The Raiders were having a Cinderella story season. Derek Carr was well on his way to a league MVP award and the Raiders looked like one of the NFL's best teams heading into week 16. Then the unthinkable happened. Derek Carr was hit by Trent Cole towards the end of the Raiders vs. Colts game. The hit shattered Carr's leg and the television audience could clearly make out the words Carr was saying to the Athletic Trainer, "It broke."
Because of this, the Raider's Super Bowl hopes essentially died. The next week, back-up quarterback Matt McGloin suffered a shoulder injury against the Denver Broncos, thrusting third-string quarterback Connor Cook into action. Heading into Wildcard Weekend, Connor Cook has been named the starter against the Houston Texans. A lot of people are wondering if Cook can carry this Raider team far in the playoffs.
Will he fold under pressure? Has he built a good camaraderie with his receivers? What is he good at and what can get him into trouble?
After watching some footage and looking at the combine numbers, I see both good and bad things about Connor Cook. I'll start with some good qualities that caught my eye. Cook is a good leader who was a winner his entire college career. He has good accuracy passing the football and he usually throws with a tight spiral. He always played in big games at Michigan State and he always seemed like he was calm under pressure. He doesn't throw off of his back foot, and his mechanics are fantastic.
However, there are a few things that Raiders fans can be a little nervous about. Besides the obvious fact that he is making his first NFL start, Cook also takes a lot of risks with the football. He tries to fit the ball into these tiny little windows and he occasionally throws into double coverage. Though it mostly worked out for him in college, he has been picked off from making these mistakes before. Though he has good height at 6'4, his weight concerns me being only 217 pounds. With the Raiders being extremely thin at the quarterback position, an injury to Cook would be devastating. A tall, lanky quarterback obviously has a higher chance of injury than a quarterback with a little more size(Ben Roethlisberger, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck).
I will say that the Raiders are lucky to have gotten the Houston Texans as their first playoff match-up. Houston has had a lot of offensive troubles this year. Brock Osweiler has been horrible, and Tom Savage sustained a concussion a couple of weeks ago. What other quarterback is left on that roster? Brandon Weeden. Despite Lamar Miller rushing for over 1,000 yards, he seems banged up which doesn't surprise me given that he ran the ball almost 270 times this season.
I've said it all year long, the Raider's defense will be the reason they do not make it to the promised land. Despite getting awesome years from Reggie Nelson and Khalil Mack, opponents have been able to score a lot of points. Since Houston's offense is dysfunctional, the Raider's defense should be able to keep them in the game. Cook just has to play mistake-free football. If the offense can put up just 20 points with Cook under center, that should be enough for Oakland to get the win.
The Raiders offensive line has to give Cook time to throw. I imagine with the injury to starter Donald Penn, that may be a tough thing to do. That offense is going to have to run the ball well and incorporate a lot of quick passes. Latavius Murray and DeAndre Washington both have to play well to help take some pressure off Cook. If they can do that, the offense will be able to move the ball more efficiently because as we know, a good running game opens up play-action, and short passes open up for bigger plays downfield.
Despite the Texans not giving up a lot of points this year, their defense seems to be mediocre. Opposing quarterbacks have a passer rating of 84.4 against them which isn't bad. They also have the luxury of playing in the NFL's worst division, the AFC South. Compare that to Oakland's schedule and you would laugh. Oakland had a very difficult schedule this year and still managed to go 12-4.
I like Connor Cook a lot. He has terrific accuracy with great mechanics and he is used to playing in big games. Plus he has a lot of weapons around him that he can use at his disposal. If he doesn't try to force the ball into double coverage or through tiny windows, Oakland can easily get through this game with a victory.
Houston isn't very good and they have benefited hugely from a weak division. But don't expect Cook to make it to an AFC title game. If Oakland wins this game, they will have to go to New England and he will have to try to outscore Tom Brady and company which is tough for any quarterback in this league to do, let alone a rookie. Raiders fans can be optimistic about what the future has in store for their team, but this isn't their year.
Ryan "Mully" Mulligan