While Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie's job was likely to be safe no matter the outcome of this 2013 season, the same was not always assumed for that of head coach Dennis Allen.
Considering the magnitude of the rebuilding project taken on by this organization as a whole, placing blame on Allen and his staff for a second straight poor season would have been unfair to say the least.
At the same time, the NFL is known as a "what have you done for me lately" kind of league, and a head coach is expected by both his organization and team's fanbase to prove his worth in short order.
To the surprise of many, the Raiders have been an extremely competitive team throughout this season, currently sitting with a 3-4 record that could easily be a few games better than it is.
Although stories like that of quarterback Terrelle Pryor emerging as the difference-maker he is have dominated the team's headlines thus far, the argument can be made that it is the job done by Allen and his coaching staff that has this team competing at the level it is.
With the salary cap issues Oakland's new regime has had to deal with over the past few seasons, not to mention the utter lack of draft selections at its disposal, there was no doubt the Raiders had their work cut out for them.
While preseason predictions can be seen as nothing more than mere speculation in some cases, the Raiders were pinned by many as having the least talented roster in the NFL, and very few, if any, believed they'd be remotely competitive.
In light of such evaluations, what this team has been able to accomplish through eight weeks of the season is impressive to say the least.
The consensus labels of little to no roster talent have proved to be overstated in hindsight, but it is not as if this team was stocked with early round draft picks or high-priced free agents.
Allen and his staff have learned from the mistakes of last season and moved to build both their offensive and defensive schemes around the skills and abilities of the players they have.
His hiring of offensive coordinator Greg Olson falls in line with that philosophy, and it has paid dividends with some extremely impressive offensive outputs despite the number of injuries sustained on the offensive line.
Of course, naming Pryor the starting quarterback heading into the regular season, and scheming the offense around his elite athletic ability throughout, has proved to make the biggest difference for the team in such a short period of time.
Now, although the offense will still struggle in spurts, the group as a whole has proved capable of scoring from anywhere on the field, and at virtually any time as well.
On defense, where Allen's impact is felt more directly in tandem with defensive coordinator Jason Tarver, the Raiders have put together a group that has kept them in games against some formidable opponents.
Most importantly so, the Raiders seem to have solved the issues they had stopping the run for so many years, currently ranking sixth in the NFL and giving up less than 90 yards per game.
Forcing opposing teams to be one-dimensional in their offensive attacks, and having so many obvious late-down passing situations as a result, has allowed the defensive staff to best utilize the blitz packages and create pressure up front.
Games like this past Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers, where the offense sputters after a fast start, are ones that Raiders teams of seasons past would not be able to hold on to and win.
This year, with a system that continues to develop under the watch of both Allen and Tarver, the Raiders defense has the ability to take over when needed, getting key stops and forcing timely turnovers
Although Allen was certainly hired for his potential as a head football coach more than anything else, it was this type of impact from a defensive standpoint that was most interesting to Raiders fans who had watched their defense struggle for seasons on end.
In fact, this type of impact was clear in his lone season as the Denver Broncos defensive coordinator, where his unit led the team to a division title and playoff appearance, all despite an incredibly poor offensive effort throughout the season.
If Allen and Tarver's defensive scheme can continue to thrive on a weekly basis, the latter part of the season should see an even more competitive Raiders team, as the offensive line should get healthy at the right time, allowing that unit to sustain balance of its own.
Schematics and playbooks aside, although it is admittedly difficult to accurately analyze by way of TV cameras, this Raiders team has a feel of one that has played and will continue to play hard for four quarters of every game.
Whether that is a product of so many young players trying to prove their ability in the NFL, some key veteran players looking to re-establish themselves on one-year contracts with the team or a combination of both, that effort reflects well on the coaching staff, and Allen in particular.
No, his first year at the helm was not great by any stretch, and some crucial mistakes were made in the process.
What's key, has been Allen's ability to learn from which, and make adjustments coming into this season, having his team look very prepared week in and week out.
So far, the Raiders have done extremely well to dispel the notions that they were certain to be among the NFL's worst teams.
Credit for which should be widespread around the organization, including both the performances of the players themselves, and the job McKenzie has done in bringing in those very players who can be seen as highly underrated in hindsight.
Of course, a significant amount of that praise should go to Allen and the coaching staff he has put together, for the job they have done so far this season, exceeding expectations of the masses.
With a somewhat favorable schedule remaining, a weak AFC wild-card race around them and the potential for the offensive line to get healthy in time for the stretch run, this Raiders team cannot yet be counted out.
Playoffs may still be a long shot, but to the vast majority of the NFL community, so were the chances of this team being competitive at all.
Whether the Raiders finish as a playoff team, around the .500 mark or even below, the job Allen has done thus far in his short time as head coach has earned him at least another season, and quite possibly much more than that.
With the Raiders set to benefit from a substantial influx in salary cap space this coming offseason, as well as having an organizational structure that places a premium on all draft selections, the team's talent level could be in for a significant increase.
Allen's ability to lead a football team has become clear over the course of this season, further cementing the idea that both he and McKenzie should remain the markers of continuity in this organization for years to come.
In short order, an already vastly underrated team will start to add talent much more freely than it has been able to in recent seasons, as the salary cap and draft situations will now allow it to do.
As with any organization in professional sports, leadership plays a pivotal role in success. What the Raiders have been able to do so far in 2013 has opened eyes across the league, and they could very well continue on that path throughout this season, and into the future.
Credit for which starts at the top, and the Raiders have found the coach to build their team with moving forward in Dennis Allen.
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