Raiders offense might only be scratching the surface

Updated September 11, 2017 - 7:05 pm

ALAMEDA, Calif. — The Raiders were encouraged Sunday.

Their offense is what they hoped.

A fresh Marshawn Lynch pounded through the Tennessee Titans, forcing five missed tackles. An offensive line matched his toughness, together helping seal a 26-16 win on eight straight runs. Quarterback Derek Carr peppered the ball around the field. His communication was seamless with first-year coordinator Todd Downing.

But there was added reason for encouragement.

What the offense didn’t do.

The Raiders were as efficient as could be expected for a season opener. Imagine when they are fully clicking. Areas for improvement include one the team is confident will prove a 2017 strength, and that’s the connection between Carr and wide receiver Amari Cooper.

Carr completed five of 13 passes for 62 yards and one touchdown Sunday when targeting the fellow Pro Bowler. His passer rating was 79.6 on such throws. When targeting all other receivers, he completed 17 of 19 passes for 200 yards and a score, good for a 128.1 rating.

No one seems concerned.

Three incompletions to Cooper came on consecutive red-zone targets to conclude the first quarter. On the first two, Carr sought to capitalize on a man-coverage matchup with Adoree’ Jackson, a rookie first-round pick. Ball placement was too high on a couple throws throughout the day. A miscommunication occurred at least once.

According to Pro Football Focus, Cooper had three drops Sunday after four in all of 2016.

“I could have helped him more with some of those plays, and I’m sure he’d say the opposite,” Carr said. “It’s just how we are, and it’s how this organization is built, our culture. That’s how we grow. If we both take responsibility, we’ll work at it and get better. I’m completely fine saying I screwed up, and I did a couple times.

“He made a perfect conversion on a route, and I messed it up. There were so many little things in this game, which always happens in Week 1. But when you win, you can sit back and go, ‘Dang man. We could have had so much more.’ … There’s still so much room for growth for him, me and our offense.”

Cooper bulked up this offseason.

The added muscle was evident on an 8-yard touchdown on the Raiders’ first possession. Jackson wrangled him in a circle, but Cooper fought through the arm tackle and kept his balance. He sprinted ahead and, with help from his three interior linemen, moved a pile of Titans defenders into the end zone.

“Just to take advantage of my opportunities,” Cooper said of his offseason focus. “I really didn’t do that out there (Sunday), but it happens sometimes. I got to move forward.”

There were other plays the Raiders want back.

Right tackle Vadal Alexander struggled in limited action. He subbed in for Marshall Newhouse on the third series, a rotation the coaches planned entering the game. There was little desire to rotate further, as Alexander allowed two sacks on consecutive snaps. Running back Jalen Richard, in fairness, was at partial fault for the first; he was unable to adequately account for linebacker Wesley Woodyard on an inside blitz.

Carr missed Lynch on a quick-hit pass in the third quarter. Lynch was aligned out wide with no defender across from him. Carr volunteered fault for throwing too far ahead of him.

The Raiders finished their afternoon with a punishing, eight-run drive that made it a two-score game. Still, coach Jack Del Rio called the execution “good but not great” on the sequence. That evaluation applies to the offense’s day overall.

“That’s what you would expect in a first game,” Del Rio said. “A lot of good, solid things occurred. The operation, lining up, executing the plays, understanding where you belong, playing together, playing through adversity — all those things are very good. I think we’re looking to improve each and every week. There’s clearly a laundry list of things we need to do better, but a good place to start.”

Contact reporter Michael Gehlken at mgehlken@reviewjournal.com. Follow @GehlkenNFL on Twitter.

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