WELCOME BACK: The direct snap? JON GRUDEN prefers the traditional under-center exchange because it synchronizes the timing in his West Coast offense. But QB DEREK CARR has taken most of his snaps in the shotgun, which became prevalent around the time Gruden left coaching for broadcasting, in 2009. Still, with minor adjustments Gruden could run much of his offense out of the gun. Will he tweak his approach, or will he force the 27-year-old Carr to adjust?
Replacing Michael Crabtree with JO1RDY NELSON at receiver is an upgrade in maturity, but if Gruden doesn't call plays that spring Nelson open through design, the former Packer will struggle. At age 33 and with his injury history, Nelson no longer has the great speed, burst or change of direction. He can be effective from the slot, where he won't face press coverage. The problem is, Gruden might want to shift AMARI COOPER there, given how he dominates on clean routes but flounders against perimeter press corners.
MARSHAWN LYNCH is still a tenacious runner at 32, and he knows how to set up blocks inside. Guards KELECHI OSEMELE and GABE JACKSON and center RODNEY HUDSON form one of the NFL's best interior O-lines. Gruden must commit to the ground game more than former play-caller Todd Downing did in 2017.
Last season Oakland's defense finished with just 31 sacks (tied for eighth fewest in the NFL) and 14 turnovers (one more than Cleveland's league-low total). That's shocking and inexplicable on a unit that has elite talents KHALIL MACK and BRUCE IRVIN flying in off the edges. They're paid to disrupt the quarterback's schedule, which is typically how a defense creates big plays.
The Raiders' defense in '17 didn't have a consistent identity, but that will change under PAUL GUENTHER. The new coordinator has a well-defined scheme, built on 2-deep zone coverage and a bevy of interior blitz looks. Guenther will have more freedom under Gruden than he did with the Bengals under defensive-minded Marvin Lewis. Expect Guenther to run more blitzes than he did in Cincinnati.
2017 RECORD 6W 10L
SI'S 2018 PREDICTION 5W 11L
10th RAMS [Monday]
14th SEAHAWKS [In London]
1st @49ERS [Thursday]
24th BRONCOS [Monday]
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR PAUL GUENTHER likes to keep two safeties back and play zone coverage—and he'd have to anyway, given his unproven cornerbacks. After a shin injury GAREON CONLEY played just two games as a rookie in 2017.