Now that the New England Patriots have been vanquished, Raider fans can feel a little bit better about the 2017 season and shift their focus toward next season.
Before doing so, it’s worth taking from the Super Bowl what we can in terms of how it pertains to the Raiders.
Given the Raiders played, and lost to, the Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles last season, the returning players and coaches have a pretty fair idea just how much work has to be done between now and the 2018 regular-season opener in September.
New head coach Jon Gruden already has broken down the film from those games and no doubt took copious notes Sunday, as the Eagles and Patriots traded offensive blows for 60 minutes until the Eagles prevailed 41-33.
Along the way, Gruden probably surmised the following:
— The Patriots and Eagles are better coached than the Raiders were under Jack Del Rio and his staff in 2017. That manifests itself in both teams make fewer mistakes in terms of penalties, blown coverages, being misaligned and taking poor angles.
For example, players run their routes so that they have enough yardage on a third-down completion. Tom Brady and Nick Foles deliver the ball to receivers in position to convert a third-down play into a first down. How many times did Derek Carr throw to a receiver well short of the first-down marker, either because he was fearful of getting hit, didn’t give the play enough time to develop or offensive coordinator Todd Downing didn’t dial up a good enough play?
You also don’t see a lot of missed open-field tackles or missed tackles, period, from the Patriots and Eagles. Beyond that, let’s not talk about what the teams did defensively Sunday.
Gruden has the confidence to believe that he and his new staff will do a better job than their predecessors, so this isn’t a huge concern.
— Both teams feature a game-changing tight end. New England’s Rob Gronkowski single-handedly took over the game at times Sunday the way he and few others are capable of doing. Counterpart Zach Ertz scored the game-deciding touchdown for the Eagles and showed that he is among the game’s elite at his position.
Watching Gronkowski and Ertz showed just how much of a gap there is between them and the Raiders’ Jared Cook, who has big-play ability but lacks the sure hands and consistency of the aforementioned. Clive Walford hasn’t shown any signs of reaching the level of Gronk and Ertz.
— Both teams had better depth at wide receiver. The Patriots trot out Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola and Chris Hogan as their big three. The Eagles feature Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor and Torrey Smith.
None of those six receivers is in the elite category, but every one is very good. They are sure-handed, run precise routes and make plays on a consistent basis.
The Raiders are close in this area, assuming they bring back Michael Crabtree as the No. 2 to Amari Cooper. However, they lack a bonafide No. 3 receiver or adequate depth. Johnny Holton, Seth Roberts and Cordarrelle Patterson wouldn’t see any playing time on the Eagles and Patriots, put it that way. And, they might not see much, if any, on the Raiders next season as a result.
— Part of Tom Brady’s success owes to the Patriots having a stable of running backs that are asked to catch a lot of passes. His backs caught 125 passes this season. The Eagles finished with only 43, in large part because of an injury to third-down back Darren Sproles early in the season. By comparison, the Raiders completed 87 passes to their running backs and fullback Jamize Olawale.
— The Eagles and Patriots find ways to make plays, especially in key situations. Their coaches have confidence in them to go for it on fourth down, run trick plays, throw deep often, you name it. It’s what Super Bowl-caliber teams do. It’s what the Raiders are working on becoming this offseason.
That process kicked into high gear and into a new phase Monday. The Jon Gruden Era is now on level ground with the rest of the league. Time will tell if Gruden can get the Raiders to rise to the level achieved by the Patriots and Eagles this season.