to take on the Chargers in the “Battle of Los Angeles” or what my mentor likes to call the game, the “Carson Chargers” vs the “Inglewood Rams” at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Both games will be on Saturday Aug. 26th at 7:00 p.m. PT.

 

 

 

Oakland Raiders report: Khalil Mack named AP Defensive Player of the Year

Houston Texans running back Jonathan Grimes (41) carries the ball as the Raiders linebacker Khalil Mack (52) looks to make the tackle during an NFL Wild Card Playoff game between the Houston Texans and the Oakland Raiders on Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017 in Houston. The Texans beat the Raiders 27-14. (Matt Patterson via AP)

By Joe Hawkes-Beamon
Sports Radio Service Writer

HOUSTON, TX — Oakland Raiders defensive end/linebacker Khalil Mack took home the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year award at the NFL Honor ceremony on Saturday night.

Mack would win his first career DPOY award over notable stars such as Giants safety Landon Collins, Denver pass rusher Von Miller, Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, and Seahawks thumping linebacker Bobby Wagner.

After a slow start to the 2016 season with just one sack in his first five games, Mack would go on a frenzy from mid-October through mid-December in which the former Buffalo standout would collect 10 sacks, 13 quarterback hits, five forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, and a pick-six while helping the Silver & Black earn their first playoff berth since 2002.

Mack finished the season with 73 tackles, 11 sacks, five forced fumbles, and one interception.

Mack leads the NFL with 11 fourth-quarter sacks since 2015. That season, Mack finished with 15 sacks and became the first player ever in NFL history to be named to the Associated Press All-Pro Team at two different positions.

The straw that stirs the drink for Oakland’s defense was responsible for 44 percent of the Raiders’ sacks, while his 26 quarterback hits were second only to Donald’s 31 this season, per NFL Research.