State of the Franchise: Oakland Raiders
March 10, 2011 2 Comments
The Oakland Raiders made NFL history in 2010: the team finished divisional player undefeated (6-0), but failed to win the division or even make the playoffs. The 2010 season also marked the end of the Tom Cable era in the Black Hole. Even though the Raiders sustained a steady rise back to relevance under Cable, the team elected not to renew his contract after the season had concluded. Instead, owner Al Davis elected to promote offensive coordinator Hue Jackson to Cable’s old position.
At first, many of the veterans in the Raiders locker room were upset with Cable’s firing. However, many of those felt at east with the whole situation when Davis decided to hire from within. While under Jackson, the Raiders offense, specifically running back Darren McFadden, flourished to its best marks since the 2002 Super Bowl season under Jon Gruden.
However, heading into the 2011 season, Jackson will be working with significant holes that will need to be filled in order to compete. The team played in two specific areas very well. The first, the team finished the season second in rushing yardage-per-game. Led by McFadden, who finished the year with career highs in yards (1,157), attempts (233), yards-per-carry (5.2) and touchdowns (seven). McFadden recorded six games with 100 rushing yards or more, including a breakout performance Week Seven against the Denver Broncos. That day, McFadden ran the ball 16 times for 165 yards and three touchdowns.
Change-of-pace running back Michael Bush also had a huge season for the Raiders ground game. Bush carried for a career-high 158 times and accumulated career highs in both yards (655) and touchdowns (eight). Bush posted two 100-yard rushing games, both coming in spot starts of Darren McFadden. In the final week of the season, Bush rushed for 137 yards and one touchdown in the team’s 31-10 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.
The second team strength was pass defense. The secondary held opponent passing yards-per-game to 189.2, second best mark in the NFL. The defense was led by All-Pro cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. The four-time Pro Bowl selection strikes utter fear into every quarterback in the league, causing most offenses to direct the passing game to the opposite side of the field Asomugha is manning. However, the lack of opportunities for Asomugha led to the emergence of Stanford Routt. The team’s second round selection in 2005 had a breakout season, recording 55 tackles and two interceptions. Routt and Asomugha formed the number-one conerback tandem in the NFL, allowing opponents to complete a lowly 38% completion rating and four touchdowns.
However, this off-season, team management took a very curious direction in regards to their secondary. At the conclusion of the season, the Raiders curiously voided the final years on Asomugha’s contract, making him an unrestricted free agent. Though many insiders believed the Raiders would re-sign Asomugha to a new contract, them team elected to extend the contract of Routt instead. Rout signed a three-year, $31.5 million contract, putting Asomugha out of the team’s price range. Furthermore, team interception leader, safety Michael Huff, is also an unrestricted free agent, and insiders aren’t positive the team will make a huge effort to re-sign their former first round selection. The team will need to find some sort of replacement to fill in now that Asomugha has left and Huff appears likely to leave. Either way, the team will likely take a tumble in the pass defense category next season.
The team also has a massive hole at the left guard position. Robert Gallery announced just a week ago that he was planning on continuing his playing career outside of Oakland in the upcoming season. Gallery, the former number two overall selection, chosen after Eli Manning, served as a massive run blocker that helped pave holes for both McFadden and Bush. Also, Gallery served as one of the team’s strongest pass blockers.
Quarterbacks have been an enigma for the Raiders as of late. Last season, Cable never settled between pre-season incumbent and former Washington Redskin Jason Campbell and Bruce Gradkowski. Campbell had a stronger statistical season, and seemed to gel with his offense as the season progressed. Campbell threw for 2,387 yards with a 59% completion percentage. He also completed 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions, while compiling a QB Rating of 84.5.
Gradkowski, on the other hand, threw for only 1,059 yards, along with five touchdowns and seven interceptions on 52% completion percentage. However, Gradkowski seemed to be the favored of the two quarterbacks in the eyes of Tom Cable, and that never sat well with owner Al Davis, who made it a priority to acquire Campbell in the off-season. Perception is that with a full season under Jackson plus having the working knowledge of being the starting quarterback from Day One, Campbell should easily improve on his numbers from the season prior. He has talented targets in tight-end Zach Miller (60 receptions, 685 yards, five touchdowns) and promising wide receiver Louis Murphy (41 receptions, 609 yards, two touchdowns). The team is still waiting on former top-10 selection Darrius Heyward-Bey to met his full potential, and the 2011 season may become make-or-break for the third-year pro.
The Raiders will also look to upgrade their defensive front seven. The team is impressed by rookie outside linebacker Rolando McClain, who was third on the team in tackles (85), and they feel that they have a star at the other outside linebacker in Kamerion Wimbley, who led the team with nine sacks. Earlier in the off-season, defensive tackle Richard Seymour re-upped for two years, while the other defensive tackle Tommy Kelly continues to perform at a high level for the team, registering seven sacks to go along with his 59 tackles. But, the team could desperately use some firepower at the defensive end position, likely looking to upgrade at this position through the deep 2011 draft class.
Heading into the 2011 season, the Raiders have serious questions to answer to even replicate their 8-8 season last year. The holes are glaring and the team as it stands currently is significantly worse than at this time last year. It will be near impossible to replace Nnamdi Asomugha, and hard to imagine them finding players that can replace the value offensive guard Robert Gallery and safety Michael Huff provide.
Are we closer to seeing another coaching change in Oakland than a playoff appearance? Unfortunately, the future isn’t looking any brighter for the mercurial Oakland Raiders.