What Oakland Raiders Must Improve Most Coming out of Week 5 Bye
The Oakland Raiders have been bad this season. Real bad. There's no other way to put it. Fortunately, The Raiders are heading into their bye week, which means they have two weeks to figure out some way to turn things around.
Oakland has a lot of work and soul-searching to do during the week off. Every member of the team, both players and coaches, knows that something drastic has to be done, and it needs to be done now. But with pretty much everything going wrong through the first four weeks, the most difficult part of the bye week is going to be figuring out where to start.
There are too many issues to address, but there are certainly some that are more prominent than others. While Oakland can't resolve all of its problems between now and its Week 6 matchup at home against the San Diego Chargers, there are a handful that, if fixed, will have the most substantial impact on the team's overall performance.
Of course, the biggest issue now is figuring out who's going to run the show in Oakland. Head coach Dennis Allen was fired on Monday, and the Raiders will have to select a replacement by Tuesday. Nothing else can happen until an interim head coach is named.
Here's a breakdown of the five areas the Raiders need to address before their next game. If the team is able to make significant improvements, this is where it needs to start.
5. Passing Game Needs to Be More Efficient
Despite the 0-4 start, Derek Carr hasn't played poorly. He's just been asked to do too much.
Carr has thrown too often. This is because the running game has yet to show up and because the Raiders have played from behind the entire season.
Oakland has held the lead three times all season: 7-3 lead against the New York Jets, 3-0 against the New England Patriots and 7-0 against the Miami Dolphins. None of those leads made it beyond the second quarter. Not only are the Raiders the only team in the NFL that has yet to hold a second-half lead, they've been behind in every game by halftime.
This has put added pressure on Carr. He's had no fewer than 25 attempts in a game, and that was against Miami when he was forced out of the game early due to injury.
Playing from behind has also forced the Raiders to play against defenses that know Oakland is going to pass. While Carr has completed a decent percentage of his passes, the majority of his work has been near the line of scrimmage. The Raiders are averaging 208.5 passing yards per game, ranking them 27th in the league.
Yds Per Att.
While Carr is ranked 23rd in the league in completion percentage, he's ranked last in yards per attempt.
Carr is ranked 14th in the league in pass attempts with 133. That may not seem like too much of a workload, but it is when the quarterback is a rookie who's being asked to carry the entire offense.
The Raiders need to reduce the number of times Carr is throwing per game and focus more on increasing the impact of his attempts. This depends on the performance of the wide receivers and tight ends. Carr has the arm and the accuracy to make any throw on the field. If they can get open, he will get them the ball.
Another major factor in increasing Carr's effectiveness will be an effective running game. If Oakland can get the ground game going, it will go a long way in taking the pressure off of Carr and opening up passing lanes downfield.
4. Offense Needs to Commit to the Running Game
So far this season, the Oakland running game hasn't just been bad. It's been mostly nonexistent.
Through four games, Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew have combined for only 56 carries. Even when you consider that Jones-Drew missed Weeks 2 and 3, that's still not nearly enough attempts to establish an effective running game.
This has manifested on the field. Oakland is currently dead last in the league with an average of only 61.5 rushing yards per game, a number that's inflated by Derek Carr's surprise designed run in Week 2 that went for 41 yards. This isn't good enough under any circumstance, but it's also particularly frustrating for a team with two running backs on the roster as good as McFadden and Jones-Drew.
The running game is especially important for the Oakland offense given that the team is playing with a rookie quarterback. A solid running attack would provide the opportunity for Carr to throw less and focus on being efficient. Instead, he's received no support at all from the ground game and has been forced to try to single-handedly turn this offense into an effective unit.
That's too much responsibility for any quarterback. When that quarterback is a rookie, it's a formula for failure.
Part of the reason for the ineffective running game has been the play of the offensive line. It has been solid in pass protection, but it has left a lot to be desired in run blocking. Offensive line coach Tony Sparano has to get this unit to start opening up more running lanes.
Offensive coordinator Greg Olson is also responsible. The running game has shown no creativity, and it's been given up on too early in games. McFadden and Jones-Drew can make big plays, but they have to be put in a position to do so.
Going forward, the running backs should not only get more touches, they should be the focus of the offense. McFadden and Jones-Drew should combine for no fewer than 20-25 touches a game. The increased volume, combined with play-calling that's suited to their skills, will allow them to become the two-headed monster they were projected to be.
3. Secondary Can't Depend on Man-to-Man Coverage
If you look at league-wide stats for defense, you'll find something shocking: The Raiders are currently ranked fourth in the league against the pass, giving up only 207 yard per game.
But if you've been watching the games, you'll understand just how misleading this stat is. Oakland has played from behind all season, including two blowout losses. Teams haven't put up more yards through the air because they haven't had to. Each opponent has had the lead for most if not all of the game, and they've been able to hand the ball off for much of the game and run out the clock.
The coaches have continued to run man-to-man coverage, and the approach has failed game after game. The Raiders simply don't have the personnel for it. While it might be the preferred approach, it makes no sense to stick with a game plan that obviously isn't working.
This failure was once again on display in London as the Raiders' corners were regularly beat by the Miami Dolphins wide receivers. Struggling quarterback Ryan Tannehill looked like a Pro Bowler as he picked apart the Oakland secondary and finished the game with 278 yards passing.
The secondary has also allowed a high completion percentage in every game.
Those are impressive completion percentages from a not-so-impressive list of quarterbacks.
On occasion, man-to-man can still be used, but it can't be depended on. The Raiders have to implement zone coverage as well. Oakland has also struggled in zone, but mixing up the two will at least create some confusion for the opposing offense.
The Raiders secondary is short on talent, and every team in the NFL knows it. But creative game-planning can help cover this up to some extent. An effective pass rush will help, but the secondary needs to be able to hold its own, something it has yet to do this season.
2. Defensive Line Must Do Its Job
A defensive line has two jobs to do: stop the run and pressure the quarterback. So far this season, the Oakland defensive line has done neither.
A look at the statistics shows just how bad the group has been this season. Through the first four games, the four starters along the defensive line have accounted for only 34 tackles. During the same stretch, Charles Woodson alone has 25 tackles.
|Player||Tackles Per Week|
Oakland has been gashed on the ground to the tune of 158.3 yards per game, second-worst in the league. The linebackers and safeties have piled up tackles, and it's largely because the opposing running backs are reaching the Oakland defense's second level so frequently. At times, it's as if the defensive line isn't even there.
The group has also accounted for a single sack. Quarterbacks have regularly had plenty of time to sit back and pick their shots. The Oakland secondary has underperformed, but it certainly hasn't helped that the opposing quarterbacks have had so much time given the front four's complete inability to generate pressure.
The Raiders defense has been dominated all season, and the problems all start up front. It's hard to decide whether the line has been worse in run-stopping or pass-rushing, but it's clear that it has been the Raiders' worst individual unit.
The group has been terrible in gap responsibility, which is a question of technique. But it's also been pushed around, and that's a matter of heart and desire.
Come Week 6, the starting four should have some new faces. The first to see the bench should be Woodley, who's been a complete non-factor. Three tackles through four games, including two games with none, is more than enough reason to go with someone else. Also, given the struggles of Sims and Smith against the run, expect to see Justin Ellis and Stacy McGee on the field much more often.
The defense's fortunes are heavily dependent on the performance of the defensive line. Until this group sees improvement, the entire defense will continue to suffer.
1. WANTED: NFL Head Coach
On Monday night, FoxSports.com's Jay Glazer reported that Dennis Allen had been fired as the Raiders' head coach once he arrived from London. While some might have been surprised by the news, no one was shocked.
In 36 games as Oakland's head coach, Allen compiled a record of 8-32, including two 4-12 seasons and a 0-4 start to this year.
The Raiders haven't just failed to win a game this season—they've failed to be competitive. On both sides of the ball, the team has looked directionless and uninspired, and the responsibility for this falls on the head coach.
How much blame should actually be placed on Allen is up for debate, and the looks toward next season have already begun. The Mercury News' Tim Kawakami suggests the possibility that general manager Reggie McKenzie will follow Allen out the door at the conclusion of the season, clearing the way for the return of Jon Gruden.
But that's for next season. Right now, the reality is that Oakland has two weeks to prepare for a home game against the San Diego Chargers, and someone has to step in and lead this team. Per ESPN's Ed Werder, offensive coordinator Greg Olson, offensive line coach Tony Sparano and senior offensive assistant Al Saunders are the top candidates to replace Allen.
CSNBayArea's Fallon Smith tweeted that Sparano was not being considered for the job, but she later reported that McKenzie had backtracked and Sparano was once again a candidate to become the interim head coach.
Whomever it ends up being, the interim head coach wil have his work cut out for him. This is a team that has had all of the wind knocked out of its sails only four games into the season. He'll have two primary responsibilities: improve the play-calling and put players in positions to succeed.
The play-calling left a lot to be desired under Allen. The offense was too conservative and too predictable. It continued to be ineffective, but the approach never changed. While the offense turned into a series of three-and-outs and punts, there were no adjustments during halftimes or between games.
Despite Allen's defensive background, the defense was too passive. Opposing offenses racked up points and yards, but the defense just sat back and watched. Where were the blitzes? The creative looks to confuse the quarterback? If Allen had these plays, he never used them.
The interim head coach will need to tailor the game plan to the talent on the team. This isn't a playoff team, but it's far better that what it has shown. A major factor in the team's struggles has been players not being put in a position to exploit their abilities.
This is true on offense and defense. Players like McFadden, Jones-Drew, Sio Moore and Khalil Mack can do more than what they have so so far, but they haven't had the opportunities. This needs to change under new leadership.
Unless otherwise noted, stats provided by from ESPN.com.
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