Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Black Hole: Oakland Raiders Season Preview

2008 Record: 5-11

Oakland was the trendy "sleeper team" pick last season. This season, we're not hearing that so much, and for good reason. Oakland had a ton of holes last season, and addressed very few of them in the offseason. The Raiders were 29th in scoring offense, 24th in scoring defense, 29th in total offense, 27th in total defense, and 31st in run defense. They did manage a top 10 ranking in pass defense, but when you give up 159.7 rush yards per game, teams don't really need to pass against you.

Oakland's front 7 can be described as weak, at best, and "downright terrible" at worst. Oakland did a decent job of pressuring the quarterback, finishing 13th in the league with 32 sacks. However, no one on the team posted more than 5, highlighting their inconsistent production from their front 4. Strong Safety Gabril Wilson left for Miami in free agency, meaning the burden of responsibility falls on Michael Huff, a highly touted draft pick who has had a disappointing career. The Raiders took Huff with the 7th overall pick in 2006, and Huff has only produced 1 interception and 1 fumble recovery over 39 starts in 3 seasons. Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha is one of the best in the league, but has such a bad defense around him, teams don't even have to throw his way. Asomugha was a 1st team All Pro last season, despite posting only 1 interception, 1 forced fumble and 33 tackles last season. He is just that good that people stay away from him.

Oh yeah, and the rest of Oakland's defense is that bad.

On offense, Oakland seems like a team that should have a 60-40 run to pass ratio. With Darren McFadden, Michael Bush, and former 1000-yard rusher Justin Fargas in the backfield, there should be more than enough talent to keep the ball out of Jamarcus Russell's hands until he develops as a passer. Russel has the arm strength, there's no doubt about that. Javon Walker, possibly the worst free agent contract in history, had only 15 catches last year. Despite having the 10th best rushing offense in the league last season, no Raider back broke 900 yards (only Fargas broke 500), and Oakland was 28th in the league with only 9 rushing touchdowns.

Besides McFadden, the most exciting player on the team has to be Johnny Lee Higgins, who returned 3 kickoffs for touchdowns last season. Add that to Justin Miller's 2 punt return TDs, the Raiders special teams put up 5 of the team's 26 touchdown's last season.

The defining game for Oakland's offense last season came against Atlanta when they posted this astounding stat line:
77 Total Yards (67 rush yards, 10 pass yards), 3 first downs, 0 points, 7 penalties for 55 yards, 14:45 in time of possession, and 34 plays from scrimage.
The Raiders had no first downs for the first 35:34 of the game until Justin Fargas broke a 13-yard run.

McFadden's season was shortened by injuries last year, and if he remains healthy for a whole season, there shouldn't be any reason he couldn't put up some solid numbers. That being said, Oakland has some holes on the offensive line. They brought in tackle Khalif Barnes from Jacksonville (you may remember him getting owned by James Harrison last season) and center Samson Satele from Miami to "help". The Raiders didn't invest any of their draft picks in the offensive line, and it remains to be seen if Barnes and Satele will be much of an improvement.

Speaking of the draft, Al Davis's love of speed lives on, as they invested the #7 selection in Darrius Heyward-Bey, a lanky receiver who posted the fastest combine time this year. DHB, however, had a mediocre college career in terms of production, never surpassing 700 receiving yards and only posting 13 TDs over three seasons (5, 3, and 5). Oakland was looking for someone who could stretch the field to play into Jamarcus Russell's arm strength, which DHB can do, but he remains a work in progress. If there's anything we know about the Raiders, it's that they don't do very well with "work in progress" players. Russell had a ton of talent coming out of college and was poorly developed, including a training camp holdout that completely nullified his rookie season.

Oakland was 4-1 last season when they out-rushed their opponents. Conversely, Oakland was 1-4 last season when out-passing their opponents. If Oakland is going to succeed this season, they are going to have to make their way through an incredibly difficult schedule by running the ball and controlling the clock. Interim head coach Tom Cable was "hired" as the full-time coach this season, but with Al Davis in the front office, that really means nothing. As Tunch and Wolf so eloquently put it once, "every coach in Oakland is an interim coach." Honestly, this is one of the worst run organizations in the league, and it seems highly unlikely that this team will turn things around until they get some new, competent management in place.

Ian's Prediction: 3-13

The losing ways continue for Oakland. Oakland gets the Jets, Cincy, Philly, and Washington at home, but has to travel to Cleveland (their easiest opponent), Houston, Dallas, and Pittsburgh. This will not be an easy year for Raiders fans, and one really has to wonder just how much longer they will put up with Al Davis and his atrocious managing of the organization. If they didn't have so much talent in the running game, I would say this team has the potential to challenge Detroit's mark from last season. However, their two-game winning streak to close out 2008 shows that there is life in this team, so don't be surprised when they put a few wins on the board.

John's Prediction:

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