Wednesday, October 14, 2009

What Does Oakland Need to Do to Be Good?

Antonio Pierce recently wrote the latest page in the ongoing chapter of Oakland Raider futility. The chapter that began with Super Bowl XXXVII and has only gotten worse since.

Pierce said playing the Raiders had the feeling of a "scrimmage," and unfortunately the Raiders things won't get much easier as the team hosts the Philadelphia Eagles in what most people will consider the "lock of the week."

But instead of jumping on the "Raiders-Suck" bandwagon and flinging around absurd comments like the team would lose to the Florida Gators; let's be constructive and attempt to answer the question, "what do the Oakland Raiders need to do to turn this ship around?"

The offense in Oakland is obviously the problem. The team is currently 1-4, yet through five games they've scored only 49 points;By comparison this past week the Giants put up 44 on the Raiders with a gimpy Eli Manning.

The root of the offensive problem lies within the play of their quarterback, JaMarcus Russell. I know in the past I've defended Russell, but this season he hasn't done much to justify my pleas for patience. He's currently 51 for 121, with 606 yards, 1 touchdown, and 4 interceptions. In case you're wondering that's a 42.1% completion percentage, and a 5.0 YPA. And if you need to know he's been sacked 15 times, on pace to break David Carr's single season record of 76.

I'd love to say that JaMarcus isn't the root of the problem and that the offense has so many other issues that it's hard for Russell to develop in this system, but I can't. Carson Palmer, Matthew Stafford, and Matt Ryan were all drafted into equally toxic situations, neither has ever looked this bad. Ryan actually helped eliminate the toxicity that surrounded the Atlanta franchise, something Matthew Stafford is trying to do right now in Detroit, while Carson Palmer has established himself as a leader in Cincinnati, where he spoke out against his teammates off the field legal issues. All JaMarcus seems to do is waffle around, never showing the passion that Palmer, Ryan, and Stafford have shown.

Is JaMarcus Russell hopeless? Even if he finishes this season with the 1 to 4 TD to INT ratio he has now, the same completion percentage, and breaks Carr's sack record, I'd still give him a shot heading in to 2010. Russell has a great arm, and the franchise has a lot invested in him. Hiring Jim Fassel probably would have been the right move for the Raiders in retrospect, as Russell probably needs a head coach with an eye for developing lazy, out of shape, underachieving, big armed QB's (yes, I'm referring to Kerry Collins.)

The next thing the Raiders need to do is keep this defense in tact. It looks really bad right now, but that's likely because the offense can't stay on the field. Against San Diego in week 1 this until looked great. There are some bright spots in Kirk Morrison, Tvon Branch, Thomas Howard, and Michael Huff, none of whom will be turning 30 anytime soon. The defense also has two built in leaders in Richard Seymour and Nnamdi Asomugha. Give this until a real chance and I think they have potential to be elite in 2010.

As for the offensive line? It probably needs to be entirely retooled. The way it sits now the group is a pasted together bunch of players comprised of no "big time" talent, rather it's mostly journeymen or late round draft picks. Ever think that missing on a first round draft pick doesn't set a franchise back? In 2004 the Raiders drafted T Robert Gallery over Larry Fitzgerald, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Jonathan Vilma, Steven Jackson, and the late Sean Taylor. All of the above players developed into Pro Bowl talent, Robert Gallery developed into a bust. Gallery never developed into the offensive line anchor he was supposed to, and the Raiders running game is paying for.

Darren McFadden, Michael Bush, and Justin Fargas combine to be the offensive bright spot for the Raiders. If the team can ever scare defenses with a passing game, these guys will explode. Until that happens though, they'll continue to struggle, line up against eight men in the box, and get hurt in the process.

The Oakland Raiders were once one of the marquee franchises in the NFL. They still have a large fan base and sell a ton of merchandise. Whether Raider haters want to admit it or not, when the Raiders are good, the NFL is better. In order to get there they need to revamp the offense, starting with the offensive line.

In the offseason a lot of QB's will hit the free agent market. Jason Campbell, Kellen Clemens, and David Carr, Brodie Croyle and Tavaris Jackson will give the Raiders something to think about in finding someone young to compete with Russell as the long term answer. More important for the Raiders future is to sign at least two of the following offensive linemen: Jahri Evans, Marcus McNeil, Mike Gandy, Daryn Colledge, and Jared Gaither.

It all starts up front, and that's where it will begin for the Oakland Raiders.

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