October 6, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders free safety Charles Woodson (24) celebrates after intercepting the ball against the San Diego Chargers during the fourth quarter at O.co Coliseum. The Raiders defeated the Chargers 27-17. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Oakland Raiders: The Two Biggest Improvements From a Year Ago


 

The Oakland Raiders are currently 2-4 and with 10 games remaining, they are not quite where they would have liked to be. Nonetheless, the Raiders have certainly made crucial strides at becoming the team they envision in the near future.

I know the loyal Raider fans abhor anything regarding last season, though Raider Nation should be ecstatic with the strides they’ve made thus far. A record of 2-4 is surely nothing to be proud of, although the Raiders have competed tremendously well compared to last year.

When you go back and look at their four losses, a couple of them could have undoubtedly been wins. The absence of Oakland’s primary signal caller, Terrelle Pryor, against Washington at the Coliseum hurt the Raiders terribly, as many assume that would have been a win if he was under center. Week 1 against Indianapolis was a heart-breaker–after all if Janikowski connected on an early field goal which turned out to be the game decider, Oakland would have been victorious.

Moreover, this is the NFL. No excuses, your record is simply who you are. Yes, the Raiders have been competitive, but they have struggled in a key area, winning football games. It’s an issue that needs to be addressed and improved, having that said, there is a bigger picture here. The Raiders have improved in virtually all areas compared to last year’s catastrophe.

The BIGGEST improvement from a year ago is unquestionably the defense. General manager Reggie McKenzie  pieced together an entirely new defense, with just two remaining starters from a year ago, and defensive coordinator Jason Tarver has done an outstanding job calling the shots. The Raiders are 12th in the league in yards allowed per game (340), tied for 13th in points allowed (22) and have an impressive 16 sacks in six games, after having 25 all of last season.

After years of painfully watching the silver and black give up big plays, the Raiders are the only team in the NFL this year to not allow a run longer than 20 yards. Stopping the run was a major problem throughout last season. Nevertheless, the tables have turned, as Oakland has allowed only 89.7 yards a game on the ground the last three contests. For the first time in a while, Oakland can rely on their defense to keep them in games. The Raiders were undeniably one of the worst defenses a year ago, but with the newly acquired additions during the offseason, they’ve been able to make dramatic improvements.

Secondly, the Raiders have upgraded the quarterback position. Terrelle Pryor has been the story for the Raiders so far with his special play making ability. Offensive line woes have dreadfully stalled the Raiders, therefore an extraordinarily athletic quarterback in Pryor has been of paramount importance.

Pryor’s ability to extend plays after the pocket collapses is amazing–and sometimes breathtaking. Pryor has an exceptional feel for pressure that has benefited him tremendously, along with the physicality of Ben Roethlisberger, but MUCH faster. The youngster is a load to handle. There were questions all over the place prior to the season on whether the former Ohio State superstar would be capable of facilitating a NFL offense. Considering the pieces he’s had to work with offensively, I think he’s done nothing but proven he’s more than capable.

The defense and the new starter under center Terrelle Pryor have been the two most significant improvements so far this year. With a stout defense performing at a high level, and a quarterback with incredible play making ability, the silver and black could potentially turn their record around. I think the coaching staff has done a terrific job, including the offensive/defensive coordinator, and most importantly, head coach Dennis Allen. I’m excited to see what the Raiders have in store this Sunday against Pittsburgh.

Tags: AFC WEST Dennis Allen NFL Oakland Raiders Reggie McKenzie Terrelle Pryor