Oakland Raiders express confidence in EJ Manuel

By The Sports Xchange  |  Oct. 4, 2017 at 8:07 PM
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ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Whether quarterback EJ Manuel can get the Oakland Raiders back on track while Derek Carr heals remains to be seen, but it's clear the franchise is much better equipped to handle such a loss than it was late last season.

When Carr broke his right fibula last Christmas Eve and backup Matt McGloin didn't make it through the Denver game before being injured, the Raiders were forced to rely on rookie third-stringer Connor Cook.

To put it mildly, it didn't end well.

"Last year in the playoff game we had a rookie making his first start," head coach Jack Del Rio said. "Obviously, it's a lot better situation. We have a guy who's taken snaps in the league, started games and has time to prepare. So, I think it's a lot different scenario. The bottom line is as a football team, we have to find a way."

Manuel came in Sunday and completed his first eight passes en route to an 11-of-17, 116-yard performance in relief of Carr, who left with a back injury that will keep him out two to six weeks.

For the most part, up to the point where he threw an interception at the 8-yard line intended for Amari Cooper and stolen by Denver safety Justin Simmons, Manuel liked what he saw on film.

He said, "I saw fast decision-making. I saw accuracy. I just wanted to help us win. That was the biggest thing going through my head. Have solid footwork, things I practice day in and day out.

"I'm really proud of the preparation weeks beforehand because I never know when I'll have the opportunity to play."

Manuel felt the team rallied around him and expects the same when the Raiders host the Baltimore Ravens Sunday.

"The O-line, the receivers, everybody was very receptive and like, 'Hey man, you got it. Let's go.' It gave me that added confidence," Manuel said. "Watching the tape, the only issue was the pick at the end. I wish I would have took it down and ran, or maybe checked it down. Or threw the ball outside a little more for Coop to help him out. Other than that, I thought it was solid."

Center Rodney Hudson, who played with Manuel at Florida State, said, 'He did a good job. He had command at the line of scrimmage and did really well."

Running back Jalen Richard said Manuel came in expecting to do well.

"He wasn't rattled at all," Richard said. "He came in with his rhythm, 'OK, let's get this thing going.' He's played in this league, started in this league. This is nothing new to him and he knows it."

Tight end Lee Smith was a teammate of Manuel in Buffalo and believes a stronger supporting cast will help him be successful as the Raiders' starter.

"Not to say we were terrible back in the Buffalo days, but EJ definitely didn't have what he has here," Smith said. "He was a 22-year-old with a lot of expectations being a first-round draft pick. It definitely wasn't the best situation for him, but he always handled it like a pro."

SERIES HISTORY: 10th regular-season meeting. Ravens lead series, 6-3, but Raiders have won the last two. Last season in Baltimore, Derek Carr threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree as the Raiders prevailed 28-27. When the teams met at the Coliseum in 2015, Carr completed 30 of 45 passes and had a game-winning touchdown pass to Seth Roberts in a 37-33 Raiders win. Joe Flacco passed for 384 yards for the Ravens.

--Head coach Jack Del Rio is more concerned with fixing problems than assessing blame.

And the Raiders are having their issues, particularly on offense.

"I think for the fan right now, it's probably more about, 'Hey, who can I blame right now and get pissed at,'" Del Rio said. "That's not how we're going to operate. We're all looking to make it better. It starts with what we call, when we call it, how we execute the call.

"Coaches coach, players play. We're going to coach and do better at coaching. The players are going to play and do better at playing and executing. We're going to be better. It hasn't been good enough and it's led directly to two losses."

--Wide receiver Amari Cooper was targeted eight times against Denver and finished with two catches for 9 yards and a drop. That came on the heels of a one-catch, 6-yard game against Washington in which he was the intended receiver five times.

It's been a rough start for the fourth overall pick of the 2015 draft, who has come out of the gate strong in each of his first two seasons and faded at the end.

Quarterback EJ Manuel hopes to get Cooper involved in the action early against Baltimore.

"I think we can do a great job of allowing Coop to be who he is," Manuel said. "There's no pressure on him because we know he's a great player. We definitely want to get him rolling, get his confidence going and get him some touches early so we can make some plays."

Cooper is hopeful of getting some early looks, but won't go out of his way to push for them.

"I think it's always good to get a ball early," Cooper said. "I don't ask for it, I just try to stay within the offense."

--After gaining 289 yards on the ground in their first two games, the Raiders have gained 58 yards on 26 carries in losses to Washington and Denver.

The NFL's No. 6 rushing team a year ago, the Raiders are currently ranked 24th at 86.2 yards per game and leading rusher Marshawn Lynch has 45 carries for 151 yards and is averaging 3.4 yards per carry.

"It's like a combination. Maybe a missed block here, maybe the back doesn't hit the hole. Maybe they beat us on scheme," Del Rio said. "Maybe they had a better call against that scheme.

"I know we have big, powerful guys up front. We've got backs that are very capable. We have to put it together to make it work."

NOTES: WR Michael Crabtree, who missed the Denver game with a bruised lung, was a limited participant in practice Wednesday. ... CB Gareon Conley, inactive against Denver with a shin injury, did not participate Wednesday but is expected to be on the field Thursday. ... G Gabe Jackson did not participate in practice with a foot injury. ...DL Mario Edwards Jr. did not participate in practice with a back injury. ...CB David Amerson was limited with a concussion and has yet been cleared to play. ... QB Derek Carr did not practice with a fracture in his back. ...RB DeAndre Washington did not practice with a hamstring injury.

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