It is official: fumbles have become a serious issue for the Oakland Raiders.
With two more lost fumbles Sunday in Cincinnati, the Raiders (3-11) have now rolled away possession seven times in the last four weeks. Including a 30-16 to the Bengals (6-8), fumbles have cost Oakland chances at victories in three of those four.
By most measures, Oakland put together a solid all-around Week 15 performance. Rookies Arden Key and Maurice Hurst flashed the ability to control the line of scrimmage both inside and outside, a young secondary led by Gareon Conley and Erik Harris slowed the Bengals passing attack and Derek Carr set a franchise record en route to a 263-yard afternoon.
Alas, fumbles by Carr and Jalen Richard robbed the Raiders of two scoring chances and any hopes of 2018 road win No. 2.
Carr’s best season?
Carr’s fumble, his ninth this season, ended the Raiders’ second possession of the game — a Harris interception on the very next play minimized the impact of the fumble.
The mistake did not deter Carr from posting another solid individual performance. Carr finished the afternoon with 263 passing yards, completing 21 of 38 passes (55 percent). While just one of his 21 pass attempts found its way to pay dirt, none found the defense. The Oakland quarterback who has been sacked more than all but two other passers in the league has now gone a Raiders record nine straight games without an interception.
More notably, the one touchdown Carr did produce, a one-yard throw to tight end Lee Smith, was his 278th consecutive pass attempt without an interception — another franchise record.
Carr’s 96.2 2018 passer rating is the second-highest he has produced in his five NFL seasons (96.7, 2016). His 264.1 yards per game are a career high, as is his 68.3 completion percentage, and he has done all this despite being sacked 47 times (3.4 per game) and with an injury-depleted receiving corps.
This is the first time since his rookie season in 2014 that Carr will not take part in the Pro Bowl — rosters were announced Tuesday. But some signs point to this being his best statistical season, considering his supporting staff.
That being said, Carr was far from perfect Sunday. Several missed passes cost Oakland chances against a Bengals secondary that is currently allowing the league’s fourth-most passing yards per game (270.6) and is tied for fourth-worst in allowing touchdowns (28). Carr’s most impactful miss came on a completion, with just less than five minutes remaining in the third.
Carr found an uncovered Jordy Nelson for 44 yards down to the Cincinnati 7 yard line. The problem is, a dramatically underthrown pass forced Nelson to stop completely. What should have been a walk-in touchdown, after a run, a false start and two incompletions, became a field goal.
When assessing the statistical performance of an individual, it is important take careful examination.
Third and fourth downs
The Bengals converted eight of their 19 third downs, and both of their fourth-down tries.
Cincinnati is in the bottom-half of the league in both third-down (22nd, 38.9 percent) and fourth-down (17th, 53.3) conversions. This was a matter of Oakland deficiencies more so than Bengal efficiency.
The Raiders have allowed a third-down conversion percentage of 46.1 — third-worst in the league. Their fourth-down allowance rate is even worse (85.7 percent), second-worst in the league.
Problem No. 1 is the Oakland defense’s inability to get to the quarterback — the Raiders have sacked opposing passers just 12 times, half as many times as the second-worst pass-rushing team in the league (Miami, 24). Add in the lack of takeaways (14, T-4th-fewest) and the summation is a defense asking way too much of its offense.
These are problem that must be remedied before head coach Jon Gruden can get his team back to the playoffs.
The Raiders finish their 2018 season with consecutive games against AFC West foes, including a primetime game against the Broncos in Oakland this Monday — Christmas Eve.
Last time the two teams played was in Week 2, when Denver claimed a 20-19 victory sending the Raiders into an 0-2 hole.
Things have changed for the division’s cellar-dwellers since mid-September showdown. Amari Cooper was the top targeted receiver for the silver and black, Jared Cook has since emerged as Carr’s favorite pass-catcher, and rookie wideout Marcell Ateman has taken on some of that attention as well.
Last week, another name was added to the list of potential playmakers: Darren Waller. Waller, formerly of the Baltimore Ravens, got two touches in Cincinnati, one 44-yard reception and the other a sneaky 21-yard sweep.
Defensively, Conley, whose best game came in Week 2 at Denver, and Harris, who intercepted his first pass in the NFL a week ago, will once again be leaned on.
With precious little to play for in the standings — aside from perhaps clinching the No. 1 overall pick — these last two games will give many of these Raiders a chance to make statements. For Ateman and Waller, it is a chance to demand consideration for a 2019 roster spot. For Hurst and Key, a chance to put exclamation points on a solid pair of rookie campaigns. For Cook, an opportunity to turn up the volume on the disapproval of his being left off the Pro Bowl roster. And for Carr, an otherwise lost season will offer a possible bright light in the form of a standout performance for what has been a sit-down offense.