Oakland Raiders: 5 Keys To Winning the AFC West
The much improved Oakland Raiders were served a helping of bad luck over the past 10 days, but there is no time to cry about it.
They should be thankful the bye fell this week, as it should allow Carson Palmer to learn enough of the playbook to be successful.
It should also give the long list of injured players time to get healthy for the looming divisional battles.
Even if everyone comes back healthy, the Raiders must do five things in the second half of the season if they are going to become AFC West champions in 2011.
Put the Best Recievers on the Field More Often
The Raiders are blessed with a diverse and talented bunch of receivers. That doesn't mean they all deserve equal playing time, though.
Denarius Moore and the much improved Darrius Heyward-Bey appear to be the best this year and should be in the game as often as possible. Or at least on the most critical plays.
Jacoby Ford is lethal in the kicking game and is best in the offense when he is in the slot, like Wes Welker. Chaz Schilens should be deadly in the red zone with his height, and Derek Hagan is a valuable possession receiver.
Louis Murphy was impressive last year, but since returning from injury this year he is tentative and behind the rest of the team at this point.
Obviously, coach Jackson wants to keep guys fresh, but Carson Palmer would prefer to have some consistency so he can learn the intricacies of his best receiver's moves.
Especially on third down plays.
That's not going to happen if six guys are rotating in constantly. For Palmer's sake, the best receivers should play the most.
Get Taiwan Jones the Ball
Michael Bush is not shifty or fast. He is a nice complement to Darren McFadden, especially when the Raiders have already worn down the other team's defensive line and they want to salt a game away.
But he is not going to scare defenses.
Taiwan Jones is a lot more McFadden than Bush and can break one at any time as a back or receiver.
More importantly, he needs to be ready to go if, and when, McFadden gets hurt again so the Raiders do not become too reliant on one man.
Oakland can turn this crisis into an opportunity by getting this kid comfortable as a lead back during the bye week. They should prepare him to share carries with Bush against Denver, because McFadden's foot may not be fully healed by then.
Why risk a prolonged, nagging injury to your stud when you can let him heal during the stretch run by using a talented, young kid with energy to spare?
When McFadden does come back, the Raiders should still give Jones one series per game to keep the learning curve going up. That way, McFadden will also stay strong for the playoff push.
Al Davis's draft is looking better and better and the Raiders should utilize all of it, beginning with Jones.
Get Marcel Reece Back
There isn't much coach Jackson can do about this one, but boy do the Raiders miss Marcel Reece.
He is extremely talented and was a key part of Jackon's game plan each week. He is a match up nightmare for linebackers who are used to fullbacks being slower and less athletic.
He may not be as good a blocker as Manase Tonga, but he has improved steadily and his potency as a receiver is well worth the trade-off.
The difference was apparent two weeks ago when Jackson tried to run a couple of Reece's plays for Tonga.
They amounted to no gain. Jackson has avoided fullback plays since, which has only hampered the offense.
With Palmer under center, the deep ball is going to be more of a factor, which will mean even more underneath catches for Reece to do some damage.
The Raiders need him back so coach Jackson can have all his toys for the second half of the season.
Hue Jackson Must Improve His Play-Calling
Raider Nation has to love the gun-slinging mentality of their new coach. Hue Jackson's risks have mostly paid off for Oakland this year, but there are times when he does get too cute for his own good.
It sometimes happens with offensive coordinators who become head coaches, and Jackson is no exception.
Against Cleveland, they had a chance to kick a field goal and put the game out of reach, but he decided to go for a 4th-and-1 inside the 5-yard line.
The Raiders almost blew that game as a result.
Sunday, Kyle Boller threw a terrible INT in the first quarter against Kansas City, but Jackson didn't help him on the previous play. He brought in a rookie to run a trick play when all the Raiders needed was a half yard to get a first down in Chiefs territory.
Couldn't Boller have gotten a half yard?
Faced with a similar distance on 4th-and-goal and a chance to cut the lead to 14-7, Jackson decided to put Michael Bush in Darren McFadden’s shoes for a Wildcat play, rather than smash it in.
Bush was so excited, he didn't wait for his pulling lineman to get to the hole and instead met the linebacker instead.
If he wants to build a bully, the coach needs to let his team fight for those tough yards rather than try to outsmart the other team.
Stop the Foolish Penalties
Seriously, don’t the Raiders know they can’t win a Super Bowl by leading the league in penalties?
It’s tough to build a bully who plays nice, but that’s what Hue Jackson must do if they are going to realize his vision for this franchise. The team is young and respects their coach, so now is the time to create the culture he wants.
Somehow, he has to get them to realize that winning the war is more important than winning the battles.
Other teams know that all they have to do is push a Raider a second after the whistle and they can draw a retaliation flag.
Coach Jackson may need to start fining players or bench guys that just don’t get it to hammer the point home. If he does not do it now, and allows it to continue, Raiders fans will feel that punch in the gut late in the fourth quarter of tight games.
Just as they already have for years.
It has to stop now, and the bye week is a great time to start hammering.
The AFC West Is Up for Grabs and the Raiders Have the Talent To Take It
The AFC West is definitely up for grabs, and the Raiders clearly have the talent to take it.
It is going to take discipline on behalf of players and coaches alike to win the tough games down the stretch. Leaders on both sides of the ball are in place, as is the young speed and talent that Al Davis always wanted.
Coach Jackson has to keep his players' eyes on the prize, and it is theirs for the taking.