Behind the scenes: Marshawn Lynch and the Raiders chances in 2017

OAKLAND, CA - NOVEMBER 26: Marshawn Lynch
OAKLAND, CA - NOVEMBER 26: Marshawn Lynch /

To prepare for the Chiefs next game, we asked a Raiders expert about Marshawn Lynch, Derek Carr and their chances this year.

The Kansas City Chiefs host the Oakland Raiders on Sunday in what is going to be a very important game for the AFC West crown. In an abysmal season for all teams involved, the Chiefs and Raiders are tied with the L.A. Chargers at 6-6 overall for the division lead. The good news is that both teams are very much in the thick of competition, but the bad news is that both teams were expected to be much better than they are.

We recently asked John Buhler of Just Blog Baby, our Raiders blog on the FanSided network, for some insight into the Raiders own letdown of a season, how Marshawn Lynch is faring late in the year and much more.

The Raiders entered the season as the darlings of the AFC, the next great powerhouse that could topple the Patriots. What went wrong that you didn’t expect?

I think the Raiders expected the transition from Bill Musgrave to Todd Downing at offensive coordinator would have gone smoother. Downing and Derek Carr have a great relationship, stemming from when Downing was Carr’s quarterbacks coach. However, Downing has not been as savvy of a play caller as Oakland would have expected. Of course, the dropped passes have been brutal for the offense, but the switch from power to zone in the running game really took the bite out of this offense.

Only recently has Downing leaned on Marshawn Lynch to be the high-volume runner we all grew accustomed to from his time with the Seattle Seahawks. Overall, I feel like the Raiders expected they would remain in the top-five or eight offensively, and that has just not been the case in 2017.

What’s the morale among fans at this point given the current situation—the playoffs are in reach yet expectations were clearly dashed in some way?

Being 6-6 is not where this team wanted to be at all. Fans expected bigger and better things than this, but here we are. I’d say the fan base is cautiously optimistic about making the playoffs, but only because it turns out we play in the worst division in football. If the Raiders go 3-1 in their final four games to finish 9-7, I wouldn’t rule out making the playoffs as either the division winner or the No. 6 seed. We know that the AFC South is getting two teams in.

Losing the head-to-head tiebreaker to the Baltimore Ravens isn’t great, but I think the fan base would appreciate making the playoffs in a year where the team wasn’t spectacular. It has been since 2002 since the Silver and Black won the AFC West, so there’s always that.

What do you know about Derek Carr now that you didn’t one year ago?

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That he’s more of a trailer than a tractor at the quarterback position. This isn’t the worst thing in the world, as there are like two tractors in the NFL: Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. Carr does have great on-field charisma and tends to play his best ball in the fourth quarter. However, I wish he threw a more catchable ball and started games faster. We know that he plays behind a great offensive line, but he needs his skill position players around him to play at a high level to tap into his own star potential. Let’s be real though. He is playing for a first-year offensive coordinator, so a regression to the mean after an MVP caliber year was to some degree expected.

Is Marshawn getting better as the season goes on? What’s the general opinion of the new acquisitions like Beast Mode and Jared Cook?

Lynch has certainly found his stride. Ever since he got ejected in Week 7 and suspended for that disaster of a football game against the Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park, Lynch looks as good as he ever was. He has been key in the Raiders’ three most recent wins over the Miami Dolphins, the Denver Broncos and the New York Giants, albeit bad teams. Todd Downing’s decision to lean on Lynch in the running game has been a great revelation for the Raiders offense in the last month plus. Lynch’s continued success on the ground will be key in the Raiders’ playoff push. So yes, the Lynch acquisition has been as good as advertised. That being said, he had been disappointing in the first seven games of the season. It’s good to see him playing his best ball down the stretch.

As for Jared Cook, he’s Jared Cook. There will be games where you wonder why he’s not a top-five tight end in football. He can exploit bad linebacking corps with his unique combination of size and speed. However, he will disappear at times in the Oakland passing game. He has been one of the Raiders’ three best pass catchers this season along with Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. Overall, Cook has been a great addition to the passing game. He’s not a Pro Bowl level player, but he can definitely take over in big spots in the Raiders offense.

Was firing Ken Norton Jr. really the answer on defense?

You almost have to feel bad for the guy. He was a lame duck heading into the season ever since the Raiders brought John Pagano on to the staff after he wasn’t retained with the Chargers. Sure, you could chalk up many of the Raiders’ defensive struggles to questionable personnel moves by general manager Reggie McKenzie, but this defense was so undisciplined under Norton’s watch. Pagano has attempted to make the secondary accountable for once. Guys like cornerback T.J. Carrie and safety Karl Joseph have answered Pagano’s calling.

By signing veteran inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman as a free agent mid-season, the Raiders gained an on-field coach at linebacker, so it could move on from Norton really at any time. Jack Del Rio definitely threw Norton under the bus after the debacle down in Mexico City versus the New England Patriots. It was a self-preservation move on Del Rio’s part, if we’re being totally honest.

If you had to bet on who comes out on top in the AFC West it would be…?

I don’t think anybody in the AFC West wants to play the Chargers. Their pass rush is so good. Philip Rivers is playing some of the best ball of his career. His offensive weapons around him aren’t falling to pieces like they do in most years. If the Raiders knock off KC on Sunday, I think the AFC West will come down to the Week 17 game in Carson between Oakland and Los Angeles. The Chargers are the only team in the AFC West that can win a playoff game this year, so I think you’d have to side with them to come out on top in 2017.