Marshall Faulk (@marshallfaulk) December 24, 2014
Marshall Faulk asks: This is it: it's been quite a season here on GMC Playbook. Thanks for being creative and engaging with my questions. We've been talking all year about what it means to be GMC Professional Grade. Here's my last question for you: Did your team have a Professional Grade season? If not, what will it take to get there next year?
Time to hand out some grades for the Raiders 2014 season. It was a rough one for this team. One that went from a team struggling to gel to one that found some competitiveness late in the season only to be depleted by injuries and overall lack of talent.
Positives: Tony Sparano was able to get this team to play some spirited football once they gelled as a squad. And he got three home wins in the final six games because of it. All of those wins were against teams with playoff aspirations. The defense began to come together near midseason as well.
Negatives: Dennis Allen started the season as head coach with a team as an uninspiring lame duck on the sideline and his team played like it. While Sparano got the team to play well at home late, the road was a very different story, with the team going winless in 9 games away from Oakland Coliseum. The last three were epic blowouts in which the opposition outscored the Raiders 130-27.
The offense was vanilla and the way it was mishandled by Greg Olson was one of the main reasons the grade is so low. The defense was downright terrible early in the season, put together some good efforts later in the season but still could not avoid some historic numbers in points given up.
Positives: We saw some great potential from rookie Derek Carr, who started all 16 games. In most cases, we saw Carr's skills in flashes. He had two very good games this season - a four TD performance in a week 6 loss to the Chargers, and a three TD performance with a late game-clinching drive in a week 14 win over the 49ers.
Negatives: Matt Schaub was supposed to be the "top 10 quarterback" for the Raiders. That's what Dennis Allen was preaching all off-season. Then he went out with elbow soreness and the Derek Carr era was ushered in a bit sooner than anyone hoped. Carr started from day one and it was a rocky season for him.
Carr's issues were pocket presence and adjusting on the fly. He would decide before the snap, based on coverages, where he wanted to go with the ball. That may work if -- like his brother whose career he studied since he was 12-year-old, had Andre Johnson to throw to -- but he didn't. He didn't have a dominant receiver who could win one-on-one battles. The result was a lot of incompletions and many, many three-and-outs. And his penchant for throwing the back-shoulder pass, even when his receiver has his man beat, killed many drives.
Positives: Latavius Murray offered the Raiders their first hope of a solid run game this season. Unfortunately, that didn't happen until ten games in. When the run game finally awoke, the Raiders got their first win. And two of their three wins were a direct result of the threat Murray posed in the run game.
Negatives: Even with Murray having a few good games down the stretch, it wasn't enough to keep the Raiders from having their lowest rushing yards per game in franchise history (77.5). It was mainly the ineffectiveness of Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew along with a retooled offensive line that was causing these historically low rushing numbers.
Positives: James Jones was a reliable target for the team. Mychal Rivera picked up where he left off from last season as a receiving threat from the tight end position. Brice Butler and Kenbrell Thompkins showed some promise in limited action.
Negatives: This team still has no true number one receiver. This seasons the leading receiver was James Jones, who is a reliable target but is little more than a slot/possession receiver. Rod Streater is a starter but went out in week three with a broken foot and didn't return.
The guy who looks the part of that dominant, physical specimen as a number one guy is Andre Holmes. But he is nowhere near elite and tends to lose more jump balls than he wins. Denarius Moore was supposed to be a starter but played himself out of a job entirely. After that it was Butler and two in-season free agent pick-ups in Thompkins and Vincent Brown. That crew is not scaring anyone.
At tight end it's Mychal Rivera and... well that's pretty much it. He has his moments but is an inconsistent blocker and route runner and is an H-back on most teams, not the only tight end option.
Positives: Donald Penn was a complete stroke of luck. The Buccaneers cut him and the Raiders were desperate to fill the left tackle position after having lost Jared Veldheer in free agency. Penn came in and saved the Raider bacon at left tackle. Gabe Jackson showed great potential at left guard and is a mauler if he can lock up with a defender. Stefen Wisniewski was a steady presence at center.
Negatives: The right side of the offensive line was a disaster. Austin Howard was the team's biggest free agent signing and he was just plain awful most of the season at right guard. He was routinely beaten in pass blocking and failed to engage consistently in run blocking. Menelik Watson and Khalif Barnes both manned the right tackle spot and both were bad. Also, Donald Penn will be 32 in April so the team must soon consider finding a long term solution.
Positives: Justin Tuck came on late in the season when his role was changed to situational pass rusher with C.J. Wilson playing surprisingly well as the starter. Tuck ended up leading the team in sacks (5.0). Antonio Smith also came on strong midseason, getting consistent pressure up the middle which is what he was signed to do. He is also very well liked as a teammate. Justin Ellis showed great potential at nose tackle taking over as the starter ahead of Pat Sims.
Negatives: The team had the fewest sacks (21) in franchise history. The right defensive end spot initially had Lamarr Woodley as the starter. He was a travesty before being lost for the season with injury. Benson Mayowa took over for him and while Mayowa was an improvement, he still didn't generate much in the way of pressure. And while Tuck played well down the stretch, he was signed to be an every down starter and pass rushing force. He is a part time player at this point in his career. Antonio Smith is also 33-years old so he doesn't have much left in the tank either.
Positives: Khalil Mack and Sio Moore were the best tandem on this team. The only chance the Raiders had this season was with the two of them at full strength. Mack is the best player on the defense and a future All Pro building block. He is the complete package as a pass rusher and run stopper. Sio Moore plays with great passion and energy to seek out the ball carrier and fight to make the play.
Negatives: The middle linebacker position is not up to snuff with the outside linebackers. Miles Burris was out of position in the middle, replacing the injured Nick Roach. Even Nick Roach was not great last season but he was at least passable. Also a unit that was one of the deepest in camp, became completely depleted by week four. There were several times, especially late in the season, where undrafted rookies and cast-offs were getting significant playing time.
Positives: What was a rather suspect group in the off-season, turned out to be much better and deeper than anyone expected. Charles Woodson continues to defy all logic and reason with his Pro Bowl caliber play at the strong safety position. The starters early in the season were Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers who were not fantastic, but held their own. The real position came in the depth. D.J. Hayden and T.J. Carrie both had their moments at corner and Brandian Ross surprised everyone with his solid play at free safety and sometimes slot corner.
Negatives: Tyvon Branch was lost for a second consecutive season in the first two weeks of the season. Ross was scooped up in week four and the team shifted Woodson to strong safety to make it all work out ok, but Branch's sudden inability to stay healthy is concerning. They also eventually lost both starting corners to injured reserve and D.J. Hayden began to have some pretty serious issues when placed in the number one cornerback role -- something the team will be asking him to do from here on out.
Positives: Khalil Mack is an absolute beast and was actually a steal at the fifth overall pick. He has earned the Defensive Rookie of the Year award whether they give it to him or not. Derek Carr held up fairly well starting all season from day one and showed some promising moments. Third round pick Gabe Jackson started most of the season at left guard and looks to have earned the job until further notice. He is a mauler with a mean streak. Fourth rounder Justin Ellis won the starting nose tackle spot and looks like he'll keep it. He made several All Rookie teams. Seventh round pick T.J. Carrie looks like an incredible steal. He had some injury issues late in the season - part of the reason he fell so far in the draft - but when he was healthy, he was a fantastic cornerback and return man for both punts and kicks.
Negatives: While Derek Carr showed some great skills, he still needs a lot of work. He was throwing too early before making his proper reads and making poor decisions often times this season. All things that are not serious as he is still a rookie, but things that must be corrected for him to develop into the franchise quarterback the Raiders need. Fourth round pick Keith McGill was injured much of the season and when he did get in games, he didn't show good instincts in coverage. He seems heavy footed and slow to react. The final two picks in the draft didn't contribute much. Shelby Harris was cut and signed to the practice squad and Jonathan Dowling was invisible. The team hopes he can bulk up and contribute as a safety and on special teams next season.
Positives: Justin Tuck, Donald Penn, James Jones, Antonio Smith, and CJ Wilson. They all played well at times this season and proved to be worthy additions to the team.
Negatives: Austin Howard, Maurice Jones-Drew, Matt Schaub, and Lamarr Woodley. The only one who started significant games this season was Howard. He was their first free agent signing and the biggest contract they handed out. And yet much of this season was the weakest link on the offensive line. Matt Schaub was $8 million flushed down the toilet. MJD was a complete non-factor in his homecoming on a 3-year deal. Lamarr Woodley was also a priority free agent signing who proved why the Steelers cut ties with him. Because he's done. Of their entire free agent haul, only CJ Wilson and Austin Howard are under 30 (MJD will turn 30 in March).
This team began the season as arguably the least competitive in the NFL. They showed some spunk in the middle of the season and got their three wins through sheer will power and a sudden influx of a run game with some pass rush sprinkled in. After losing their own best free agents and replacing them with a lackluster free agent haul, it was only their great draft that allowed them to field anything resembling a decent NFL team. They finish with a 3-13 record on the season with more overhaul expected in the coming off-season.