Seventeen Weeks, Seventeen Things: Oakland Raiders
Going into the 2009 season we look forward to 17 weeks of Raiders football. At least until the league decides to expand to 17,18 or 20 games.
So with that in mind, here are 17 things I would like to see in the 2009 season, one for each week. Some of them are quite likley, other would be more of a stretch.
Hopefully, most of them are achievable. I think the majority of them could well be achieved during the season, and if they are, the Raiders should finish up with a decent record come season's end.
No. 1 JaMarcus Russell develop into a quality starting QB
I think this is one hope shared by most of Raider nation as well as the Raiders players, coaches and the organization as a whole.
If Russell could at least develop into an average starting quarterback the Raiders should be well placed to contend for the division crown over the next few years.
The best case scenario would be a breakout year for him but let's just take it one step at a time. Going into 2009 he should be trying to recapture his form from tha last three games of 2008.
No. 2 Darrius Heyward-Bey: Justify his position in the draft
Many people feel the Maryland receiver was a stretch at No. 7 with Michael Crabtree and Jeremy Maclin still on the board.
The Raiders had faith in the wideout's size and blistering speed and feel his lack of production was more to do with his pro-style offense and relatively poor quarterback at Maryland than bad hands or concentration.
Needless to say, this would help with the first one, as neither Heyward-Bey nor Russell are likely to have much success without the other.
No. 3 Tom Cable remaining as head coach at the end of the season
And preferably next season too. One of the biggest obstacles to improving the Raiders team has been the frequent coaching changes and lack of continuity.
This was a big factor in Cable's plug to be installed as the full time Head Coach in Oakland and will be imperative if the team, but especially JaMarcus Russell, are to keep improving.
No. 4 The running game perform up to expectations
With the three headed monster at tailback that is Darren McFadden, Michael Bush and Justing Fargas, the Raiders are expected to build on 2008 and have a top 10 or top five rushing offense (preferably the latter).
If the team can accomplish this, and the passing game and run defense are improved the Raiders have a good chance to get over .500 for the first time since 2002.
No. 5 An offensive line that resembles a wall more than a sieve
The Raiders will not have an effective running or passing game if they do not get sufficient blocking from their offensive line.
While completely ignoring the O-Line in the draft, the Raiders brought in center Samson Satele from Miami, who looks to be more durable and a better fit in the zone blocking scheme than Jake Grove, as well as Khalif Barnes from Jacksonville and Erik Pears from Denver.
Barnes, while having been inconsistent with the Jaguars was part of their vaunted offensive line before it collapsed due to injuries last season.
Coach Cable seems content with the players he has, and having been offensive line coach last season before his promotion, should have a good idea of what is needed. JaMarcus Russell had better hope so.
No. 6 A breakout season from Zach Miller
After an impressive 2008 as the Raiders leading pass catcher and Russell's favorite target the sure handed Miller looks set to have a strong season in 2009.
As well as being very good for the team, a breakout season would also mean improvement from Russell and allow the wide receivers to operate with less pressure.
This could be important if Darrius Heyward-Bey is to have a big season as it will help keep opponents' safeties closer to the line of scrimmage.
No. 7 An improved run defense
This is pretty much a given seeing as Oakland had the league's 31st ranked run defense in 2008. Better play by the safeties should help here, especially rookie Mike Mitchell and Tyvon Branch.
If Derrick Burgess doesn't start or play a significant role, there may be some improvement from his position as he is far less effective against the run than the pass.
According to the Raiders and coach Cable, most of the problems stopping the run were caused by Rob Ryan's lack of attention to detail. With new Defensive Coordinator John Marshall going back to basics, the team has expressed confidence that the running defense will be improved.
It couldn't get much worse anyway.
No. 8 Continued development from Johnnie Lee Higgins and Chaz Schilens
For the Raiders passing game to be successful, it is probably more important for Schilens and Higgins to develop than Heyward-Bey. Both looked good towards the end of last year and in mini-camp and OTAs and should continue to improve next season.
If they can improve it will take the strain off Heyward-Bey and ensure the Raiders do not have to rely on the injury prone and declining Javon Walker.
No. 9 An injury free season from Darren McFadden
McFadden, the No. 4 pick in the 2008 draft had a quality rookie season while hampered by a toe injury. Going into 2009 injury free he should have a good year if he can stay healthy.
While Justin Fargas and Michael Bush are very good backs, they are both primarily short and medium yardage players while McFaddens's speed and elusiveness makes him a good weapon to change the pace and make big plays so long as he is not overused.
He also has good hands and could help lessen the pressure on Russell, allowing him to lateral to McFadden if there are no receivers open downfield.
No. 10 Mike Mitchell knock someone out
Preferably Michael Crabtree, as we don't see Randy Moss this year. Now don't get me wrong, I don't wish harm upon anybody, well not long term harm anyway, but this is football. One of the biggest parts of Mitchell's game is his awesome hitting power.
He has knocked people out in high school and college and it would be nice to see that kind of ferocity displayed this year, especially against a player who feigned relief at being passed over by the Raiders at the draft.
Failing to knock someone out, some forced fumbles and vindication of his second round draft status would be nice from the young safety.
No. 11 A season opening win against the Chargers at home on Monday Night Football
You always want to win your opening game, but given last year's 41-14 loss in the opener against Denver and the recent bad form against San Diego, a statement like this on national TV would go a long way towards restoring respect in the franchise and help the team to build on the success at the end of last season.
No.12 To not see Jeff Garcia in a game unless it is for purely tactical reasons
I love Jeff Garcia. He's one of my favorite players in the NFL right now. Not seeing him in a game in 2009 however would mean that JaMarcus Russell is a) healthy and b) playing good enough football to keep him on the field.
Seeing him in a game for tactical reasons wouldn't be too much of a problem though as he is one of best rushing quarterbacks in the league and has good accuracy, if limited strength.
There may be times when Russell would benefit from not being put into a demoralizing position that the veteran Garcia would handle better.
No. 13 At least six wins
So this one is a bit obvious. Six wins would end the streak of consecutive 11 loss seasons, likely secure Tom Cable's job and mean that JaMarcus Russell hasn't been awful (or that he has and Jeff Garcia has had to take over).
This would also be a source of huge relief to most Raider fans, I imagine, and would probably get the team out of the top 10 spaces in the draft (which can be seen as a positive or a negative).
It would, however, give the team a good platform to compete for the division title in 2010. I'd have no qualms about winning more than six games, just be to clear.
No. 14 No off-the-field problems or controversy
Yep, that simple. No Javon Walker threatening to retire. No Randy Moss being Randy Moss. No public showdowns between the owner and the head coach. No overpaid cornerback ripping the man who paid him $24.5m to let the opponent's receivers have career nights.
And no more reports of JaMarcus Russell not having any work ethic or getting very drunk on Friday nights with the D-Line (I really, really hope that's not true but it has been claimed).
No. 15 Lorenzo Neal duplicate his previous success in Oakland
Neal, the Raiders new fullback has a history of extracting 1000yd seasons from the halfbacks on the team he is on. He has managed this with LaDainian Tomlinson, Corey Dillon and Eddie George, among others and has achieved this feat eight times during his career.
The Raiders would definitely benefit from one of their backs getting 1000 yards or say 500-700 each.
No. 16 More than two Pro-Bowlers
Health permitting, its a near certainty that Shane Lechler will make the Pro-Bowl. Nnamdi Asomugha should as well.
They are the best punter and cornerback in the league respectively. It would be very nice however to see another player make it, perhaps one of the halfbacks, fullback Lorenzo Neal or tight end Zach Miller who appear to be the best candidates.
A Pro-Bowl season from a wideout, linebacker, offensive lineman or safety would indicate a very good season for the Raiders as well.
No. 17 Sebastian Janikowski attempting more ridiculously long field goals
While I wouldn't want the Raiders to do something so stupid during most of a game, more long shots just before halftime would be a nice addition for two reasons.
Firstly, its great entertainment for those watching, and secondly, if he were to get lucky and nail say a 70-yard field goal, there might not be a better event all season. Granted, its highly unlikely, but at times when little is at stake such as just before the half or at the end of an big loss, what's the harm?
No. 1 BONUS
A playoff berth. And preferably a Super Bowl run. Sure, it's not going to happen, a playoff birth is pretty unlikely in itself (though achievable in the AFC West).
But this is about what I would like to see, and I would really like to see that. Failing that, a good .500 season would be a nice start and could point to great things ahead.