Oakland Raiders: 3 Biggest Surprises Of The First Half

Nov 3, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders running back Rashad Jennings (27) carries the ball against the Philadelphia Eagles at O.co Coliseum. The Eagles defeated the Raiders 49-20. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It’s no shock the Oakland Raiders have a losing record, but the team has defied expectations. The Silver and Black were predicted the worst NFL squad in the preseason, so a 3-5 record in Week 9 raises eyebrows (and saves a little dignity). What else has gone unpredictably well?

3) Rashad Jennings

When a player is let go by the modern Jacksonville Jaguars, their NFL prospects are dim. But Jennings, who missed the 2011 season with a knee injury and underwhelmed in Maurice Jones-Drew’s 2012 absence (2.8 yards per carry), has found new life behind a porous Oakland offensive line.

In addition to two blocked punts(!), Jennings has rushed 51 times for 242 yards and a 4.7-yard average. The 28-year-old visibly runs with purpose and seems to have regained the burst that once made him an intriguing backfield option in Jacksonville. Jennings remains Darren McFadden’s backup, but the free agent pickup is looking more likely than McFadden every week to be re-signed in the offseason.

2) Terrelle Pryor

They said Jesus Christ wasn’t anything special either, and then he – OK, that’s a bad analogy. Pryor’s qualifications as an NFL quarterback have been questioned since he was selected in the 2011 supplemental draft. Due to inconsistent throwing mechanics, sloppy footwork and poor decision-making, the Ohio State star was never seriously considered for the job until 2013. Then, he was reborn the Raiders’ savior.

Pryor has taken his lumps (like a three-interception, nine-sack outing at Kansas City), but he sparks the offense (unlike the immobile Matt Flynn) and is a threat to go the distance on every down. The signal caller is completing 61.1 percent of his passes, and he leads all quarterbacks in rushing yards (485) which includes an NFL quarterback-record 93-yard dash. The Raiders are blessed with his presence.

1) The Defense

Imagining Nick Foles missed the flight to Oakland, the Raiders’ defense has made the team competitive again. Comparing the 2013 unit to last year’s, the club has produced seven forced fumbles and 23 sacks (they had eight and 25 respectively the whole 2012 season) while surrendering 20 fewer rushing yards per contest.

The defensive aerial numbers aren’t pretty, but an improved front four and a rebuilt secondary spearheaded by Charles Woodson has been passable (no pun intended) compared to the disaster zone in 2012.

What’s also incredible is the fact the defense has 10 new starters from the year before. Coaching can apparently mask a lack of chemistry, because coordinator Jason Tarver has taken smoke-and-mirrors to a new level. The Raiders will need more of his wizardry to push for a wild-card slot.

Topics: Charles Woodson, Darren McFadden, Matt Flynn, Oakland Raiders, Rashad Jennings, Terrelle Pryor

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