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What we learned in first quarter of season

By Paul Wexler | Staff Writer

Carr has improved – When all is said and done, the best work that offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave does to the Raiders offense likely will be the development of quarterback Derek Carr. Musgrave has had his ups and downs in the past as a coordinator, but he always has been praised for his work with quarterbacks. Carr has improved his completion percentage to 62.6 percent and his passer rating to 97.7, while taking more chances down the field with the ball.

This season his biggest improvement is when he is under pressure. The analytics from Pro Football Focus show that, unlike last season, when under pressure Carr’s passer rating fell to 57.0, this season when Carr has faced pressure his rating has been 95.1, which is almost identical to when he throws from a clean pocket. Carr trusts his receivers to be in the right place, so he is comfortable throwing the ball before they make their break and his footwork is better, which results in better accuracy.

Carr still needs to work on his deep ball. He has the arm strength but lacks accuracy on deep throws outside the painted numbers on the field. This may come with more reps with the same receivers as he gets comfortable with just how much air to put under the ball for each player.

Head coach Jack Del Rio is not afraid to make changes – Del Rio set the tone early in camp. Players that did not fit his playing style or that did not buy into his concepts did not last long. Linebacker Sio Moore was shipped off to Indianapolis after being demoted from starter to special teams. The Raiders top cornerback TJ Carrie was moved to safety after the an injury to Nate Allen. The move was made quickly after the coaches realized replacements Taylor Mays and Larry Asante were not getting the job done.

Cooper is the real deal – Wide receiver Amari Cooper came into the NFL with as much hype as any player in the 2015 NFL draft. Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice compared Cooper to one of the Raiders best before he had ever taken a snap.

“They have their new Tim Brown,” Rice told the media during his HOF conference call. “With Cooper, he is very much like Tim Brown. Very explosive, got speed to burn.”

Cooper has handled it all with professionalism beyond his years. He has led all rookie receivers with 24 receptions for 334 yards and two touchdowns. Cooper has exceptional skills after the catch, leaving corners and safeties tackling air after he stops, starts and changes direction faster than should be possible. The only knock on Cooper has been his penchant for making one or two drops a game.

Lack of depth continues to be an issue – Coming into the season it was clear the Raiders had no depth. After a rash of injuries it is clear the bench is made up of the waiver wire. Injuries to Allen, defensive tackle Justin Ellis and others caused the Raiders to bring back  Mays, defensive lineman C.J. Wilson and claim cornerback David Amerson off waivers.

The offensive line has made it through the first quarter of the season in tact. The starting five has been playing every offensive snap together. The line has performed almost exactly as expected. The left side has been excellent, with veteran left tackle Donald Penn, emerging star Gabe Jackson at left guard and All-Pro center Rodney Hudson. The right side has been shaky, with guard J’Marcus Webb fresh from a bad game against Chicago in which he got beat for two sacks. Right tackle Austin Howard has struggled in the run game and with speed rushers. Howard was pressed into the starting role when Menelik Watson was lost for the year due to an injury that he suffered in an exhibition game.

The Raiders cannot afford more injuries to the offensive line. Next up at guard or tackle would be Khalif Barnes and at center the backup is none other than Tony Bergstrom.

They can win on the road – The victory over the Cleveland Browns proved the Raiders can win on the road, and they can win in the eastern time zone. They have traveled as a team and overcome all the obstacles including a hostile environment. The next two road games are against the rival Chargers and Steelers. The second quarter of the season will be a good test to see how far this team has come.

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