Attempt to think back to when the Raiders went 12-4, won the AFC West and led the NFL in rushing. It was the year 2000 when the Raiders did exactly that. With a similar two-headed monster in the backfield of Tyrone Wheatley, the bruiser, and Napolean Kaufman, the speed guy, the Raiders ran all over opponents.
In 2010 the Raiders were second in the NFL in rushing with Darren McFadden, the shifty speed guy, and Michael Bush, the bruiser. The Raiders running game was tough for any front seven to handle, but it may be necessary for the Raiders to improve the rushing game even more in 2011 because of the mediocrity of the passing game and rush defense. If Hue Jackson is going to achieve his goal of “building a bully” and earning a 2011 playoff berth these two areas must improve dramatically.
The key to this season’s offense is improving the passing game. The Raiders ranked 23rd in passing with 3180 passing yards. However in 2000, the Raiders finished with just a middle of the road passing attack, at 15th in the league with 3306 passing yards. Although the yardage was very similar, the discrepancy is passing touchdowns. In 2010, Raider quarterbacks combined for 18 touchdowns through the air, which tied them for 25th with the St Louis Rams. By comparison the Raider threw 26 touchdowns in 2000, tied for 5th in the league.
Had the Raiders had the same success in 2010 passing in the red zone as they did in 2000, they would have been in the playoffs. If they can in 2011, there is a good chance they will be playing in January.
The 2000 Raiders were 5th in the league in rush defense as they gave up 1551 yards on the ground while the 2010 Raiders came in at 29th, giving up 2138 yards. The Raiders have made moves to strengthen the front seven. There have been improvements shown by Quentin Groves and the Raiders having both Trevor Scott and Travis Goethel healthy will make the front seven a lot stronger against the run.
Lamar Houston and Matt Shaughnessey should see more consistent playing time this season and the Raider brought back John Henderson, who lives to stop the run. The mixture of these players in the front seven should hopefully cut 300-400 yards over the course of the season. It is a seemingly small amount, just 18-25 yards per game. That drop off in opponent production would have placed last year’s Raiders in the middle of the pack, and probably in the playoffs.
The Raiders need to steadily improve the passing offense and score an extra touchdown through the air every other week. The defense must cut out about 25 rushing yards per week. The combination of these two should give the Raiders equal to seven points per week. An extra seven points per week in the 2010 season could have made for a staggering 13-3 record as the Raiders lost only 3 games by more than 8 points.
Improving to mediocrity last season may have been just enough to make the Raiders the favorites in the AFC West. If they can take the next steps towards “building a bully” they may indeed find themselves on top of the division.
Follow me on Twitter: @MatthewGhanem