Originally written on The Sports Headquarters  |  Last updated 11/8/14

2011 in a Nutshell: 8-8

In 2011 the Oakland Raiders looked to continue the progress they made in 2010 by having their first winning season since their Super Bowl appearance in 2003 however they had to settle for an 8-8 record and a three way tie on top of the division. Things started off really well for the Raiders, getting to 4-2 with Jason Campbell running an efficient offense spearheaded by Darren McFadden but then it all went sour. Campbell broke his collarbone so the Raiders were forced to trade for Carson Palmer which cost them two high draft picks. Just before their bye week the Raiders lost McFadden to injury as well. At 4-4 things were on the edge before a three game winning streak gave the Raiders hope of a playoff appearance. All they needed to do was to win two of their last 5 games to make the playoffs but a 1-4 stretch killed off their playoff hopes which ended on the final day of the season with a 38-26 loss to Kansas City when a tie would have been enough.

2012 Season Motto: Just Win Baby!

Personnel Performance

With the passing of Al Davis during the 2011 season and his son Mark taking over the ownership of the team, the younger Davis was keen to put his own stamp on the team by adopting a hands off approach that his father would never have even contemplated. He went outside the family and hired a new GM, Reggie McKenzie from the Packers to fill his father’s position. McKenzie’s first action was to fire head coach Hue Jackson, then replace him with Denver defensive coordinator Dennis Allen who was running an aggressive but effective unit with the Broncos. Allen’s style should suit the Raiders very well as they have a lot of players who love to be aggressive and go for the big play.

Luckily for the Raiders, a lot of the players whose contracts were expiring at the end of 2011 were either middle of the road or bottom of the roster fillers who are able to be replaced. Their two priorities were retaining starting safety Tyvon Branch who was assigned franchise tag before agreeing to a four year deal and starting tackle Khalif Barnes who was also kept back. Quarterback Jason Campbell would have been a useful player to retain as well however the team is now tied to Carson Palmer due to the price they paid to acquire him. Campbell and backup running back Michael Bush both bolted for the Chicago Bears this offseason. End/Linebacker Trevor Scott jumped ship to the Patriots and judging by his performance in preseason so far, the Raiders made a good call letting him go.

In free agency the Raiders managed to pick up some good role players, Matt Leinart returns to the Bay Area to back up his former college teammate Carson Palmer and should be good enough when holding the clipboard. Cornerback Ron Bartell was signed in a bit of a gamble considering he is coming off a fractured neck which caused him to miss all of last year, if he plays like he did before the injury then the Raiders could have gotten a steal. Mike Briesiel the former Texans guard was signed to shore up the offensive line and should be in contention for a starting job. The draft meanwhile was tough for the Raiders to do a whole lot in. Their first pick did not come until the end of day 2 in the compensatory third round selections where they took Tony Bergstrom out of Utah. Their first round pick was spent on Carson Palmer, their second round pick was traded to New England in last year’s draft, their third was used in the 2011 supplemental draft on quarterback Terrelle Pryor who has yet to see the field and their fourth round pick was traded for Jason Campbell who is no longer with the team. It will be tough to give the Raiders draft a fair grade for a while yet as most of those players won’t be seeing the field for a while yet outside of special teams.

Key Player for 2012: Darren McFadden – RB

In his relatively short career McFadden has had two years as a backup and spent the last two years as the primary back for the Raiders. Unfortunately for Oakland and McFadden he has been injured in each of his four seasons so far. His best season was in 2010 where he compiled 1157 yards in 13 games and got nearly 50 catches as well. An all around threat out of the backfield, McFadden has got the ability to be a great back if he can just stay healthy. Having McFadden on the field makes a major difference as defenses will have to worry about him as both a runner and a receiver. In his first two preseason games, McFadden has posted decent if not spectacular stats, he has 11 carries for 54 yards, 2 catches for 35 yards and has not found the end zone yet. Against the Lions today McFadden carried 9 times for 27 yards but more importantly did manage to find the end zone. When the real games start, the Raiders will be leaning very heavily on McFadden and he will need to pick up the load and get in the end zone on a regular basis.

Season Expectations

McFadden is not the only player the Raiders will be hoping they can keep healthy, quarterback Carson Palmer will be running the offense as the undisputed starter. Having started 9 games for the Raiders after being traded from the Bengals, Palmer will be much better prepared this time around having had a full offseason to work with his receivers. While Al Davis may be gone, his imprint on the team is still evident through the receivers that are on the roster, all of whom are fast players with the ability to win plenty of footraces. Last year’s rookie surprise Denarius Moore will be looking to improve on his 33 catches but he will need to first get on the field having not logged a catch in the first two preseason games. Having gradually improved every season so far in his career Darrius Heyward-Bey will be looking to make that jump from good to great. Finally slot receiver and kick returner Jacoby Ford will be a dual threat working in passing situations and trying to give his team good field position when he gets the opportunity to run kicks back. If McFadden does struggle to stay healthy then former Panther Mike Goodson will be the next man up and, while he won’t be as lethal as McFadden, he can do a complementary job.

In the middle of the Raiders defensive line are two absolute monsters that can wreak havoc on opposing offensive lines. Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelley are big, brutal, angry men who are very tough to run on and will get into the backfield on passing plays to plant the quarterback on his back. On the edge Lamarr Houston and Matt Shaughnessy look to be the leading contenders to get the start, Shaughnessy is the big question as he is coming off an injury shortened season in 2011. If the defensive line can do its job then the linebackers and secondary will be able to be aggressive and make plenty of plays. In the middle of the team will be Rolando McClain who recorded five sacks last year and got one safety. McClain has the range to be a star in the defense. They will need to be careful for as long as the replacement referees are working games however as they set a league record last year for most penalties and they will need to be much more disciplined this season  and avoid shooting themselves in the foot.

Oakland has a lot of games on its schedule that look very winnable, they open up on the back end of the Monday Night double header against San Diego, who are traditionally slow starters before a trip to Miami. Their toughest stretch comes between weeks 10 and 13 as they make two trips east for early kickoffs bookending a visit from the Saints before their feature match of the season hosting the Denver Broncos on Thursday Night Football.

Final: Will they be better or worse off than last year?

There is a lot to like about what the Raiders have in stock this year, but as has been the case all along they need their pieces to stay healthy. If that is the case then the Raiders should break 8-8 and be in contention for a wild card spot, if they are struggling with injuries all year then it will be more of the same for the Raiders.


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