Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press
A lot is riding on Matt Schaub's arm in Oakland.
Definition of Improvement:
The Raiders need to have more than four wins or to be more competitive in 2014 to improve over their 2013 season. Unlike their division rivals, the standard is much lower because they haven’t had any recent success.
Oakland needs to improve on defense against the pass and needs to improve passing the ball on offense. It’s a passing league, and the Raiders weren’t up to standard last season.
The Raiders also desperately need to improve on special teams. The team’s lack of depth in recent years has taken its toll on the special teams units.
It’s not hard to make a case that no team did more to improve during the 2014 offseason than the Raiders. General manager Reggie McKenzie had a huge amount of salary-cap space to work with and put it to good use.
The Raiders re-signed defensive tackle Pat Sims and free safety Charles Woodson and signed five other veterans to help the defense. McKenzie signed defensive ends Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley as well as defensive tackle Antonio Smith to solidify the defensive line.
Cornerbacks Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers came over from across the bay to solidify a secondary that has been in flux for the last two seasons. In addition to strong safety Tyvon Branch getting healthy, the Raiders should have a much-improved secondary.
On offense, the Raiders revamped their offensive line by signing the position-flexible Austin Howard, left tackle Donald Penn and interior player Kevin Boothe. The offensive line was a big problem for the Raiders last season but is now one of the deepest positions on the team.
A good offensive line is good news for the running backs. Maurice Jones-Drew was signed to compete with Darren McFadden, who re-signed for one year, and youngster Latavius Murray. The three players should share carries in 2014. Fullback Marcel Reece will also be heavily involved.
The biggest move of the offseason was trading for quarterback Matt Schaub. It was a low-risk, medium-reward move for a team lacking options at the most important position on the field. It remains to be seen if Schaub can hold onto the job.
The Raiders made several splashes in the draft, first landing linebacker Khalil Mack in the first round and then quarterback Derek Carr in the second. McKenzie also added guard Gabe Jackson in the third, who should eventually earn the starting job at left guard. Fourth-round pick Justin “Jelly” Ellis should earn time in the rotation at defensive tackle.
The Raiders will play host to the Miami Dolphins in London in Week 4 after playing the Patriots on the East Coast in Week 3. It’s a tough travel schedule, but it’s actually ideal because it’s a shorter flight to London from the East Coast.
In the first four weeks, the Raiders get their trips to the Eastern Time zone and beyond out of the way. It’s a tough start, but you would rather face that part of the schedule early in the season while the team is still relatively healthy.
Consecutive games against the Seahawks and Broncos starting in Week 9 will be tough, but at least the Raiders won’t have to leave the West Coast. In fact, in the seven weeks following their trip to London, they have a bye week, five games on the West Coast and one trip to Cleveland.
Cold weather could come into play for the Raiders for the first time in the last few years because they will play on the road in Kansas City and Denver in December. At least the Raiders won’t miss home, though, as they alternate home and road games from Week 9 onward.