Darren McFadden has turned into a legitimate MVP candidate. He leads the league in rushing after carving up the New York Jets for 171 yards on the ground.
What a difference a week makes.
The Raiders were triumphant this week, however, defeating the Jets 34-24 and improving their record to 2-1. Fueled by Darren McFadden's career game, Oakland was able to effectively move the chains on one of the league's better defenses. Jason Campbell was mistake-free and the Raiders defense, which allowed Buffalo to move the ball at will in the second half of last week's game, put the clamps on when they needed to make a stop.
Regardless of the outcome in next week's matchup against the New England Patriots, the Raiders need to be considered as a legitimate playoff contender in the AFC.
When I think about the reasons why the Oakland Raiders are above .500, there are five things that stand out. Granted, there are many factors that contribute to a team's record, but I cannot help but shake these particular five from my mind.
Without any further ado, here are five big reasons the Oakland Raiders are 2-1.
Jared Veldheer was picked in the third round of the 2010 NFL Draft. He was initially inserted as the starting center before the season began, but was moved to left tackle after only one game. By midseason, he was a permanent fixture at left tackle.
Veldheer had a solid rookie season, yet his main criticism was how he handled speed rushers. Players like Dwight Freeney and James Harrison gave Veldheer fits, but overall he had been the best the Raiders had seen at that position in a long time.
There were many reports in the offseason that Veldheer had been working hard on adding bulk and improving his technique.
Thus far, it has been so far, so good.
Veldheer has been a stalwart on the edge so far, integral in both the running and passing games. One of McFadden's favorite places to run has been outside the left tackle, as evidenced by his 70-yard touchdown run against the Jets.
In addition, his protection of Campbell's blindside has been phenomenal while pitted against edge rushers like Von Miller, Shawne Merriman and Calvin Pace. Each and every time, Veldheer has gotten the better of his counterparts. In three games, Campbell has had consistent protection and has been able to set up in the pocket. Opponents have only recorded two sacks against the Raiders.
Veldheer has not been a superstar on the left side. Rather, he has been an anchor at the left tackle position with his solid play, which is precisely what the Raiders offensive line has needed ever since Barry Sims was abused in the Super Bowl against the Buccaneers.
Oakland fans knew deep down what the team's first selection in the 2011 NFL Draft was going to be before it was made. In the second round, the Raiders chose Penn State center Stefen Wisniewski, nephew of the former Raiders great guard, Steve Wisniewski.
Wisniewski was originally slated to be the team's starting center, but was then moved to left guard, the same position his uncle had played a couple of decades prior. That spot was occupied in the lineup last year by Robert Gallery, who had departed for Seattle via free agency during the offseason.
Thus far, coaches and fans alike should be content with Gallery's replacement.
Wisniewski has showed the toughness required in the Raiders power blocking scheme. He has been most impressive in the running game. As I mentioned before, McFadden enjoys running outside of Veldheer, but he has shown the same affinity for running immediately inside of him in the holes opened up by Wisniewski. He has also been particularly adept at pulling and being able to get to the second level and occupy linebackers.
It is not a stretch to say that with the way he is playing and the potential he is showing, a Pro Bowl is likely in his future. Considering Gallery is currently missing time because of an injury, one of his biggest drawbacks, it looks as if drafting Wisniewski in his place was the right call.
All you need to do is take a look at the replay of Denarius Moore's touchdown run against the Jets—Samson Satele delivers a crushing block as Moore breaks upfield. Talk about building a bully.
Satele was the player last year who benefited the most from the shift from a zone blocking scheme to a power blocking one. He sometimes was engulfed by larger nose tackles, but so far this season he has performed admirably.
Satele's job was supposed to go to Wisniewski when he was drafted in the second round, but when he was re-signed, his play at the center position forced Wisniewski to left guard. Once again, a decision the Raiders should not be second-guessing.
As the signal caller of the offensive line, Satele is in charge of doling out assignments for his other linemen. Communication has been perfect on the line and there have been no missed assignments. A lot of credit can be given to Satele's veteran presence in the middle.
Cooper Carlisle was supposed to be released by the team in the offseason. His cap number was high, and he appeared to be expendable with the shift in blocking philosophy. He had been primarily a zone blocker, dating back to his days with the Denver Broncos.
Carlisle used that as motivation to work even harder and give the Raiders a reason to keep him around. Carlisle has responded with solid but unspectacular play, yet has improved as the weeks have went on and his comfort level with the power blocking scheme has grown.
Carlisle has been a starter at right guard for the Raiders since 2007, so he has experienced many changes on the team but has weathered them all. He is the longest tenured member of the Raiders offensive line and his consistent play is certainly welcome.
Early in the preseason, Khalif Barnes was exhibiting the same tendencies he had been known for. He was getting beat far too often in pass protection and was prone to too many penalties, especially inexcusable pre-snap fouls.
Barnes, however, has cut down significantly on the mental errors. While he and Carlisle, who comprise the right side of the Raiders line, do not match the left side as far as quality of play goes, they have been very capable in their own right.
While Veldheer has held down the fort on Campbell's blindside, Barnes has done a great job on the other side. Whereas last year many defensive ends gave Barnes fits to the point where he lost his starting job, this year he has improved drastically as far as pass protection goes. A former left tackle with the Jacksonville Jaguars, perhaps he just needed some time to get used to the right side.
His run blocking skills have never been questioned, and he has continued doing a nice job in that facet of the game. Of course, it should be noted that he can also be utilized as a pass catcher, as he was in last year's contest against the Kansas City Chiefs.
See what I did there? Of course there are other, probably better reasons of why the Raiders are 2-1 right now, yet the improvement on the offensive line is definitely a big one. Each player should be recognized individually for the job they have done thus far. Jason Campbell thrives when he has time to scan downfield and make the right decision, and the offensive line has allowed him to do just that. Having only two sacks recorded against them three games into the season is phenomenal.
It should also come as no surprise that the Raiders are the number one rushing offense in the league. A lot of that can be attributed to McFadden, but it is these five players that are opening the holes for him. Add to that Stephon Heyer and Joseph Barksdale, who the team have used as extra blockers in a variety of packages, and tight ends Kevin Boss and Brandon Myers and the team has established its identity as a power running team.
It is said the the success or failure of an offensive line is indicative of whether or not a team can be considered a contender. With the way this unit has performed thus far, you can expect the Raiders to be in the playoff conversation come December.