The Black Hole: Go Inside Las Vegas Raiders Football

Each week at Sports Illustrated's Raider Maven we take you inside the Silver and Black with the latest inside information from the NFL's elite franchise.
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Henderson, Nev.: People are hungry for information on their beloved Las Vegas Raiders, and I am here with a smorgasbord of food.

I get a lot of nuggets and information that alone are not big enough for a story. When I have a few that I can assemble, I will, and when I only have one or two, I will post them on our community page. So, welcome to The Black Hole.

  • Sunday's game is the most important of the season.
  • If I had told you that, you would have thought that was for the playoffs at the start of the season.
  • Clearly, it isn't for a postseason berth.
  • Sunday's game is the determination between a disappointing season and a disaster.
  • This was a playoff season or bust for the Las Vegas Raiders. You can't sugarcoat that. You additionally can't sugarcoat that they didn't reach that goal.
  • Sunday's win would at least allow them to demonstrate that they took an additional step forward by surpassing last season's seven wins in year three.
  • A small, but still a step.
  • I asked Jon Gruden about that this week.
  • He didn't seem to agree with me.
  • "It's vital, I don't know how vital anything is right now other than us finding a way to win a football game. We've made improvements, a lot of improvements in some areas and obviously, we talked about it the other day, there's areas we have to make significant strides, so we'll continue to try to do that."
  • I asked Derek Carr, and he seemed to agree with me.
  • "That's the ultimate team statistic. If we can show that our team is improving with getting that eighth win, even if it's slight, it still shows improvement. As a team, that's what we're striving for. Our focus is completely on making sure we show up in Denver with everything that we have, making sure that we show up ready to fight and hopefully get a win in a tough football game. Any win in the division is tough to get, especially in Denver at Mile High. It's definitely important, even if it doesn't end how we thought it all would. All these games matter. For all the work that's been put into these things for the coaches and all the players, it doesn't matter what your record is, every game matters."
  • I have been an outspoken supporter of Derek Carr.
  • When moving here to cover the Silver and Black, I spoke with players, coaches, and management members from several teams. I wanted them to give me their thoughts about the Raiders.
  • The people that compete against him nearly every day formed my opinion. Over my time here, Carr has done nothing to lessen my opinion of him.
  • Next week, I will publish an article in which three NFL general managers give me their opinion of Carr. I think you will find it very enlightening if you are a person who is moved by logic and honest assessment.
  • If you are simply an emotional Derek Carr hater, it will do nothing for you.
  • There is no doubt that the Raiders need more out of Henry Ruggs. The loss of the OTA's was brutal to his first year.
  • Some questioned his heart, and that is foolish.
  • Ruggs is a terrific and talented young man; an entire offseason will make him better.
  • Coming soon, I am going to share with you what others in the NFL saw from Ruggs and the scouting report.
  • People are blaming Carr for not using him more. I bet you have even seen the memes posted on social media of him being wide-open. Things are not always what they appear, and I will be addressing that soon in the aforementioned article.
  • Gruden talked about what they need from Ruggs and some reasons as to why we haven't seen it.
  • "Well Ruggs has been sick for 10 days, he just showed up Friday, No. 1. We didn't even know if he was going to play. That had something to do with it. Right now, just so we're all on the same page, we're targeting [Darren] Waller. We've doing a pretty good job of that. We're targeting Nelson Agholor because those are our top 2 guys. And we're targeting Josh Jacobs. Ruggs has got to practice, stay with us longer and do more with his targets. When he does, he'll see the ball more."
  • In the NFL, there are zero moral victories. With that said, one thing you did see from the Raiders that was positive was the defense for the first three quarters.
  • Rod Marinelli, in his first week, showed several key improvements.
  • Jon Gruden talked about the improvement under Marinelli.
  • "There was a lot of great effort. We didn't have a lot of error. Guys were confident and sure of themselves. Not perfect, it wasn't perfect. I don't want to sound like I'm critiquing Paul Guenther either, but we didn't do as much on defense. We played hard. The disappointing thing is we played well enough to win that football game. It goes down to one lousy play and it still sticks in my gut the wrong way right now."
  • I have reported for several months about the coming salary cap apocalypse that is coming to the NFL.
  • One NFL GM told me that, "It could drop as much as $30 million.
  • I don't think it goes that far, but it won't be good. A lot of good players that teams would never let go possibly will have to be cut because teams can't take their large salaries in a trade."
  • That is good news for the Raiders. They are in excellent financial shape and will be able to get under the cap and be buyers.
  • I personally believe that Jon Gruden is an excellent NFL coach. I do not think he is perfect (none of us are), but I can tell you that I believe the red zone issues are on him. He agrees with me.
  • "I just have to do a better job trying to find the right play."
  • I asked one GM this week, "With all of the injuries the last two seasons for the Raiders, (excluding COVID) as a GM what would you look at to analyze that?" His answer? "You have to look at your strength and conditioning staff. You might find nothing wrong, but the Raiders have been unusually snake bit. If the problem isn't there, you look for any other nuance you can find."
  • I have said since week two that I do not expect Trent Brown to return. I still maintain that opinion.
  • I will give you the name that I expect to be the Raiders breakout player next year. Foster Moreau.
  • That young man is becoming a beast, and years from now, you won't hear as many fans complaining about Jason Witten being here.
  • Witten has had a profound impact on this team.
  • He instantly demands respect with his resume, and his professionalism and willingness to teach the game he loves has made the Raiders better.
  • I do not expect him to return as a player next year. Like Brown, I wouldn't say 100%, but I stand by what I believe in both cases.
  • Gruden shares my expectations for Moreau, "It's a tremendous year for him. I feel the same way about [Marcus] Mariota. They got healthy this year, they're 100 percent ready to roll and I think having an opportunity to be around Jason Witten and learn some of the secrets behind one of the great ones who's going to break an NFL record this Sunday in Denver, he'll be ready to really take off for us and be a big-time player next year."
  • Two management members have told me for other NFL teams that they are "certain" the Raiders have a deal with Nelson Agholor.
  • They told me, "I am sure there is some minutia to be worked out, but no way they let him hit the open market. We would have heard if there had been no movement."
  • If they are correct, that is very smart of the Raiders. If they aren't, then they need to get that done at the hotel in Denver.
  • One man on this team on defense who had a great season when healthy was Jeff Heath. If he stays healthy next year, he will be a Pro Bowl-caliber star.
  • Mike Mayock and his staff are already well along in the draft scenarios. I will have an article soon with many of the players they are giving special attention to.
  • I have so many more notes, and I promise that I will get them all in. Our "Black Hole" articles will happen once a week.

I can tell you this; Raider Nation has a ton to be excited about. This article is already long, or I could give you many more reasons and players to be excited about. Keep your eyes out for the next "Black Hole," and please tell your friends about it.