Five things the Raiders must do to stay in the playoff race

Injuries, pass defense, penalties and Josh Jacobs vs. the rookie wall loom as Raiders' second-half challenges to making AFC playoffs

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OAKLAND — So here they are, halfway into the season, a legitimate playoff contender no matter how you look at the standings.

The Raiders were destined for 2-6, maybe 3-5 if things broke right. Instead, they’re 4-4 after beating the Detroit Lions 31-24 Sunday at the Coliseum. The road trip from hell is over. A more favorable schedule awaits, although coach Jon Gruden wants no part of that storyline.

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Five things that could derail the Raiders from a spot in the postseason in their final season in Oakland:

Injuries

Always the biggest concern of any NFL team, and the Raiders have had their share. They’ve had their first-team offensive line for 10 plays. Wide receiver Tyrell Williams missed two games. Although not an injury, Vontaze Burfict was lost for the last 12 games with a suspension.

Daryl Worley (20) intercepts a pass intended for Detroit Lions’ Kenny Golladay (19). (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

Coming out of the Lions loss, Daryl Worley (injury undisclosed) couldn’t make it on to the field at the end and was having a serious heart-to-heart talk with defensive coordinator Paul Guenther in the otherwise fired-up locker room.

Running back Josh Jacobs carried 28 times for 120 yards against Detroit and he’ll be watched closely.

But the most important player is quarterback Derek Carr. Although the Raiders are better equipped in case of a Carr injury with Mike Glennon than they were with Matt McGloin and Connor Cook in 2016, he is still the player the Raiders could least afford to lose.

Pass defense

Benson Mayowa (91) and Oakland Raiders’ Nicholas Morrow (50) tackle Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9). (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

The Raiders were shredded for 406 yards by Matthew Stafford, who got the Lions to the 1-yard line with a chance to tie (or win, if the Lions went for two points). And they were similarly taken apart by Aaron Rodgers and Deshaun Watson in the two weeks prior.

The Raiders don’t cover well. They don’t rush well. They get Philip Rivers Thursday night, an aging veteran who can still sling it. Then the pressure backs off considerably with the Bengals and Jets, with Patrick Mahomes up Dec. 1, assuming he’s recovered from a kneecap injury.

Either the Raiders sharpened themselves against some of the most prolific quarterbacks in the NFL, or they’re susceptible to just about anyone when it matters. Eight games to find out.

Penalties

Jon Gruden talks to Referee Shawn Hochuli #83 before the game against the Lions. (Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

A long-standing Raiders issue, they had 10 more for 96 yards against Detroit. That gives them 69 for the season, with only the Cleveland Browns (75) New York Jets (70) having more among teams that have played just eight games.

And while a good segment of the fan base would have you believe it’s because NFL officials are out to get the Raiders, don’t buy in to it. Coach Jon Gruden certainly doesn’t. There are questionable penalties throughout the year for every team. If the Raiders are watched closer simply because they’re the Raiders, they have to deal with that.

Eliminate all the pre-snap and obvious stuff and they’ve got a better argument.

Keeping Josh Jacobs as healthy as possible is a priority for the Raiders going forward in the second half of the season.

Josh Jacobs

Keeping Josh Jacobs as healthy as possible is a priority for the Raiders going forward in the second half of the season. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

We come back to Jacobs because he has been such an obvious force for the Raiders. With 740 yards in eight games, Jacobs already surpassed Marcus Allen’s 697 yards in a nine-game strike season for a franchise rookie record. He’s fourth in the NFL in terms of yards per game (92.5) and in truth he’s more important than his stats.

Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington have stepped in and done some good things, but even they acknowledge how important Jacobs has been.

There’s a short week coming up after 28 carries for a guy who’s already carried the ball 32 times more than he ever did at Alabama.

Getting through the rest of the season will take some restraint as well as the right instinct on when to go for it.

The rookie wall

Jacobs is the biggest factor in this, but the Raiders have lots of other rookies. Many of whom — wide receiver Hunter Renfrow, tight end Foster Moreau, cornerback Trayvon Mullen, defensive ends Clein Ferrell and Maxx Crosby and fullback Alec Ingold — have played prominent roles.

Every one of these rookies has exceeded anything they’ve ever done in college in terms of mental and physical demands on their bodies.

The trend in almost all cases has been upward, which indicates the Raiders have taken care of their rookies. The tricky part with eight games left is not only maintaining the rookies, but making sure they continue to improve.


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