1) The rushing game has improved, although there is still no evidence that McFadden can be successful in the scheme, nor able to play more than about half a season. Even against Baltimore, between Reece and Stewart, the team rushed 20/70, significantly better than most of the games that McFadden has played; his average has been helped by some big plays, but for the most part has not even touched 3.0 ypc. In this game, Reese went 19/103, indicating that the OL is doing better. I am starting to wonder if McFadden is expendable...
2) The WR's are not much help. I don't know why they are constantly being touted as a plus, when their production indicates a below-average group. Taht isn't to say that they have no talent, but it is the dreaded 'potential', which means that they have not produced consistently, or much; the issue of dropped passes, routes run incorrectly, poor blocking, and what seems to be difficulty creating separation are hampering the offense, which has struggled to run until just recently. While there have been plays made, there has also been a lot of plays left on the field. A shakeup is in order.
3) While I have been unhappy with the OL, they seem to be getting better at run blocking, although they still struggle with picking up blitzes, and dealing with quick DL. In part, this has been because of the injury to Barnes, but it seems that Cooper is really having a hard time this season in holding his ground and not allowing penetration. I have also wondered if Veldheer is, or can be, more than a journeyman LT; I think that a true LT needs to be brought in for competition, and the loser goes to RT. I don't know for sure, but it seems that the entire OL needs work on their ability to anchor.
4) The DL is aging, and needs the help that I have been bringing up for the last few years. It looks like Seymour is more of a rotational player now, although still a leader in the locker room. Is his cap number worth what he now brings? Kelly is not playing badly, but the same question needs to be asked. Is it time for Houston to move inside? If this team has to rely on the front four, then it seems that we will continue to be disappointed. Talent is there, but again, the production of late is not.
5) The LB position is woefully thin. McClain has played better of late, but is not living up to his draft postion; I don't know how much better he will be if we switch to a 3-4, although that seems to be a better defense for him. There is really no depth behind him; Goethel shows flashes, then gets hurt; I don't believe that he can be relied on to be healthy, which means that even more depth is needed. With the play of Wheeler and Burris, the future of Curry is open. Whatever happens, a number of players need to be brought in. On the other hand, blitzing has made a comeback, and has had some success, although there have been times when it has been picked up, and resulted in big plays against.
6) The defensive backfield will need to be reworked to some extent. Mitchell is not viable as a S, because he is a liability in coverage; it needs to be decided where to play Huff, although I think he has played better as a DB than as a S; Giodano is a gamer, but more of a ST guy than a starter; Bartell has not looked bad, but has he played well enough to keep; what of Spencer? An awful lok of question marks, and while there have been games that they have played well, there have also been games when they have been torched.
7) The salary cap. I don't know where it will be for next year, but it should be in a position where we can bring in players to challenge for roster spots, a luxury that we really didn't have this year. Yes, there is/was some room, but capping out to bring in a second- or third-tier player doesn't make much sense on a team with as many needs as this. Reggie has done the right thing, dealing the hand (roster) that was dealt to him, and not falling into the trap of pay today and suffer tomorrow, a game that became all too well known in Oakland for the last 20 years. This team isn't any more or less talented than the one that existed before McKenzie came in, but is in better position to make moves and to draft young players than when he arrived. Another year or two on the same course should put us in the position of being able to make moves in FA, ones that will (hopefully) help a team that is on it's way up.
Look at some of the players that have been let go to work the cap into better shape (in no particular order): Boller, J. Campbell, Bush, Cartwright, Tonga, Houshmandzadeh, Boss, Barksdale, B. Campbell, Heyer, Satele, Brodine, Henderson, Moss, Scott, Blackstock, Groves, Wimbley, Boyd, McCann, Routt, Sheppard, Van Dyke, and Eugene. How many would really have made any real difference this season? One, maybe two? And at what price? Maybe Wimbley would have helped with the pass rush, but that's no sure thing; he was inconsistent then, and has 3.5 sacks this year in Tennessee.
I don't like having to travel this path, but then I didn't like the path for the last 10 years, because I saw where it led. This is a usual part of the journey back, losing games and being disappointed, but I will say, as I have for most of the season, that I feel better about the direction that we are headed now than I have for years: salary cap in order, draft picks available to stock the team, and (hopefully) some stability on the sidelines and front office.
Yes, I'm impatient, but so was Al, and look where his letting that impatience to win now get the better of him led the Raiders, how many losing seasons, and how much cleanup that has still to be done to get the house in order...