With about half of the allotted salary cap in 2013, the Raiders have built a 53-man roster. It's not a particularly talented, deep or young roster, but it's a roster they had hoped would be more competitive than last year. Unfortunately, things haven't really gone according to plan for the Raiders this preseason.
Terrelle Pryor is the starting quarterback, and they are also dealing with a slew of key injuries. The Raiders have the look of a team that will have to scratch and claw just to get a few wins. The first chance is Sunday in Indianapolis, but don't expect the Colts to show the Raiders any mercy.
If the Raiders are going to stay competitive in Pryor's second career start, he's going to need some help. The depleted offensive line, the wide receivers and running back Darren McFadden will all have to perform better than expected to give the Raiders a chance.
Pryor is still a limited quarterback, and the more he thinks he has to do, the more apt he will be to make big mistakes. The Raiders need Pryor to make big plays with his legs and not turn the ball over, and the only way that's going to happen is if other offensive players make plays.
Depend on Darren
People know better than to depend on McFadden in fantasy football, but the Raiders haven't given up on him. Everyone knows what McFadden is capable of in the right offense when he is healthy, which is why the Raiders put him on ice this preseason.
No other player is more important to the Raiders than McFadden, even though he didn't look like an impact player last year. Offensive coordinator Greg Knapp was fired because his zone-blocking scheme and McFadden proved to be a bad match.
New offensive coordinator Greg Olson brought back the downhill attack that McFadden favored when Hue Jackson was calling the plays. During his two years under Jackson, McFadden produced 130 yards from scrimmage per game and averaged 0.8 touchdowns.
Projected over a 16-game season, McFadden would be a candidate to break 2,000 yards from scrimmage. That's only been done five times in the last five years. and the five teams that had a player that went over 2,000 yards from scrimmage averaged nine wins, with a low of six and a high of 12.
Furthermore, McFadden didn't produce those numbers with a great offensive line. Jared Veldheer was a rookie in 2010 and only started 11 games. The rest of the line in 2010 included Robert Gallery, Samson Satele, Cooper Carlisle and Langston Walker. In 2011, rookie Stefan Wisniewski took over at left guard, and Khalif Barnes took over at right tackle.
While the Raiders offensive line has certainly been plagued by injuries to Veldheer, Menelik Watson and Tony Bergstrom, that doesn't mean McFadden can't be productive. The offensive line injuries actually hurt the pass protection more than it does McFadden.
McFadden is just 26, so he should still be capable of having a career year. If the Raiders can get 130 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown out of McFadden against the Colts, Pryor won't have to force the issue.
When the Raiders went 8-8 in 2010 and 2011, Oakland's quarterbacks were pedestrian. The three quarterbacks that started games completed less than 60 percent of their passes with a 38-to-39 touchdown-to-interception ratio. As long as Pryor creates a touchdown and doesn't turn the ball over more than once, the Raiders will have a chance to win if McFadden is productive.
The average margin in games in which McFadden has 100 yards from scrimmage is 2.9 points in the Raiders favor, and their record is 12-9. That's not great, but it suggests that a productive McFadden gives the Raiders a chance to win.
A Piece for Reece
One of the most grossly underutilized players on the Raiders for the past few years has been fullback Marcel Reece. The traditional blocking fullback is close to dead in the NFL, but Reece isn't like a traditional fullback because he can run, block and catch passes.
Reece can be lined up anywhere on the field and often creates mismatches that the Raiders should be able to exploit. The problem has been consistent touches for Reece.
Excluding his rookie season and a three-game stretch in 2012 where he was carrying the bulk of the rushing load (41 games), Reece has averaged just 3.6 touches per game. Despite these limited opportunities, Reece has produced just over 30 yards per game and an average of 8.3 yards per touch.
In those 41 games, Reece has averaged 4.7 yards per carry and 10.7 yards per catch in those 41 games. Instead of giving carries to McFadden's backup who might be able to average 3.8 yards per carry, the Raiders should really consider giving Reece more opportunities.
It's also safe to assume that Reece can produce with more opportunities because he did for three games last season. Reece went over 100 yards from scrimmage in all three games, including against the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens. Reece carried the ball 47 times in that three-game span for 225 yards, which is 4.8 yards per carry, and caught 15 passes for 175 yards, which is 11.7 yards per reception.
If the Raiders can figure out how to put the ball in Reece's hands 10 times per game instead of four times per game, there's a good chance the entire offense will be more productive. A couple more yards on first and second downs means manageable third downs and the chance to extend drives and score more points.
Your Friend, the Tight End
The Raiders don't have a proven tight end on the roster and the projected starter, David Ausberry, has been ruled out with a shoulder injury. A tight end is often a young quarterback's best friend, and Pryor is still a young quarterback.
Jeron Mastrud will get the start against the Colts, but rookie Mychal Rivera will also probably get involved. This is where the Raiders really could use some surprise production. Mastrud made some plays in the preseason, but he has just one career reception for eight yards in 36 games.
Tight ends can be good safety nets for a quarterback in trouble, and when Pryor does get into a situation his legs can't get him out of, he needs to look for them. Mastrud made a circus catch of one of Pryor's passes in the preseason, and the Raiders need him to keep that up.
If Pryor is inaccurate with his passes, it can really help to have big-bodied tight ends with huge catch radii out there. Better than expected production from the tight end will help Pryor, but they shouldn't be considered a primary target.
Breakout Wide Receivers
Second, third and fourth-year wide receivers can all have breakout years, and four of the five receivers on the Raiders roster fit that description. What this means is that the Raiders could see a boost across the board from the receivers, even if a true No. 1 guy doesn't emerge.
Rod Streater—a surprise a year ago—is a hard-working guy who was the sixth-best rookie wide receiver last season based on yards. Three of the five players that were better as rookies were starters, and Streater was the third receiver on the Raiders a year ago and fourth option in the passing game.
With more opportunities in 2013 because he is the starter, Streater could be primed for a breakout year if Pryor can get him the ball. Pryor is probably going to be asked to make one or two reads before he pulls it down to run it, and he'll need his receivers to get open early and often.
It makes sense to use third-year wide receiver Denarius Moore on a deep route, with Streater or a slot receiver underneath. Moore's strength is going up to get passes in the air, and the Raiders need to use each receiver's strengths.
Jacoby Ford is the oldest receiver entering his fourth year, but his second season was hindered by injury, and his third was wiped out completely. Ford is an electrifying runner is space and an ideal slot receiver if he can get on the same page with Pryor. Streater, Moore and Ford would all be good candidates to see a spike in production if the quarterback situation wasn't so uncertain.
Pryor needs help, and the Raiders have a few players that can help him. The offensive line is the only group that might not help Pryor, but it also happens to be the group he helps with his legs. The Raiders will take some lumps this season, but a surprisingly competent offense is not out of the question.
Overall, there are too many questions and not enough answers for the Raiders on offense (and defense), but that's why they play the games. All of the questions must be answered this season so the Raiders know how to approach 2014.
The Raiders are in for a rough season, but there are positives if you look hard enough. Even a bad season can set the stage for the future, and there's always some bright spots. To be competitive versus the Colts and for the rest of this season, Oakland's offensive weapons are going to have to give Pryor a lot of help.
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