ALAMEDA, Calif. — As their last season in Oakland has reached the bye week, the Raiders are defying expectations and are in the early playoff mix at 3-2 after a pair of wins away from home.
The Raiders were not favored in either the matchup against the Colts in Indianapolis or the contest against the Bears in London. But each time, they were able to overcome fairly significant obstacles to win.
Now at the bye week, head coach Jon Gruden said he feels good about how the Raiders are coming together.
“I’m proud of our team,” Gruden said. “We have a lot of respect for how far we have to go, but we’re making some progress.”
The Raiders do have injury and suspension concerns, but those may be easing somewhat soon. Gruden said injured right guard Gabe Jackson has made great progress and is in position to return either Week 7 or Week 8.
“It’s exciting, man. This guy’s really worked hard,” Gruden said. “He looks, I think, better than he’s ever looked. He’s really gotten himself in great shape. But we’ll be smart about it.”
Jackson has been out since early August when he injured his knee during a training camp practice with the Los Angeles Rams. Despite consistent shuffling on the offensive line, the Raiders are still No. 9 in rushing, averaging 134.4 yards per game. Rookie Josh Jacobs is No. 6 individually with 430 rushing yards.
“We’re proud of what we’ve done up front on offense,” Gruden said. “They like it. It’s fun to block for a guy like Jacobs. Their hard work and their effort is rewarded every time we seem to hand this kid the ball.”
At wide receiver, Gruden admitted there is some concern with both Tyrell Williams and J.J. Nelson missing Sunday’s game with foot and knee injuries, respectively. But the Raiders did acquire Zay Jones from the Bills to help at that position.
The Raiders traded a 2021 fifth-round pick to bring in Jones, who was originally a second-round selection in 2017 from East Carolina.
“He was as very productive guy in college,” Gruden said. “Tough guy, smart. I just think he’s got a lot of natural skills that are really well worth looking into.”
Jones has caught 90 passes for 1,037 yards with nine touchdowns in his career. He had 56 receptions for 652 yards and seven touchdowns last year with Buffalo, but he had seen his playing time significantly reduced in 2019. He played only one snap in the Bills’ 14-7 Week 5 victory over the Titans. He was replaced in the starting lineup by Duke Williams, who came off Buffalo’s practice squad.
Gruden said he’ll be spending time with Jones this week to get him caught up on the playbook, with the idea that Jones can make an impact against the Packers next week.
“I really credit (general manager) Mike Mayock and his staff for the two trades that we’ve made,” Gruden said. “Trevor Davis has really paid big dividends for us. And we expect more of the same for Zay.”
Defensively, the team is still awaiting word on linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who had the appeal for his season-long suspension heard on Tuesday. Gruden once again adamantly defended Burfict on Tuesday, saying that the Raiders expect the linebacker to be back.
“I respect the league’s position. They have a tough job,” Gruden said. “At the same time, we have a lot of confidence that they’ll do what’s right. And we want Burfict back. He’s already been punished. We hope he can return to playing soon.”
The Raiders did perform well on defense without Burfict in the lineup. Fellow 2019 captain Tahir Whitehead moved over from outside linebacker to middle linebacker as the Raiders’ defensive signal-caller. And Nicholas Morrow played 97 percent of the defensive snaps at outside linebacker in the Week 5 victory.
“They played great,” Gruden said. “Morrow had an interception. I think Whitehead did a great job running the show. So those guys deserve credit.”
For now, the Raiders players are off for their bye week. Gruden said he told the players to enjoy themselves, but be smart doing it.
“I’m really proud of our coaches, proud of our young team. And I’m hopeful that everybody gets their batteries recharged a little bit this week because we’ve got a great schedule coming up.”