Oakland Raiders vs. San Diego Chargers: Black Holes and Silver Lining
The Oakland Raiders started the 2012 NFL season with much of the same sloppiness and mental errors that have haunted the organization in the past. With stiff competition in the AFC West looming in Peyton Manning's Broncos, Philip Rivers' Chargers, and a revamped Kansas City Chiefs squad, the Oakland Raiders are going to have to patch up their spotty play from Monday night in an attempt to stay competitive.
Let's take a look at the areas where the Raiders have noticeable "black" holes to fill as well as the "silver" lining at the end of this long, hard first game of the 2012 season.
Black Hole No. 1: The Offensive Line
This one came as quite a surprise. On a night where the Raiders needed to dominate the line of scrimmage, they came away looking like they had been bullied by the San Diego Chargers. With an extremely thin and young receiving core, Carson Palmer needed to rely on his offensive line for a solid run attack to keep the defense on their heels. Instead, the Raiders couldn't rest on their usually steady running game and Carson Palmer was forced to throw the ball 46 times.
Now, throwing the ball 46 times isn't always a bad thing, but when your offensive line can't hold their blocks for a 5-7 step drop, these pass plays tend to be much shorter. This was evidenced tonight by the fact that Palmer had only a couple passing plays longer than 15 yards, and they almost all came on the final drive with the clock winding down. Palmer was never able to target Darrius Heyward-Bey or Rod Streater deep, and the Raiders were forced to dump the ball off to Darren McFadden far too many times.
Bottom Line: If the Raiders want to build a viable offense, they need a reliable offensive line that can open holes for one of the most gifted running backs in the NFL and protect an aging quarterback while he makes his reads to young wide receivers.
Black Hole No. 2: Greg Knapp's Playcalling
Raider Nation has been vocal about their displeasure with the hiring of Greg Knapp since his signing this offseason. Of course, everyone was told to wait and see what happened when Darren McFadden and Carson Palmer were in the same huddle and when Knapp could unleash his playbook. Well, we saw that tonight—and it didn't look pretty.
I'm secretly holding out hope that Greg's playcalling will improve as the season goes on, but I'm not totally sure about this hire. The Raiders never established the run game, failed to have any significant long yardage play and they didn't effectively use all of the weapons they had on the field.
Bottom Line: The Raiders' offense can't rely on Darren McFadden every play. There are too many playmakers on the field for Greg Knapp to call dink and dunk passes to the running back and short 10-yard routes to the wide receivers every play. Offensive playcalling has to improve for the Raiders to win against their tough schedule this year.
Black Hole No. 3: The Kicking Game
In all of my years watching Raider football, I never fully appreciated the importance of Jon Condo, the Raiders Pro Bowl long-snapper. Well, I think everyone watching Monday Night Football found out just how important a long-snapper is to a football team tonight. Three botched punts and nine San Diego points later, I learned my lesson.
After the injury to Condo, Travis Goethel failed miserably to snap and block on simple punt assignments. While this seems like mainly Goethel's fault, the coaches should have had him furiously snapping off footballs to Lechler on the sideline lest they knew they were going to keep their offense on the field to attempt fourth down conversions. This one is as much bad luck as it is bad in-game management by Oakland coaches.
Bottom Line: This was infuriatingly painful to watch, but the Oakland coaches will figure this situation out immediately, and I wouldn't worry too much about it coming into the Miami game.
The Silver Lining
The season opener was not all bad for the Raiders. The first thing anyone will mention is how improved the defense looked. While managing to stop drive after drive in the red zone, the defense did a good (not great—more on this in another post) job in their first action. If they can practice what Dennis Allen preaches by getting better each day, this defense could be a force by the end of the season once Jason Tarver gets the hang of calling plays in the NFL.
The most overlooked aspect of Monday night's game was the impressive play of Carson Palmer. All offseason analysts and fans alike continually uttered how this Raider team would live or die by Carson Palmer's decision making.
False. This team will live or die by Greg Knapp's offensive playcalling. Carson Palmer played a stellar game with minimal errors. Carson committed zero turnovers, was consistently threading the ball into tight coverage, looked sharp on timed routes to receivers with which he didn't have much practice and looked every bit as competent as Dennis Allen and Reggie McKenzie promised.
Bottom Line: Look for Dennis Allen to clean up the mental errors, detangle the punt team mess and emphasize the run game next Sunday against the Miami Dolphins.