This week the Raiders come off their bye week and embark on the final 12 weeks of the NFL season. The first four weeks were some of the ugliest football they've played in a while which is saying a lot for a team that hasn't had a winning season in 12 years.
Expectations were higher for this group than they were for the previous couple seasons and yet they somehow look worse. Over this 0-4 start there has been little evidence they have the wherewithal to pull out of their skid. That is because of many key players not stepping up for one reason or another.
These are the players who have been hibernating over the first four games and whose emergence could hold the key to the Raiders being competitive this season.
The former All Pro running back's return home to the Bay Area was a big deal. He had a down season last year but the 29-year-old was slowed by injuries. He has played in two games this season - the opener, and last week in London. In the opener he averaged 1.2 yards per carry and hurt his hand. When he returned last week, he received two carries for one yard, which actually lowered his average to just a shade over one yard per carry. He should receive an increased workload and without an injury to slow him down, the time is now to show he still has some fuel left in the tank.
After being injured most of training camp and preseason, he has never regained his starting job back. The Raiders could very much use the level of play he is capable of contributing. At his best, he has a lethal combination of size, speed, and hands. He had shown improved blocking as well. Thus far this season, the tight end position hasn't offered a lot to the offensive game plan. Mychal Rivera has yet to break 100 yards on the season... total. The only touchdown came from Brian Leonhardt, who is supposed to be the primary blocking tight end. The Raiders didn't make tight end a priority this off-season putting high hopes on Ausberry. It's well past time to live up to it.
Howard was not a great right tackle for the Jets but was signed by the Raiders to a pretty sizable contract to make the transition to guard. Tony Sparano coached him in New York where Howard was most known for his run blocking, which was the reason for the switch. Thus far he has been the worst run blocking offensive lineman on this team, even being outplayed by third round rookie, Gabe Jackson. A bit of growing pains in the transition is to be expected. He's had plenty of time for that now. He now needs to step up and be the player the Raiders hoped he would be when they made him their only first day priority free agent signing.
Khalif Barnes has a quad injury and it's uncertain when he will return. That means the time is now for Watson. He is in his second year since he became the Raiders second round pick as the right tackle of the future. He has looked like anything but. He was injured the first part of last season and hasn't cracked the starting lineup since. The only time you hear his name is when the PA announcer says "Number 71 reporting as eligible" when the Raiders go into their jumbo package. Being the every down starting right tackle is a lot more responsibility. Job one being to keep Derek Carr upright and healthy.
After the former Lamarr (Houston) left as a free agent, the Raiders hoped the new Lamarr (Woodley) could pick up the slack. He has not. What Lamarr Houston is doing in Chicago is completely irrelevant. When he was in Oakland, he was a firey presence and the best defender on this team. Woodley has been a significant downgrade and has just 3 tackles (1 solo) on the season. THREE. In FOUR games. The team added three defensive linemen - Justin Tuck, Antonio Smith, Woodley -- who were to bring some pass rush and Woodley's 4 quarterback hurries are third among them. And he, of course, has no sacks. Without the fear of a pass rush, opposing offenses will continue to score at will against the Raiders. Woodley has been an invisible man. He must make his presence felt for this pass rush to come alive and force offenses out of their comfort zones.
We are now at six weeks Roach has been out with concussion symptoms. It has reached the point of extremely worrisome. It's time that either he can play or the Raiders need to consider sitting him for the season. If they didn't desperately need his services, that decision would be a much easier one to make. His absence from the lineup could be argued as the most significant loss this team has had this season. Miles Burris has not been a suitable replacement and the entire linebacking corps has been depleted. He isn't exactly Ray Lewis or Brian Urlacher but the alternative is truly horrific defensive play.
Also out for the entire season thus far has been Hayden. He fractured his foot on the second day of OTA's back in May and missed the entire off-season and training camp and was placed on the regular season PUP list. He is eligible to return to the active roster after this week. After being gone as long as he has, I wouldn't expect a contribution from him right away. Though the former top pick's addition would be a welcome addition over the second half of the season. That would also require staying healthy - something he hasn't been able to do much of since the Raiders spent the 12th overall pick on him in the 2013 draft.
His inclusion on this list has more to do with the coaching decision to keep him on the bench in favor of Chimdi Chekwa. The rookie corner was the star of the off-season, training camp, and preseason. And in limited defensive snaps this season, he has outplayed Chekwa. It may be time to see what the rookie can do as the team's nickel corner. It seems unlikely the defense could perform any worse, so now's the time.