Last season, the Oakland Raiders and their fans had high hopes heading into the season after back to back 8-8 campaigns. They imagined an offense with Carson Palmer having a full year under his belt and the offense switching to the much hyped zone blocking scheme. The Raiders then went into the season and struggled mightily, as they finished with the third worst record in the entire league. General Manager Reggie McKenzie spent the off season attempting to overhaul the roster and dumping many of the bad contracts on the roster.
This season, the expectations are not as high heading into this season. A lot of this is due to the team taking steps to rebuild the roster from the ground up. McKenzie added many young, talented players with high upside, but those players could take several seasons to reach their potential. He also added depth to the roster, by bringing cost effective solid football players. They also made several moves within the coaching staff, including the big hire of Tony Sparano to be the offensive line coach. It is hard to know exactly what to expect from the Raiders this season.
I would not be surprised if the Raiders struggled again this upcoming season, but it is not because I think they are an awful football team. I think the Raiders have talented football players and that they seem to be taking the right steps to turn around the franchise. The reason for the Raiders possibly struggling boils down to three things with a common theme, uncertainty.
The main shroud of mystery surrounding the Raiders is their offense. The Raiders’ offense last season was a total anomaly, as they had one of the better passing offenses in the league last year with 4,084 yards for the eight best total in the NFL. While the passing attack found success, the lack of a ground game confounded many that follow the NFL. In 2011, the Raiders had a top seven rushing offense with over 2,100 yards gained and an average of 4.5 yards per carry. In 2012, the Raiders switched to a zone blocking scheme similar to Houston, which was suppose to fit McFadden and create giant running lanes for him to run through. Instead, the running game regressed heavily as they ran for 1,420 yards, which is nearly 700 yards fewer in just a year.
That regression led to the firing of Offensive Coordinator Greg Knapp and he was replaced by Greg Olsen of Jacksonville. Olsen is suppose to bring with him a power running game. Many believe that the Raiders are better suited in a straight ahead, downhill attack type of scheme. This scheme is suppose to benefit the offensive line that is better at driving forward, instead of playing space. The offensive line should receive better coaching from Sparano.
The team also added a new quarterback in Matt Flynn. Flynn is a total unknown commodity as an NFL starter. He has two starts in his career that were impressive, but he does not have extensive game experience. Last season was suppose to be his opportunity to shine after signing with Seattle, but he was beat out in training camp by rookie Russel Wilson. The Raiders traded for him after trading away Carson Palmer as a way to shore up their quarterback depth. A new offensive scheme and quarterback creates a major question mark for this offense heading into the seasons, because you do not know how compatible they will be.
The Raiders took major strides to shore up their back seven on the defensive side of the ball. They added several players at both the linebacker position and defensive back position in free agency. They added proven players in linebacker Nick Roach, cornerback Mike Jenkins, and cornerback Tracy Porter. They also addressed both positions in the draft by adding cornerback D.J. Hayden in the first round and linebacker Sio Moore in the third.
Despite these additions, the Raiders failed to make a splash by bringing in defensive line help. They allowed Richard Seymor and Desmond Bryant to walk in free agency. That left Lamarr Houston as the lone impact player along the defensive line. McKenzie brought in several free agents, but none inspire confidence as an impact pass rusher. The three players brought in have combined for 21 sacks in their combined 16 seasons in the NFL. None of the players will help improve the Raiders’ putrid pass rush. Then in the draft McKenzie selected defensive with two of his final three picks in the draft, bringing in defensive tackle Stacy McGee and defensive end David Bass. Both players are major questions marks at the NFL level and many fans were scratching their heads over the lack of impact pass rushers being brought in. McKenzie could use June 1st cuts to see what players might be able to help improve the pass rush, but as of right now the defensive line will continue to be the weakest position on the team by a long shot.
The final area that the Raiders might struggle with is in team chemistry. Many people over look chemistry as players just simply enjoying playing with each other. It is much more than that, as chemistry refers to players learning how to play with their teammates inside the system of the team. The only way a team can build that sort of chemistry is by simply playing games and learning what each teammate can do in certain situations.
This Raiders’ squad has suffered a lot of turnover on the roster and coaching staff. I would expect them struggle early in the season as the players and coaches build up chemistry over the course of the season. The second half of the season will be very telling of this team going forward. Teams that build success throughout the season and finish strong is very telling of a team going into the next year, as long as there is a continuity.
The Raiders have a lot of potential on their roster right now, but much of it needs to be developed. Growing pains are to be expected during a rebuild, especially with the question marks that surround this team. This team could surprise the league if they can get over these hurdles that lay before them, but do not be surprised if this team has is struggles, especially early in the season.