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Obviously the head of the offensive class are the quarterbacks. They’re the ones that set the curve for the remainder of the players.
That said, 2011 was a difficult year for Oakland, as they had to rely on the studies of two different signal callers.
Opening Day starter, Jason Campbell was not going to wow the socks off of opponents and fans—nor fantasy owners. But after a shaky first season in Oakland, 2011 was supposed to be a breakout one for him. Many predicted and hoped that being healthy with a complete season under his belt, and time spent meshing with his offensive teammates, would accelerate his comfort under center. Especially considering the Raiders’ new coach, Hue Jackson, was his offensive coordinator the previous season. The belief was that that continuity would be a gateway for larger things to come.
It looked like a rather promising start to the season; but in Week 6, against the Cleveland Browns, Campbell suffered a collarbone fracture. He wouldn’t play another down the rest of the year. Up until his injury, Campbell had been adequate at best. His numbers weren’t awe-inspiring: 60.6 completion percentage, six touchdowns, four interceptions. It seemed as if he alternated stat-stuffing games with clock-management games: 300 yards passing one week, 150 yards passing the next, repeat.
However, one number that could not be ignored was the team’s wins with Campbell at the helm: The Raiders were 4-2 (a late-game collapse at Buffalo away from 5-1). Oakland sat atop the AFC West; they were winning, and those victories provided optimism for the rest of the team and its fan base. Campbell was a consummate professional throughout; so it was dejecting to see the young man go out the way he did.
This left Jackson scrambling out of the pocket—obviously he couldn’t trust backup Kyle Boller to get Oakland to the playoffs. So Jackson called upon his former tutee, Carson Palmer, who he had coached when both were at Cincinnati. Jackson was so bold as to trade away a potentially two first-round draft picks to get Palmer. He proclaimed that acquiring Palmer was the “trade of the century,” a near-guarantee that the Raiders would visit the postseason soon—very soon.
We all know how that turned out.
Essentially, when he received a call from Jackson, Palmer was holding out, not reporting to the Bengals in order to force a trade. He had no offseason training camp, no preseason, no minicamps. So to say Palmer was out of form when he joined Oakland would be an understatement; He was basically a 1969 Ford Mustang sitting in a damp garage—rusty.
But Jackson was going to live and die with Palmer. It was the playoffs with Palmer—or bust. Obviously it was a bust. Though Palmer did bring some moments of excitement, reintroducing the vertical passing game that had been woven into the fabric of Oakland Raiders lore, he did not deliver when it counted most. He finished the season with an uninspiring 80.5 quarterback rating, 2,753 yards passing, with 13 touchdowns and 16 interceptions, in nine and a half games. Yet Palmer’s true measuring stick was whether he could guide the Raiders to victories; and sadly, he was unable to when it mattered.
Critics will focus on that end result—missing the playoffs. But after being thrown into the fire midseason, alibis abound: Palmer was practically retired when he was thrust into the playoff hunt. He had to reacquaint himself to Jackson’s updated playbook and acquaint himself to the wide receivers and running backs, most of whom were visiting physical therapists. Running back Darren McFadden was beset by an ankle injury that he never recovered from. Losing his dynamism greatly affected the Raiders offense as a whole, forcing Palmer to shoulder more of the load than would ordinarily be anticipated from Oakland’s coaching staff.
Worse, though, was the carousel of injured wide receivers throughout the season. Nearly every single wideout missed time due to various maladies. This prevented Palmer from developing a relationship with his receiving corps, which was vital given his lack of a training camp. At times it was evident that Palmer had absolutely no cohesion with the second- and third-string receivers. But many forgive his performance on the variables that were out of his control—injuries.
While it was disheartening to see the Raiders collapse, fans were left wondering what could have been. What if McFadden was healthy? What if Jacoby Ford was healthy? What if?
It’s unfortunate that Campbell went down, and it’s sad that Palmer couldn’t play with a full arsenal on offense. There’s much controversy about who performed better and would the Raiders have succeeded had Campbell played the full season. But you can’t prepare for injuries. That’s just the nature of the NFL.
Yet through it all, Oakland had the AFC West title in the palm of their hands. Their quarterback just came up a bit short.