There was a time during this season that the Raiders offense was on fire. But at some point in the season, it was as if they flew too close to the sun and suddenly that one meteoric rise went up in flames and began a swift meteor-like plummet back to earth.
"We struggled to move the ball tonight and we really kind of sputtered to finish the year," Jack Del Rio said following the Raiders 23-17 loss to the Chiefs in the season finale. "We were at one time red hot. Really feel we lost out way a little bit. Certainly leading into the offseason we realize we have to uncover where we kind of got off the rails. Nowhere near the productivity we expect to have."
As it happens, that moment occurred right at the midseason point.
The last time we saw the Raiders offense clicking was week 9 against the Steelers. The offense scored 35 points in that game. This after putting up 37 points on the Chargers and 34 points in the Jets in the previous two weeks. After that, the offense was never the same.
It's difficult to place the blame on any one area of the offense either. Literally nothing was functioning at the rate it had been previously. Every single measurable statistic was worse in the final eight games of the season compared to the previous eight.
Let's start with Derek Carr's numbers
First 8 Last 8
TD 19 13
Int 4 9
Comp 63% 58%
Also at midseason, Carr had thrown for 2094 yards in the first eight games, putting him on pace to surpass 4000 yards by a couple hundred yards. He ended up falling just short of that milestone. And his completion percentage drops to 56% if you go by just the final five games.
Another area which saw a tremendous change in the second half was sacks allowed. In the first half of the season, Carr was sacked just 8 times. In the second half of the season he was sacked 23 times.
Many who look at box scores have a tendency to automatically place the blame for sacks on the offensive line. But tf there's anything you should have learned by watching Terrelle Pryor try to play QB it is that sacks should be judged on a case by case basis.
There are coverage sacks, there are those sacks caused by the quarterback simply holding the ball too long, and there are those given up by not properly picking up the blitz. That could be a poor read by the quarterback or a mistake by the man charged with picking up the free rusher. I can tell you even without going back and watching each sack, that there was plenty of blame to go around.
Often times, the passing numbers go down when a team decides to run the ball more. So, let's see how that changed as the season went on by looking at Latavius Murray's numbers. And when looking at these numbers, keep in mind he had almost the identical number of carries in the first half of the season (132) as he did in the second (134).
First 8 Last 8
Yards 630 436
YPG 78.75 54.5
YPC 4.7 3.2
Murray was the AFC leading rusher much of the season. In fact he held the lead right up until the final week when he was passed up by Jets running back Chris Ivory. In the game against the Steelers in week 9, Murray ran for 96 yards. Twice in the first eight games he went over 100 yards - 139 vs Cleveland and 113 vs New York Jets. He didn't go over 100 yards once in the final eight games and only went over 80 yards in a game once.
When watching the ground game disappear in the second half, it became clear that the offensive line was the primary culprit.
Gabe Jackson was the most noticeable difference. After receiving Pro Bowl buzz in the offseason and starting this season living up to it, he just wasn't the same down the stretch. His pull blocks were often late and he wasn't as aggressive in moving his man down the field.
On the other side, former tackle turned guard J'Marcus Webb began to regress after having shown a great deal of progress by midseason. Then with the injury to Austin Howard, he played tackle with rookie Jon Feliciano coming in to start at guard the final three games. That didn't help matters.
And though, as I noted above, the tackles aren't solely to blame for sacks, Donald Penn and Austin Howard got worked over more and more as the season went along. Webb continued that when he moved outside.
Then there was the ankle sprain to center Rodney Hudson that cost him three games and had him clearly limited in several others. That sprain was caused when Penn was beaten by his man inside and Hudson's ankle was rolled up on.
The numbers here are very bad. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave deserves blame as well. The game plan became very suspect and often times incredibly predictable. You just knew that if it were third and short, Derek Carr would line up in a shotgun with an empty backfield and if it was third and long, it would be a wide receiver screen behind the line. Those plays in those instances should be a rarity not the norm.
There was of course the nagging injury to Amari Cooper late in the season. The mere idea that not having him 100% could possibly affect the offense to that extent said one that the offense was too reliant on him, two the offense was too simplistic.
This team has weapons on offense. It was about utilizing them properly (or at all in the case of oft inactive Roy Helu Jr) and executing. There wasn't much of that going on in the second half of the season. It's become the primary issue the Raiders must address in the offseason.