Where Exactly Did It Go Wrong for the Oakland Raiders?

Dan WilkinsCorrespondent IIDecember 31, 2013

Dec 29, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders head coach Dennis Allen on the sideline against the Denver Broncos during the fourth quarter at O.co Coliseum. The Denver Broncos defeated the Oakland Raiders 34-14. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The 2013 season was yet another year of disappointment for the Oakland Raiders' franchise, marking the 11th straight season in which they failed to finish with a record above the .500 mark.

In a year in which the team had more dead money against the salary cap than any other in league history, little was expected by way of wins or even competitiveness heading in. Even so, the Raiders showed some promise early on, turning out to be one of the NFL's surprise teams in the first half of the season.

Despite the lack of expectations, the ensuing drop off in play during the second half of the season seemed that much more disappointing for the organization and fans alike.

As a result, questions surrounding the fit of both the coaching staff and even management for this team have begun to circulate of late.

The biggest question that needs to be answered, especially if this team is to help itself moving forward, is: Where did it all go wrong in 2013?

A realistic analysis suggests that the Raiders did not have the necessary tools to get the job done this season, and they finished right around where most league experts expected them to.

Unfortunately, the impressive start to the season will have many thinking that the Raiders could have been a playoff team only to fall apart down the stretch due to poor coaching, when that is simply just not the case.

Yes, the team regressed as the season carried on, and that does reflects poorly on the coaching staff on the surface, but in the NFL, someone always shoulders the blame for a lost season. A deeper look may suggest that the early success was a result of the high-level coaching by that of Dennis Allen and his staff, while the regression to follow can be attributed to the team's talent and depth limitations catching up to them.

Dec 22, 2013; San Diego, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders defensive tackles Pat Sims (90) and Vance Walker (98) tackle San Diego Chargers running back Ryan Matthews  at Qualcomm Stadium. The Chargers won 26-13. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Consider the Raiders' run defense as the primary example. On paper, improvements were made to the roster's starting lineup to address this area, and we saw as much throughout the first weeks of the season.

Free-agent acquisitions Vance Walker and Pat Sims were upgrades against the run inside, but both had never assumed the responsibilities they were going to take on with the Raiders. With little depth behind them, Walker and Sims continued to see as many snaps as possible throughout the season.

Eventually, the Raiders' dominance against the run subsided, and opposing teams seemed to run against them at will. As the yards continued to pile up, the defense had the look of one that was significantly worn down.

Also on the defensive front, is the interesting case of arguably the Raiders' best defensive player, Lamarr Houston, who, like much of the team, seemed to struggle in games later on in the season after a productive start.

While we on the outside can't say for sure why a player's productivity may fluctuates over the course of a season, we still could argue that fatigue plays a major role in such inconsistency.

Although Houston has held a starting role for several years now, he saw an incredibly high number of snaps this past season compared to that of 2012. Throughout all of the 2012 campaign, Houston was on the field for 856 defensive snaps, which was just 83 percent of the defense's total plays.

Through Week 16 in 2013, not counting the Raiders' season finale against the Broncos, Houston had already seen a total of 947 defensive snaps—a staggering 95 percent of the defense's total plays. For some perspective, there are just five defensive linemen in the entire NFL who have seen more snaps this season, and just one with a higher snap percentage.

Again, Houston is and will continue to be one of the Raiders' best defensive players, and they undoubtedly need him on the field as much as possible. However, defensive line personnel, no matter the team, is at its best when it can be rotated on a consistent basis.

Consider the 2012 Cincinnati Bengals as an example: No one player on the defensive line surpassed 80 percent of the unit's total snaps. Of course, the Bengals fielding a supremely talented group allows for this fluid rotation, but that is the goal of any defense up front.

Simply put, the Raiders do not yet have the talent where they can comfortably rotate personnel packages. As a result, we saw the team slowly wear down over the course of a long season, so much so that it seemed like they had regressed significantly by year's end.

Now, the depth issue on the defensive line is not the sole reason the Raiders in the second half of 2013 failed to equal their first-half success. Rather, it's indicative of a coaching staff that maximized what they could early on but eventually ran out of resources.

The same deficiencies with talent and depth plagued other areas of the roster, too. While the secondary made a significant improvement this season over last, the lack of depth in the defensive backfield turned out to be disastrous in the face of critical injuries.

Losing Tyvon Branch for the season in Week 2 left the Raiders without their best defensive back in run support and many tackling issues in the secondary would follow.

While many Oakland fans view D.J. Hayden's rookie season as a disappointment—especially for a first-round selection—it became clear when he was sidelined just how thin the Raiders' cornerback position was.

December 29, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor (2) passes the football against the Denver Broncos during the first quarter at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

On the offensive side of the ball, the Raiders ran into trouble when opposing defenses began to adjust to Oakland's game-planning.

This was particularly so with the quarterbacks.

Starting the season, Terrelle Pryor at times looked like he could be the quarterback of the future, making plays with both his arm and legs seemingly whenever the offense needed it.

However, opposing defenses adjusted by taking away both the read-option and Pryor's escape routes from the pocket. At that point, the Raiders were forced into a type of game plan that Pryor wasnot yet suited to execute, and a change needed to be made.

In stepped undrafted rookie quarterback Matt McGloin, who had some success early, displaying a willingness to hang in the pocket and let the passing game develop downfield. Here, the ability of the Raiders' receivers to get open was really showcased.

However, as teams had done earlier with Pryor, they adjusted to McGloin as well. Pressuring the pocket up the middle exploited a tendency of McGloin to throw off his back foot, especially on passes across the middle, which all too often resulted in interceptions.

Again, as was the case with other positional groups on the Raiders roster, the coaching staff got what they could out of the quarterback position for as long as it could, but the talent limitations caught up with team eventually.

The success we saw early in the season can be seen as the Raiders coaching staff and players maximized what they had at their disposal at the time. The downward trend that followed was more of a harsh reality and result of opposing teams catching up with the way the Raiders were scheming for the talent they did have.

In the NFL, where wins are everything, a losing season more often than not raises questions around the coaching staff, upper management and even the players. Especially when it's a team's 11th non-winning season in a row, and the fanbase is as hungry as any other for a winner.

However, as has been the case all along since the Raiders' new regime took over, patience is still necessary.

No, the Raiders did not have a good year this year, but nor were they expected to. What Reggie McKenzie and Dennis Allen have dug their way out of from a salary cap and draft pick perspective is the NFL definition of being handcuffed.

As much as everyone would love to see this team win right away, it wasn't going to happen. At the same time, that does not mean they still aren't headed in the right direction.

The competitive team that we saw throughout the first 7-8 weeks of the season can be considered the foundation for a rebuild that was needed in the worst way possible. The fact that such a level of play wasn't sustainable does not reflect poorly on the coaching staff, nor does it on many of the core players.

Now, the Raiders have an opportunity to spend upwards of $60 million in free agency and address many of the holes they have on their roster. Nearly half of each team's allotted salary cap space, that $60 million is more than enough money to use free agency to pursue a veteran quarterback, sign a wide receiver and add talent on the defensive line, secondary and throughout the entire roster.

That salary cap relief—something that has long been foreign to the Raiders organization—is what gets the attention, but the fact that the team is now set up to have a full slate of draft selections for the foreseeable future will be just as important.

Should the Raiders make a change at head coach or in the front office? Absolutely not. In fact, doing so could very well be the biggest mistake they could make at this point.

And that is not an exaggeration.

Aug 23, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie before the game against the Chicago Bears at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Both Reggie McKenzie and Dennis Allen have become the faces of this franchise throughout the tear-down process, and while nobody can say for certain whether they will be the ones to build it back up in the best way possible, they certainly deserve that opportunity.

In a franchise that has become known for hiring and firing coaches year after year, some continuity through all levels of the team would be a welcomed concept.

Where did the 2013 season go wrong for the Raiders? Realistically, it can be pinned on a combination of factors throughout the last five years, perhaps back even further.

While very few in the Raider Nation will want to hear it, the downward trend in the second half of the season was an inevitable outcome. With the 2013 season and most of the tearing down part of rebuilding process out of the way, the Raiders now can finally commence with laying the foundation for a new future. Fortunately, for them, the healthy amount of resources at their disposal could make for a relatively quick turnaround if done right.

The NFL is a better league when the Raiders are a good team, and while this season seems like it was nothing different from the last ten, Oakland is now in a much better position to get to that back a level of NFL prominence.


All snap count statistics courtesy of Football Outsiders.