Below is a quick summary of five things that need to happen in order for the Raiders to have a winning record and challenge for the AFC West for the first time in 11 years. Some may think five is a simplistic amount by a homer and ten would probably be more realistic, but I don't think that's the case.
I do not wear rose-colored glasses and honestly believe if these five things all happen this year we can see a quick turnaround in Oakland. Of course, if the Raiders suffer season-ending injuries to the nucleus of the team then this can be tossed aside with the other million wastes of 'ink' that pollute the interwebs.
Here is the list.
1. Special teams play must be near perfect
This is not a cop-out because the Raiders have arguably the best kicker in the NFL. By 'near perfect' I am referring to every facet of Bobby April's unit. Being a part of the Bill Parcells coaching tree, Dennis Allen understands if one of the three sides of the ball are not performing up to par then the impact will be felt everywhere. See the bookend performances against the Chargers last year for example. Those were the difference between achieving a season-sweep and being swept. Sebastian Janikowski must connect on nearly all of his field goal attempts and by this I am talking about Steve Nash/John Stockton free throw percentage success rate as well as perfect extra points success rate.
2. The middle of the defense must remain a factor all season
All three levels of the middle of the defense must work as a unit in order to stop this yearly trend of poor run defense. I don't expect this team to be a top 5 run defense but if they are in the top half of run defenses then Jason Tarver will deserve head coach consideration or at the very least a new deal and a raise. This would mean Pat Sims, Vance Walker, Nick Roach, Charles Woodson, and the depth behind them all limited the long run plays that have plagued this franchise for years.
3. Tyvon Branch must take the next step
Tyvon Branch is known around the league as a solid, respectable player who does his job well. This beacme apparent when he was franchise-tagged last year and few questioned why. Well, the old guard of Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu seem to be winding down their careers and making way for the new millennium of strong safeties the likes of Eric Berry and our own Tyvon Branch. Tyvon has led the team in tackles year in and year out however must now maximize his play-making potential. He has the skill set and must realize it or else this defense will not emerge from the doldrums whether the other parts come together or not.
4. Terrelle Pryor must be a factor in the red zone
It can be frustrating having to watch stalled drives and having to settle for Janikowski chip-shot field goals. Last year we suffered through some of the most unimaginative and predictable red zone play-calling we have seen in some time. Making matters worse was Carson Palmer never saw a window he didn't like to force a pass into. The only time this team had a 100% TD red zone ratio was the one game started by Terrelle Pryor in week 17. I am not calling for him to start but believe he is an untapped resource that can go a long way in helping fix this team's TD conversion woes (assuming he learns to throw the ball away or tuck and run when the opportunity isn't there).
5. The running game must be the strength of the offense
This is possible since I have looked around the league and some of the worst offenses still manage to have solid running games. See Maurice Jones-Drew with Blaine Gabbert at QB for an example. All Raiders RB's must average over 4 yards per carry this year. McFadden averaging 3.4 ypc or less will not cut it again. If not to keep the defense honest, at the very least to shorten the game and give our defense a chance to win the game in the fourth quarter.