As the resident member of Raider Nation here at Razzball, it makes my heart tingle to write this piece. Will it remove the vomit still stuck in my esophagus from Jamarcus Russell? Hells to the no but the squad actually looks like a competent team. It’s only been two games, so I’m far from crowning them but two victories over tough AFC North teams in Baltimore and Pittsburgh on the road brings rays of light into the Son household. Let’s break down what’s happened so far and look at the fantasy implications.

The biggest takeaway from the early-season success for the Raiders has been the defense. There were some offseason acquisitions in Solomon Thomas, Darius Philon, Quinton Jefferson, KJ Wright, Casey Hayward, and Yannick Ngakoue but it’s been the coordinator change that looks to have paid the biggest dividend.

Out with Paul Guenther and Rod Marinelli and in with Gus Bradley. In the three years that Guenther was defensive coordinator of the Raiders, they were 32, 24, and 30 in points allowed. According to Football Outsiders, they were 29, 27, and 32 in adjusted sack rate while being 26, 31, and 32 in pass defense DVOA. Still not convinced that he was the worst? The unit was 23, 20, and 28 in rush defense DVOA. 

In two games so far with Bradley at the helm, they limited the Ravens to 189 yards rushing, which is a lot but is three yards lower than their season-average last season. Against the Steelers, they held them to 39 yards rushing and 292 yards passing. 

The scheme is just so much better than in the past. Bradley was the architect of the Legion of Boom defenses and brings over his Cover-3 principles. The Raiders don’t blitz often and rely on their front four to deliver pressure.

And pressure they have delivered.

According to PFF, the Raiders have the top pass-rush score after two weeks. Maxx Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue are both top 20 in pass rushing. The Raiders have blitzed only 4.9% of the time, the lowest in the league by a significant margin. Getting pressure with just four and having seven back in coverage is huge. 

The Raiders are 13th in coverage according to PFF and are ranked 10th in pass defense DVOA. The rush defense is the weakness, as they are middle of the pack, but it’s a huge improvement from years past.

From a fantasy perspective, this unit is no longer a cake matchup. At least for now. The sample size is small at two games but that’s all we have to go on. As new information comes in, we will adjust but this is not a smash spot as it was in the past.

Derek Carr.

I was one to always ask, “Dude, Where’s My Carr?” I often wanted to pawn him off for parts but he’s been nothing short of unbelievable. He’s leading the league in pass attempts (93) and yards (817). Against two defenses that were first and 10th in pass defense DVOA last season. The Steelers had some injuries but so did the Raiders, as the offensive line has been banged up and Josh Jacobs was unable to play. 

There were backups at both guard spots and first-round pick, Alex Leatherwood, left Sunday’s game. Andre James is the new center taking the place of Rodney Hudson. PFF has the pass-blocking as fifth-best with the run-blocking dead-last. Pittsburgh and Baltimore are first and 13th in rush defense so that’s not too much of a surprise. 

The rest of the season schedule maps out as such:

(PFF rush defense score)

3 MIA 12
4 LAC 30
5 CHI 14
6 DEN 6
7 PHI 21
9 NYG 20
10 KC 32
11 CIN 9
12 DAL 16
13 WAS 17
14 KC 32
15 CLE 2
16 DEN 6
17 IND 8
18 LAC 30

The ratings will obviously change as more data points are assembled but it’s a mixed bag. There are some really tough matchups but some cake ones as well, which happen to be in the division. The offensive line, barring health, should improve as they get more reps with each other and become a more cohesive unit. Gruden wants to run the ball as they have been top 10 in rushing attempts the prior two seasons. 

Concurrently, the defense should get better as the season unfolds as well, as the players get more comfortable with the scheme and fewer communication breakdowns are made. If the defense is in fact for real, that should allow Gruden to run a more balanced offense.

Carr has demonstrated that he can lead the Raiders through the air. Crazy Carr stat. In eight seasons, he’s missed a total of two games. Crazy. Alright, back to your regularly scheduled programming. I don’t foresee Carr leading the league in passing attempts and yards. I doubt you can trade him but it wouldn’t hurt to explore the possibility. The Raiders should become more balanced as the season goes on as both the defense and offensive line should improve.

Therefore, I’d be fading the Raiders passing game and buying low on the running game. Josh Jacobs would be a buy-low candidate for me. It’s tricky, though, because of the injury. 

Just Win, Baby!