After finishing the 2006 season with a dismal 2-14 record, the Oakland Raiders have made strides, improving their win-loss record from both 2006 to 2007 and 2007 to 2008. The problem is that even in doing so, the Raiders still had just five wins last season. In fact, the team hasn’t surpassed the five-win mark since 2002.
So, what part of their game was lacking in 2008? How about all of it?
On the defensive side of the ball, Oakland gave up the ninth most points per game (24.2) and the sixth most yards per game (360.9) in the league. Perhaps a team with any semblance of an offense could have weathered that storm, but an offensive dynamo the Raiders were not.
Quarterback JaMarcus Russell, who played in 15 games during his sophomore campaign, amassed just 2,423 passing yards, 13 TDs, and eight INTs. While the TD to INT ratio isn’t that bad, the rest of the numbers are, and they are a big reason the team ranked dead last in passing in the NFL last season.
The ground game fared a bit better with Justin Fargas, Darren McFadden, and Michael Bush combining for 1,773 rushing yards, helping the Raiders finish in the top 10 in rushing yards in 2008. However, the team did tie with the Kansas City Chiefs for the fourth fewest rushing TDs on the year with nine.
If things keep going this way, Oakland may be better off suiting up some of the members of the infamous “black hole” than the guys that they currently trot out onto the field week in and week out.
Jeff Garcia (QB)
All indications are that Russell will be the team’s starting quarterback come week one of the season, but adding Garcia to the mix does two things for the Raiders.
First, it brings a veteran presence to the team’s quarterback position—something the team did not have last season and something that could greatly benefit Russell’s development if Garcia is willing to mentor the young QB. Secondly, it gives the team a legitimate “plan B” should Russell and the offense struggle out of the gate.
The one-year, $1 million deal the Raiders gave the vet could indeed pay off big time.
Gibril Wilson (S)
Not only did Wilson finish second on the Raiders in total tackles with 129, but those 129 tackles made him the league leader among DBs. Still, the Raiders did not feel Wilson was worth the extravagant contract they had awarded him following the 2007 season and released the safety following 2008.
The move is probably wise, as the Raiders did overpay for Wilson’s services; however, the team will still miss the hard-hitting 27-year-old.
BRUNO BOYS SPOTLIGHT
JaMarcus Russell (QB)
2008 may have been Russell’s second year in the league, but due to a lengthy holdout prior to his rookie season that caused the QB to miss a big chunk of training camp, it was more like season 1.5 for the Raiders QB. That showed in his numbers, as Russell managed just 2,423 passing yards, 13 passing TDs, and eight INTs in 15 games.
Granted, the Raiders didn’t do Russell any favors with the receivers they provided him (Johnnie Lee Higgins should not be any NFL team’s top receiver), which is probably why Russell was often satisfied with dumping the ball to tight end Zach Miller and running back Darren McFadden.
The team tried to help Russell’s cause by taking a wideout with the seventh pick of this year’s draft, but they seem to have fouled that one up too by taking Darrius Heyward-Bey over Michael Crabtree. Thus, look for Russell to struggle again in 2009, especially if his accuracy issues continue, as he completed just 53.8 percent of his passes in 2008.
Darren McFadden (RB)
During his rookie campaign, McFadden did show flashes of his amazing explosiveness and playmaking ability. Perhaps no better example exists than his 21 carries for 164 rushing yards and one TD week two performance against the Chiefs.
However, turf toe hampered the back for the majority of the season, and like kryptonite is to Superman, so too is turf toe to a speedy back.
Now healthy, look for McFadden to become a bigger part of the Raiders offense as the team attempts to utilize his dual-threat abilities, making him a low-end RB2/high-end RB3 for 2009.
ROOKIE TO WATCH
Darrius Heyward-Bey (WR)
Throughout his whole career, fans will compare Heyward-Bey to 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree. The comparisons will come as no fault of Heyward-Bey, but are rather due to Al Davis’ insane infatuation with speed. While Heyward-Bey’s 40-yard dash was impressive, it will mean little if the wideout continues to run sloppy routes and drop passes.
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