The Oakland Raiders are look ahead to what they intend to be a bigger and brighter organization under the watchful eye of newly hired general manager Reggie McKenzie, hoping to create a brand-new administration, after over 40 years under the dictatorship of Al Davis, who passed away last October.
In order to determine the team’s future potential, we must first take a gander over our shoulders at the past—specifically Oakland’s recent 2011 season. Yes, simultaneously looking into the rearview mirror and the road ahead.
That said, in an effort to help evaluate the needs of the team going forward as they embark on a revamped regime, let’s dissect the performance of each facet of the Raiders’ team from this past season. Here, we will first break down the Raiders’ offense from the 2011 NFL campaign.
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.
Another grade that could be broken down into two parts. Sigh.
Everyone in the league knows that starting tailback Darren McFadden is a truly talented football player. His speed and knack of running between the tackles is more incredible when combined with his pass-catching ability. He’s absolutely phenomenal and a huge piston in the Raiders' offense.
When he’s healthy, that is.
The 2011 season showed both sides of McFadden’s résumé. Through six games, McFadden was leading the AFC in rushing, with 610 yards on 111 carries—a whopping average of 5.5 yards. He also chipped in 18 catches for 151 yards. He was amounting to everything the Raiders had hoped for when they drafted him in 2008.
Until he went down with an ankle injury in the first quarter of Week 7’s contest against the Kansas City Chiefs. He didn’t play another down the rest of the season.
Such is the curious case of McFadden. He has missed time because of injury in each of his four seasons in the NFL. The most number of games he’s played in one season is 13, in 2010. Though any- and everyone is full aware of McFadden’s incredible talent, his penchant for injuries is what turns that talent into mere potential. Imagine what his numbers would be were he to complete a full 16-game schedule. Imagine them if he played 14 games.
Alas, McFadden only played in seven. Seven!
Luckily, Oakland prepared themselves for the possibility of injuries with their backup running back, Michael Bush. In the previous two seasons, when McFadden went down with injuries, Bush started in his stead. It happened again in 2011. Amazingly, over the past three seasons, Bush has 19 starts in 46 games played; McFadden has 27 starts in 32 games played.
Needless to say, Bush has proved to be a valuable asset during his tenure with the Raiders.
He filled McFadden’s vacant starting spot again in 2011, and the Raiders’ running game did not miss a beat. At least, initially.
Stepping in during that Week 7 game, Bush began a string of four straight games with 96 yards rushing or more. He totaled 461 yards on 96 carries (4.80 average). Week 10’s contest against the San Diego Chargers resulted in a post-merger team record 242 total yards from scrimmage (157 rushing). Bush’s powerful running was planting the opposition into the ground, and he was a remarkable substitute in McFadden’s absence.
However, it’s possible that the newfound workload eventually left the fourth-year pro a bit bushed. In the team’s final six games, he rushed for 378 yards on 117 carries (3.23 average). He only found the end zone twice during that time.
It was tough time for Oakland, as they did also lost their backup to Bush, rookie Taiwan Jones, to injury. Without Jones’ lightning speed, opposing defenses figured out how to contain Bush, as the Raiders were unable to provide a change of pace. Thus, in the final six games, Bush was unable to break off big plays. The ground game was grounded during the final month of the season.
Could the Raiders have done better with McFadden healthy the whole season? No doubt. Are the Raiders better off having Bush, who was consistently healthy? Absolutely. Oakland will have to determine the roles of each for next season.
And yet it could have been worse for the Raiders. Losing players with the calibers of McFadden and Jones could hamstring any team. Fortunately, Bush was there to tide the team over. But, like the entire Raiders offense, he did not show up when he needed to, and his miniscule production down the stretch contributed to a marginal offense that could not score enough points to win ball games that Oakland desperately needed in order to reach the postseason.
McFadden and Jones: C (due to injury)
Depressingly, the Oakland Raiders receiving corps spent most of the season in the infirmary, as nearly every single wideout sat out games due to injury. The weekly list of inactive wide receivers actually began to be painful to Raiders fans.
Darrius Heyward-Bey (1 game missed), Chaz Schilens (1), Denarius Moore (3), Louis Murphy (5) and Jacoby Ford (8) each contributed to a thin and inconsistent receiving unit. It got so bad that Oakland actually signed and relied upon 34-year-old veteran T.J. Houshmandzadeh for production. Ouch. That’s like having that Chandler guy from Friends come on as a guest role to resuscitate the ratings of Two and a Half Men.
But it was that bad for the Raiders’ receivers. Which was terribly unfortunate, especially considering how much promise and improvement the unit showed when healthy throughout the course of the season.
Leading the team in catches (65) and yardage (975)—and pleasant surprises (immeasurable)—was Heyward-Bey, the much-scrutinized former first-round pick. He made tremendous strides in being a solid contributor in the passing game, running crisper routes and becoming a reliable pass-catcher (six drops). It was a vast improvement from his first two seasons, when he caught a total of 35 passes. DHB definitely stood out in 2011. If Heyward-Bey were to be graded individually, he’d probably receive high marks for his unexpected performance.
Alas, the rest of the wideouts received somewhat incomplete grades.
Moore, more or less, was the de facto second-best wide receiver, hauling in 33 passes for 618 yards in 13 games. He led Oakland receivers in yards per catch (18.73) and touchdowns (5). The rookie was the prototypical Raider receiver—a truly deep-ball threat.
Ford, the second-year lightning bolt who wowed Oakland in 2010 with acrobatic catches and special teams play, was off to a decent start. He had 19 catches in only eight games and had a 31.0 yards-per-kickoff-return average—including a touchdown—before he went down in Week 9. His big-play ability was sorely missed.
The loss of Moore and Ford to injuries harmed quarterback Carson Palmer immensely, for they would have complemented his gun-slinging mentality. It’s unfortunate that the Raiders couldn’t get them both back in the lineup simultaneously for the second half of the season.
The Raiders were forced to depend on some unexpected sources, specifically Houshmandzadeh and Chaz Schilens. Oakland wide receivers totaled 165 catches for 2,530 yards—decent but not great.
No one receiver jumped out and really dominated alongside DHB—mostly because nobody was healthy enough to stay on the field with him. They get points docked off for attendance—or lack thereof.
It would have been nice and exciting to see the collection of receivers work with Palmer under coach Hue Jackson’s system. That said, there was still promising growth among the young talent to work upon for next season.
One of the most perplexing positions on the field for the Raiders in 2011 was that of the tight end. This is due in large part to the fact that in the previous few seasons, Oakland received tremendous production from their tight end unit:
2010: 75 catches, 765 yards
2009: 80 catches, 902 yards
2008: 66 catches, 859 yards
The main source of such productivity was Zach Miller—the Raiders’ second-round draft selection from the 2007 NFL draft—who led the Raiders in receptions from 2008-2010. The culmination of his 2010 campaign was his being named as an AFC alternate for the Pro Bowl.
Surprisingly, however, the Raiders did not retain the free agent Miller during the 2011 offseason—he ultimately signed with the Seattle Seahawks. With a glaring hole in the passing game (as well as a blocker in the running game), the Raiders pursued the next best tight end available on the market, signing Kevin Boss away from the New York Giants for four years, $16 million.
Boss was a highly logical fit for Oakland. He did record 110 receptions for 1,482 yards in his previous three seasons in the NFL, along with an impressive 16 touchdowns. It made sense to sign Boss, and the Raiders were hoping that he’d be able to establish a relationship with quarterback Jason Campbell, who had a penchant for targeting his tight ends both with the Raiders and previously with the Washington Redskins.
Unfortunately for Oakland, Boss played like a peon in 2011, tallying just 28 receptions for 368 yards. True, he missed two games due to injury, and he picked up the pace a bit toward the end of the season, but for the most part he was a significant non-factor. Boss collected at least four catches in a game only three times and more than 50 yards receiving only once (Week 4 vs. New England). On three occasions, Boss did not have a single reception.
There is a significant concern regarding Boss being M.I.A. for certain periods of time in the Raiders’ offense. After all, with nearly every Oakland wideout snagging an injury during season (Darrius Heyward-Bey, Denarius Moore, Jacoby Ford and Louis Murphy), it would have made sense for Boss to play a larger role in the passing game.
True, some blame should be shouldered by the offensive play-caller, head coach Hue Jackson.
True, Campbell could not develop continuity with Boss, because Campbell went down with an injury in Week 6, never to play again last season. And replacement quarterback Carson Palmer’s forte is lengthy downfield passes to streaking receivers rather than dump-offs over the middle to safety-option tight ends and running backs.
Yet, it’s a bit worrisome to realize Boss was nearly invisible on the field. Still, one hoped that he could have contributed more. Though he was a formidable element of the Raiders’ run game, the balance in the passing game would have been appreciated.
Backup tight end Brandon Myers chipped in 16 catches for 151 yards. Oakland tight ends as a group finished with 47 catches; but the brunt of the production belonged to Boss.
Sadly, like some of our own employers do, the Boss clocked out early and often during 2011.
A bright spot on the season was the consistency of Oakland’s running game. Despite missing Darren McFadden for the majority of the season, the Raiders finished third in the AFC in rushing, at 131.9 yards per game. Thanks to their offensive line, Oakland also scored 16 touchdowns on the ground.
But the O-line demonstrated its versatility throughout the season, also providing tremendous pass protection. The Raiders ranked tied-for-third in the NFL in fewest sacks allowed (25), contributing to an 11th-ranked passing offense (248 yards per game). Considering the immobility of quarterback Carson Palmer, it’s quite an impressive feat to give up the third-fewest sacks.
Heading into the 2011 season, the offensive linemen weren’t necessarily considered that strong of an asset.
They were anchored by veterans, tackle Khalif Barnes and guard Cooper Carlisle, but there was some perceived lack of continuity overall, with a rookie center, Stefen Wisniewski, and a second-year tackle, Jared Veldeer.
But somehow it worked.
Having to swap out their starting running back and quarterback, the offensive line stayed true to form and were a stable unit during an otherwise inconsistent Raiders offense. Without the offensive line remaining intact, the Raiders could have done a lot worse during a tumultuous up-and-down year.
True, the Raiders faltered as a whole toward the end of the season, and the linemen’s performance may have tapered off, too. But for their durability during an oscillating season, kudos to the entire front line for their solid overall contribution.
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