The new era of Oakland Raiders football is seven-games old and the results have not been favorable. The Raiders have a 2-4 record and one was an ugly overtime win over the Jacksonville Jaguars last Sunday. The once heralded running game is one of the worst in the league and the defense has only been slightly better than it was last season. Suffice it to say that it’s been a little rockier than many fans expected.
Despite the slow start, the Raiders have the opportunity to stay close in the AFC West race with a win over the stumbling Kansas City Chiefs in Week 8. A win and losses by the Broncos and Chargers would put them into a tie for first place.
Hope is easy to sell, but the Raiders are not a good team right now which is not something that is going to change overnight. A loss would put the Raiders on a path to a disappointing season and a high draft selection. It’s a pivotal week for the team, but instead of clinging to hope for something that has a remote chance of happening, the fans should hope for progress with minimal regression.
Statistics can reveal progression and regression and are a valuable tool that allows an unbiased assessment of the situation. Injuries can also have a big impact on team performance, which is why the best teams are usually the deepest teams. The scheme can also be an important factor, where would the Broncos have been if they hadn’t completely changed the offense for Tim Tebow in 2011? Not in the playoffs.
An ugly win in Week 7 wasn’t really the progress the Raiders were hoping for coming off hard-fought loss to the Atlanta Falcons in Week 6.
A poor Jaguars’ offense was missing Maurice Jones-Drew and Blaine Gabbert for most the game and yet Oakland’s defense only improved their ranking in a couple of areas. The Raiders did great against the run and limited the Jaguars on third down, but that’s hardly an accomplishment when Chad Henne is the quarterback.
The pass defense’s ranking improved slightly, but that’s a bit deceiving because of the quality of the opponent. Oakland’s pass defense has been able to limit first downs, which suggests the Raiders are allowing opponents to make the catch and then coming up to make the tackle.
The run defense has been the lone bright spot on defense, but at the expense of a pass rush. Matt Shaughnessy and Lamarr Houston are both good against the run, but limited pass rushers. With a pass defense so putrid, opponents are also more likely to pass than challenge the strength of Oakland’s defense.
The running game continues to struggle. On a per-carry basis the Raiders are one of the worst in the league and would have to run a lot more to increase their yards-per-game output. It’s probably the biggest area of disappointment for the Raiders this season and statistically things aren’t getting better.
The bright spot has been the passing game, but perhaps only because the Raiders haven’t been able to run the ball. The offense as a whole aren’t scoring a lot of points or gaining a lot of yards. The Raiders are no higher than 17th in the league in any of the team statistics except penalties and they are regressing in this area over the past few weeks.
Unfortunately the Raiders aren’t progressing from week-to-week in any particular statistical area and have seen a rise in penalties and the continued decline of the running game. There is on-field evidence that suggests the running game might improve in future weeks, but that progression has yet to show up statistically.
The issues in the secondary can be attributed to the loss of both starting cornerbacks to injury. Ron Bartell is still on the injured reserve, but he’s been designated to return and is eligible to return to practice Saturday and play in Week 10 per NFL rules.
Shawntae Spencer has a sprained foot, which is the same type of injury that ended Darren McFadden’s 2011 campaign, Jacoby Ford’s 2012 campaign as well as several others around the league. According to Eric Gilmore of CBS Sports, Spencer recently got out of a walking boot and is off crutches. It’s unknown at this point when Spencer will be able to return the field.
The other significant injury was to right tackle Khalif Barnes, who hurt his groin and has been out for several weeks. In his place the Raiders have started Willie Smith, who the team picked up off waivers last month. The offensive line has been plagued by both injuries and ineffectiveness this season.
The Raiders had 19 players on the injury report Wednesday, with 11 players limited in practice and two not participating. It’s not uncommon for starters to find their way to the training room at this point in the season from the wear and tear on their bodies. Winning makes the pain worth the gain, but things could get worse if the season gets away from the Raiders in next couple weeks.
Scheme and Approach
Dennis Allen promised to bring to Oakland a multi-dimensional defense; it just hasn’t improved the production of the group. Perhaps this is because scheme is just a small part of the equation and in the end it’s up to the players to execute.
Of course, scheme is one of the things that have hurt the Raiders this season. The zone-blocking scheme has turned one of the best running backs in the league into one of the worst. According to Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group, the Raiders have incorporated more gap-scheme runs since the bye week to get McFadden going.
The gap-scheme plays have yielded positive results, but their usage has been extremely limited. The Raiders are committed to zone blocking and have been resistant to tossing the scheme altogether. If the Raiders were playing for this year only they would use predominately gap-scheme plays with zone plays used more sparingly.
The reality is the coaching staff knew this would be a rebuilding year and getting more reps running the zone scheme will payoff in the future. As such, don’t expect a drastic change in philosophy at this stage in the season. At this point the best the fans can hope for is incremental improvement in execution from the offensive line and McFadden.