While the Raiders' offense is obviously much improved from the total disaster it has been in recent history, the performances have largely clouded over a glaring problem: the passing game. Quarterback Jason Campbell's performance this season, especially in the second half of the season, has been a nice surprise, and some might point to his recent numbers and say that the passing game is doing just fine. However, I don't think there's any question that the offensive improvement has been mostly due to the health of Darren McFadden, who is having one of the best seasons of any running back in the league. The problem, of course, is that it can make the offense one-dimensional. What happens when he has bad a game, or, as will inevitably happen, defenses simply start stacking the box and forcing the Raiders to beat them through the air?
Although he has looked better with each passing week, Campbell's numbers have been pumped up by non-wide receivers making plays after the catch. Sunday's game against Denver is a great example. Campbell put up a 15 of 26 performance for 238 yards, 1 touchdown, and 2 picks. Those numbers are due largely to his screen pass to Marcel Reece that the back turned into a 73-yard catch and run for a touchdown. Of those 15 completions, only 5 went to receivers for a total of only 81 yards. These stats highlight that, despite the numbers, the Raiders are not actually getting too much action down field, instead depending on screens and dump offs which the backs are turning into big gains.
The first question to ask is whether this is Campbell's fault for not finding the open man down field, or if he is going with the short passes because there is no one to throw it to. Having watched every Raiders game this season, I have to say that they receivers should definitely have better numbers than they actually do. Campbell can't be blamed for a lot of what happened while he was in Washington, but one thing is true: he is too cautious when looking down field. The receiver who has been hurt the most by this is Darrius Heyward-Bey. On too many occasions, Heyward-Bey has run a great deep route and gotten open for a huge gain or a touchdown, only to turn back and see a Raider being tackled near the line. This isn't to say that he is a great receiver. The problem is that it has been a couple of seasons now, and the Raiders still don't know what they have in their first round pick. He simply hasn't gotten enough targets, and therefore hasn't had the opportunity to show whether or not he can be a true playmaker in the league.
This creates two very big problems for the Raiders. First, it could create a false sense of security at the quarterback position. Second, after a couple of years, the Raiders still don't really know how good their receiving core is, or how where it needs to improve. Louis Murphy has been solid, even if he has dropped a few throughout the season, and Jacoby Ford has been a nice surprise. It should also be noted that the receivers all seem to get more action when Bruce Gradkowski is in the game. Obviously, the throws to the receivers are there to be made, and Campbell just isn't making them.
The question ultimately comes down to this: Is this a a good first year for Campbell and this Raiders offense that will continue to improve, or is Campbell just to cautious, and this is as good as he will ever be?
More importantly: If this is as good as he will be, are Al Davis and the Raiders satisfied with having a quarterback that will lead them to a .500 record every year? I think we all know the answer to that.