In 2007, the Oregon Ducks were coming off a 7-6 season in which they couldn’t find themselves a quarterback as they languished under Dennis Dixon and Brady Leaf. For whatever reason, though, things changed in 2007.
Dennis Dixon had miraculously become a Heisman Trophy caliber player and all-of-a-sudden, the Ducks had morphed into national title contenders. They started the season 8-1 and were No. 2 in the country after back-to-back wins over top 10 teams.
And then, Dixon tore his ACL.
Oregon would lose their final three regular season games, falling out of the polls before beating South Florida in the Sun Bowl.
Any of this sound familiar?
A team (school) having their best season in ages? A quarterback that was a favorite for the most important award? A late-season leg injury that seemed to crush any title hopes?
But here’s the most important question: can things be different for the Raiders?
Maybe it’s delusional — but I actually think the answer might be yes.
For Oakland, it starts up front. It’s widely known that the Raiders boast one of the best offensive lines in the league — allowing the fewest sacks (16), QB hits (36) and paving the way for the No. 5 rushing attack. (Somehow these numbers are depressing right now)
At times this season, the Raiders have looked their opponent in the face and said, “we’re running the ball and there’s nothing you can do about it”. And, well, for the most part it has worked.
And that’s a good thing — because they better get ready for about 48 minutes of that.
But what about Matt McGloin? If we’re being honest, he’s not great. But can he be okay? Everyone wants to make the Trent Dilfer comparison — the difference, however, is that Dilfer played with the best defense in the league. For the Raiders, McGloin will need to be better than Dilfer if they’re going to have any chance.
Which brings us back to the offensive line. The truth is, good protection will make any quarterback appear better than they are. A league-average quarterback with plenty of time can look like an above-average quarterback facing pressure for stretches, and this is essentially what the Raiders will be banking on.
Throw in a pair of excellent wideouts (no more drops please, Mr. Crabtree) and a trio of pass-catching backs and McGloin is going to have all the help he could possibly want.
Which brings us to the third spoke on this wheel: the defense.
On paper? They should be really good. In real life? They’ve been fairly bad.
Thus far this season, the defense is No. 28 in yard per game (376.9), No. 22 in points allowed per game (24.1), No. 29 in penalty yards (1,008), No. 25 in passing yards per game (260.9) and the list goes on. Of course, the good news is that the Raiders defense has been much improved over the past few weeks.
Over the last three weeks, the Raiders have forced seven total turnovers, have decreased their yards allowed per game number by 50 and have allowed just 80 yards per game on the ground. Add in the reintegration of Mario Edwards Jr. over the next two weeks and there’s as much hope defensively as they’ve had all season.
And really, it should be that way.
Mack. Irvin. Edwards. Smith. Amerson. Nelson.
Those aren’t building blocks for a league-average (or even below-average) defense, they’re the building blocks for a great one. But will they start playing like one? If it’s ever going to happen it had better be now.
The truth is, the outlook is obviously bleak in Oakland right now. And it should be — they just lost their leader, their best player and the most irreplaceable player in the league. But that doesn’t mean the season officially ended Saturday.
If the Raiders can rely on their offensive line, protect McGloin and see their defense live up to expectations, well, who knows? Maybe they’ll surprise some folks.