2011 was a rough year for Oakland's defense. They finished 29th in both total defense (with 387.6 yards per game) and points per game allowed (with 27.1). It's not all that surprising; defense was always on the back burner during the Al Davis era.
But the Davis era is over, and Reggie Mckenzie is running the show in Oakland now. He hired Oakland's first coach with a defensive background since John Madden in Dennis Allen and has slowly gone about rebuilding the unit.
It started with addition by subtraction, as Mckenzie decided to release big contributors like Stanford Routt and Chris Johnson, and as such, 2012 may not yield immediate results. The passing defense looks vulnerable in particular, with new cornerbacks Ron Bartell (coming off a serious injury) and Shawntae Spencer.
There's talent on this unit, but it's going to need time to come together, which could make 2012 a tough year for the Raider defense. As such, here are five players who are going to take advantage of this and put up big games against Oakland.
The irony here is that Mike Wallace really is a classic Raider. Coming out of college, teams weren't sure about a lot with him, but they knew he was fast—really, really, really fast.
Now Wallace is a star, and the Raiders are going to have a very hard time trying to cover him.
No.1 corner Ron Bartell will likely get the first crack at him, but he's coming off a very serious neck injury and wasn't known for his speed to begin with. We'll have a better picture of his health as this game approaches, but even at 100 percent, he'd have a hard time with Wallace.
They could also try using the speedy DeMarcus Van Dyke on Wallace, and in terms of pure ability to keep up with him, it's a decent matchup. But Van Dyke is inexperienced and is by no means a shutdown corner; he doesn't have the pure coverage skills to stick with Wallace alone.
Whichever corner gets the Wallace assignment will likely have a ton of safety help, but how helpful will it really be? Neither Michael Huff nor Tyvon Branch are traditional center fielder-type safeties, they're better in run support.
I see Mike Wallace going off on Oakland; he and Ben Roethlisberger know how to exploit bad matchups and pick on weak corners. This could be a long game in Week 3.
This one isn't exactly rocket science. The Raiders are learning a new defense under Dennis Allen. No matter what type of personnel you have as a defense, learning a new defense takes time and will be a bumpy process. In other words, they're going to make mistakes.
Peyton Manning will see those mistakes. Defenses can't sneak anything past him. If he notices a nickelback covering Demaryius Thomas, he's going to turn it into a touchdown. If he sees Jacob Tamme matched with a slower linebacker on a seam route, he's going to find him for a big gain.
The idea of Peyton Manning playing against any developing defense is tantalizing, but in this case it looks even better because of Oakland's lack of talent. They obviously have some good players, but the Raiders aren't the Ravens. They don't have stars all over the field. A lowly ranked defense learning a new defense seems like a recipe for big games by Peyton Manning.
Julio Jones was one of last year's best rookies, and this year, he looks to make the leap from great young player to superstar. Physically, he has all of the tools, and if he progresses as we expect, he'll be nearly impossible for anyone to cover.
The "anyone" in the last sentence is emphasized because the Raiders (like most teams) will attempt to cover him with their No. 2 corner. Roddy White is Atlanta's No. 1 receiver and will get a ton of attention, likely leaving Jones alone with Shawntae Spencer.
Spencer is a fine corner, but at this point in his career, he's only a borderline starter. Putting someone like that on a playmaker like Jones is a recipe for disaster. Combine that with the fact that the safeties will have their hands full with the running game and White, you should expect at least one long reception by Jones en route to a big game.
The Raiders' defensive line has some big names like Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly, but those guys are getting older and have clearly lost a step. Last year, the Raiders were 27th in the league against the run, and they made no major additions to fight that problem.
Plenty of great runners will have their chances against the Raiders, but none are quite as difficult to plan against as Ray Rice. He's one of the league's more versatile backs. He can run between the tackles, break off big plays on the outside and is fantastic as a receiver on screens.
The Raiders aren't equipped to contain someone like Rice. Their defensive ends are exclusively pass-rushers so keeping Rice between the tackles is going to be nearly impossible, and once he gets in a space, he's one of the toughest guys in the league to bring down.
The other thing to keep in mind is that the Ravens always have a strong offensive line and a commitment to running the ball. If Rice gets hot early, they're going to keep pounding the rock. When that happens, Rice tends to put up very big numbers.
The Raiders shouldn't take this personally, Jimmy Graham burns everybody. Defending him is nearly impossible. He has the athleticism and leaping ability of a basketball player in the body of an elite tight end.
The Raiders are going to have a particularly hard time with him though because they have nobody on their roster who can match up with him. They could try matching a linebacker with him, but neither Philip Wheeler nor Aaron Curry are particularly known for their coverage abilities.
That means a lot of the job is going to be left to safeties Michael Huff and Tyvon Branch. That doesn't bode well for the Raiders either, as they are both better suited in the box or in a supporting role in coverage.
The Raiders could try to use a zone defense, but that's never a good idea against a quarterback like Drew Brees. He's smart enough to pick it apart fairly quickly.
Overall, this all means that whatever the Raiders try on Graham will lead to mismatches, and considering Drew Brees is the one throwing the ball, I'd say it's fairly likely that the Saints take advantage of those mismatches.
If you have Jimmy Graham on your fantasy teams, I'd suggest making sure to start him against the Raiders.