Every year in the NFL there is that one team that comes out of no where to surprise all of football to be the team that rises from obscurity to become a playoff contender. A couple of seasons ago it was the Arizona Cardinals, last year that team was the New York Jets and ironically this year the Oakland Raiders will use a very similar formula that propelled the New York Jets into the playoffs last season to become a playoff competitor themselves.
Make no mistake about it the biggest improvement the Raiders made during the draft marathon was trading for former Washington Redskins QB Jason Campbell. JaMarcus Russell was a lazy turnover machine that inspired no one and probably demoralized more Raider teammates then anyone cares to admit.
Jason Campbell on the other hand was 41-66 in the Red Zone last year and threw 18 touchdowns versus no interceptions. Compare that to a QB in Russell who most fans were just hoping wouldn’t find a way to turn the ball over. Jason Campbell isn’t the best QB in the league and he may not even be in the top ten but look at how the New York Jets did it last season.
The New York Jets ran the ball and they played some really good defense with a shut down corner that nobody had ever heard of before. You think Mark Sanchez is a better QB right now then Jason Campbell?
Sure Campbell is not spectacular but he is steady and solid and he doesn’t turn the ball over which is what you need in the NFL and if the Raiders had that last season they would have won at least 3-4 more games. The Raiders somehow managed to make Gradkowski look like the second coming of Joe Montana last season.
In the NFL, you just need a guy that can manage the game and keep your team in it and then you just need to let your play-makers make plays and the Raiders do have some playmakers on their roster. And let’s not forget that Jason Campbell has a chip on his shoulder and he’s got something to prove now since he just got traded for a fourth round draft pick...
And the real difference that Jason Campbell will bring about is that opposing defenses will now have to play an honest defense against the Raiders meaning they won’t get to stack the line the way they did last season. And that’s going to be a big break on the offensive line as well since they won’t have to play against eight in the box on virtually every play.
The Raiders have a really good and underrated running back combo in Michael Bush and Darren McFadden and I think McFadden can really flourish if the Raiders just let him play outside the tackles a la Reggie Bush and Darren Sproles.
And next year the rest of the NFL is going to discover that the Raiders have a really solid passing attack as well. With Jason Campbell the Raiders will still have the big play ability to stretch the field and keep the other team honest but they also have a QB who has played in a West Coast Offense so he’s very proficient in the short passing game as well which was a huge deficiency of JaMarcus Russell.
Additionally the Raiders have some playmakers at the receiver position in Chaz Schilens and Louis Murphy and the QB’s best friend the 6′5 tight end Zach Miller. And say what you will about Darius Heyward-Bey or the Jacoby Ford pick but the ability to go deep is ten times magnified when you have a decent running attack and you can effectively run some play action…just saying.
If the Raiders are smart, and it’s starting to look like they are, you’ll see a lot of play action this year because with Jason Campbell you have a guy who can get the ball deep but can also check down to Miller in the middle or McFadden in the flat or Murphy or Schilens on a crossing route. Seriously just thinking about that makes me giddy.
Quite frankly though the biggest difference the Raiders can make this season in the passing game and in their offense is by getting the ball to Darren McFadden in space. Darren McFadden is a playmaker and the Raiders are killing this guy by trying to run him between the tackles.
McFadden is a change of pace guy and with Michael Bush to pound the defense they need to make better use of his skills. He’s another Reggie Bush and the Raiders need to use him that way.
And finally the Raiders will be the most improved team this upcoming season because their run defense will be much improved.
What I like most about the Raiders two top draft picks is that they picked character guys that started for several seasons at big name schools that played the best college football teams in the country. Both Rolando McClain and Lamarr Houston have played in BCS National Championship games and they both addressed positions of need at the linebacker and defensive line positions.
Flat out, Lamarr Houston reminds me of a young Warren Sapp. He’s a somewhat undersized defensive lineman who’s extremely quick on his feet and has an uncanny ability to get in the backfield. According to coach Cable, Houston is going to be playing at one of the end positions so essentially he’s going to be a pass rushing defensive end who is also really good at stuffing the run and running down the line of scrimmage to make tackles from behind.
The Raiders may not have that one almost 400lb guy on their defensive line but with Lamarr Houston they basically have three defensive tackles out there and you have one helluva quick defensive lineman that you can stunt with. That and Houston gives Cable some versatility because Houston can play all four defensive line positions.
So everything is pointing to a more complex defense and Cable is talking about running a base 4-3 but with some 3-4 “variations” (huh?) and with their first pick in the draft the Raiders bring in the guy to pull it all together. Rolando McClain is the guy with the high football IQ and the guy who already has experience calling and running an NFL style defense under Nick Saban at Alabama. McClain and Houston are both high Football IQ guys that play and run from sideline to sideline and they’re both guys that were brought in to help out and play immediately.
To end this extremely winded article I’m going to mention two tidbits that I’ve read from Tom Cable that I believe give some really good insights on what we can continue to expect from the Raiders this upcoming season…
No. 1 - Cable was quoted as saying he believes that third pick Jared Veldheer (6′8″, 312 lbs.) should compete for a starting job this year at the left tackle tackle position. Cable watched Veldheer play against top collegiate competition at some all star game so I have to figure he knows what he’s talking about. He also stated that fourth round pick Bruce Campbell would compete at the RG and RT positions.
No. 2 - Cable was also quoted as saying that the “Raiders had something planned for the defensive tackle” position…
Along the offensive line the biggest difference maker will be the hiring of offensive coordinator Hue Jackson… basically that will allow head coach Tom Cable to spend time with and develop his offensive line particularly his rookies.
Call me crazy but why else wouldn’t you address the offensive line which was one of the biggest positions of need going into the draft? Again call me crazy but I think Cable a.)feels his current line is up to task, b.) they plan on making a free agent signing or c.) he fully expects one of these kids to contribute from the get go…
Defensively I firmly believe the Raiders are going to pick up a veteran defensive tackle to plug the hole in the middle. If the Oakland Raiders go out and get a solid defensive tackle, and I’m talking a John Henderson or an Albert Haynesworth, they will compete for the playoffs this upcoming season.
The Raiders have been stock piling draft picks for the past several years and the result is a roster chock full of talent practically at all of their positions. Sure there’s no stand outs at any one position with the exception of Nnamdi Asomugha but a big time DT would transform this defense into something similar to what the Jets had last season. A run stuffing defense that you can’t pass on.
The only difference is the Raiders have a more seasoned QB in Jason Campbell on the other side of the ball who won't give the ball up and will allow the Raider playmakers to make plays.
Raider fans, it's time to get excited.
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