Oakland Raiders: 5 Things Silver and Black Must Do to Be Real Contenders

Steven Slivka@@StevenSlivkaCorrespondent IIIJune 7, 2012

Oakland Raiders: 5 Things Silver and Black Must Do to Be Real Contenders

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    After a roller coaster 2011 campaign that saw the Oakland Raiders one win away from their first playoff berth in a decade, the upcoming season will be a challenge for the Silver and Black to return to the glory days the late Al Davis once reveled in.

    The Raiders have been a team with a culture unlike any other.

    From their dedicated and colorful fan base, to their undisciplined style of play and Davis' famous slogans like "Commitment to Excellence" and "Just win Baby," the Raiders are one of the most recognizable franchises in the world.

    The 2011 season featured first-year head coach Hue Jackson and his undeniable will to win, the loss of a pioneer owner, injuries to their starting quarterback and running back and a glimmer of hope this could finally be the time the Raiders were relevant in the NFL once again.

    Now, a new look has arrived in Oakland.

    New G.M. Reggie McKenzie has selected former Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Dennis Allen to lead the Silver and Black in 2012, and with "Peyton Manning" sweepstakes finally ending with his arrival in Denver, the Raiders have a tough task staying competitive in a very tight AFC West.

Control the Penalties

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    The Raiders broke the all-time NFL record for penalties in a season in 2011.

    Their 163 penalties surpassed the 1998 Kansas City Chiefs team that had 158. In Hue Jackson's first and only season as head coach, his undisciplined team was penalized for 1,358 total yards.

    In a smash-mouth AFC West division that has 50 years of history, the hatred between teams is on its own level. However, the Raiders averaged 10.2 penalties per game, three more than the rest of the division.

    No doubt Allen will try to hold a team with a relentless style of undisciplined tactics in check. With the support of McKenzie, he better keep the penalties down, or Oakland could be looking for another coach in 2013.

Develop Mike Goodson

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    Make no mistake about it: Darren McFadden is the uncontested No. 1 running back in Oakland.

    But after he missed the second half of the 2011 season with a foot injury, the Raiders relied on Michael Bush to carry the load. They will not have that luxury this season, as Bush signed with the Bears in March.

    Bush's absence has left the Raiders with the undaunted task of keeping the running game consistent if McFadden goes down again.

    The Raiders traded for Mike Goodson a week after they lost Bush to the Bears. When Goodson split carries with Jonathan Stewart in Carolina during the 2010 season, he finished with 452 yards and averaged 4.4 yards per carry.

    He is a solid No. 2 option for the Raiders and will help mix up running packages, assuming he holds on to the ball.

    Goodson had six fumbles in 103 carries during the 2010 season, and if McFadden goes down at all this season, the pressure will be on his shoulders.

Ignore the off Season Distractions

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    The Raiders have a couple of young stars on their roster in former first-round picks Rolando McClain and Darrius Heyward-Bey.

    Unfortunately for the Raiders and their loyal fans, these two have had run-ins with the law even though Commissioner Roger Goodell has made it clear he won't put up with troublemakers.

    Heyward-Bey was charged with DUI in May, and a week later, McClain was sentenced to 180 days in jail, after he was found guilty of assault for threatening to kill a man in Alabama.

    Heyward-Bey was selected No. 7 overall by the Raiders in 2009 and set a career high with 975 receiving yards in 2011.

    McClain was chosen as the No. 8 overall pick the following year, and both players showed great improvement during the 2011 season.

    Now, the Raiders must forget about the selfishness of their two young stars and focus on making strides in the AFC West.

Improve the Defense

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    With all the success they had on the offensive side of the ball in 2011, the Raiders' defense had a season they'd truly love to forget.

    Oakland gave up 30-plus points in six of its eight losses and was embarrassed at home 28-0 by the Chiefs in Week 7.

    Oakland finished 27th in defending the pass and the rush in 2011, despite impressive numbers from Tyvon Branch and Matt Giordano.

    Giordano led the team with five interceptions, while Branch led in tackles.

    The Raiders lost cornerback Stanford Routt to divisional rival Kansas City in February and linebacker Kamerion Wimbley to Tennessee in March.

    With McClain still awaiting jail time, the Raiders need to buckle down on the defensive side of the ball under new defensive coordinator Jason Tarver.

Take Advantage of the Underdog Role

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    Let's be honest: With the exception of the die-hard Raider fans out there, not many people are expecting Oakland to do much in 2012.

    The Broncos and Chiefs both improved greatly in the offseason, and the Raiders weren't even able to draft a player until the third round.

    With all of the offseason activity surrounding the Silver and Black, it's up to them to let everyone know they'll finally make the playoffs again in 2012.

    All eyes are on Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. If the Manning experiment is a bust, Oakland has a chance to pull off something special.

    San Diego lost Pro Bowl receiver Vincent Jackson and running back Mike Tolbert in the offseason, which depleted its offense.

    And the Chiefs are hungry for success, with Jamaal Charles looking more like the deadly running back he is.

    Now, in 2012, the Raiders need to continue to grow as a program and keep their commitment to excellence—something that would make Davis extremely proud.