The Oakland Raiders are coming of the bye week 1-3 and in desperate need of a turnaround. The Raiders have been mostly inept offensively, defensively and on special teams. The Raiders haven’t been able to run the ball, and the passing game has been inconsistent.
The offense was supposed to carry the defense in 2012, but the defense looked every bit as bad as it did last year and in some cases, worse. The issues on defense can be attributed to a lack of depth and talent, where the issues on offense seem to be rooted in coaching and scheme.
During the bye week, the Raiders likely did some self-assessment. Where do the Raiders stand and how can they get better? Statistics tell part of the story, but the team may get better or worse depending on scheme adjustments, personnel changes and quality of opponent.
Progress is not always easy to evaluate, but statistics usually help. Statistics don’t tell the whole story, but they do tell part of the story. It’s easy to cherry-pick stats to support an opinion, but in this case, we are only attempting to see how certain areas may be progressing from week to week.
Of the selected statistics, the Raiders rank in the bottom five in the NFL in 13 out of 33. Particularly troubling have been the struggles in the running game, where the Raiders rank in the bottom five in every selected statistic except fumbles.
The pass defense is also struggling, although that is to be expected without both starting cornerbacks injured and a virtually non-existent edge rush. The run defense has been average to below-average compared to the rest of the NFL.
The only bright spot statistically are the penalties and penalty yards, where the Raiders have the second-fewest in the league. It’s possible in an attempt to solve the penalty issue that Dennis Allen has neutered the aggressiveness of his team.
The Raiders lost Jacoby Ford for the season, who was one of the few dynamic playmakers the Raiders had on offense. Ford stretched the field and made a lot of big plays, and without him, the passing game has not taken flight. Ford was also a key return man, and replacing him is virtually impossible on special teams.
Stefen Wisniewski missed a lot of time during training camp and the preseason, and his absence could have a lasting impact on the progress of the new blocking scheme. Once Wisniewski came back, the Raiders lost starting right tackle Khalif Barnes, and the result was a guy that was a free agent becoming the starting right tackle for the last couple of games. Barnes hurt his groin and he continues to be week to week, according to Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle.
Linebacker Aaron Curry was placed on the physically unable to perform list prior to the season and is eligible to start practicing with the team next week. He is likely to do so, according to Tafur. Miles Burris has played well in his absence, but opponents have been passing so much that he hasn’t been a full-time player.
Given the Raiders' issues rushing the quarterback, the Raiders could experiment with more 3-4 alignments once Curry returns. The Raiders could also use defensive ends Andre Carter and Dave Tollefson as pass-rushing linebackers out the 3-4.
The biggest injury issue for the Raiders has come at cornerback. The Raiders lost both starters to injury and were already lacking depth. The Raiders were forced to start free safety Michael Huff at cornerback with Pat Lee for the last few games.
Bartell was placed on injured reserve with the ability to return designation and isn’t eligible to return for a couple weeks, and Shawntae Spencer is still reportedly in a walking boot after he sprained his foot. The Raiders aren’t likely to get much help at the cornerback position for several more weeks and will have to rely on improvement by Lee, Huff and the pass rush.
The Raiders had a total overhaul this offseason on both sides of the ball. Greg Knapp brought in his West Coast offense and zone-blocking scheme and Dennis Allen brought with him a modern defense.
Unfortunately, neither scheme is having much success. Too much turnover on the defensive side has kept the defense from being as aggressive as planned, and the zone-blocking scheme is Darren McFadden’s worst nightmare. During the bye week, the Raiders will make adjustments.
The offensive line and McFadden needs to start executing the zone-blocking scheme correctly, and the Raiders likely spent some extra time getting it down. The Raiders might also attempt to use more power and man blocking going forward until the team starts to grasp the new scheme.
Defensively, the Raiders will try to incorporate Carter to improve the pass rush and might also experiment by moving Lamarr Houston inside with more frequency and more 3-4 alignments. The Raiders have to figure out how to generate a pass rush to help the secondary, and perhaps the different alignments can help.
The Raiders are four games into a major rebuilding project; unfortunately, the team hasn’t been as competitive as expected during the transition.
The Raiders will play the 5-0 Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, but the schedule eases up after that with games against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Don’t be surprised if you see a better Oakland team in future weeks and a few more W’s in the win column. Despite a poor start, the Raiders still have a chance to get six wins with a little improvement.
Health will play a key role in any turnaround, as the Raiders lack depth at most positions, but just as important is the progress of the running game. If Knapp can get McFadden going, the offense can carry the defense to more victories.