Oakland Raiders 2012: Can This Team Make a Run in an Improving AFC West?

Ray GarciaContributor IIIJune 11, 2012

Oakland Raiders 2012: Can This Team Make a Run in an Improving AFC West?

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    After finishing the 2011 season a mere game away from the playoffs (quite an accomplishment considering Oakland started 2011 with one team and finished with a completely different one), 2012 brings about a whole new set of possibilities.

    Mark Davis has taken the reigns and brought on GM Reggie McKenzie to completely overhaul this Raiders team. McKenzie is not only changing the team philosophy and systems, but he’s also upgrading the Raiders' facilities. Gone are the days of reel-to-reel tapes.

    Welcome to the 21st century Oakland Raiders!

    Will it be enough to compete in an ever-improving AFC West? Let’s take a look.

The Oakland Raiders

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    Welcome to the team: OG Mike Brisiel, OG Tony Bergstrom, RB Mike Goodson, CB Ronald Bartell, WR Juron Criner, QB Matt Leinart, LB Philip Wheeler, DB Shawntae Spencer.

    Good luck to ya: QB Jason Campbell, TE Kevin Boss, C Samson Satele, DE Kamerion Wimbley, CB Stanford Routt, RB Michael Bush, RB Rock Cartwright, WR Chaz Schilens.

    Coach Dennis Allen (Oakland’s first defensive-minded coach since John Madden), brings his "bend but don't break" defensive scheme to Oakland. With few draft picks and an even smaller budget, Allen has his work cut out for him. After leaving Oakland for stints in Seattle and Houston, offensive coordinator Greg Knapp returns to run his West Coast, zone-blocking offense.

    On offense: Quarterback Carson Palmer returns with a full offseason under his belt. Darren McFadden is healthy again, but can he stay that way an entire season? History says no. When he was healthy last season, the Raiders led the league in rushing.

    RB Michael Bush is gone, so FB Marcel Reece will play a larger role with his unique pass-catching skills.The offensive line, anchored by C Stefen Wisniewski, is beginning to look solid. Knapp’s zone-blocking scheme should be a benefit.  

    On defense: Ranked 27th in both rushing and passing defense, the Raiders have plenty of room for improvement.

    Losing Kamerion Wimbley doesn’t help, and Stanford Rhoutt was a yellow flag magnet. With Wimbley gone, Oakland will be leaning heavily on DT Richard Seymour and DE Matt Shaughnessy. The addition of CB Shawntae Spencer should help ease the loss of Routt, a starter at cornerback..

    Look for Allen and new defensive coordinator Jason Tarver to break the Raider mold and utilize zone and man coverage while bringing on the blitz.

Versus the Denver Broncos

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    Welcome to the team: QB Peyton Manning, TE Jacob Tamme, WR Andre Caldwell, CB Tracy Porter, WR Brandon Stokely.

    Good luck to ya: DT Brodrick Bunkley, WR Eddie Royal, QB Tim Tebow.

    With the arrival of Peyton Manning, the Denver Broncos are now the team to beat in the AFC West. In Manning, Denver gets the on-field leadership it hasn't seen since John Elway. And let’s not forget, Denver had the No. 1 rushing attack last season, averaging 164.5 yards a game.

    Manning has never had a running game like this before. Add a familiar face like Stokley at wide receiver and Denver’s offense becomes very dangerous.

    Keys for Oakland against Denver

    On offense: Work the run and play-action pass, period. Darren McFadden will need to grind the clock and present opportunities for Palmer.  You can run on the Broncos, who gave up 126.3 rushing yards per game in 2011.

    On defense: Pressure, pressure, pressure! Manning is an injury away from seeing Caleb Hanie behind center. That is a huge drop-off and makes this offense one-dimensional again.

Versus the Kansas City Chiefs

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    Welcome to the team: RB Peyton Hillis, CB Stanford Routt, RT Eric Winston, TE Kevin Boss.

    Good luck to ya: CB Brandon Carr.

    Romeo Crennel takes over as head coach. Look for him to lean heavily on RB Jamaal Charles, who returns from an ACL injury. CB Stanford Routt comes in to fill Brandon Carr’s role. Let's hope he brings some of those pass-interference flags with him to KC. “One and done” former Raider TE Kevin Boss also joins the team.

    Keys for Oakland against Kansas City

    On offense: The Chiefs defense ranked sixth against the pass but 26th against the run, giving up 132 yards a game. That calls for another heavy dose of  RB Darren McFadden and FB Marcel Reece and underneath pass routes. That should be enough to exploit CB Stanford Routt. Do that enough and he’ll hand the Raiders first downs on a silver platter.

    On defense: Chiefs QB Matt Cassel and the KC passing offense was ranked 25th in the NFL last season.  He looked uncomfortable and out of sync in 2011, and ended his season with a hand injury in Week 10.

    Look out for the one-two punch of Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis, if they remain healthy. Oakland’s LBs will need to be patient and remember their assignments because Charles still has some gas in the tank and can cut on a dime. Let’s see if that ACL is fully healed.

Versus the San Diego Chargers

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    Welcome to the team: OLB Jarret Johnson, OLB Melvin Ingram, WR Robert Meachem, WR Eddie Royal, FB LeRon McClain.

    Good luck to ya: WR Vincent Jackson, RB Mike Tolbert.

    Philip Rivers returns with his sixth-ranked passing offense. He loses Vincent Jackson to Tampa Bay, but picks up WRs Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal (who continues his tour of the AFC West). The Chargers finished the 2011 season winning four out of five, with Rivers averaging 282.6 passing yards per game.

    Keys for Oakland against San Diego

    On offense: Carson Palmer will be working the sidelines against CBs Quentin Jammer and Antoine Cason. Jammer’s passes defended and interceptions were down last year, so look for Oakland to go heavy on the run and work the pass on the outside.

    On defense: Rivers is still the emotional heart of this offense, and with the support of TE Antonio Gates, he can pick apart the middle of the field. Containing Gates, which has always been an issue for the Raiders,  while pressuring Rivers into making mistakes against a combination of Oakland’s zone and man defense should help mix things up.

2012: The AFC West and the Oakland Raiders

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    As you can see, the Raiders need two things to be successful this season: a healthy Darren McFadden and a fundamentally sound (even average) run defense.

    Will this be the first time McFadden can complete a full season? Will Oakland’s defense do enough to contain the running attack of the AFC West? Can the Raiders contain Peyton Manning?

    Are the teams in the division getting better? Yes, but this is a new Raiders organization. The era of Reggie McKenzie has begun.

     Don’t expect miracles, but I do expect to see the Raiders in the hunt for a wild card in 2012.