The 2011 season was full of somberness for the Oakland Raiders. They started off the season strong, going 7-4 and looking like they were going to be AFC West champs. The entire league and all of its analysts started calling the Raiders the team of the AFC West to beat, and with five games left the Raiders might break the 10 win season, their first since 2002 when they went to the Superbowl.
Unfortunately for Raider Nation, they lost four of the last five games and missed the playoffs again. The Raiders have been making the right moves during the offseason and are focused on getting into the playoffs for 2012. Here are five steps the Raiders must take in order to be contenders in the 2012 season.
The Raiders had a stellar offensive line last year. With players like Wisniewski, Satele and Veldheer stepping up, the Raiders landed as the No. 5 offensive line in the league. Not to shabby as they were No. 26 in 2011. They only allowed 25 sacks all year and were No. 9 in rushing touchdowns with 16, only two less than the Houston Texans.
Now put into perspective the fact that Darren McFadden was out half the season. With a front line like this and a healthy McFadden and Bush, this line would have easily propelled them to at least 22 touchdowns, which would have had them at No. 2 in the league.
The defense last year was horrible. They ranked No. 27 in rushing and passing defense and No. 29 in yards given up per game. In order to have a shot this year, the Raiders must make a move to get a more reliable defense. The first step was hiring a new defensive coordinator, Jason Tarver. He served as the San Francisco 49ers outside linebackers' coach for six seasons, where he helped developed the stellar defense that is over there now.
Secondly, Oakland needed to get rid of high paying corners who gave up to many yards and killed us with penalties. Bye, bye Routt.
Lastly, we need to get some young talent in the draft. Maybe Coryell Judie from Texas A&M or Kyle Wilber from Wake Forest—two talents that have supposedly been on the Raiders' radar. We still need McClain to prove himself a first-round pick, and hopefully we can give him, and the rest of the defense, some support.
Our star kick returner Jacoby Ford missed a ton of games last year with injuries. To fill the void of Ford we shoved in Nick Miller, Rock Cartwright and, if I remember correctly, we even stuck in Housh back there for some support. Naturally these guys couldn't come close to Jacoby's numbers.
In order to give our offense a chance, the Raiders must obtain a number one kick returner. They need someone who is quick, has great up-field vision and can run between the tackles. Perhaps players like Joe Adams from Arkansas, Marquis Maze from Alabama or T.Y. Hilton from Florida International can help fill the role, and we can get Jacoby more active on the offense.
Raider Nation has become accustomed to seeing a yellow flag flying around at least three times per quarter for the last few years. However, last year was literally a year for the record books. Their record-setting total for the season was 163 penalties for 1,358 yards. An average of 10 penalty calls per game, while their opponents averaged only six. If Tarver is able to keep the guys disciplined, this year's defense has a chance of making a run and being number one in the AFC West.
There are a lot of new pieces in Oakland. New coaches, new systems, new players...new everything. All these things look great on paper and show that the front office is making changes for the better, but if the team can't come out on to the field and show their fans that they are all on the same page, these changes will all be called an epic fail, and we shouldn't have done anything to the team.