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Raiders Talk: Vic Tafur, The Athletic

Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) against the Tennessee Titans during an NFL football game in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

JACKSONVILLE – senior writer John Oehser each week during the 2019 regular season will speak with a writer or media member covering the Jaguars' opponent.

Up this week:

Vic Tafur, The Athletic's Oakland Raiders writer, on the Raiders' matchup with the Jaguars at RingCentral Coliseum Sunday at 4:05 p.m.

Question: The Raiders started 6-4 and were one of the league's surprise stories. They now have lost three consecutive games by three touchdowns or more. What's their mindset entering Sunday?

A: It's a good question. They have been blown out three in a row. The playoff hopes are now barely alive; they would have to win out and have a lot of things happen, but I'm not sure it's very likely to happen. It's been a long season with a lot of travel; I'm not sure if they have hit a wall and that's it. I know [Head Coach] Jon Gruden has promised some changes on the defensive side of the ball, but I'm not sure what options are really there to make things a whole lot better. I really have no idea how they're going to come out.

Q: This is the last game for the Raiders in Oakland before they move to Las Vegas next season. Do you anticipate that being a factor Sunday?

A:I think the fans will be fired up. I definitely think it's something they've been pointing to for a while. The last couple of years have been fake [on that front]. They thought there was a last game and there really wasn't, so it was a dress rehearsal for this one. The fans are definitely fired up; I mean fans are sad, angry … really emotional. I think the problem is if they (the Raiders) come out and play like they have the last three weeks, the fans could turn pretty quick. That's why I'm curious how the players will react to not only the game, but also the whole setting.

Q: This was a team with playoff aspirations three weeks ago. They have lost since then to the New York Jets (34-3), the Kansas City Chiefs (40-9) and Tennessee Titans (42-21). What happened?

A: [Offensive lineman] Richie Incognito had a pretty good theory, I thought. They had won three games in a row, but they weren't playing that well. In that three-game win streak, they were at home. They were playing teams that weren't very good. They squeaked by. They went to New York and played the Jets. They got blown out. Richie said they kind of got exposed. Since then, they've kind of been reeling. It's a very young team. They play a lot of rookies. Injuries have kind of gotten them in certain spots. They weren't really picked to do very well going into the year, so they didn't have top-level talent even at the beginning of the year. The offense was kind of carrying them for a while. They've slowed down a little bit. [Quarterback] Derek Carr has had a couple of bad games in a row. The receivers aren't really getting open for him. Josh Jacobs has a fractured shoulder; he didn't play last week for the first time. I can't imagine why he would play again. Gruden says it's still a possibility, but to me that seems kid of foolish. He's your franchise running back; why would you risk him at this point? All things have kind of come together and the defense is getting torched. Every week a quarterback comes in and looks like Roger Staubach.

Q: This is Gruden's second season as head coach. Is there a sense that this thing is still moving in the right direction?

A: I think so. I think no matter happens in these last three games, there's enough optimism around the rookie class. [Defensive end] Clelin Ferrell, their first pick, hasn't done very much and has had kind of a very ho-hum rookie year. [Safety Johnathan] Abram, another first-round pick, was hurt [in the regular-season opener] and hasn't played. But even despite that they've still got huge contributions from Josh Jacobs, and [fourth-round end] Maxx Crosby has played very well. They've gotten a lot from their rookie class where people can kind of look at that and say, 'You know what, that's kind of the building block going forward.''

Q: When this team is playing well, what is it offensively? Is it Jacobs-centric? How would you describe it?

It's mostly Jacobs. The offensive line was really good at the beginning of the year. It hasn't been as good recently. The three tight ends [package] was working for a while, but I think coaches caught on to that. You can't use that too often. It's all been pretty much trimmed down to Josh Jacobs and the offensive line. Derek Carr doesn't really have the tools as far as receivers to expose teams deep.

Q: Similar question about the defense: When this team is right, what is defensively?

A:For the most part lately, it's been pretty bad. But there was a stretch where they put pressure on the quarterback. Crosby has 7.5 sacks and had four in one game. He's a guy you see as a potential front-line, Jared-Allen-type pass rusher. When they do get pressure, they've not been terrible at times. On the right day, if they do get the pressure and the cornerbacks aren't terrible, they have a chance. The linebackers aren't going for much. The defensive line's better against the run than it was last year, but that's pretty much it. That's one growth from last season.

Q: You mentioned earlier that playoff hopes are likely no longer alive. What has to happen for the Raiders the rest of the season? What will this team be watching?

A: You don't want to see a total collapse. You don't want to lose six in a row to end the season. I also think there will more and more focus on Derek Carr; if he really is Jon Gruden's guy. He wasn't that bad last week, but the two previous games – losses to KC and the Jets – he was pretty bad. I think that's the question again. It was last offseason, but now it will be again: if he really Jon Gruden's guy going to Vegas? I think Derek needs a strong finish, just to at least quiet the fans and to give him some peace of mind going into the offseason.

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