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Raiders Week 2 preview: Reworked unit gets Gruden a win

Fundamentals and injury concerns are the Week 2 themes for the Oakland Raiders.

Head coach Jon Gruden noted two distinct disciplinary areas his team has to work on:

“A lot of false starts are inexcusable. The pass interference penalties were the biggest penalties in the game, they resulted in almost 80 yards of penalties; changed field position, changed that game. Just keep working. Keep working hard on minimizing penalties, self-inflected wounds that get you beat.”

Penalties are far more controllable than injuries, and the Raiders have been forced to make defensive roster adjustments that they likely didn’t expect this early on. Three defensive linemen have landed on the injury report — Justin Ellis, P.J. Hall and Brian Price. Price was a full participant in Friday’s practice, but Hall has been ruled out for Week 2 and Ellis was placed on the reserve/injured list on Thursday.

Gruden is frustrated but realistic with the injury issues:

“I put the starting, opening day defense on paper a couple of days ago and I looked at it. We had to make a lot of changes. We’re in the process now of dealing with injuries, and we’ll have to make more changes. It’s tough, but it’s part of the process.”

Two of those changes came in the forms of defensive tackles Johnathan Hankins and Clinton McDonald, who were signed on Thursday.

The Raiders also made an offensive pickup this week, resigning Martavis Bryant on Wednesday after releasing him on September 1.

Bryant landed in Oakland following a late-April trade in which the Steelers received the Raiders third-round pick (79th overall) in this season’s draft. But with a possible suspension looming, Oakland cut the rangy receiver before Week 1. Gruden said he think’s the 26-year-old 6-foot-4 wideout is “in a good place:”

“I think he’s healthy; I think he’s ready to go. I’m sold on that. We’ve been in contact with him since he’s been away. As I said when we made the trade to get him, when he’s right, he can be a difference-maker. We’re hoping that he can be one sooner than later.”

Derek Carr added that Bryant’s return will immediately change the way defenses play them:

“Teams can try and play certain coverages with him but he’s so fast it doesn’t matter. He can run by guys that are off coverage. 4.2 speed with that kind of length, the jump ball stuff. Just having those abilities, to do those things with him. I mean it just adds that dynamic for a [defensive] coordinator to have to think about.”

The new-look Raiders will visit Denver coming off a loss in which a hard-fought first half turned into a second-half shellacking. And while they may not be as explosive or flashy as the Rams, the Broncos are a solid defensive team, like Los Angeles, with a more than capable offense.

Gruden had high praise for new Denver quarterback Case Keenum who helped guide the Vikings to the NFC Championship just one year ago:

“I think Case Keenum at the end of the year might be the number-one acquisition in football. I think he’s a great quarterback. I know he had a couple of interceptions last week, but this kid can really play. He’s a great competitor.”

Keenum tossed three picks in Week 1 but still found a way to lead Denver to a 27-24 victory over the Seahawks.

Beating the Broncos will require Oakland to score on one of the NFL’s top defenses. That, though, appears a bit more easily done since the departure of All-Pro cornerback Aqib Talib. The other All-Pro man on the outside of the defense, Chris Harris, is still in Denver but he is unable to cover both sides of the field, as proven by the nearly 300 passing yards and three passing scores Denver allowed last week.

Denver’s defensive front is as stout as ever which means that a Raider Week 2 victory will require Carr to shake the demons of a rough Week 1. Carr threw three picks last Monday helping the Rams pull away in the second half.

Carr completed just five passes to wide receivers, something Bryant could help with given sufficient playing time.

The biggest question, however, is will Amari Cooper show up — more directly, will Carr find Cooper. The two-time Pro Bowler had just one catch for nine yards last week.

Defensively, if Oakland can put forth an effort similar to their Week 1 the onus will be left entirely on Carr and offense.

Week 1’s offensive ineptitude was likely a fluke. The offense should be more balanced this week, which will help lessen turnover opportunities from Carr against another talented secondary. The defense will have to overcome a reworked front-four, but Guenther seems up to the task, especially after their solid performance against the Rams.

The Raiders will leave Denver with a 30-17 victory, powered by 240 yards and two touchdown from Carr, 90 yards receiving and one touchdown from Cooper, and a 75-yard output from Lynch.

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