Raiders' Midseason Report Cards for Each Positional Unit
It’s a pattern coach Dennis Allen’s team has followed for most of the season and one the Raiders will undoubtedly continue to follow the rest of the way.
For a team that many expected would struggle to get four wins this year, that’s still an encouraging position to be in.
Although there’s one more game left until Oakland hits the midway point of the season, we offer up our midseason report card grades for each positional unit.
For most of the season so far Terrelle Pryor has been the most electrifying player on the Raiders roster. At times he’s also been the most frustrating, amounting to an expected mixed bag of results for the young quarterback.
From a running standpoint alone, Pryor has been remarkable. He leads the Raiders in rushing and set a franchise and NFL record with his 93-yard touchdown run against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 8. Pryor also leads all quarterbacks in rushing, though Seattle’s Russell Wilson could overtake him on Monday night.
Pryor has also made significant strides with his passing, although his decision-making at times has left something to be desired. His tendency to throw the ball up for grabs when under a heavy pass rush shows how young he is in the process. He also made numerous mistakes in the team’s loss to undefeated Kansas City in Week 6.
The one area where Pryor has made the most progress is as the leader of the offense, something he showed flashes of in 2012 when he made his first NFL start. That has manifested in his work ethic and in his willingness to shoulder the complete blame for the team’s loss to the Chiefs.
There are still many NFL observers who question and even doubt whether Pryor can be a success in the NFL. The Raiders, however, are pretty happy with where he’s at.
The plans of building the offense around the running game haven’t yet come to fruition, although the overall numbers are fairly good. That’s due primarily to quarterback Terrelle Pryor and his whopping 7.1 yards-per-carry average.
Darren McFadden has been mostly a disappointment again. He had a nice game against low Jacksonville in Week 2 and put together a two-touchdown effort in the win over Pittsburgh but has otherwise been kept in check.
It clearly hasn’t been all McFadden’s fault. The injury situation along the offensive line has had a rippling effect on the entire offense. Opponents are also gearing up more to contain the former first-round pick.
Still, after seven games McFadden’s 3.7-yard average is astonishingly low for a lead back.
Backup Rashad Jennings has had a few nice plays offensively, most of them as a receiver. He’s also played well on special teams.
Fullback Marcel Reece, however, has been mostly lost in the shuffle. Offensive coordinator Greg Olson made more of a concerted effort to get Reece the ball against Pittsburgh but he should have been doing that from the beginning.
Take away Pryor’s rushing totals and you’d have one of the least-productive ground games in the entire NFL.
Oakland’s combination of Denarius Moore and Rod Streater were teasingly productive through the first seven games. Both receivers had moments where they appeared capable of dominating opponents, while at others they were maddeningly shut down.
Moore had been on a nice roll heading into the Pittsburgh game after a sluggish start to the season. Although he was shut down by Steelers’ cornerback Ike Taylor, Moore still leads the team with four touchdown receptions but was on pace to catch just 62 passes.
Streater carried the torch for the receivers early in the season but has since cooled off. His best play so far was a 44-yard touchdown against San Diego in Week 5, and he’s also been quarterback Terrelle Pryor’s go-to receiver when plays break down.
The rest of the receiving corps has made little impact. Jacoby Ford has just eight catches and would probably be more expendable on offense if Brice Butler hadn’t been dealing with his own issues. The rookie has nine catches but he also dropped a pair of passes against the Steelers, one of which was intercepted.
Juron Criner has yet to be active for a game and Andre Holmes has been shut out in two games since returning from his NFL suspension.
At the start of the season the Raiders had hoped to use their tight ends to help stretch the field and open up the passing game more. However, with all of the injuries to the offensive line Oakland has had to keep Jeron Mastrud and Mychal Rivera in as extra blockers most of the time.
That’s hurt the passing game because both Mastrud and Rivera have shown the ability to make big plays down field.
Of the two, Rivera is the more polished pass-catcher. Mastrud is averaging nearly 18 yards a catch but he’s had just four receptions in seven games. Rivera, conversely, has caught three times as many passes but has a significantly lower per-catch average.
Sixth-round draft pick Nick Kasa was expected to play a significant role but fell behind early in training camp and has yet to catch up.
Injuries have devastated the Raiders offensive line, a problem that first cropped up back in training camp when starting left tackle Jared Veldheer went down with a torn triceps injury and was placed on the injured reserve/designated to return list.
It hasn’t gotten any easier since.
At various times this season Oakland has had to use its third string center, third-string right tackle and backups at both guard spots.
Although the Raiders have been good at not leaning on the injuries as a crutch, it’d be foolish to think they haven’t had some deep effect. As good an offensive line coach as Tony Sparano is, even he has had trouble trying to overcome the mess that the offensive line has become.
The return of center Stefen Wisniewski should help settle things down somewhat. The big question is if and when Veldheer will return. He’s Oakland’s best lineman and would enable Khalif Barnes to move back to the right side of the line.
Defensive coordinator Jason Tarver has been very creative with his play-calling and use of blitzes. Increasingly, however, the Raiders are getting more and more production out of their four-man pass rush.
Defensive end Lamarr Houston only has four sacks but he’s just missed a handful of others and has been the best defender Oakland has in terms of getting to the quarterback. Houston’s ability to get a good jump off the ball enables him to get in favorable situations, and he’s finishing plays more often than he did a year ago.
Pat Sims and Vance Walker have combined to plug the middle of the defense, which was a glaring weakness in 2012. Through eight games the Raiders have yet to allow a 100-yard game to any running back and had held three teams to fewer than 40 yards on the ground total.
Defensive end Jason Hunter has chipped in with two sacks, and newcomer Daniel Muir had one of the team’s five sacks against Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
As good as the pass rush has been, however, the Raiders have to do a better job of finishing. Too often they’ve had a quarterback or running back apparently sacked or stopped, only to have the player scamper away for a big gain.
A big reason for the improvement in the Raiders’ defense has been the play of the linebackers, which is playing as well as a unit as any the team has had in the past decade.
Nick Roach has been steady but unspectacular in the middle. He leads the team in tackles and has helped upgrade a run defense that has been mostly terrible since 2003. The Raiders went into Week 8 matchup with Pittsburgh tied for ninth in yards allowed on the ground, a significant improvement.
Outside linebacker Kevin Burnett has also played extremely well at times and leads the defense with 39 solo tackles.
Sio Moore is starting to show up more and more as a pass-rush threat. Oakland’s rookie linebacker has three sacks and is getting more and more playing time on situational downs.
Veteran Kaluka Maiava, who has been splitting reps with Moore, is also playing better after dealing with some off-field issues in the preseason.
It hasn’t always been pretty, and there’s been a few instances that were downright ugly. For the most part, however, Mike Jenkins and Tracy Porter have provided a much-needed boost on the back end of the Raiders’ defense.
The duo was sluggish out of the gates when the season started, particularly Jenkins. The veteran cornerback was frequently targeted in the first few games and struggled to make a play. He’s flipped it around quickly, however, and is in his best stretch of the year so far.
Rookie D.J. Hayden has also improved as the season has gone on. The first-round draft pick made numerous typical rookie mistakes earlier in the year when opposing quarterbacks routinely attacked him. He has since turned the corner as the team’s nickel back and is playing much more efficiently.
Philip Adams and Taiwan Jones have been used sparingly on defense.
Charles Woodson might be one of the oldest defensive players in the NFL yet there’s been little sign of him slowing down. Whatever physical drop-off he’s had has been overcome by Woodson’s smarts and experience.
He tied the NFL record for most career defensive touchdowns with a fumble return against San Diego, dove over an offensive lineman to make a touchdown-saving tackle against Jacksonville in Week 2, and has been Oakland’s most opportunistic player in the secondary.
Brandian Ross, a cornerback in 2012 before getting switched to safety, has had to play a much more expanded role since starter Tyvon Branch suffered a serious ankle injury early in the year. The young defensive back has played well in spurts but he’s also made a fair share of mistakes.
Usama Young has helped in some nickel and dime packages, though his playing time hasn’t expanded much because he’s behind Woodson on the depth chart.
The Raiders’ secondary as a whole has been much more effective than any the Raiders have had in quite some time, possibly going back as far to Woodson’s first go-round in Oakland.
It’s been somewhat of a bittersweet first seven games for new special teams coach Bobby April. On the one hand the Raiders have blocked a pair of punts and a field goal, and punter Marquette King has done an admirable job replacing former punter and perennial Pro Bowl pick Shane Lechler.On the other hand, however, Oakland has made plenty of mistakes from normally reliable sources.
Kicker Sebastian Janikowski has already missed more field goals than he did in all of 2012. Most alarming was that he had a 51-yard try against Kansas City that fell short. Janikowski has normally been automatic from that distance, but his entire season has been off-kilter from the beginning.
Punt returner Jacoby Ford has looked anything but comfortable after being replaced on the kickoff return unit. Ford looked particularly lost in the Week 8 game against Pittsburgh when he misplayed two punts, including one that nearly resulted in a turnover.
The coverage units have been mostly consistent, a testament to the powerful legs of King and Janikowski. However, Oakland’s return squads have yet to make a big impact.