10 Reasons Oakland Raiders Will Improve from Last Season
Improvement in 2012 could very easily mean the Raiders' first playoff berth in over a decade. They haven't won more than nine games since 2002, but will likely need a winning record to make the playoffs.
The fans should have reason for optimism, as there are a number of reasons the team will improve from last season.
Palmer and McFadden
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The Oakland Raiders traded for Carson Palmer to pair with Darren McFadden in 2011, but McFadden never got the opportunity to play with Palmer.
Fast-forward to 2012 and McFadden and Palmer will finally get the chance to showcase an offense that is equally dangerous though the air and on the ground.
Darren McFadden averaged 101.7 yards per game if you exclude the game in which he was injured. Palmer averaged 263.7 yards per game, excluding his first half game against the Chiefs.
Palmer's stats averaged over an entire season would put him near the top in the league in yardage at the quarterback position and McFadden would have lead the league in rushing, not even including the addition 25 yards McFadden contributes in the passing game.
The Raiders' ninth-ranked offense in 2011 can only get better if Palmer and McFadden are on the field together.
Discipline and Acceptance
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The Raiders had an NFL record 163 penalties for 1358 yards in 2011. Giving opposing teams nearly 85 yards per game is almost like spotting the opposing team a touchdown before the game begins.
Head coach Dennis Allen will preach accountability to his players in hopes the Raiders can reduce the controllable penalties from a season ago.
For the penalties the players are not able to avoid, such as reputation penalties, the Raiders will no longer create a laundry list of complaints to send the to NFL.
McKenzie will no longer propagate the "Raiders versus the NFL" mentality and unintentionally inflame the officials by sending a novel of items to the league office each week.
Once Allen and McKenzie establish a culture of personal accountability, it won't matter who receives the flag because the team will be able to take accountability immediately and move past bad calls.
Over time, the relationship with the league and the officials should improve and lead to fewer and fewer reputation calls.
The Zone-Blocking System
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The Raiders offensive line managed to keep Carson Palmer upright, but at times they struggled to open running lanes for the starting running back.
In come sweeping changes on the offensive line and the return of the zone-blocking system.
While many are skeptical of the effectiveness of the zone-blocking scheme, consider the improvement in the running game when Greg Knapp arrived in 2007.
The Raiders rushing attack went from 29th in 2006 to sixth in 2007. Justin Fargas ran for 1,000 yards despite the fact that the opposing defenses were stacking the box and daring the Raiders to throw the ball.
In 2007, the Raiders were 10th, as defenses were keying on the run and letting JaMarcus Russell try to throw against them.
The Raiders have a better running back and quarterback and the offense should resemble the Houston Texans offense in 2012.
Defensive Coordinator Jason Taver
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Coaches and coordinators can make a difference on how a football team performs. Chuck Bresnahan became the de facto defensive coordinator and may have singlehandedly ruined the Raiders chances of getting to the playoffs in 2011.
Bresnahan was hand-selected by Al Davis to run the man defense scheme, but when Davis passed away he failed completely to shape the defense into what he wanted it to be.
In steps the first defensive-minded head coach of the Raiders since John Madden and the hiring of new defensive coordinator Jason Tarver.
Allen and Tarver will install a defense based on the blitz. The defense couldn't get much worse than it was last season, so any improvement on the defensive side of the ball holds a special key to the Raiders season.
Provided Tarver and Allen are on the same as to the direction of the defense, there is no reason why the Raiders defense shouldn't be much improved in 2004.
The Young Receivers
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The Raiders might have one of the most young and exciting receiving units in the league.
Darrius Heyward-Bey led the group last year and is poised for an even better one. He should become Carson Palmer's go-to guy on third downs.
Denarius Moore showed flashes of brilliance and Jacoby Ford is electrifying with the ball in his hands.
The depth is good, too, as the Raiders drafted Justin Criner and have veteran Louis Murphy.
Murphy is a very good player for a fourth or fifth receiver and Criner could end up being another draft steal.
As these young receivers mature, they will help the Raiders win games.
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The Raiders had very little depth at the linebacker positions last season. Rolando McClain was playing hurt and the lack of depth behind him may have explained Hue Jackson's decision to let him play against Miami.
Quentin Groves, Rolando McClain and Kamerion Wimbley were the starters to start the year. The trade for Aaron Curry made Groves a special teams player.
Wimbley became an every-down player when he is better suited for the pass-rush specialist role and Curry's was a liability in coverage and could not be taken off the field for the alternative.
Reggie McKenzie signed Philip Wheeler and drafted Miles Burris and Nate Stupar to bolster the group. Travis Goethel should also return from injury and put pressure on Rolando McClain to produce.
With the additional linebacker options, the Raiders should be more effective in stopping the run in 2012. It's not a coincidence that the Raiders defense has not been able to stop the run consistently since the last time the team made the playoffs.
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The Raiders either released or didn't re-sign three veteran cornerbacks that played the majority of the snaps for the Raiders. Stanford Routt, Chris Johnson and Lito Sheppard were all let go.
McKenzie then went hunting for deals on free agents and found two: Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer.
Both Spencer and Bartell are 30 years old. Bartell is coming off of a neck injury and Spencer lost his starting job due to an injury of his own.
The Raiders are buying time for Chimdi Chekwa and DeMarcus Van Dyke to develop, but Bartell and Spencer are solid, smart veterans that will play better than the previous group.
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Yes, Matt Leinart will help the Raiders improve in 2012. Carson Palmer needs a veteran in the quarterback meetings to talk to and Leinart already knows the offense that the Raiders will be running.
When Jason Campbell went down with a season-ending injury, the Raiders did not have confidence that backup Kyle Boller could take the Raiders to the playoffs. This prompted the trade for Palmer and derailed the entire season.
It's not to say Terrelle Pryor is not a candidate to be the primary backup, but he faces an uphill climb with Leinart on the roster. Despite who might be the primary backup, it would be smart coaching to give Pryor five or so snaps per game.
Leinart is a perfect backup because he has starting experience and could work within the offensive system to produce if pushed into duty.
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The inside and outside zone runs are hard to defend when the quarterback is a threat to run. Pryor could be used a few snaps per game and use his mobility to hurt the opponent.
Expect a handful of plays per game for Pryor and don't be surprised if he makes the most of his opportunities.
Even a handful of snaps per game might pay huge dividends for the Raiders.
Full Offseason Activities
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The lockout shortened the offseason in 2011 and teams had to get creative with their time. Teams had to do more with less and in many ways had to learn the entire offense on the fly.
In 2012, teams have a full array of offseason activities. Carson Palmer will have time to develop chemistry with his receivers and learn the entire playbook.
Dennis Allen, Reggie McKenzie and the rest of the football staff will be able to evaluate the roster in live action instead of just using video recordings.
Earlier understanding of the team needs could prompt McKenzie to go shopping again prior to the start of the season.
The additional layer of roster refinement may help the Raiders recognize a weakness and address it prior to the season.
Depth can often be the difference between playoffs and no playoffs.