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Thursday, September 5, 2013

Post Pre-Season Evaluation of the Oakland Raiders:

Now that the preseason is over, we have more of a sense of what may be in store for the Oakland Raiders.  The Raiders were outscored in the first half of their 4 preseason games; with mostly starters playing; 76-22 with only one offensive touchdown.  Other than the Dallas game the Raiders looked overwhelmed and lacking in talent.  I think this will be the theme for this years Raiders with glimpses of hope and some bright spots thrown in the mix.  

Offensive Preview:
It seemed that the Raiders were set on starting Matt Flynn as their starting quarterback, but his poor performance coupled with Terrelle Pryors running ability gave the Raiders a change of heart so Pryor gets the nod to start the season.

Flynn has had one amazing game in his career and that was when he played for the Green Bay Packers in 2011.  Against a Detroit team who were playing mostly backups, Flynn had a record setting day and so far it's made him millions of dollars and lead him to two teams who gave him a chance to take over their quarterback job.  Flynn failed to get the starting nod at both Seattle and now in Oakland.  He lacks accuracy and he's a classic safe passing quarterback that would make even Alex Smith proud.  Problem is he struggles throwing down field as well and his ability to evade a rush is poor.  Right now he's no where near a starting quarterback.

Lets be real; the Raiders have made it an art form to overvalue their talent and I'm being kind.  Their drafts are borderline bizarre at times and they've paid the price.  Some Raider players and fans get upset when little to nothing good is said about the Raiders but when you have the worst 10 year stretch in the history of the NFL, it's hard to be complimentary.  I think though in the case of Aaron Pryor, there is hope.

Pryor in college was a man among boys.  He dominated at Ohio St. and even though I detest the ridiculous NFL combines, he has the second fastest time of any QB in history, just behind Michael Vick.  He's huge, an amazing athlete and he's a hard worker.  Right now passing wise he has a long way to go.  He makes bad throws at times and takes too many risks which slowly is being fixed by the Raiders brass.  The key to Pryor's growth will be to get him to make quality throws downfield and to improve what the Raiders do in the red zone in regards to touchdowns.  His reads need to improve.  

He is a hard worker, a leader, big and fast, and wants to be a good quarterback.  Those are traits that the Raiders badly need to get back to being a competitive team.  Don't expect the football world to be taken by storm by Pryor and the Raiders, but be patient and give him a couple of years to learn the position.  The Raiders offense is awful at times and scoring points will be a chore, but I like Pryor.  

The talk about Matt McGloin or the brash Tyler Wilson being the starter is just media banter and borders on delusional.  I won't say I told you so about Wilson but I told you so.  He's inaccurate, and throws a bad deep ball.  He talks like a hall of famer but he has a long way to go to be good.  Many fans and writers barely seem to watch college football I guess, because some actually believe Wilson was going to start.  In the real world, thinking these guys were starters; well let's move on.

The loss of offensive tackle Jared Veldheer to a torn tricep was a huge blow and his absence was felt immediately.  The Raiders offensive line was brutal in the pre season.  Many in the NFL love Veldheer's talent and work ethic.  I said many times though, I really like offensive lineman Menelik Watson out of Florida State.  A monster of a man with great athletic skill who is so smart that even though he has little football experience, he started and played very well in college.  Already the Raiders are raving about how fast he picks things up and he's a keeper.  He has had a couple of minor injuries during pre season that hopefully won't keep him out of action.  

It's great to see T.J. Ford back at wide receiver catching passes.  I think it will take time though for fans to stop cringing every time he's tackled worrying about him getting hurt.  Denarius Moore has to prove this year that he's a true number one wide receiver in the NFL and not just the best receiver on a bad team.  The Raiders receivers need to stay healthy because there isn't a lot of depth on this team.

Darren McFadden will be fine starting the season, but he's still never ended a season healthy.  Rashad Jennings had a nice pre season.  He's healthy again and he ran with a burst and broke a lot of tackles.  The Raiders still have big question marks at tight end.

Defensive Preview:  
The front seven wins you championships; stopping the run and rushing the passer is key to a winning defense but the Raiders still haven't got the memo yet.  Maybe that's why with all of the DB's picked by the Raiders over the years, they haven't had a championship defense.  

With the Raiders next to last in sacks last year, they again chose a DB in the first round.  D.J. Hayden played on a Houston team that gave up a ton of passing yards.  He also had follow up surgery recently for scar tissue from a life saving surgery he had in college that is well documented.  With all of the talent on the defensive line that came out for the draft this year, it was shocking that the Raiders didn't take one in the first round.

It is going to be painful this year to watch the Raiders defensive line.  Already you saw games where the quarterback had all day to throw and that will happen more often than not this year.  The Raiders will have to blitz a lot on passing downs especially.  Lamarr Houston is a solid defensive lineman but after he's double teamed, the Raiders struggle.  The linebackers have shown promise and Sio Moore hopefully will grow into what Rolando McClain should have.  

The Raiders starting defense really struggled at times, especially in the passing game.  If the Raiders don't pick a defensive lineman in the first round of next years draft, then the water should be tested in Alameda.

Reggie McKenzie did the right thing by cleaning house in Oakland.  All of the bad signings and picks are gone.  He said lets just start over.  To his defense he was left with a salary cap nightmare that had to be fixed.  The "dead" money on the Raiders payroll this year needed to be cleared.  

Many jumped on McKenzie for signing Matt Flynn but they had to do something.  Pryor had not shown that he could handle the NFL yet, and they literally had no one else.  At 6.5 million guaranteed, there have been much worse decisions in the NFL than Matt Flynn.  Flynn isn't a starting NFL player and hopefully that ship has sailed.  

The Raiders placed former Arkansas QB Tyler Wilson on the practice squad (again, I told you so) which was expected.  Punter Chris Kluwe was also let go so those upset Raider fans that were ripping on the Raiders for keeping 4 QB's and 2 punters can calm down.  Last minute changes before the season starts happen all the time and experienced fans know this.  

It will be interesting to see how things play out for Dennis Allen.  If I were the Raiders I'd give him this year and next year to see what happens but I don't know if Mark Davis has the patience to wait; his father, the great Al Davis didn't.

I think going back to a power game is a good move.  McFadden is in the last  year of his contract and that doesn't hurt either because he wants to show he's durable and valuable enough to be a top line running back.  I think the defense is already showing more aggression, especially with blitzes and that is good to see.

Even if this is a long year for the Raiders, they have to create a core of players that will make the foundation of the team for the next few years.  Pryor's maturation and ability to throw downfield when teams know they are going to throw is key to his growth.  Hopefully as the year goes on the Raiders red zone touchdowns will also increase.  That will be a sign that Pryor is the man that everyone hopes he is.  The entire team is being evaluated and with more cap space and another high draft choice next year, the Raiders should gradually continue to be going in the right direction.

Jim Jax

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