By Jonathan Comey
Cold, Hard Football Facts Just Winner, Baby!
Over the final 12 games of the 2010 season, the Oakland Raiders were a pretty darn good football team. They went 7-5, averaged 27.8 PPG, piled up 500+ yards three times and beat all three of their AFC West rivals. Twice.
They got decent quarterback play for the first time since the Rich Gannon days, and they racked up 47 sacks on defense while breaking in a franchise rookie middle linebacker.
Their reward, thanks to a 1-3 start and weirdness between the coaching staff and front office, was an 8-8 record, no playoffs, and a new head coach for 2011 in Hue Jackson.
And so, despite all the gains, it's almost impossible to know what to expect from this team going forward. Are they the team that's whiffed on high-profile picks, or the team that's made a lot of great selections at less-publicized turns? Are they the team that developed a tough-guy mentality under Tom Cable, or are they going to be something different under Jackson?
The 2010 Storyline: They made huge steps forward and then fired their head coach. Sounds like the Raiders.
The Vital Signs
2010 record: 8-8 (25.6 PPG – 23.2 PPG)
Last five seasons overall: 24-56 (.300)
All Quality Stats
Defensive Passing YPA: 10th
Quarterback Rating: 15th
Defensive Quarterback Rating: 18th
Relativity Index: 14th
Statistical curiosity of 2010
Oakland had an epic streak rushing the ball over the last nine games of the season, with five games of 200+ yards. And yet, during this hot run, they managed to run the ball 12 times for just 16 yards in a loss to Miami – a fitting achievement for the inconsistent Raiders.
Best game of 2010
59-14 win at Denver (Week 7). This was definitely one of the finest outings any team will ever put together, especially given a hostile road environment. The Raiders raced out to a 38-0 lead in the second quarter, while Darren McFadden ripped off 165 yards and 3 TD on just 16 carries and the team totaled 52 attempts for 328 yards on the ground. Oakland was nearly as impressive the next week, when they outgained Seattle 545-164 in a 33-3 home win.
Worst game of 2010
24-23 loss at Arizona (Week 3). There were more decisive losses for Oakland, but this one was as tough to take as any. On a day when the Raiders dominated yards (364-227) and turnovers (3-1), a missed game-winner by Sebastian Janikowski from 32 yards as time expired handed them a loss. With a win, who knows what this team might have achieved?
Special teams. Rushing attack. Yes, the Raiders got better in the front seven with the additions of rookies Lamarr Houston and Rolando McClain, but you have to marvel at their special units.
Janikowski was trotted out 41 times for field goals, including a ridiculous 20 times from 40+ yards, and gives the Raiders 12-15 points a year that other teams don't even consider. And Shane Lechler has been the most consistently great player at his position than any other player in the league. He's been first, second or third in the NFL in yards per punt every year since 2003 and his career average of 47.3 yards per punt is the greatest of all time, blowing past the previous record held by the Pigskin Messiah, Sammy Baugh (45.1).
If Lechler doesn't make the Hall of Fame when it's all said and done, you can pretty much assume that punters aren't getting in unless they play quarterback too.
Oh, and Jacoby Ford returned three kicks for touchdowns, if you're into that.
Offensively, the Raiders averaged an impressive 4.96 YPA on the ground. Only the Eagles were more prolific in that area, but their average got a huge boost thanks to Michael Vick's rare abilities to run from the QB position. Week in and week out, no running backs ran the ball better than Oakland's.
Finding the Raiders' weakness is usually pretty easy. Oakland's offensive line and quarterback play has been so terrible over the past decade or so that you could write the same epitaph every year ... along with a few knocks at Al Davis.
But the Raiders had the No. 5 scoring offense in the league last year, thanks in large part to decent play on the line and at QB (although the frequent benchings of Jason Campbell might have cost Cable his job).
The defense, though, which had been pretty stingy while the Raiders couldn't move the ball, has gotten worse as the offense got better. They piled up sacks, but allowed 4.51 yards per rush (23rd) and forced only 24 turnovers – a repeat of their struggles from 2009. As a team that ranked 11th in total defense ranked only 20th in scoring defense.
General off-season strategy/overview
OK, enough good news. This is the Raiders, after all. Their odd handling of the Nmandi Asomugha contract means that their franchise cornerback could flee the madness as soon as free agency is reinstated.
There's enough money in Oakland to bring him back, but considering the lack of success there and the contention over contracts, it seems fairly likely he'll go elsewhere. The Raiders' secondary in recent years has not been great despite Asomugha's true shutdown success, though (20th in Defensive Passer Rating in 2010). So it'd be interesting to see if they try a whole new approach if they lose him.
Oakland's biggest weakness is downfield receiver, a problem despite all the efforts to fix it in recent years – Randy Moss, Javon Walker, Darrius Heyward-Bey, all huge flops. They will probably make a run at one of the free agent wideouts this year – T.O. in Oakland, anyone – and give Heyward-Bey and Louis Murphy one more shot at the Cliff Branch job.
Not sure why the Raiders wouldn't be considered a player in the QB sweepstakes in the draft, either. Campbell was shaky enough to get benched (13 TD, 8 INT, 84.5 passer rating) and doesn't seem like he'll ever be anything better than OK. Why not accept that the future isn't 2011 and grab Jake Locker or Andy Dalton with your No. 1 pick and let him learn for a year behind Campbell?
Oh, right. It's the Raiders. They're always one player away from the Super Bowl.
Totally premature 2011 diagnosis
As much as we'd love to project big things for the Raiders, another season in the 8-8 range seems more likely. They had a dominant running game and pass rush last year and still couldn't get past .500 vs. a weak schedule.
What's going to be better in 2011? The passing game is limited, and if they lose Asomugha from an already-vanilla back seven that's a big hole. But if they can add a second straight great draft to the mix, 2012 could be a breakthrough.