Grading Oakland Raiders' Positional Units at the 1st Quarter

Michael Wagaman@@mwagamanContributor IOctober 4, 2013

Grading Oakland Raiders' Positional Units at the 1st Quarter

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    Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

    The Oakland Raiders reached the quarter-pole mark of the season with a 1-3 record and are facing more questions than they did when the season began.

    Although quarterback Terrelle Pryor has provided a spark to the offense, there are still concerns about his ability to get the ball deep to his receivers.

    Running back Darren McFadden has also been slow out of the gate, and although he has a sore hamstring, the injury has had little to do with the lack of success from Oakland’s offensive line.

    Defensively, the team’s lack of a pass rush from the defensive line has been the biggest problem so far. Defensive coordinator Jason Tarver has compensated for that by dialing up blitzes from just about every other player on the defense.

    Whether Oakland can shake off its slow start remains to be seen. In the meantime, here are the positional grades for the Raiders through four games.

Quarterback

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    Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

    Terrelle Pryor’s unexpected rise to the starter’s job has been one of the few bright spots the offense has had this season. Primarily, it’s been his running that has provided the biggest lift, especially with Oakland’s banged-up offensive line.

    Pryor will be the first to admit his passing has a lot to be desired, but he’s head and shoulders above the player he was a year ago. He’s also clearly established himself as the leader of the offense.

    The biggest challenge moving forward is for Pryor to continue his development. Matt Flynn lost the starter’s job in training camp, was abysmal in his lone start and has been dropped to third string on the depth chart behind undrafted Matt McGloin.

    Grade: C+

Running Back

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    For a group that was supposed to be the driving force of the offense, it’s been a rough four weeks. Outside of a handful of runs against lowly Jacksonville, Darren McFadden has had a minimal impact on the offense.

    More than half of his total yardage came on four carries against the Jaguars. His other 49 carries this season have netted just 107 yards, a stunning 2.18 per-carry average. He also missed more than half the game against Washington last week with a hamstring injury that may also sideline him for Week 5.

    Rashad Jennings has been a better receiver than runner, though he adds a sense of toughness to the backfield that is missing when McFadden is in there. Offensive coordinator Greg Olson still hasn’t found a way to properly use fullback Marcel Reece, and it shows.

    Grade: D+

Wide Receivers

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    Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

    It hasn’t been the best of starts for the receiving corps, but it hasn’t been entirely their fault. Pryor is still trying to get comfortable with his timing, and that’s caused a few issues downfield. The injuries to the offensive line haven’t helped either.

    Still, Oakland needs more out of its receivers. Rod Streater got off to a fast start but has since cooled off. Denarius Moore is coming off a pair of good games against Denver and Washington but still hasn’t been the dominant playmaker the Raiders need him to be.

    Jacoby Ford was supposed to be the burner down the field, but Oakland’s inability to get the ball deep has rendered him mostly ineffective. On the plus side, rookie Brice Butler has shown some promise and is getting more playing time each week.

    Grade: C

Tight End

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    David Ausberry was projected to be the starter back in training camp, but he never took a snap in the regular season and was placed on injured reserve in late September.

    That opened up the door for rookie Mychal Rivera, who has made steady progress since the season began and is second on the team with a 13.7 per-catch average. Rivera is good at getting downfield and finding creases in the coverage, giving quarterback Terrelle Pryor another much-needed threat the stretch the field.

    Jeron Mastrud remains the starter, primarily based on his blocking. Nick Kasa, the other tight end Oakland drafted, has been relegated to special-teams duty.

    Grade: C

Offensive Line

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The Raiders have literally been in scramble mode since early in training camp when left tackle Jared Veldheer went down with a triceps injury. The shuffling hasn’t stopped and neither have the injuries.

    Somehow the line has held up well, at least in pass protection. It allowed only seven sacks through the first three games before Matt Flynn’s lone start doubled that total.

    The biggest concern has been in the running game. Even though Oakland is fifth in the NFL in rushing, the stats are bloated by quarterback Terrelle Pryor’s scrambling. Pryor has 198 yards, while the running backs and fullbacks have accounted for 313.

    Grade: C

Defensive Line

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    Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

    Oakland spent a majority of its offseason trying to upgrade the defensive line, yet the return so far has been minimal. Through four games the Raiders ranked 10th against both the run and pass.

    There’s actually been an improvement in the run defense, save for the Week 4 game against Washington when the front four were consistently beaten.

    The pass rush from the defensive line has been adequate at times, but there still hasn’t been a solid enough push in the pocket. Of the team’s 11 sacks, only five came from defensive linemen and four were from defensive ends Lamarr Houston and Jason Hunter who had two apiece.

    Grade: C

Linebackers

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    Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

    Overall, this is a much better unit than the one that was on the field for the 2012 finale. Yet despite the upgrade, the linebackers have not made a dramatic impact.

    Middle linebacker Nick Roach has been solid but unspectacular. Rookie outside linebacker Sio Moore has at times flashed stellar potential, while at other times, he tends to fade into obscurity.

    Kevin Burnett, the other outside linebacker, has played well through the first four games but has also had problems when dropping back into coverage. A lack of turnovers from the defense has also hurt the overall product.

    Grade: C

Safeties

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    Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

    Losing Tyvon Branch to an ankle injury was a big blow to the secondary and thrust unheralded Brandian Ross into the spotlight. Ross has played fairly well for the most part and seems to get more comfortable with each passing week.

    That’s key because Branch may not play again this season. Charles Woodson has been solid from game to game and might have come up with the season’s most defining moment when he dove over an offensive lineman to bring down Maurice Jones-Drew short of the end zone. A lack of turnovers by the defense is also a reflection on the safeties.

    Grade: C+

Cornerbacks

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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Mike Jenkins and Tracy Porter didn’t get much of a chance to ease into defense because Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck and Denver’s Peyton Manning were like sharks to blood when Oakland’s pass defense broke down.

    Jenkins has been the most glaring issue, as receivers have had little problem getting open against him. First-round draft pick D.J. Hayden, the team’s nickelback, seems to improve every week but has been a favorite target of opposing quarterbacks. A more physical approach toward receivers in the five-yard bump zone would help Hayden dramatically.

    Grade: C

Special Teams

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    Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

    Sebastian Janikowski was one of the league’s top kickers in 2012 but has gotten off to a sluggish start this year. The Raiders say the issue is Janikowski’s lack of comfort and familiarity with new holder Marquette King.

    That might be true to a certain extent, but the Polish Cannon already has as many missed field-goal attempts as he had for all of last season. King has held up decently as a punter, but his directional kicking needs improving. Rashad Jennings’ blocked punt against Washington, which resulted in a touchdown, was a nice lift, but the return teams in general have not generated much excitement.

    Grade: C-

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