The new era of Oakland Raiders football started with a purge of players deemed too expensive by general manager Reggie McKenzie. The Raiders were way over the salary cap and had to get rid of a few large contracts while attempting to remain competitive. Oakland’s piecemeal roster was banking on luck with injuries and good production from the offense to carry a defense in transition.
Through eight games the Raiders have had bad luck with injuries and the running game is still stuck in neutral. Oakland’s plan backfired, and they will have to grind through the second half of the season with a depleted roster.
The problem has been in several key areas like the running game and the pass defense. Darren McFadden was supposed to carry the team and that hasn’t happened. Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer were supposed to solidify the secondary and that hasn’t happened because they both got hurt. The modern defensive scheme was supposed to help the front seven create pressure and that hasn’t happened.
It’s not that there haven’t been positives from the first eight games of the season because there have been. It would be hard to imagine where the Raiders would be without Carson Palmer, Philip Wheeler or Miles Burris. Also, the new regime’s effort to reduce penalties seems to be working well.
Oakland is not a good football team right now. There’s hope that the team could improve as they get healthy, but just as Aaron Curry and Bartell return to action, the Raiders lose Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson. It’s tough for a team that lacks quality depth to deal with multiple injuries at one position.
Pass Offense: B
Palmer is having one of the better seasons of his career, averaging 294.4 yards per game thanks largely to a weak running attack. Palmer’s yardage production is up and his interceptions are down. Even with three picks against the Buccaneers, Palmer is on pace to match a career low in interceptions per attempt (interception percentage).
There’s been little to no noticeable drop-off in Palmer’s other statistics. He’s matching or exceeding his 2011 production, and in many ways, he’s also matching or exceeded his career averages. It’s hard to ask for more from Palmer, and he’s a big reason the Raiders have won three games.
Palmer has been blamed for last week’s loss to the Buccaneers, but he has two fourth-quarter comebacks and two game-winning drives to his credit, according to Pro Football Reference.com. Palmer has actually been better in the no-huddle offense, and the Raiders have used it more and more as part of their normal operations in recent games.
This is the good Palmer everyone in silver and black hoped to see, but he’s not an elite quarterback. He’s a good quarterback that has a below-average supporting cast in Oakland. Palmer is the type of quarterback who can win with the right pieces, but he’s not a Manning-type player that elevates the play of the players around him.
The offensive line has done a solid job at keeping the pressure off of Palmer. There have been occasional breakdowns in pass protection—mostly at right tackle—and the Raiders have taken steps to solve those issues. Considering how much the Raiders have thrown the ball, the offensive line has done an admirable job.
The Raiders lost Jacoby Ford for the entire season and have moved on with rookie Rod Streater as the No. 3 wide receiver. Unfortunately, the Raiders miss Ford’s speed and ability to make big plays. Denarius Moore is Oakland’s other big-play receiver, and he was slowed by a hamstring early in the season. He’s only recently started to produce on a consistent basis.
Darrius Heyward-Bey continues to be a solid No. 2 option, but that’s about all he is at this point, and it doesn’t look like he’s going to improve on his 2011 season. The only real surprise in the passing game has been tight end Brandon Myers, who has more than doubled his previous career highs in receptions and yards and has caught the first two touchdowns of his career.
The Raiders have a few players they could try to get more involved in the passing game. David Ausberry and rookie Juron Criner are both big targets and could help Palmer convert more on third down and in the red zone. The Raiders have a pretty good passing offense, but they need more players who can move the chains and make big plays.
Rush Offense: F
What was supposed to be the strongest area of the team has become the weakest. Darren McFadden played the first eight games, averaged 80.7 yards from scrimmage but now has a high-ankle sprain.
McFadden’s ineffectiveness has been widely attributed to the move back to the zone-blocking scheme. While McFadden has struggled with this run-blocking scheme, the bigger issue has been the performance of the offense line. McFadden has been routinely hit behind the line of scrimmage, and the offensive line has failed to sustain its blocks or get to the second level on a consistent basis.
The Raiders were seventh in yards per carry in 2011. They are 30th in 2012.
Sure, Michael Bush is gone, but it was McFadden who led the league in rushing prior to spraining his foot last season. There’s no excuse for such poor production. Offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, McFadden and the offensive line all deserve some of the blame for turning what was an elite rushing attack into a complete failure.
Things aren’t looking like they will improve any time soon because McFadden and Mike Goodson both have high-ankle sprains of unknown severity. Taiwan Jones and fullback Marcel Reece are going to get an opportunity to carry the ball in Week 10, but unless the blocking drastically improves, they aren’t going to have any more success.
The Raiders might as well rely heavily on the passing game and use the running game only as a change of pace. Draws, screens and pitch plays should become the norm as the Raiders try to use the run game as a complement to the passing game and not the other way around.
The transition already started two weeks ago against the Kansas City Chiefs, and it would be surprising not to see that type of running game continue in the second half of the season.
Pass Defense: C-
In all fairness to the pass defense, they have been operating at a severe disadvantage without their two starting cornerbacks. Ron Bartell played in one game and Shawntae Spencer played in two before both players suffered injuries. The injuries forced the Raiders to shuffle things around.
Michael Huff flipped from safety to cornerback, Joselio Hanson was signed to play in nickel situations and Matt Giordano took Huff’s spot at free safety. Pat Lee became a regular starter for the first time in his career. Obviously, the situation was less than ideal.
Hanson became available at the last minute, and the Raiders are thankful because they might have been in more trouble without him. The secondary was already a group in transition, and Bartell and Spencer were stopgap solutions as it was. McKenzie hasn’t had time to build up the depth.
Losing both starting cornerbacks is hard to overcome in a passing league. The Raiders have done a good job competing, and Michael Huff has transitioned to cornerback fairly well after a rough start. Still, this doesn’t mean the pass defense has been good.
The Raiders are ranked 21st in passing touchdowns allowed, 21st in passing yards allowed and 22nd in 20-plus-yard pass plays. Oakland’s only saving grace has been its five interceptions, but they've all come against two teams. Considering the circumstances, the backups have done a solid job, but the group as a whole is still well below average.
With the imminent return of Bartell and the eventual return of Spencer, the Raiders have a chance to get much better in the secondary in the second half of the season. Bartell is eligible to be activated on Saturday and could be eased back into the lineup after a seven-week layoff.
Run Defense: C-
With one horrible week the Raiders went from one of the better run defenses in NFL to one of the worst. What’s become apparent is that the improvement in the run defense over last season has been a mirage.
Prior to Doug Martin’s 251-yard performance the Raiders were a top-10 run defense but fell to 26th in the league in yards per carry allowed after that performance. The Raiders also allowed 172 yards to Reggie Bush in Week 2 and 112 yards to Willis McGahee in Week 4.
The reality of the situation is that the Raiders haven’t faced many good rushing teams. Of the eight teams Oakland played in the first half, the Chiefs and Buccaneers are the only teams that are ranked in the top half of the league in yards per carry or yards per game. The Raiders limited the Chiefs, but only by default because Jamaal Charles had just five carries.
The Raiders get another chance in Week 10 versus a Baltimore Ravens squad averaging 4.5 yards per carry and boasting a running back in Ray Rice who is similar to Martin.
Oakland still has to prove they can shut down a quality rushing attack.
The Raiders have one good win on the season and two wins against two of the worst teams in the NFL. The running game has been a complete failure, and the defense has played well only in spurts. Without Palmer and the passing game the Raiders would be one of the worst teams in the league, and as it is, they are scraping by, barely avoiding falling into the same class as the Chiefs and Jaguars.
With some improvement in the running game and on defense the Raiders could win a handful of games in the second half. The Raiders only play two teams with winning records over the final eight games. With further development of the schemes on both sides of the ball and some luck avoiding injuries, the Raiders could be in for a better second half.