The Oakland Raiders look to build on an improved 2010 season this year. The Raiders swept the AFC West en route to an 8-8 record, good for 3rd in the division.
The Raiders offense ranked 6th in the NFL with 25.6 points per game under then offensive coordinator Hue Jackson. The Raiders will look for starting quarterback Jason Campbell to improve in his second year directing Hue Jackson’s offense, who is now the head coach of the squad.
Campbell will get help from arguably one of the best backfields in the league which is led by fourth-year running back Darren McFadden. McFadden ran for 1,157 yards and seven touchdowns last year, while also hauling in 47 receptions for an additional 507 yards and three touchdowns. But McFadden’s biggest question is his ability to stay healthy. In McFadden’s three seasons with the Raiders, he has never started more than 13 games in a season.
Should McFadden go down due to injury, he will be backed up by a formidable group in Michael Bush and rookie Taiwan Jones. Bush has shown he can be a solid back, providing a big body that can run hard and catch out of the backfield. Jones has shown his explosiveness this preseason, proving he can be a weapon for Coach Jackson whether it be rushing, returning or receiving the football.
The Raiders biggest question on offense is their offensive line. Throughout the preseason Jackson has tried a variety of combinations in an attempt to find the best fit. It looks like the Raiders will only have three of last year’s starters on the offensive line this year as they look to start Jared Veldheer, Stefen Winiewski, Samson Satele, Cooper Carlisle and Khalif Barnes.
To make things more difficult on the offensive line, the Raiders have also changed over to a power-blocking scheme this year with the departure of Tom Cable. The offensive line will need to play well in order to give Campbell necessary time and to open up holes for the Raiders running game.
Raiders wide receivers will also need to improve in 2011 if Oakland hopes to build on their 8-8 record. Third-year wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey will look to be productive in an attempt to prove critics wrong, following a 2010 season where he finished with 26 receptions. The Raiders also hope Jacoby Ford will continue to build on his rookie campaign in 2010 as he finished with 25 receptions and seven touchdowns; two receiving, two rushing, and three on kickoff returns.
The Raiders hope rookie wide reciever Denarius Moore can be more than just a preseason sensation. Moore was drafted in the 5th round in April and has impressed both
players and coaches in training camp and on the field in the preseason. Oakland also brought in veteran Derek Hagan who has also impressed coaches in camp, including a six reception, 121 yard game against New Orleans in the third week of preseason.
Oakland’s defense has been more questionable than the offense in the preseason.
The remaining constant on defense is their stout defensive line anchored by veteran Richard Seymour. Seymour and company will need to get pressure on the quarterback while stopping the run in order for the defense to have success.
Besides Michael Huff and Tyvon Branch who have become a solid safety tandem, the seven players behind the defensive line still hold many question marks for new defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan who was also Oakland’s defensive coordinator from 2000-2003.
Middle linebacker Rolando McClain will need to become the play maker they drafted him to be as he enters his second year of play. Kamerion Wimbley must play like someone that deserves the five-year, $48 million contract he received this off season. Although he was Oakland’s leading pass rusher with nine sacks last year, he proved to be a liability in pass coverage. Weak-side linebacker Quentin Groves will also need to excel his game to help the Raiders defense become successful.
With the departure of Nnamdi Asomugha to the Philadelphia Eagles, the Raiders secondary has a huge hole to fill. Oakland will start veteran corner backs Stanford Routt and Chris Johnson in an attempt to fill this void.
Routt and Johnson will be backed up by two rookies in DeMarcus Van Dyke and Chimdi Chekwa, drafted in the third and fourth rounds, respectively.
Van Dyke was forced to start for the Raiders this preseason due to an injury to Chris Johnson and had a rough time. Quarterbacks continued to target him as he continued to give up plays. Chekwa has primarily seen playing time against second- and third string offenses, including some time playing at free safety.
Punter Shane Lechlar remains the best punter in the game, and kicker Janikowski has become one of the best in the game to leave special teams with little-to-no questions.
Overall, the Raiders biggest question is the play from their corner backs and the lack of depth at the position. Oakland’s defense will need strong play from their front seven to try and support their defensive backs. With an offense returning almost in full, the Raiders will need an improvement from Campbell and his wide receivers along with solid defensive play to build on their 8-8 season and make a playoff run in 2011.