OAKLAND — Jack Del Rio walked to the podium after his team earned a deflating loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.
He wasn’t happy.
Moments earlier, the Oakland Raiders head coach held court in the locker room and he looked deep into the eyes of his players. Quarterback EJ Manuel figured Del Rio wanted to gauge “what kind of team” he had in the room.
They weren’t supposed to lose to the Ravens. Yet they did, 30-17.
They never really had a chance after falling behind 14 points in the opening four minutes of the game. Del Rio was asked if those two plays were the product of random bad luck or a sign his team wasn’t properly prepared for the game. The coach glared at the reporter who asked the question, took a drink of water, put his drink down and answered: “Clearly not what we wanted there.”
That sentiment sums up the last three games.
What happened to the world-beaters, everyone’s preseason favorite? You know, the Raiders that were going to build off last season’s success and take the next step to legitimate contender.
If you ask Del Rio, it’s because they lost their confidence. That sounds like a good place to start, but it’s also a typical football-coach answer — in that it’s nebulous more than anything else.
“I think we’re just facing adversity right now,” d-lineman Bruce Irvin said, batting away the notion he and his teammates had lost their confidence. “Coming into the year, you all were telling us how good we are. I don’t know if we believed it or not but it be like this.”
Here are three reasons you can actually point to for the Silver and Black’s fall from grace:
Amari Cooper is nowhere to be found. I don’t care how poorly his season has gone so far, he’s a top-flight receiver.
But even the best pass catchers in the league need an offensive coordinator able to draw up a gameplan that features them. That simply wasn’t the case in Week 5.
Cooper caught one of his two targets for eight yards.
“Of course we want Cooper to touch the ball as much as possible, but looking back on it, you want to be clean with your reads,” Manuel explained. “When it’s time for him to get the ball, obviously you want to throw it to him. But when it’s not, it’s not.”
It’s not too often. If the Raiders are down for basically the entire game, there’s no excuse for not taking shots with one of the best downfield threats in the league.
Rebuilding confidence is only possible by taking chances. Cooper isn’t going to solve his drop problems by being demoted in the offense. And the offense isn’t going to fulfill expectations if it keeps forgetting Cooper.
The defense is certifiably bad. The Ravens played the Cleveland Browns at home and couldn’t gain as many yards as they did against the Raiders.
Let that sink in. A team that is rebuilding, again, put up more resistance than the one who plans to win playoff games.
Baltimore had its best game of the season throwing the ball on Sunday. The Ravens’ running backs ran for 143 yards to dominate possession. There was little worth salvaging from the defense’s performance.
When the visitors needed yards on the ground, they got them. Quarterback Joe Flacco looked renewed after struggling through the first quarter of the season.
The Raiders punted on fourth-and-medium with less than nine minutes to play. They needed one stop to keep hope alive. Flacco followed with a 13-play drive that ate nearly 6-and-a-half minutes from the clock and ended in a field goal.
Last year, the defense relied on causing turnovers to be effective. They allowed teams to gain all over the field then, too. But now they aren’t taking the ball away and the result is a unit without a backbone.
The Raiders have lost the turnover battle in each of their three-straight losses. If that trend continues, Oakland fans should seriously revise their expectations.
It’s not as simple as “Well, wait for Derek Carr to return.” It’s too simple to pin this loss on Manuel.
Manuel didn’t allow the Ravens to cover 75 yards in five plays in the first drive of the game. Manuel didn’t lose the fumble that was returned for a touchdown. Manuel didn’t turn the ball over at all, actually.
“I thought he did a pretty solid job as a backup guy coming into a tough situation and handled himself well,” Del Rio said. “… We’ve got to do more defensively to get him more opportunities.”
Carr would’ve helped, no doubt. But the team’s performance — at home, in front of a crowd desperate to cheer on a winner before it departs — isn’t easily fixed by making a change at one position, regardless of how important it is.
And let’s not act like the Carr-led Raiders were on fire before the injury.
But when asked if he has a feel for whether Carr will be available next week, Del Rio said, “Yeah, I have that feel.”
But, Manuel was sacked three times. So, it might be a good idea to rush Carr back if his protection can’t keep him upright.
An air of desperation has beset the Raiders. And that can’t help build confidence in the locker room.
Contact Examiner Sports Editor Jacob C. Palmer at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @jacobc_palmer.