The Oakland Raiders are notorious for their predilection to go against the NFL grain. Where the league norm is to move left, the Raiders will move right. If everyone else goes forward, the Raiders shift into reverse. While others draft for football ability, the Raiders draft for speed.
On Sunday, Oakland again showed that they like being the NFL’s rebels, doing things the hard way by swimming up stream versus the Minnesota Vikings. Instead of heeding and adhering to the old maxim, “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” the Raiders served up another version of the exact opposite: They scored 24 first-half points but managed only one field goal in the second half. In the process, Oakland has continued an ugly trend of limping to the finish line.
Over the past five games, the Raiders have scored zero fourth-quarter points. None.
Mathematically, that’s an average of nada points. Less scary is their 27 total third-quarter points in that same time frame. For the season—10 games—the Raiders have scored only 87 second-half points, ranked 24th in the league. That, disappointingly, is not a trend that aspiring playoff teams want to carry with them.
An obvious reason for this lack of a finishing touch is the team’s health. Unfortunately, Oakland has had to trudge through the many injuries to key offensive weapons, not the least hurtful of which is the loss of Opening Day starting quarterback Jason Campbell.
Additionally, running backs Darren McFadden and Marcel Reece, wideout and return god Jacoby Ford and tight end Kevin Boss have missed portions of the season with ailments. Not to mention the recent loss of receiver Darius Heyward-Bey due to a neck injury sustained in Sunday’s win over the Vikings.
Needless to say, it’s not surprising that the Raiders’ offense hasn’t been able to click on all cylinders for a full four quarters.
Nevertheless, injuries are a normal part of the NFL. That’s just the plain and simple truth. What separates the elite teams from the above-average teams is the ability to overcome the maladies and still end up on top. That’s where deep rosters, scouting reports and play-calling come into play.
If the Raiders want to further secure their stranglehold on the AFC West, they need to find a way to put pressure on opponents by putting up points in each quarter. Their predilection for last-gasp, heart-racing wins that come down to stopping the opponents’ final drive as time expires is only good enough against the Clevelands and Minnesotas of the league.
But against the stalwart defenses of Baltimore or Pittsburgh or the high-octane offense of New England, the Raiders’ fingers-crossed style of winning won’t cut it. Oakland has to keep scoring. And it starts with Carson Palmer’s performance and ends with coach Hue Jackson’s play-calling.
Palmer is a huge reason that the Raiders have unclicked on offense, particularly in second halves. Since Palmer’s insertion into the lineup after halftime of the Kansas City game, the Raiders haven’t been able to close out games they way a winning team should.
In Palmer’s three and-a-half-games as quarterback, the Raiders have had 28 second-half drives. They have had nine three-and-outs. They’ve punted 14 times. Eight times they’ve turned the ball over.
By comparison, in the previous six games, with Campbell under center, the Raiders had eight three-and-outs, 14 punts and only three turnovers. It really shows how much of a game manager Campbell was as quarterback, and that his ability to move the football was such an asset on offense. For some reason, with Palmer, the Raiders are still trying to decipher a way to jell offensively. But it’s not working.
Can the Raiders win the AFC West?
He has acclimated himself with the offense and the system to feel comfortable running the show for a full 60 minutes. So Jackson needs to let him loose in the second half, especially when the Raiders have a lead—instead of playing conservative, obvious keep-away.
The Raiders currently rank 24th in fourth-quarter time of possession. They have to stop playing so predictably when protecting leads, securing the ball for longer sustained drives and even tacking on field goals in the very least. Scoring the ball puts pressure on the opposing offenses to score touchdowns consistently when the Raiders are ahead.
But so far, Oakland hasn’t shown they can score regularly. That’s why they are the only team in the NFL that has both a winning record and a negative point-differential (-19). If they continue this tendency, they won’t get to far in the playoffs.
The Raiders certainly are starting games fast, jumping out to several double-digit first-half leads. But they'll have to learn to finish them off. With Oakland Athletics Andrew Bailey apparently on the trading block, maybe the Raiders can have him come in and close games.