Oakland Raiders: 5 Signs Team Has Improved Since Beginning of Season
The Oakland Raiders have not been a very good football team in 2012.
That may not come as a huge surprise to fans of the NFL, but those clad in silver and black each Sunday can't be very happy with their 2-4 start.
The team ranks 31st in rushing, despite having Darren McFadden carrying the rock, and they've been blown out in three of their four defeats.
But alas, not all is doom in gloom in the Bay Area, and I'm not about to bring up the San Francisco 49ers, either.
The Raiders are still just a game back in the AFC West, and although the playoffs may be a long shot, they've definitely shown improvement since the beginning of the season.
Here are five signs that the team is headed in the right direction.
1. Becoming More Competitive
The Raiders' season started out with two blowout losses.
After a win over Pittsburgh that in all honesty was a bit of a fluke, they lost to the Denver Broncos by 31 points. Things certainly weren't looking very good as they left for Atlanta and a game against the only remaining undefeated team in the league.
But they hung tough against the Falcons in a 23-20 defeat, showing grit and perseverance.
And just last week, they earned their second win of the season against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Now, Raiders fans may not be partying in the streets like certain Bay Area baseball fans are at the moment, but these last two weeks have been promising. And with a very winnable game against the Kansas City Chiefs up next, this team may just be able to turn things around.
2. Offensive Output
It's been awhile since Oakland's been considered an offensive juggernaut, and this year is no different. But despite amassing just 14 points in their first game and 13 in their second, the Raiders have improved dramatically in the scoring department.
They put up 34 against a tough Steelers D, but just six against the Broncos the next week out. The Steelers game was a bit of an anomaly, but the same can be said for their contest at Denver as well. This team isn't going to be held to 10 points or less very often.
Consider the past couple weeks in which Oakland has averaged 23.5 points per game. If you throw out the games against Pittsburgh and Denver, that's still an average of 10 more points per game than they put up in the first couple weeks.
The offense is often the last part of the football team to click during the season, and if the past couple weeks are any indication, the Raiders O is going to have opposing defenses on their heels more often.
3. Improving Pass Defense
In today's quarterback-driven league, a weak secondary is going to expose the entire defense right away.
The Raiders are presently ranked 22nd in pass defense, giving up an average of just under 255 yards per game.
But in the past couple weeks, they've stepped it up a notch. The Raiders allowed Falcons QB Matt Ryan to throw for just 249 yards, despite the embarrassing amount of riches he has to pass it to.
Last week, the D allowed just 110 yards passing to Blaine Gabbert. Obviously, Gabbert is nowhere near the signal-caller that Ryan is, but it's a positive sign that both were limited by an improving Raiders secondary.
4. Spreading It Around Through the Air
Can you name the player with the most catches for Oakland in their season-opening loss against San Diego? If you named an actual wide receiver, you'd be incorrect. It was Darren McFadden, with 13. That's a whopping eight more grabs than the next guy.
Having a running back who can also catch the ball out of the backfield is never a bad thing, but when he's leading your team in receptions, something's not right.
But if you were to look at the current statistics for Raiders receivers, you'd find both Denarius Moore and tight end Brandon Myers at the top of the list, with over 300 yards each. In the third spot is Derek Hagan, followed by Darrius Heyward-Bey.
After the Chargers game, the team has had three different guys not named McFadden lead the team in receptions.
The running game may not be clicking like the Raiders had hoped it would by this point, but the passing attack has spread the wealth in recent games with great results.
If defending the pass is important, then getting to the quarterback is critical. And it's something the Raiders were unable to do throughout the early part of the season.
In the first five weeks, Oakland registered just three sacks, which is a huge reason why they've been poor at defending the pass.
Against Jacksonville, they sacked the quarterback on three occasions. Sacks often lead to huge swings in momentum, putting the offense in a difficult position.
While one game doesn't necessarily constitute calling something a trend, it's definitely a positive sign for a defense that has been pushed around this season.
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