On Thursday it was confirmed that Dennis Allen, the former Denver Broncos defensive coordinator, would become the new head coach of the Oakland Raiders. As Allen and new general manager, Reggie McKenzie, sit down to find their new coaching staff and assess Oakland’s roster it is a fine time for us to evaluate the 2011 season. This review will address the Silver and Black’s personnel on offence, defence and special teams and their performance during 2011.
This article will be spilt into two parts, first examining the offense, before looking at the defense and special teams next week.
The 2010 season was considered a step in the right direction for the Oakland Raiders; they finished 8-8, ending seven consecutive losing seasons, and went 6-0 within the AFC West. Hue Jackson was promoted from offensive coordinator to head coach and appeared to further invigorate the franchise. That said, there was debate as to whether the Raiders would be able to build on the successes of the previous year after the loss of All-Pro corner back Nnamdi Asomugha and the Raiders most dependable receiver, tight end Zach Miller. As well as this there were questions about the quality of their offensive line.
2011 was a season that started with great promise for the Oakland Raiders; they were on top of the AFC West with a 7-4 record despite the loss of their star running back Darren McFadden and their quarterback Jason Campbell, both to season ending injuries. But the Raiders collapsed down the stretch, finishing 8-8 missing the playoffs for the ninth straight year. Ultimately they were unable to overcome injuries, a record setting amount of penalties and major issues on defense. Further distractions like the death of Al Davis and off field disciplinary problems also played a part in Oakland's failings.
Points per Game 22.4 (16th) Yards per Game 349.5 (9th) Passing Yards per Game 247.6 (11th) Rushing Yards per Game 131.9 (7th)
The Raiders offense was the strongest unit of the team in 2011. It was the second year of Hue Jackson’s offense, and with the addition of Al Saunders as offensive coordinator the team was again able to put up good numbers through the air and on the ground. However the offense was not as clinical as the NFL’s best offensive units; Oakland settled for field goals too often. Good drives would stall with penalties and a lack of killer instinct was often to blame.
At the start of the year Jason Campbell had seemed to have improved from 2010, and looked more composed behind center, making enough plays to complement an excellent rushing attack. Oakland’s real star was Darren McFadden who was tearing up defenses; the Raiders looked like a genuinely dangerous offense.
The offense suffered a real blow when Campbell was lost for the season with a broken collar bone against the Cleveland Browns in week six. With Oakland 4-2, and with a real shot of making the playoffs for the first time since 2002 Jackson (who seemed to take sole charge of all football related decisions after the death of Al Davis) paid a king’s ransom (2011 1st round pick and 2012 1st or 2nd round pick – depending on reaching AFC Championship game in 2012) to the Cincinnati Bengals to bring in their ‘retired’ quarterback Carson Palmer. Palmer struggled initially as he came off the couch to lead the Raiders offense in the second half of the season. He improved as the year went on, with big performances in both games against the San Diego Chargers the clear highlights. At the end of the year he had thrown for 2,753 yards and for 13 touchdowns in his 9 games but he was turnover prone, throwing 16 interceptions. His struggles can be attributed in part to his late start, having to learn a new offense and new team mates, as well as injuries to teammates which saw his workload expanded and meant his understanding of his receivers was not what it could have been.
Coming into the 2012 season Palmer is expected to be the starting quarter back. The franchise is unlikely to give up on him this early having paid so much to get him. Campbell looked after the ball a lot better than Palmer and had the ability to make a play with his legs, but he is a free agent and unlikely to be resigned.
Assuming Palmer can go some way to overcoming his turnover problems of 2011 he will be an upgrade over Campbell. He still possesses a big arm and can make some special throws deep down the field. If he can establish a real understanding with the emerging receiving core the Raiders should have an explosive aerial attack in 2012.
The loss of McFadden in week seven against the Kansas City Chiefs was a second massive blow for the Raiders. McFadden is the Raiders best player on offense and his talent was able to overcome many of the offense’s shortcomings. At the time of his injury McFadden had rushed for 614 yards at 5.4 yards per carry and caught 19 passes for 154 yards with five total touchdowns. His game-breaking ability was missed as the season went on, though Michael Bush (who featured in every game but only started from week 9) deputised well in McFadden’s absence, running for 997 yards at 3.8 per carry and 7 touchdowns.
However Bush’s production tailed off at the end of the year. This can be put down to a regression in run blocking towards the end of the year and possibly due to Bush wearing down because of his amount of carries and the lack of a change of pace back - rookie Taiwan Jones struggled with a hamstring injury that saw him miss five games. In the first three games in which Bush had the majority of carries he averaged over 5 yards per carry and ran for 96, 157 and 109 yards. In the final seven games he only had one game where he averaged over 4 yards per carry, and didn’t carry for more than 80 yards. This downturn saw Palmer being relied on more than he should have been.
Next year the Raiders face a dilemma as to what to do with their running backs - McFadden is hugely talented but three of his four seasons in the NFL have been heavily affected by injury, while Bush is a free agent. With his history of injury all the while McFadden is in the organisation the Raiders will need a high quality back up to support him. Retaining Bush or signing another high quality running back is a priority for the Raiders during the off season.
Full back Marcel Reese again impressed as a utility back. His blocking was fairly average, but he excelled as a receiver making plays on screen passes and catching across the middle of the field. He also offered a contributed as a rusher.
Oakland’s young receivers had a relatively strong year, all missed time due to injury but production was much improved. Darrius Heyward-Bey had a break out year, catching 64 balls for 975 yards and 4 touchdowns. Heyward-Bey now looks like an NFL wide receiver; he runs crisp routes and gets good separation, though his hands are still a little inconsistent. Rookie Denarius Moore was also very impressive and made a string of highlight reel plays. He led the team in touchdown receptions and averaged 18.7 yards on his 35 catches. Louis Murphy, Chaz Schilens, Derek Hagan and veteran T.J. Houshmandzadeh all chipped in a handful of grabs a piece. One disappointment was Jacoby Ford who missed half the year with injury. He was a real playmaker last year and was missed, hopefully he will stay fit in 2012.
The Raiders lacked a consistent receiving threat across the middle of the field. If the new staff do not feel anyone on the current roster can step up, a true slot receiver or receiving tight end will be a useful addition.
Zach Miller was a big loss for the Raiders in the offseason. He was the Silver and Black’s best receiver, leading the team in catches in 2008, 09 and 10. He was a safe pair of hands, and could be relied upon to move the chains, making tough catches across the middle of the field. Unsurprisingly the production from tight ends dropped off significantly, the unit caught 46 passes in 2011, while Miller alone caught 60 balls in 2010.
Free agency addition Kevin Boss was signed to replace Miller, but he lacks the athleticism and route running skills to fill the void. Boss was restricted further by injury early in the year, but was effective as a blocker. His product as a receiver increased as the year went on as the offense made better use of his height and safe hands. He finished the year, 28 catches for 368 yard and three touchdowns.
Second string tight end Brandon Myres was a little disappointing standing in for Boss early in the year but solid on special teams. While rookie Richard Gordon saw some snaps as a blocker and at fullback. Fellow rookie David Ausberry, considered a project player, saw limited action.
The offensive line did a very solid job, and credit should go to coaches Bob Wylie and Steve Wisniewski as well as the players. At the beginning of the year there were a lot of question marks about the offensive line; it was mediocre in 2010, and veterans Robert Gallery and Langston Walker were lost, and replaced with rookies Joseph Barksdale and Stephen Wisniewski.
Starters, Jared Veldheer (left tackle), Wisniewski (left guard), Samson Satele (centre) Cooper Carlisle (right guard) and Khalif Barnes (right tackle) formed a solid, if somewhat inconsistent unit. They only allowed 25 sacks, the third best in the NFL, and although the run blocking was hit or miss at times they still managed to block for 131.9 yards on the ground per game, seventh best in the league.
Veldheer was the stand out performer, his footwork was much improved and he performed better against a variety of different pass rushers. He also had a standout performance against Minnesota Vikings star defensive end, Jared Allen in week eleven. The second year pro looks like he will be a fixture at left tackle for the Raiders in the foreseeable future.
Samson Satele probably had his best year in Oakland. He still struggled when faced with a big 0-technique nose tackle, but his run blocking was much improved on last year. At guard both Carlisle and Wisniewski were reasonably solid. But Barnes at right tackle struggled in run blocking and gave away too many procedural penalties.
Next year Oakland may look to Barksdale and 2010 fourth round pick Bruce Campbell (who both saw snaps in 2011) to fill holes on the right side of the line to replace the struggling Barnes and aging Carlisle, or else to bring in reinforcements through waivers or free agency.
Defense and special teams review to follow next week.