Las Vegas Raiders' tendency to start slow finally too much to overcome

HENDERSON, Nev. -- Sure, quarterback Derek Carr has an inkling as to why the Las Vegas Raiders offense has been stuck in neutral and sometimes going in reverse to start games.

No, he's not going to share it publicly.

"I'll do that privately," Carr said after the Raiders lost at the Los Angeles Chargers 28-14 on Monday night, a game in which Las Vegas fell behind 21-0.

"It's nothing I need to do in front of a microphone. That's not my style."

Neither, it appears, is wanting to get owned in such a dominant fashion in the game's opening quarter.

Consider: Las Vegas has scored five points in the first quarter this season, and two of those points came on a safety by cornerback Casey Hayward Jr. As such, the Raiders are last in the NFL in first quarter point differential at minus-23.

And, the Raiders are still 3-1. A faster start against the Chargers and they would probably be unbeaten. Alas ...

For one, the Raiders cannot get their running game going. Doesn't matter if it's Josh Jacobs, who missed Weeks 2 and 3 with an ankle injury, in the backfield or Peyton Barber, who rushed for a career-high 111 yards in Week 3, or even (gulp) Hall of Famer and Jacobs mentor Marcus Allen, who last wore Silver and Black in 1992.

Indeed, as bad as the reimagined offensive line has been at run blocking, it hasn't mattered who you imagine is running the ball. And when the offense gets that one-dimensional, guess who pays the price. Yeah, Carr, who is on pace to be sacked a career high-tying 51 times.

And then things like this happen:

“We knew once we hit him a few times, he really gets shook. And you saw on [Christian Covington's] sack, he was pretty much curling into a ball before we even got back there. Great dude, great player ... but we know once you get pressure on him, he kind of shuts down."

That was Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa.

Now, the record will show Carr came to life in the third quarter, engineering two scoring drives and completing nine of his first 10 passes after halftime for 76 yards with the two TDs while the Raiders defense held serve. And he was driving for a potential tying TD early in the fourth quarter when Covington broke through for the six-yard sack on third-and-3, forcing Daniel Carlson's 52-yard field goal attempt which hooked wide left.

But it was the poor start that contributed to the miserable finish.

The Raiders had 51 yards of offense in the first half, the lowest first half output by the Raiders since Jon Gruden returned as coach in 2018, and 53 yards of penalties.

The Raiders had one first down in the first half, their lowest such total since 2015.

And while it was the first time since Gruden returned that the Raiders went four straight drives without a first down; the last time they had three consecutive three-and-outs to start a game was in Week 4 of the 2017 season. Yup, the epic collapse in Washington.

As it did that fateful night, it all begins up front, on the offensive line.

"We've just had a lot of moving parts," Gruden said. "I mean, the different running backs; we've had a number of different offensive linemen. We knew we were going to be young up front to start the year, but we lost a couple guards. It's not been easy. We brought in some new players that we really didn't even have during training camp.

"So, it's a work in progress and it's not easy. It's a tough thing to do in this league, running the football. And we're going to continue to work at it and get better at it."

The projected starting O-line of left tackle Kolton Miller, who has yet to give up a sack, per Pro Football Focus; left guard Richie Incognito, who is on IR and has not even practiced since injuring his right calf in a joint practice with the Los Angeles Rams on Aug. 19; center Andre James, right guard Denzelle Good -- who tore the ACL in his left knee in the season opener -- and right tackle Ale Leatherwood, the team's first-round pick at No. 17 overall, has played a grand total of zero snaps together. And they likely never will.

Rather, John Simpson has started in place of Incognito and Jermaine Eluemunor has replaced Good, though Eluemunor was shaken up and swapped reps with Jordan Simmons at times against the Chargers.

"There is obvious things that we have to do," Gruden said. "We have to pass protect better early in games. Sometimes it's been a number of things -- we've had errant shotgun snaps. I've got to call some better plays, no doubt. I've got to get our running game going at some point early in a game.

"But we just haven't done very well early in games, let's be honest, and that needs to change."

Especially with the Chicago Bears and old friend Khalil Mack up next.