This season’s downward spiral for the Raiders can be pinned on a lot of things: the change in offensive coordinators, the drops by the receiving corps and injuries and ineffectiveness in the secondary certainly rank near the top.
But No. 1 is probably the pendulum swing in turnovers.
In 2016, the Raiders went 12-4 in large part because of their ability to protect the football and take it way. They ranked tied for first in the NFL at plus-16. The Raiders defense had its troubles, but it consistently took away the football from opponents, with 16 interceptions and 14 fumble recoveries. On offense, Raiders QBs threw just seven interceptions and the team lost just seven fumbles.
“There’s nothing more important than the turnover battle,” Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio said last season. He added, “Protect the ball is a priority for us and taking it away from our opponent. We’ve been pretty solid.”
But, there can be certain elements of luck to turnovers – as well as talent – and this season the Raiders have been torpedoed by both.
Oakland is 29th in giveaway-takeaway ratio in 2017 at minus-9. The Raiders defense has zero interceptions and six fumble recoveries, while Oakland QBs have been picked off 14 times and the team has lost nine fumbles.
The turnover differential alone goes a long way in explaining why the Raiders were 8-2 a year ago at this time but 4-6 in 2017.
The Jacksonville Jaguars, meanwhile, are the opposite tale. The Jags are plus-11 this season to lead the league while building a 7-3 record. A year ago they finished 3-13 while finishing 30th at minus-16.
So how do the Raiders turn things around over their final six games? Oakland probably needs go 5-1 over its remaining schedule, beginning with a win this Sunday over the Broncos, to get a playoff berth.
New defensive coordinator John Pagano – who replaces the just-fired Ken Norton Jr. – says his job is to get his unit to get the ball back for the offense to score. He says the defense needs to “finish” plays and pay more attention to fundamentals and techniques.
“I talked to these guys this about, ‘We’ve got to do simple better,’ ” Pagano told Matt Kawahara of the San Francisco Chronicle. “And what is simple – it’s fundamentals of covering. It’s tackling. It’s communicating. It’s catching the ball when it comes to you.”
Raiders fans will find out Sunday if Pagano’s words or change in focus mean a thing, or if luck is just not on Oakland’s side this season.
Kickoff for Sunday’s game at O.co Coliseum is set for 1:25 p.m. Oddsmakers have made the Raiders five-point favorites.