It was a long 2012 season and while there were a few moments that were positive (Steelers, 95% of the Falcons game, KC x2), for the most part it was various forms of disheartening, frustrating, and just freaking irritating. With several excellent coaching changes and some very intriguing roster changes, there's lots of energy and enthusiasm around the Raiders right now and the vibe is all about looking forward. The worst of it appears to be behind us and 2013 should be a step forward and, if everything falls just right, the Raiders could sneak up on some teams and raise hell. And as we do this, I'd like to take a moment and look back at some of what happened in 2012 and think about what we can look forward to moving forward.
To the end, here are four plays that seem to represent what 2012 was.
(1) DMC's 2 yard run v Dolphins in Week 2
The Raiders' problems with the Zone Blocking Scheme are well-documented. The offensive line struggled often to understand their roles and responsibilities as well as to function synchronously as the scheme demands.
However, the offensive line was improving week-to-week and there were times when they were doing some very good things. And while it is true that they had struggles at times, It was not true that they were totally incompetent. And here's a play from early in the season against the Dolphins that illustrates it.
The Raiders have the ball on 1st-and-10 and run a fullback lead to the right. The offensive line does their job and gets hat-on-hat and there's a nice hole that opens up. The WRs have run off the CBs who are in man-coverage and there is a huge lane open. This play looks to be an absolute monster run like the Pittsburgh one; all that has to happen is for Owen Schmitt to make his block on LB Koa Misi.
And that's where it breaks down. Schmitt doesn't just lose this BOB (Back on 'Backer) block, he gets DESTROYED. Misi tosses Schmitt aside like a ragdoll and then proceeds to make the play on DMC.
The offensive line finally gets it together, understands their assignments right, gets hat-on-hat, and opens a hole. Greg Knapp has made the perfect call against the defense and the WRs have done their job. DMC has a head of steam and is ready to blow it up.
Owen Schmitt was a street free agent, discarded a year previously by the Eagles and picked up by the Raiders because they had few alternatives and even less money to sign a blocking fullback. If the Raiders had a reasonably liquid Cap, they might have been able to pick up a FB like Lawrence Vickers, but instead, McKenzie had to fill in the roster on the cheap and as a result Owen Schmitt was starting.
(2) DMC's Nullified TD Run v Panthers in Week 16
By Week 16, it's clearly a throwaway season and the Raiders are playing for pride (and for their jobs) and not for any chance at the postseason. Still, the Panthers were suffering some growing pains in Cam Newton's 2nd year and in Week 16, the Raiders had a definite chance to beat them. Those chances were reduced significantly when Carson Palmer was injured early in the first quarter.
The Raiders were keeping the game close into the 4th quarter. This play occurs at just under 14:00 remaining in the 4th quarter with the score 14-3 Carolina. But the Lion-Heart Raiders have a 2nd-and-goal at the 3 yard line. A TD here brings it to 14-10 and it's "Game ON!"
In many notable cases, on short-yardage, Greg Knapp would call a finesse misdirection play, often using a toss or a reverse toss. These were often slow developing plays that resulted in either a loss or in DMC running out of bounds because of the pursuit. Time after time, Raider fans would lose their minds because of such play calls.
On this critical play, to get 3 yards to make it a game again and perhaps breathe new life into the offense, does Greg Knapp blow it again or does he make a good call?
He doesn't pick a good play; he draws up an absolutely fantastic play. If you are going to dog him for all those bad plays he's called, he gets credit for the good ones too and this was a beauty.
He double-motions DHB to get the defense to vacate space and then he runs a POWER PLAY that blows open a huge hole that results in a WALK-IN TOUCHDOWN.
But wait. "Holding, number 61 offense." That holding penalty takes the TD off the board, pushes the Raiders back 10 yards, puts the ball into Leinart's hands to score the TD, and ultimately results in yet another Janikowski FG.
Holding penalties happen and that's hardly definitive for the Raiders in 2012. But the way this holding penalty occurs is pretty representative of the 2012.
If we watch carefully, we see that Wisniewski actually had excellent position and should have had no problem making his block without holding. What happens is that when DHB is motioning, his legs run into Wis' legs and DHB TRIPS Wis. Wisniewski starts to fall to the ground and grabs onto the Panther defender for the penalty.
It's a critical time and when the team needs it the most, Knapp calls his best play, the offensive line executes perfectly, the lead blocker (Reece) does his job, and DMC gets the TD, but the play is destroyed because one Raider runs into another one and trips him.
(3) DMC's Fumble v Falcons in Week 6
Aside from the Win against Pittsburgh, this was likely the most surprising game of the 2012 season. The Falcons looked like SuperBowl contenders while the Raiders were clearly rebuilding. This should not be a close game and yet the Raiders came out from the opening whistle and played like they belonged.
The game starts with Joselio Hanson intercepting Matt Ryan on the Falcons' opening possession, setting up the Raiders' offense at the Atlanta 41 yardline. DMC then finally explodes for a 7 yard run and then a 15 yarder to take the Raiders inside the Falcons' 20. But on that 2nd run, Marcel Reece was called for a holding penalty and so it pushed the Raiders back, setting up 2nd and 11. Still, early on, it looks like the running game might be finally getting on-track. Despite the penalty, the Raiders offense is feeling it and has the momentum.
Then the worst thing happens.
On 2nd-and-11, the Raiders give it to McFadden again. But this time, Wisniewski and Carlisle get an out-of-sync combo block on Jason Babineaux. This causes Wis to lose his feet and Babineaux comes free, hitting DMC before he's quite ready for it and causing the fumble.
That play definitely changed the entire outlook of the game. It went from "Amped up" to "Here we go again." On the scoreboard, it took a sure 3 points off and a possible 7, that would have changed the entire complexion of the game.
For a team that has been struggling and that needs to build its confidence somehow, a backbreaker play early on just set the team back. To be fair, the team would rebound from this play and had a very real chance to win it at the end, but doing just enough to lose was all too common in 2012.
Those were some brutal plays and it just tears my gut to go back and review them. There were so many emotions in turmoil during the season and it was so frustrating for all of us that it was easy to miss some of the actual positives of the team and to overlook some of the growth that the offensive unit was showing. Yes. I am saying that the offense (in particular, the run offense) was actually improving over the course of the year and that the results (the losses, the rushing statistics) were masking what was actually happening on the field.
Wisniewski has made the transition from LG to C, despite missing that time during the offseason. He was functioning very well in the middle of that line. The starting 5 (excluding Willie Smith), were actually growing together and were doing a solid job in their assignments. No, they were not an excellent group; they may not have even been a Good group, but they were functioning adequately and were growing.
So what do we take from this going forward?
The offensive line and the running game have a chance to be quite good. The starting 5 should be better than last year and this year there will be much-needed depth. While we shouldn't expect Menelik Watson to contribute early, Dennis Allen and Tony Sparano now have some adequate backup candidates. Alex Barron should be an upgrade over Willie Smith and Lucas Nix/Tony Bergstrom should be better than Carlisle + Parsons. Mike Brisiel just needs to be healthy and functioning at a solid level. And of course, Veldheer looks to continue his impressive career.
The Raiders took two of thei subpar run blockers in Schmitt and Myers and let them go. Jamize Olawale and Gordon/Mastrud/Ausberry/Kasa look to be far better than either of them in the running game and that goes a long way to providing a uniform blocking front. Streater, Criner, and Moore on the outside are going to have to step up and commit to blocking on the boundary.
In reviewing these plays, we can see that the group last year was providing DMC with some avenues to run into. There were holes and there were plays to be made. And each of these times, there was a single breakdown that ended it.
In these Plays above, the offending player is no longer on the team. Owen Schmitt and Cooper Carlisle are gone and their NFL careers are likely over. DHB is in Indy.
If things can go to plan and (perhaps the biggest "if") if DMC can stay healthy, the running attack should be able to rebound considerably from that down 2012 year.