The Oakland Raiders have finished the 2010 preseason schedule with a 3-1 record and are now looking to prove they can play just as well, if not better, during the regular season. The Raiders have been trying to rebuild ever since losing to the Tampa Bay Buccaneer's in the Gruden Bowl. Now, as the regular season is about to kick off, the Raiders will once again attempt to put those years behind them and return to their rightful place atop the NFL.
The Raiders had a very busy offseason as they completely overhauled the defensive front seven, hired new coaches, and found a new starter for the most important position in football. However, despite these changes, many are still not sold on the new look Raiders. While it would be easy to attribute this to the culture of Raider hating that has permeated certain sports channels in recent years, there are some legitimate questions about this team.
The answers to these questions will be the key to determining whether or not the Raiders can finally move into the upper echelons of the National Football League.
Can the Offensive Line Step Up?
Without a doubt, the biggest question on the Raiders team is on the offensive line. A solid offensive line is the key to moving the football. No matter who you have behind center, if your line cannot block, your team cannot win. The Raiders did not do a lot this offseason in terms of upgrading their offensive line.
The only additions the Raiders made were to bring back former Raider Langston Walker and draft two tackles that even by their own assessment are not ready to start in the NFL yet, which means that the offensive line will simply have to play better.
The key to the Raiders offensive line having a successful year rests in two positions that have been incredibly weak over the past seven years, left tackle and center.
It looked like the Raiders might have found a solution to the left tackle position in their 2007 third round draft pick, Mario Henderson. However, despite having some impressive showings against some of the games best pass rushers, Henderson has struggled to be consistent and has looked flat out bad at times. The Raiders do not have anyone to push him for his starting spot which means that if the Raiders are going to be successful this year, Henderson will need to start playing much better.
The Raiders tried to address the center position last season by trading for Samson Satele. However, a year later, most Raider fans have realized why Bill Parcells was so eager to get rid of him as Satele has turned into the biggest liability on the offensive line. Last year, Cable attempted to write this off as Satele struggling to learn the new system, but after a full season, it is clear that this is no longer the problem.
The problem is that Satele simply cannot handle bigger defensive tackles with his smaller build. Unlike Henderson, Satele has some serious competition for his starting job in rookie tackle Jared Veldheer. It appears as though Satele has reached his potential, so the only hope for this position is for Jared Veldheer to take over and outshine Satele.
If these two positions are able to find more stability, look for the Raiders run game and pass game to improve drastically.
Is Jason Campbell a Game Manager or a Game Winner?
One of the reasons that many pundits have been less than enthusiastic with the new look Raiders is the constant labeling of Jason Campbell as nothing more than a game manager. While this is clearly an upgrade from the game destroyer that the Raiders released this offseason, a game managing QB is not the type of quarterback that leads a team to a division, conference or Super Bowl win.
In my opinion, the label as a game manager is unfair. Jason Campbell has had a new offensive coordinator every season he has been in the NFL and was on a team constantly looking to replace him in the Washington Redskins. However, despite all of this, Campbell has improved statistically every season he has been in the NFL.
Now, Campbell is on a team where he is the unquestioned starter and even seen as a savior for the franchise by some. If the Raiders want to make a run at the playoffs this season, Campbell will have to prove to the NFL that he is more than just a game manager and that he can take the game by the horns when necessary.
Can the Raiders Defense Stop the Big Play?
One of the biggest issues facing the Oakland Raiders defense is their tendency to give up huge chunks of yards on single plays. While the Raiders have drastically improved their defensive front seven this offseason, they still gave up huge gainers to Matt Forte and Frank Gore. These types of plays are back breakers and can drastically change a game. If this team is going to be successful, the defense will need to take pressure off of the offense by keeping games close.
There are two keys to stop a big run play. The first is found in the defensive front seven. On every big running play, there was a player in the front seven who missed a gap assignment. The Raiders have addressed the holes in their front seven with offseason acquisitions of Lamarr Huston, Rolando McClain, and John Henderson.
Add these three to up and coming youngsters Trevor Scott and Matt Shaughnessy as well as veterans like Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly and suddenly the Raiders look formidable on the front seven.
However, despite a good front seven, a good offensive line will create holes for a running back at times. When this occurs, it is on the defensive secondary to ensure that a five to ten yard gain does not turn into a 50+ yard gain. This is where the Raiders continue to look miserable.
While the strong safety position is solid with starter Tyvon Branch and back up Mike Mitchell, the free safety position is a clear weakness. One could easily put together a lowlight reel of plays where Michael Huff and Hiram Eugene getting their ankles broken in the open field by running backs. In order to stop the big running play, these two will need to start to step up. If they do not, look for one of the young defensive backs taken in this year's draft to start challenging for playing time at the free safety position.
As I see it, these are the three biggest questions regarding the Oakland Raiders and will be the keys to determining whether or not the Raiders will finally challenge the San Diego Chargers for the top spot in the AFC West. Similarly, if these three questions result in the wrong answers, it could be another disappointing season for Raiders fans.
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