The Oakland Raiders are 3-6 and in third place in the AFC West. Any hopes that the Raiders could make the playoffs in 2012 have now faded, and the focus has shifted to sizing up the roster and coaching staff for year two of the rebuild process.
In Week 11, the Raiders get to play in front of the home crowd where they have played much better this season. Unfortunately, Drew Brees is coming to town and is expected to have his way with Oakland’s beleaguered secondary.
The realistic expectation coming into the season was that this team would need some injury luck on defense to even have a shot at the playoffs. One injury-riddled secondary and zone-blocking system later, and the fanbase is just hoping to see some life from a team that has shown it on so few occasions in 2012.
Primary Talk Point for Week 11
Make no mistake about it, Oakland’s offense will go as the passing game takes it. The transition actually has roots in 2011, when Hue Jackson was oft criticized by fans for throwing too much in what had been to that point a run-first offense.
With Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson out with high-ankle sprains, the Raiders no longer have much reason to keep up the charade. The running game is not good, and this offense will only go as far as Carson Palmer’s arm will take them.
Palmer will have the opportunity to showcase his arm against a New Orleans Saints team that is allowing an amazing 469.3 yards per game, including 307.3 yards per game through the air. Brees will have his way with Oakland’s secondary, but Palmer will have his way with New Orleans’ secondary as well.
Aside from 10 touchdowns and 15 pass yards per game, both Brees and Palmer have eerily similar stats. Both have completed 230 passes this season, and both have thrown nine interceptions. Brees has been sacked 16 times to Palmer’s 17 times. Brees also has a completion percentage of 61.5 to Palmer’s 61.3, which only means that Palmer has one more pass attempt.
There’s a very real possibility that the game could break the record for pass attempts in a game. The record for combined pass attempts is 112, which occurred in an overtime game. In regulation, the record is 105, but that occurred in the playoffs. The regular season regulation record is 103 pass attempts.
The good news in the injury front is that Khalif Barnes is back at practice and running with the first-team offense, according to Contra Costa Times writer Steve Corkran on Twitter. He’s expected to regain his starting job from Willie Smith on Sunday.
McFadden and Goodson are out with high-ankle sprains and aren’t expected back until next week at the earliest. That leaves fullback Marcel Reece as the primary runner in the offense. Taiwan Jones is going to have to earn his playing time and is competing with Jeremy Stewart who was recently signed from the practice squad.
Richard Seymour missed last week’s game and hasn't practiced this week. The rule of thumb is that players that don’t practice Friday don’t play. Seymour would be one of those rare guys coaches would make an exception to get him into the game.
Perhaps the most concerning of this week’s injuries are the absences of Tyvon Branch and Darrius Heyward-Bey. Branch injured his neck against the Ravens last week, and Heyward-Bey tweaked a hamstring in practice. If they miss Friday, there would be concern that they wouldn't play, according to Contra Costa Times writer Jerry McDonald on Twitter.
Player on the Rise
Reece is a wide receiver that transitioned to fullback, and now he’s the team’s starting running back. What’s amazing is that Reece continues to produce no matter what he is asked to do. I’ve said for a long time that good things tend to happen when the Raiders get Reece involved and put the ball in his hands. He's going to get more opportunities this week than he ever has in his career.
This is Reece’s biggest opportunity to be a key part of the offense, and he needs to run with it, figuratively and literally. Reece averaged 3.7 yards per carry against the Ravens and added seven receptions. It will be exciting to see what he can do against one of the worst defenses in league history this Sunday.
Stat Trends: Defense
There has been a lot of talk lately about how this defense is actually worse than Chuck Bresnahan’s defense in 2011. I decided to, instead of looking at the stats from a week-to-week basis like we normally do, take a look at how the defense was progressing compared to last season.
The verdict: It’s about the same. It’s bad in different ways, but when you boil it down, the Raiders are allowing a few more points per game and a few less yards per game. The team has been a little better on third down in 2012 and is forcing turnovers at a similar rate.
The pass defense has actually improved in yards and touchdowns without the added benefit of a pass rush. The secondary is intercepting passes at a slower rate without a pass rush. The run defense is better in yards and yards per carry and the team is forcing more fumbles. Teams have shifted from passing to running the red zone, but the net results have been similar.
Considering the Raiders had to release their top pass-rusher due to cap concerns and completely revamped the secondary, it’s not a bad start for defensive coordinator Jason Tarver and defensive-minded head coach Dennis Allen. The Raiders also have a soft schedule over the final seven games, so these defensive stats could improve even more.
Stat Trends: Offense
Fans have also compared Greg Knapp’s offense to Hue Jackson’s offense. The bottom line: Knapp’s offense is scoring 21.2 points per game to Jackson’s 22.4 points per game. Assuming Jackson’s offense would have continued to produce at the same pace, the Raiders might have scored 10 more points through the first nine games.
Those 10 points wouldn’t have made a difference in wins or losses of 10 or more points. In all likelihood, those 10 points wouldn’t have made much of a difference in the team’s record. Maybe one win more at the most.
The passing offense has been much better in yards, touchdowns and turnovers. The yards and touchdowns are probably inflated due to a lack of a viable running game, but getting Palmer to throw fewer and less damaging interceptions has been key. Palmer has still thrown a few interceptions, but most quarterbacks do, and he’s not making nearly as many ill-advised throws. That’s a victory Knapp can hang his hat on.
The running game has gone from being good to very bad. It would have been more unexpected if not for McFadden’s prior struggles in the zone-blocking system. Things have improved slightly in recent weeks as the team has gone away from zone runs. Maybe things will slowly turn around over the final seven games.
The passing game and running game were expected to come together to form an elite offense, and the only reason that hasn’t happened is because of the struggles of the running game. Compared to expectations, it's been a failure, but compared to 2011, it's only been slightly worse overall.
After a 55-point loss, the outlook is clearly falling. Without McFadden, Goodson or Seymour, this team isn’t getting far. If Branch and Heyward-Bey are also out, the Raiders would be even more handicapped.
Although the team is in a bad place right now, the Raiders have a chance to be more competitive over the final seven weeks. The team plays at home four of the next five weeks, and the schedule over the final seven games aren’t very difficult. The Raiders should be able to get at least a couple victories.
Although not likely, the Raiders could win five of the next seven to get back to .500. The Raiders merely need to beat the Browns, Chiefs, Chargers and Panthers and win one of the three other games (two of which are at home).