Reaching lofty goals can be next to impossible (like President Obama’s “promises”), but creating them are a useful practice for self-improvement.
The Oakland Raiders went 4-12 in 2012 (tying for the third-worst record in the NFL), so the team could surely afford to strive for unrealistic benchmarks. With less than three months until the September 8 regular season opener in Indianapolis, head coach Dennis Allen must stress achieving at least a few of the following objectives (in no particular order):
1) Reboot the running game.
After ranking second and seventh in total rushing yards in 2010 and 2011 respectively, Oakland’s ground attack tripped under its own footing, slipping to 28th in the NFL last season. The drop can be attributed to Darren McFadden’s medical ailments, but fingers should be pointed at the offensive line, which struggled to consistently execute offensive coordinator Greg Knapp’s zone blocking scheme. Knapp has since been tossed, McFadden is healthy, and the power system is back, so the tailbacks and front five will be playing with added fire this coming year.
2) Find an answer under center.
Since Rich Gannon took his last snap in 2004, the Raiders have started 13 quarterbacks (what luck), but there may finally be stability. Coming into camp are young guns Matt Flynn, Terrelle Pryor and Tyler Wilson, who all bring unique qualities (championship background, elite mobility, fearlessness to hit small windows, in order) that can be parlayed into NFL success. While Allen named offseason trade acquisition Flynn the starter, this is no guarantee for a Week 2 nod, so we may see a carousel at quarterback in 2012, which could even determine the eventual answer is not currently on the roster.
3) Turn up the heat.
Oakland produced a meager 25 sacks in 2012, which was second to last (to Jacksonville) in the entire league. Even worse, only 17.5 of those losses were earned by the defensive line, and the squad’s best blitzer, linebacker Philip Wheeler, signed with the Miami Dolphins in March. The lack of pressure on opponents throughout the season left the depleted secondary for dead, and overshadowed the unit’s decent run-stopping play (which should improve with fresh beef up the middle in Pat Sims and Vance Walker).
There will be an enormous burden on former second round pick Lamarr Houston to up his career-high total of five sacks for a season, and defensive coordinator Jason Tarver will have to continue utilizing smoke-and-mirror sets to give the defense a fighting chance.
4) Protect/steal the football.
The last time the Raiders had a positive turnover differential? That would be 2008 (and a plus-one margin no less), when JaMarcus Russell was at the helm (yes, I’m crying as well). In 2012, the Silver and Black surrendered seven more giveaways than takeaways (26:19), and though Carson Palmer’s interceptions were a large chunk of that figure, you must also consider his crumbling offensive surroundings. Flynn (or whoever gets the call to throw) will need to guard the ball like his future first-born, and a little pass rush on defense would go a long way for generating fumbles and picks.
5) Don’t wilt under pressure.
This goes for every player on the roster. How many times has a Raider fan thrown their beer or cocktail after an ill-timed underthrown ball, muffed punt return or personal foul? (You’ll have to ask my carpet, which has a pungent odor these days.) These mental mistakes aren’t relegated to the fourth quarter or overtime either.
Oakland ranked 25th converting third downs last season, and moving the chains has been a constant headache since Gannon’s departure. Pro football is a 60-minute grind, and the end of drives are when boys are separated from the men, so perhaps Allen should add a dozen or so sprints in practice to significantly improve conditioning.