Instant Replay: Panthers 17, Raiders 6

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Instant Replay: Panthers 17, Raiders 6

BOX SCORE

CHARLOTTE -- The Raiders defense, for all intents and purposes showed up for the second game in a row.

The offense? Not so much. And really, it was playing down a man when quarterback Carson Palmer was knocked out of the game at about the 2-minute mark of the first quarter on a spear by Greg Hardy. Matt Leinart replaced Palmer, who was diagnosed with a rib injury, and the offense sputtered, with random signs of life.

But Oakland's red-zone issues continued.

Carolina 17, Raiders 6.

The Raiders last scored a touchdown on Dec. 6, with 5:36 to play against Denver.

Carolina quarterback Cam Newton passed for 170 yards, on 18-of-29 passing, with a touchdown and an interception (Raiders rookie linebacker Miles Burris' first of his career), while rushing for 60 yards on 12 carries.

East Coast woes continue: The Raiders' losing streak in games played in the Eastern Time Zone moved to 10 straight. In the skid, the Raiders have been outscored by a combined 332-16, losing by an average score of 33-16. And since Dec. 15, 2002, when Oakland lost in Miami, 23-17, the Raiders are now just 5-27 in games played in the Eastern Time Zone.

Third-and-one mishaps: It would seem to be the easiest of play calls, but for the Raiders, it spelled disaster. The first three times the Raiders faced a third-and-one, Darren McFadden lost five yards on a pitch, Carson Palmer was obliterated by Greg Hardy and a pass from Leinart to Marcel Reece lost two yards.

Missed calls: A blatant hold on Lamarr Houston allowed Cam Netwon to throw a 23-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter to Steve Smith. Then Newton kicking Tommy Kelly before Kelly retaliated and was thusly flagged was missed. And a personal foul on Miles Burris for a helmet-to-helmet hit on that same drive kept things alive for the Panthers.

"Icon" and "Entertainer" updates: Newton's kick of Kelly was at least the third time he took exception to a defensive player taking him down. Earlier, he had thrown quick jab-like punches at Miles Burris and MIke MItchell on separate plays. Later, in the fourth quarter, Newton was flagged when he ran into the referee as he attempted to taunt Mitchell.

Injuries…again: Besides Palmer, two other Raiders were knocked out of the game due to injury. Strong safety Tyvon Branch, who is dealing with an ankle injury, came out with a foot issue. And cornerback Phillip Adams, who has been concussed in two of the past three games, suffered a groin injury in the first half.

TP Time: Terrelle Pryor came on the field for three plays -- throwing a pass to Palmer and then taking the ensuing pass from Palmer for a 22-yard gain; running for a two-yard pickup inside the Panthers' 10-yard line; and hitting Marcel Reece for a five-yard pickup in the red zone.

Up next: The Raiders (4-11) end the season against the same team against whom they opened -- the San Diego Chargers (5-9). In the season opener, the Chargers beat the Raiders, 22-14, at the Coliseum, in a game in which the Raiders infamously lost their long-snapper Jon Condo to a concussion.

Raiders head to NFL Combine looking for defense, RBs, depth

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Raiders head to NFL Combine looking for defense, RBs, depth

The Raiders are headed for this week’s NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis looking to refine and strengthen opinions on NFL draft prospects they’ve been studying all year.

General manager Reggie McKenzie has eight selections in this year’s NFL draft, starting with the 24th overall pick. That marks his latest start since 2012, when he didn’t have a first or second round pick.

Those selections were traded away. The No. 24 overall pick was earned with a 12-4 record in 2016 and the team’s first playoff berth since 2002.

When selecting that late, it’s hard to target a specific position. McKenzie would say he’ll take the best player available over a specific need every year, but that’s often required after the draft crop has been picked over. That’s also easier given the Raiders currently under contract. The 2017 roster is already strong, though there are areas to fortify this offseason.

McKenzie made it clear last month the Raiders defense must improve at every level. The Raiders need help on the interior defensive line, especially rushing the passer. They need assistance in the secondary, with immediate needs at cornerback and long-term assistance at safety. They need one interior linebacker solid in tackling and coverage, possibly two.

There are options possibly available at No. 24 who could help the Raiders in those areas.

Most mock drafts have the Raiders targeting defense in the first round with cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey (Alabama) and Tre’Davious White (LSU) getting regular mentions. Though it also must be mentioned nobody had the Raiders taking safety Karl Joseph No. 14 overall last year, and they pulled the trigger without hesitation.

Cornerback still could and likely should be a focus for the Raiders at this scouting combine.

“Then as far as a corner situation is concerned, this is a great corner class,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said Monday in a conference call. “If you don't get one in the first round, you can come back in the second or third round and really help yourself.”

The Raiders spent big on Sean Smith and extended David Amerson, but adding young depth can increase options moving forward and strengthen a pass defense that wasn’t good enough. There’s playing time available in the slot next season, with DJ Hayden set to hit free agency.

Latavius Murray is also on course to hit the open market, which comes as no surprise. McKenzie prefers to use the market as a tool, and let it decide whether a player meets his valuation. That will be the case with Murray, who could price himself out of Oakland.

This is known as a deep draft class for running backs. Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey is an intriguing prospect head coach Jack Del Rio knows well – McCaffrey and Del Rio’s son Luke played prep football together – and might be a good fit.

The Raiders have proven adept plucking rushers from late rounds. Murray was taken in the sixth round. DeAndre Washington was a fifth-rounder and Jalen Richard was an undrafted diamond. The Raiders could use a bigger back to round out 2017’s run game, and there are options late.

Roster strength should also allow the Raiders to draft for depth that can become starters in time. They might need help at offensive tackle, free safety and receiver, positions with at least one older veteran.

While combine coverage will focus on top prospects, the scouting combine is a great resources to collect medical information and meet with a maximum of 60 college prospects. The tangible data collected at the combine is valuable, but is just one piece of a larger evaluation process. Game tape is of great value, and the combine helps cement opinions gather during a long scouting process.

The Raiders have proven to be solid talent evaluators, and will use this part of the pre-draft process to round out opinions of some players and figure out which options best suit their franchise heading into the future.

Mayock: Plenty of draft options to help Raiders' interior pass rush

Mayock: Plenty of draft options to help Raiders' interior pass rush

The Raiders want a better interior pass rush. That’s no secret, especially after they finished 2016 with a league-low 25 sacks despite getting 18 combined from edge rushers Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin.

Head coach Jack Del Rio said that was an issue at season’s end, and general manager Reggie McKenzie mentioned a desire to improve at every level of his defense.

He has a reputation for building a bully up front as he did on the offensive line. He can add players through free agency, but quality veterans cost a pretty penny during a time when prioritizing extensions for Derek Carr and Khalil Mack . The NFL Draft might provide an opportunity to strengthen the interior defensive front.

Respected NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said in a Monday conference call that there are plenty of interior options in a deep defensive draft. He says quality can be found when the Raiders pick first at No. 24 overall, or later in the selection process.

“I think there is really good depth in the first three or four rounds for the interior D-line,” Mayock said.

That’s good news for the Raiders. They’ll get a closer look at interior linemen during this week’s NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, when prospects go under the microscope in workouts and meetings during a pivotal pre-draft gathering.

Florida’s Caleb Brantley and Michigan State’s Malik McDowell have been mentioned as possible late first-round options who might entice the Raiders at No. 24.

Mayock believes Brantley could help the Raiders inside, especially as a pass rusher.

“I think he's intriguing,” Mayock said. “He's a quick, one-gap guy. I don't think you want him playing three downs every snap. But as far as an ability to rush the quarterback and get an edge on interior offensive linemen, I think he's got that burst that you're looking for.”

The Raiders aren’t necessarily looking for a three-down player. They have some run-stopping specialists under contract next season, especially Justin Ellis. It’s possible Dan Williams gets released to create more cap room, but the Raiders could survive adding someone who can get after the passer inside.

McDowell is an intriguing prospect as well. He has immense natural talent and physical size – McKenzie prefers drafting big guys up front – though he needs refinement. Like Raiders 2015 second-round pick Mario Edwards Jr., McDowell was a five-star recruit out of high school who had some injury issues last season. He’s a versatile piece with a high ceiling at just 20 years old, and could work well with the line rotation and create havoc inside.

Edwards Jr. is capable of doing that when healthy. He missed most of last season with a hip injury, which left too much responsibility on raw rookie Jihad Ward and other unfit to getting a steady pass rush.

“I think he's one of those guys that can kick inside in sub packages,” Mayock said. “I think he's got that kind of size and versatility to play inside and out, and they really missed him.”

Mayock also mentioned interior options outside the first round, including Charlotte’s Larry Ogunjobi. He considers Ogunjobi a second-round pick with pass-rush ability and potential in the run game.

“There are some guys out there that can help even through the third round,” Mayock said.

The analyst mentioned UCLA’s Eddie Vanderdoes, Tulane’s Tanzel Smart, Auburn’s Montravius Adams and Iowa’s Jaleel Johnson as options through the third round.

There are other options at No. 24 overall, especially if quality interior defensive linemen are available in later rounds. The Raiders need help at interior linebacker and in the secondary. Latavius Murray could leave in free agency, and while there’s plenty of depth in that position group a Stanford product could interest the Raiders at No. 24.

“Who is going to help them? Is Christian McCaffrey on the clock at that point? Who could help the Oakland Raiders at No. 24?” Mayock said. “I think the running back situation is interesting. I'm not sure there are going to be any tackles at that point. I think they also have to look at linebackers and at 24, I think there are some interesting guys off the line linebackers also.”