San Francisco 49ers offensive tackle Alex Boone (75) stands on the field against the Washington Redskins during the second half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Nov. 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Improved Raiders have room to grow

On the heels of a 2014 limbo dance that saw the Raiders drop their first five games en route to a 3-13 record, the question no longer is how low can they go.

Now it’s closer to high up is up.

The Raiders enter their bye week with a 2-3 record., which is fairly indicative of the progress they’ve made in Jack Del Rio’s debut as head coach. They’ve been competitive in every game since a 33-13 loss in the season opener to the Cincinnati Bengals, who are still unbeaten.

“We feel that we can compete with anybody,” quarterback David Carr said. “We feel that we can win games, but we’re young. We’re learning how to do that. So we’ve got to continue to grow now. We’ve got to get better so we can pull these games out.”

“We’ve made a lot of strides,” Del Rio said. “I know that 2-3 is not what we wanted to be. We had hopes it would be better, (but) it’s what we’ve earned at this point. We have a lot of football in front of us. So we’ll focus on the work we have ahead of us and make sure that we’re learning what we can from the previous five weeks of experience.”

Here’s where the arrow points in each area through five games:

Offense: Mostly upwards. The unit has averaged 21.4 points and 338.8 yards per game, a noticeable increase from their 15.8 points and 295.2 yards in the same period a year ago.

The greatest improvement has come in the pass game. Much of it can be traced to the chemistry between Carr and rookie wide receiver Amari Cooper, whose ability to stretch the field has had no small effect on opponents’ game plans.

The ground game has produced only 90 yards per game, however, 18 more than last year.

“I would say it’s a solid start (with) room for growth.” Del Rio said of Carr’s progress in his second season.

While the offense has committed nine turnovers, late interceptions proved to be costly in two of the losses.

Said Carr, “There’s no glaring (weakness). You can easily look over the little things, but it’s the little things. … We turned on some passes, we turned on some run stuff (on film), and it was like ‘Man, if we just did that, that’s probably a touchdown.’ Or ‘If we did that, man, that’s a 40-yard gain.’ It’s just ‘Hey, let’s refine the details and let’s tighten the screws a little bit on this, and that will help us moving forward.’ “

Defense: Slightly upwards. The group has allowed 24.8 points and 382.4 yards per game. At this time last season, they checked in at 26.8 and 376.8, respectively.

The defense turned in its best performance of the season last weekend, when it held a struggling Denver Broncos offense to three field goals in a 16-10 loss.

“We have to continue to get better,” defense coordinator Ken Norton said. “We have to continue to work hard and work on our technique. It’s all a growing process. You know, our team is very young. Sometimes certain plays are brand new for them. So it’s a matter of us preparing really well, putting ourselves in position to make the play and then go make the play.”

Special teams: Sideways.  Placekicker Sebastian Janikowski has missed two field goals, both in the six-point loss last weekend. He failed to convert three all of last season. Punter Marquette King is 2.7 yards better than his norm of a year ago. There has been little if any change in the return and coverage units.

As for the performance of him and his staff, Del Rio said, “I’d love to have the chance for do-overs. The Monday morning quarterback has got perfect vision. …Maybe I can do a better job going forward, but you learn from these experiences. We’re growing as a staff, we’re growing as a football team.”

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