There was a lot of buzz about the decisions head coach Jack Del Rio made after his QB went down with a season-ending injury in week 16. It left many people wondering what the hell he was thinking. Why would you start a rookie in the playoffs? There had to be another option, right? After all was said and done, it was obvious that Jack Del Rio made the same decisions in week 17 and game 1 of the post-season that he had all year. He took chances, made attempts at things not many coaches would, and several of them worked out well. So well, in fact, that the Raiders ended with their best record in 14 years.
Despite their 12-4 record, the Raiders’ season ended in week 16. MVP candidate QB Derek Carr went down with a broken fibula, ending his season and Oakland’s hopes for success in the playoffs. When their franchise QB went down, Raider Nation’s sails were deflated like a 10 day old birthday balloon. Before that week, the Raiders were largely expected to win the division and give the powerhouse Patriots a run for their money to win the AFC.
After the loss of their quarterback, Raider Nation tried to rally around second-stringer Matt McGloin, but were quickly disappointed. McGloin’s shortcomings showed right off the bat, and proved why he’s not a starting QB, and probably never will be. The roars for “Matty Ice 2.0” fell to deafening silence.
The Raiders had one other option to start. When McGloin was injured in week 17, rookie Connor Cook was called up. Cook was picked up in the 2016 draft, and concerns were high about his ability to lead a team. Even in college, coaches and players cited that as his biggest weakness. If you can’t lead a team, you can’t be an effective quarterback.
Cook doesn’t have what it takes to be an effective quarterback. He’s a good athlete who can throw the ball, but the problems from his college days persist. He’s not a leader and the one thing the Raiders are used to is a strong leader. He did set an NFL record: the first rookie QB to have his first career start in a playoff game. That was the wrong record for Cook and the Raiders to set.
Oakland Raiders Playoff Highlights
Derek Carr not only drives the offense but he’s the spiritual and moral leader of the team. He makes it his job to guide and direct the team in all facets.But it means the rest of the team fails. A huge contributor to this rapid downward spiral is evident watching a Raiders practice. Carr takes all of the snaps, which works well for him and the starting offense. But without solid practice, no backup quarterback is going to be able to step in if there is another mishap like week 16.
Free agency offered the Raiders a new back-up option in EJ Manuel. Manuel comes to Oakland from the Buffalo Bills, where he sat behind another young QB, Tyrod Taylor. Taylor cannot offer Manuel the experience and knowledge that he will get from the Raiders, if the coaching staff can make the adjustments to allow him to grow. He was drafted a year before Carr, but talent transcends age and Manuel can grow by leaps and bounds in the right environment.
If the Raiders hope to overcome this sort of obstacle in the future, they’ll have to reign Carr in during practices and give everyone a chance to play. He has to learn how to be a mentor, not just a leader. The greatest leaders, after all, are those who pass along their knowledge to those who come after them. They do everything to make their proteges better than they are. This is a mindset that athletes as a whole can benefit from. If Coach Del Rio can impart this into his young superstar, the Raiders will very likely be unstoppable.
At the end of the season, one thing was very clear about 2nd year Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio: when he makes a plan, he sticks to it. After all, what other choice did he have? He could have taken Connor Cook out of that playoff game and given fourth-string QB Michael Crabtree a chance. (Yes, the vet wideout is also a backup QB!) I personally would have loved to see that, but it wasn’t in the cards, as Del Rio stuck to his blueprint and let his rookie QB take his knocks. One thing is for sure, Cook will never be the same quarterback. He’s learned an invaluable lesson, which may serve him very well in the future.
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