2014 Preview: Oakland Raiders

A look at five reasons Raider fans should be confident and five reasons to be concerned about the upcoming season.

| 2 years ago
2014-team-preview-OAK

2014 Preview: Oakland Raiders


2014-team-preview-OAKThis is it. This is the season that has been off in the distance for Raider fans — the one where the turnaround begins. The roster has been flipped and hand-picked replacements have been brought on board to get everything headed in the right direction. This is the foundation that all future greatness for the Oakland franchise will be built upon.

That’s the plan at least, and we’re barely into August, so hope still rules the day.

The truth of it all is the Raiders are at a key point for members of the front office and coaching staff who are tied to the back-to-back 4-12 seasons since the ‘new regime’ was put in place. There needs to be some sign of the ship being righted or the team could be in for yet another change at the top.

Five Reasons to be Confident

1. Competent QB Play

A season-to-season changes go, the quarterback situation in Oakland is about as night-and-day different from this time last year as it could be. With hopes pinned to a string of long shots and failed experiments in 2013 (Matt Flynn, Terrelle Pryor, Tyler Wilson, Matt McGloin), the team’s QB play predictably crashed down around the decision-makers who had assembled the bunch. Though both Pryor and McGloin flashed positives early in their respective shifts, neither proved themselves more than a placeholder as they each landed among the league’s worst passers as measured by their Accuracy Percentage (Pryor 34th, 68.3; McGloin 41st, 66.5).

For 2014, though, the front office managed to bring in not only an experienced vet who has had success in the league (Matt Schaub), but also committed a second-round pick to one of the most promising arms in the draft (Derek Carr). A reasonable answer at the QB spot can go a long way toward stabilizing a franchise that has been adrift for longer than fans care to remember – and nothing is promised from the current duo given Schaub’s decline and Carr’s rookie status – but the sense of getting on track at the position is a good place to start.

2. Young Blood

With limited returns coming from the past two drafts, Oakland had to make this one count. With Khalil Mack taken No. 5 overall as a consensus instant-impact type of pass rusher and Carr widely expected to prove a capable hand at the helm sooner than later, this may in fact be the draft that hit the mark. Add in Gabe Jackson who could slide in as a starter at left guard and defensive tackle Justin Ellis’ role in the D-line rotation, and the sprinkling of youth across the roster begins to come into focus.

Seventh-round cornerback T.J. Carrie, whose strong first impression has been particularly timely given D.J. Hayden’s continued battle to make the field, could also find himself thrust into meaningful duty. Hayden’s 2013 classmate, linebacker Sio Moore is switching sides to make room for Mack and will have to hold off 2012’s Miles Burris to keep grasp of the weakside while second-round offensive tackle Menelik Watson has sights set on the right tackle job. Tight end Mychal Rivera and running back Latavius Murray are others from the 2013 class who stand to have some say in their respective position groups and Shelby Harris, another from the current crop, could surprise.

3. Vet Infusion

Standard talk for rebuilding franchises includes mentions of “culture change” and “winning experience” and “foundation pieces” and the 2014 Raiders are eyeball-deep in that conversation at this point in their re-make. After the house cleaning that consumed most of the past three years, the resulting cap space allowed for an influx of free agent talent this offseason – talent targeted as much for on-field play as it was for a history of contributing to successful teams.

Justin Tuck and Lamarr Woodley highlight the defensive additions while James Jones is an example from the offensive side and all can show off Super Bowl rings in team meetings. Joining them among are another seven veteran newcomers who are expected to step in and start. A decent job done in collecting them, their impact on the field — and on the youth just mentioned — will be the final word.

4. Pass Rush

Choosing to bring extra rushers out of luxury is one thing, but needing to do it to generate pressure hampers a defense’s ability in other areas. It’s fun to watch the crazy blitz schemes coordinators dream up, but sending just four and getting home with it is something they’d all prefer. Oakland had to rely on the creative last season, but should have the pieces now to devote more attention to coverage while the primary rushers do their thing.

The Mack and Woodley threats off the edge paired with the combination of Tuck and Antonio Smith inside, if Tuck does slide down in passing situations, might be enough firepower to get it done. Woodley (+11.8, eighth) and Smith (+21.3, fifth) graded in the Top 10 pass rushers at their respective positions last season and Tuck had something of a bounce-back, finishing as our seventh-highest graded 4-3 DE overall. The three combined for 151 total pressures .

5. Unique Backfield

With Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew in the backfield group, it’s easy to get caught up in talk of them and their expected roles, but the most important point on the subject is the notion that the Raiders are determined to use Marcel Reece to a proper extent in the upcoming season. For defenses, dealing with Reece is a nightmare due to his hybrid nature.

Listed as a fullback, he doesn’t have a true position — his versatility leads to him lining up everywhere (34% as a FB in 2013, 31% at HB, 27% split wide or in slot, 8% as a TE). But getting him into a spot is one thing, making use of the mismatches it creates is another and dedication to that finally appears to be a prominent feature in the team’s plans. Going to Reece more often, making use of MJD’s strengths (only two drops on 53 targets in 2013 and no pressures allowed in 110 pass-blocking snaps) and cycling McFadden in a limited role — perhaps that’s the season-long answer.

In any event, on a roster lacking true standout talent, not pushing the action toward the most dangerous piece you have is a mistake and one Oakland has to avoid.

Five Reasons to be Concerned

1. O-line Stability?

Oakland’s O-line was impossible to get to know in 2013. Fielding more starting-five combinations than any other team over the course of the year as necessitated by injuries and ineffective play, there were points where it was almost wholly made up of spare parts. So, the group received some much-needed attention in the offseason after a rough start to the free agency period.

Promising left tackle Jared Veldheer left to sign with Arizona and the quick move to replace him with Roger Saffold proved too quick, so Oakland went to Donald Penn and Austin Howard, drafted Jackson, and Watson, who saw little action as a rookie, is expected to finally plug in full time. They should all have spots around the lone returner, Stefan Wisniewski at center, but with four new starters who are a stretch from being considered a set of All-Pros, starting over again means another unit that feels pieced together. What are the odds they click from the get-go?

3. Hot seat

Patience was requested and granted for the past two years, but feet will be held to the fire this season. That might not mean playoffs or bust, it might not even mean 8-8 is a must, but if the road appears headed toward another 4-12, can anyone imagine someone so close to Al Davis in that family tree hesitating to make a move. There is urgency in the building; knowing that all coaches get fired is understood from Day 1, but seeing the possibility on the horizon is a completely different deal.

How it affects game day decisions in the early going we won’t know, but it’s not hard to lose a team that doesn’t have a strong foundation and the Raiders, right now, don’t. If the losing continues through the season’s first month, we’ll see more rumored links of Jon Gruden, we’ll hear Tony Sparano’s name come up as an interim option, and the snowball will be rolling.

3. The Schedule

If the win-now pressure wasn’t enough, a peek at the team’s 2014 schedule surely was cause for some sleepless nights this summer. Judging this season’s schedule by last season’s winning percentage isn’t a sound methodology, but considering what the Raiders did with what was advertised as the fourth-easiest schedule in 2013, carrying the league’s toughest schedule into 2014 surely wasn’t where they wanted to be. Notoriously bad when traveling to the East Coast, Oakland opens in New York, returns home for a week then heads to New England before going directly on to London. With the AFC West housing three 2013 playoff teams and the inter-division matchup being with the NFC West this season, there will be nine games against postseason-worthy opponents, not to mention the Cardinals who won 10 but missed out. Divining the path to the eight-win neighborhood is tough.

4. Jelling Again

As the coaches have come and gone and roster turnover became an annual thing, continuity has been stomped to dust around Raider camp. While the staff remains nearly intact now for the third straight year, the question of coming together reaches beyond the offensive line.

There should be at least six new starters on each side of the ball when the regular season opens. When more than half of each starting unit has only training camp to settle in together, asking them to form something cohesive is a lot, no matter their individual experience or talent levels. Playing as a unit and not just a bunch of guys wearing the same color comes in time and time is one thing that may not be in long supply.

5. Secondary

Another year, another set of new cornerbacks. This season’s pair, Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers, come from across the bay to join Charles Woodson and Tyvon Branch in the Oakland secondary. The depth chart paints a top-heavy picture as the starters are not well supported and even that top layer is looking thin. We saw what happened when Tyvon Branch missed most of last season and Brandian Ross was asked to fill in (-23.2, 85th of 86 safeties) and the Raiders could be reaching down the chart from the outset as D.J. Hayden’s absence lingers (Hayden played only 353 snaps as a rookie and is missing camp with another injury now).

 

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  • Bill Doerr

    The Raiders schedule is downright BRUTAL this season . I just dont see the Raiders winning to many games this season. This is a poorly coached team as well as they have one of the worst head coachs in the NFL. Davis should of got rid of Allen last year, this dude is horrible.Their GM seemed terrible, but kinda redeemed himself bringing in some talent over the off-season. If the Raiders hit on 3-4 draft picks (Whicj is critical as basically EVERY 1st RD pick of Oaklands over the last decade plus have all been total busts. Remember when they could of had Fitzgerald, P. Rivers or BIG BEN but picked bust OT R. Gallery instead) then I would say Reggie Mckenzie deserves another year.

    Oakland desperately needs Derek Carr to develop quickly , because I think by Halloween , or even sooner, Carr is going to be starting. Matt Schuab is just done. His arm strength is shot & he is major decline . As he made like his 2nd throw I believe it was, Schuab made a bad throw with no velocity behind it, that Captain Munnerlyn had picked off but dropped it, had he held on it would of been a pick six. In Schuabs prime he needed a lot built around him to succed n had a average arm. He needs a top notch top 5 run game, excellent top 5 offensive line as he is HORRIBLE under pressure. Pressured he ranks as one of the NFLs QBs. Schuab also needs an elite WR that can bail him out consistently, with good receivers behind the #1. These are things Oakland doesnt have. Their offensive line is EXTREMELY shaky. They let a Pro-Bowl Quality, young, excellent LT go instead of resigning him, and replaced him with an aging 31 year old Donald Penn who has lost more than a few steps, he gave up the SECOND (2ND) MOST SACKS IN THE NFL , giving up 13 sacks n 30 freaking QB pressures/hurries, and in pass protection ranked 61st out of 76OTs in the NFL, thats abig problem when Schuab folds under pressure n when pressured ranks n the bottom in the NFL. Bottom line is Schuan is broken. He has been declining since the 2nd half of 2012, and not only does it clearly show when he is on the field that he has no confidence at all in his arm, but his arm is also shot & it has left him having a weak terrible below average sub par NFL Arm , I mean the dude seriously struggles to get n e heat behind throws on 15-20 yards. Schuab is washed up and I will bet the title to my car, he is going to struggle again, turning it over far to much, before he is pulled in favor of Derek Carr. Carr probably shouldn’t play this year as he is terrible n panics when pressured, n needs to learn how to deal with pressure, how to beat the blitz, how to climb up in the pocket n master the offense, all which will take his rookie season to do but by October, Carr is going to look like the far better option , DA is going to start Carr & while I see him struggling a bit, I bet if he plays the last 9 games, he is going to throw 10-11TDs w/ 7-8-INTs, for 1500 hundred yards.

    If Oakland had been smart, and after they gave up a bounty of picks fo acquire his rights, they would of kept Carson Palmer.As long as you can protect Palmer , (which Peyton needs to as he bad under pressure) giving him good protection, he is a DAMN good far above average QB. 65-70% or so of Palmers imterceptions from last season came n the first 6 games of the season and most , probably 80%, werent hos fault but were caused by his receivers who were also struggling to learns Ariams new comppex offense running the wrong route, breaking left when the play called to break right, not being in the right spot, or pass protection utterly breaking down knocking Palmer off his mark.

    However over the last 9 games, Palmer was excellent & playing at a extremely high, top 5 quarterback level. Over the last 9 games, Palmer completed 66.9% of his passes, 2nd to only Bree’s over the last 9 games, AVG 8.2YDs per pass attempt, 281 AVG passing yards per game, 16TDs- 8INTs, a very high 68.5QBR with a QB passer rating of 98.7!!!!!!! In 7 of the last 9 games, he had a QB passer rating of 90 or above, in 5 of the last 9, Palmer had a QB passer rating of 100+ or above, and in 4 of those 9 games, had a rating of 110+ or above. Thats very, very high QB play and Palmer finished in the top 10 in passing yards ranking 8th (4,274), completion percentage (63.5%) , Yards per pass attempt ( 7.57), Average passing yards per game AVG 267, Along with ranking 11th in TD passes among QBs who started 15 games or less although if he hadn’t had 4TD passes called back on BS calls, he would of had 28. Palmer did all that despite having one of the NFLs worst offensive lines, which has been massively improved over the off-season.

    Pro Football Focus ranked Palmer the 6th best QB in the NFL when passing from a clean pocket unpressured with a+22.5 grade, proving as long as you protect Palmer he is a top 10 NFL QB. Protecting Palmer is exactly what Arizona went out and spent millions on this summer to ensure he is protected. Arizona brought over a excellent pro bowl quality in 6″8 320 pound LT in Jared Veldheer who is still young at just 26 n entering his prime n can still get better. AZs pairing up their massive LT with the 7th pick of the 2013 draft who was regarded as the best OG produced in the last 10+ years in LG Johnathan Cooper, who is coming off a ijnjury from last season so he is knocking the rust off n getting back into football shape, so he needs the preseason. Cooper has the potential to be the best OG in football though. Arizona has veteran Cardinal Center Lyle Sendlein returning, who is a above average OC. RG Paul FanaikaIis returning n has massive improved since what was basically the guys rookie year last season adding muscle to his frame n trimming down getting in better shape. He did very, very well against JJ Watt saturday night. Fanaika has 2013 3rd round pick Earl Watford pushing him for the starting job. Watford is 6″3 1/2 295-300 pounds of straight solid muscle, not fat all. AZs GM Steve Keim believed Watford to be the 2nd most athletic OG in the draft last year in terms of athleticism next to Cooper, so Arizona drafted but knew he was going to need a year or so of developmemt coming out of tiny James Madison college. He has massively developed though n looks awesome. And at RT last but not least 2012 4th round pick (although Massie was projected to ne a early 2nd rd pick) Bobby Massie. He started his rookie year n struggled his first 8 games, but after he adjusted to the speed of the NFL, was excellent over the last 8 game blowing the pro football focus guys away, ranking among the top 3 best most effecient OTs over the last 8 games. Arians basically red shirted the 6″6 1/2 315 pound Massie last season to master the new playbook n he has. Not only has he slimmed down while adding noticable upper body/arm muscle in the best shape of his life, but has been playing at an elite RT caliber level.. on the second play from scrimmage n Saturdays game, Massie pancaked JJ Watt then turned around n put Clowney on his ass shoving him down away from the QB. Massie looks like a beast this year & has now mastered the offense.

    Bottom line is Palmer is going to have a excellent first rate offensive line & on top of that has a offense LITTERED WITH WEAPONS. Arizonas offense probably has the most weapons in the division. They have one of the NFLs best WR Duos in Fitzgerald n Floyd, annd overall has one of the top WR units in the NFL. #3 and #4 receivers WRs John Brown n Ted Ginn Jr have elite speed n can stretch the field, allow much more real estate for Fitz n Floyd. Rookie John Brown who has elite low 4.29 to 4.34 speed has the potential to be rookie of the year. With his blazing unadulterated speed he easily beats CBs by a few steps with precise route running n speed, and has excellent hands with a excellent feel for the game catching 5 receptions for 87 yards & in his debut. 2nd year WR Jaron Brown standing 6″2 1/2 with 4.40 speed has a ton of potential as well and is a really good receiver as does rookie 5th round pick Walt Powell who caught 3 receptions for 74 yards the other night. Between the receivers they are going to keep Fitzgerald/Floyd/John Brown/Ted Ginn Jr/Walt Powell and Jaron Brown , Arizona is absolutely loaded at receiver . AZ also has a excellent very deep group of receiving TEs loaded with talent & a excellent run game. Palmer also has a elite defense behind his back , so basically in 90% of the games as long as he scores 21+ , his team wins. With all the massive improvmemt n strides Arizonas offense has took, with an offense loaded with talent, and two of the best offensive minds n the NFL coaching Palmer n Arians n Tom Moore I will bet Palmer has a career year, with a CMP Percentage of 65%+, 8.0+YDs per attempt, 280-300 AVG passing yards per game, 30-34TDs, 14-15 INTs, with a QB passer rating of 98.0 to 103. Watch n witness, Palmer is going to beast out this season. If Raiders had kept him theyd have a great QB , but they have a HUGE SCHUABLEM in that they have a broken down washed up QBs in Schuab. Its going to be a easy win for AZ n entertaining to see Raiders fans start to cry as Palmer shreds their asss secondary en rout to a blowout AZ win.