The Oakland Raiders, fresh off a big win over Denver continue to face scrutiny and questions about their worth as a contender.
At one point in the not too distant past, asking whether the Oakland Raiders were “actually any good” might have been fair. Despite their record, there were some serious issues facing the team and though they posted some thrilling wins, some of those wins were shaky at best.
However, this is also a team that has improved and grown stronger week by week. Yes, they were absolutely blowtorched by the Saints and Falcons in the first couple of weeks. And despite giving up a staggering amount of points and yards, the Raiders emerged 1-1.
The questions surrounding their defense and whether or not they were mere pretenders, rather than contenders, were fair and valid.
But things have changed. Fairly dramatically. And no, not simply because they manhandled Denver – even though they did.
This is a defense that has improved drastically over the last month of the season. After a pretty poor showing against division rival Kansas City, the Raiders have gone on to throttle Jacksonville, Tampa Bay, and now, Denver.
In each of those three games, the much maligned Raiders’ defense allowed 344 yards, 270 yards, and 299 yards, respectively – an average of 304 yards per game. Which, if you’re scoring at home, would make them one of the best defensive units in the league over that stretch of time.
They’ve also give up just 20 points per game over those three contests – which would also make them one of the better defensive units in the league over that period of games.
And yet, despite the overall improvement of the defense and one of the NFL’s most electrifying offenses, haters – as they say – continue to hate and doubters continue to doubt.
In an article that appeared on FoxSports.com on November 4th, writer Dieter Kurtenbach posed the question – “The Oakland Raiders Are Relevant, But Are They Any Good?”
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Okay, given the fact that they had yet to thoroughly dominate any one team outside of Jacksonville – and everybody seems to do that – it might be a fair question to ask. Maybe.
At that time, they’d put together a string of narrow, nail biting victories, but had yet to score a signature, dominating win led by the defense. One they could really hang their hat on.
But in his piece, Kurtenbach does not account for the improvements of the defense, saying only:
"“Oakland has the 28th defense in the NFL, against a league-average schedule, per Football Outsiders’ rankings. The Raiders are being burned equally through the air and on the ground (they rank 25 against both the pass and run games, per FO) and haven’t shown many signs of improvement.”"
Which is a fine assessment – provided you’re only looking at statistics websites and box scores. Actually watching the defense play would have shown Kurtenbach the improvements he failed to take notice of – the improvements, actually, he said they’ve failed to make.
But rolling into the game with Denver, skepticism among some still abounded. Okay, we get that.
However, the Raiders absolutely manhandled the Broncos. The final score was 30-20, but the game wasn’t actually that close. With some long, time-consuming drives, the Raiders were as methodical as they were brutally effective.
You would think that a resounding win over the defending Super Bowl champs – not only that, but hanging 30 points on that hellacious defense that almost single-handedly won them the title last season – the Raiders would get a little bit of respect.
Apparently, if you thought that, you would be wrong.
In an article that appeared on FoxSports.com just today, writer Chris Chase – who may or may not be the Kurtenbach’s alter-ego – led off with the title, “The Oakland Raiders are 7-2 And In First Place – But Are They Actually Any Good?”
You might be tempted to think Chase is perhaps, satirizing Kurtenbach’s previous article. But no, sadly enough, you would be wrong. Along with a litany of reasons he gives for why we must continue to view the Raiders with a skpetical eye, the centerpiece of his argument appears to be because the Broncos — suffered some injuries.
"“The 6-3 Broncos, as currently constituted, aren’t quite the great test that a 6-3 Broncos team normally would. Aqib Talib‘s absence leaves Denver’s defense with a massive hole in the secondary that has a ripple effect all the way up to the defensive line. Though C.J. Anderson isn’t going to make anyone forget Terrell Davis, his injury effectively left Denver without a rushing attack and, by extension, much of an offense.”"
Given the laundry list of injuries the Raiders have suffered, Chase isn’t going to get a lick of sympathy from the team or its fans. Injuries happen. It’s part of the game. Good teams manage to persevere and overcome them. Not so good teams don’t.
There is a lot of season left, to be sure. One game does not a season make. And though the Raiders are currently sitting pretty at 7-2 and in sole possession of first place in the ultra-tough AFC West, a lot can happen week-to-week.
It will continue to be an uphill slog to get to the top of the mountain and finally slay the orange and blue beast that’s ruled the division for the last half decade. And of course, they can’t afford to forget the other two teams in the division either – the Chiefs are still nipping at their heels and the Chargers are a lot better than their record would seem to indicate.
If Oakland hopes to wear that divisional crown come the end of the regular season, they are going to have to be on point week in and week out.
The Raiders have overcome a lot of obstacles – some of them even self-inflicted – and have clawed their way back to relevance with one of the league’s most powerful offenses as well as a rapidly improving defense.
And in light of the throttling they gave Denver, it’s probably pretty safe to assume that the question has been answered – yeah, the Raiders are actually pretty good.
But – as they say, the haters will continue to hate and the doubters will continue to doubt.