Raiders midseason review and awards


Raiders midseason review and awards

ALAMEDA -- It was not a popular opinion back in training camp to refer to the Raiders as an "expansion" franchise. It infuriated many fans who looked at the roster and saw so many front-liners returning from a team that was coming off consecutive 8-8 seasons, had swept the AFC West in 2010 an was one play away from winning the division in 2011.But with a new owner in Mark Davis, a new general manager in Reggie McKenzie, a new coach in Dennis Allen and a new philosophy permeating throughout the entire franchise, an expansion franchise, albeit with better players, is exactly what the Raiders are this year. So, at 3-5, they are exactly where they should be, boasting breathtaking come-from-behind victories against Pittsburgh and Jacksonville, wearing crushing losses to Denver and Tampa Bay.RELATED: Raiders stats Roster Transactions Injuries Depth chart
The Raiders took a punch to the gut with the recent loss to the Buccaneers and sit in third place, two games behind the Broncos and one game back of San Diego. So while we look ahead to the second hall of the Raiders New Regime's first season, a glance back at Oakland's first eight gamesBest offensive player: Carson Palmer. Go ahead, blame the quarterback for everything that ails the Raiders and, to a certain extent, your life. That's what "PalmersFault is all about, right? But on a serious note, sans Palmer, the Raiders are probably 1-7. Because with Darren McFadden's vanishing act behind the returning zone-blocking scheme, Palmer has carried the offense. Consider: he is on pace to pass for a franchise record 4,710 yards, with 26 touchdowns and 16 interceptions and his passer rating of 85.6 would be his highest since 2007. Yes, there are many problems with the Raiders, but Palmer is the least of them. In fact, he's been a bright spot. Oakland's offensive inconsistency is far from PalmersFault. Besides, according to Pro Football Focus, he has only 2.57 seconds to throw, to a young group of receivers.RELATED: Carson Palmer 2012 game logs
Best defensive player: Philip Wheeler. Sure, outspoken CSN California analyst Bill Romanowski has referred to Wheeler as a strongside linebacker as being a little "light in the (behind)," but what he lacks in relative size he more than makes up for in pure hustle. After four years playing a more reactionary role in Indianapolis' famed "Tampa-2" defense, Wheeler has thrived in the Raiders' hybrid 'D' that has used a lot of man-to-man principles. His 65 tackles leads the team and he is only 15 stops away from his career high of 80 tackles, set last year. As Dennis Allen put it, Wheeler makes mistakes, but he's usually going 100 mph when he makes them. And you can't fault him for the effort.

Best special-teams player: Sebastian Janikowski. Hobbled by a strained left groin since training camp, the man known in the streets of Silver and Blackdom simply as SeaBass has kept on keeping on. He was the AFC's special teams player of the month for October after making 10 of 11 field-goal attempts and his 40-yarder to beat Jacksonville in overtime was his 13th career game winner. He has converted 19 of his 20 FGA and all 14 PATs. How dependable has he become? It was somewhat of a shock when he was actually short and missed a 64-yarder against the Jaguars. The Raiders' 2000 first-round draft pick is still under contract for 2013, unlike his running mate, punter Shane Lechler, who is in the final year of his contract.RELATED: Sebastian Janikowski 2012 game logsBest offensive play: Already trailing Pittsburgh, 7-0, before Darren McFadden had a chance to touch the ball, the Raiders sat on their own 36-yard line on first-and-10. Palmer sensed a blitz coming from the left side and audibled into a run to the right. It was a case study in the zone-blocking scheme working with aplomb. With the entire line shifting to the right, a huge hole was opened between left guard Cooper Carlisle and center Stefen Wisniewski. McFadden ran through it untouched, faked safety Ryan Mundy out of his jockstrap, picked up a big block from receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey and outran cornerback Keenan Lewis, who had the angle, to the right pylon. McFadden's 64-yard touchdown run was a thing of beauty that seemed the norm in 2011 but has been the exception, thus far, in 2012. That Raiders Hall of Fame running back Marcus Allen was in the house made the play all the sweeter.Best defensive play: Lamarr Houston made quite an impression for himself as a hustler in Denver when he ran near the length of the field chasing a play and his hustle paid off when he was in position to pick up Demaryius Thomas' fumble at the 4-yard line. But that came in a blowout loss. Houston's stripping of Jacksonville receiver Cecil Shorts III was bigger as it came in overtime, and set up a victory. Shorts had just taken a pass across the middle on 3rd and 20 from the Jaguars' 9-yard line when Houston, appearing seemingly out of nowhere, reached up and ripped the ball free. Joselio Hanson recovered at the 21-yard line and two snaps later, Sebastian Janikowski kicked the game-winner. Raiders 26, Jaguars 23. The play helped Houston garner AFC player of the week honors.Best special-teams play: It seemed like your run-of-the-mill 43-yard field goal to win a game with no time on the clock, but the fact that it came against the rival Steelers, in front of prodigal son Marcus Allen returning to Raider Nation, made the kick all the better. Plus, Sebastian Janikowski had to navigate around the lip of the baseball infield, which made the kick not so run-of-the-mill, if you catch my drift. But Janikowski split the uprights, six-and-a-half minutes after his 32-yarder tied the game. Raiders 34, Steelers 31.Biggest surprise: A year after setting single-season records for penalties (163) and penalty yardage (1,358) and leading the NFL in penalties for a record 17th time, the yellow flags have eased up. The Raiders were on pace for a relatively mere 102 penalties and 812 penalty yards. After eight games (keep in mind, several teams had played nine times) the Raiders were in a four-way tie for 18th with the New York Jets, Denver and San Diego in penalties and 22nd in penalty yards. Fixed? Not quite, but the new regime has made a pleasantly surprising difference.Biggest disappointment: This was to be the year Darren McFadden took that next step, the one to the Pro Bowl and league MVP consideration and yes, a full healthy season. Especially since he was healthyuntil last weekend, anyway, when he suffered a high ankle sprain. Before going down to a season-ending Lisfranc injury in '11, he was averaging 5.4 yards per carry. This year, granted, in a new offense and behind a zone-blocking scheme, McFadden is averaging a career-low 3.3 yards. Take away his two longest runs of the season, the 64-yard TD sprint against the Steelers and a 28-yard jaunt at Kansas City, and his average falls to an unsightly 2.7 yards. No, it's not all his fault, but with such lofty expectations coming into the season, the lack of production from McFadden is Oakland's biggest disappointment. And now, the game breaker who has never played more than 13 games in a season is hurt. Again.Biggest question answered: That old adage -- if it ain't broke, don't fix it -- was put to to the ultimate test when Dennis Allen decided against keeping Al Saunders on as offensive coordinator, instead giving him the nebulous title of senior offensive assistant, and moving away from an offense that was the team's strong suit a year ago and bringing back Greg Knapp to implement a zone-blocking scheme and west coast offense. Through eight games, the answer isno, it has not worked. At least, not in the running game and not through eight games. We've already gone through Darren McFadden's struggles. But as a team, the Raiders are averaging 77.3 yards per game on the ground, compared to the 151.9 rushing yards they had at the midway point last year. Any more questions?Biggest upgrade: Call it addition by subtraction. When the Raiders started taking underperforming middle linebacker Rolando McClain off the field in nickel packages after their bye week and kept Philip Wheeler and rookie Miles Burris on the field, Oakland's defense became faster, more explosive and, ultimately, more effective. Plus, it kept McClain fresher to man the middle in the Raiders' base 4-3 defense. Of course, it all went away in the second half of the Raiders' epic meltdown against Tampa Bay, in which rookie Doug Martin had scoring runs of 45, 67 and 70 yards. But for a three-game stretch, taking McClain off the field in nickel packages was an upgrade.Biggest drop-off: Who knew the importance of having a capable, competent backup long snapper? Neither did the Raiders, until Pro Bowler long snapper Jon Condo was knocked out of the season opener against San Diego. The drop-off from Condo to Travis Goethel was as spectacular as it was unreal. And none of it, really, was Goethel's fault, so to speak. He last long-snapped in high school and was asked, on the stage of Monday Night Football, to pull it off. So kudos to him for at least trying. But two of his snaps to punter Shane Lechler were botched, rolling across the dirt infield like a baseball grounder, and a third resulted in a blocked punt. Many surmised that with less of a drop-off in long-snappers, the Raiders would have beaten the Chargers that night. Instead, San Diego walked away with the 22-14 victory, and every other team in the NFL ramped up its efforts to get a capable backup long snapper ready.Best newcomer: Philip Wheeler was expected to shore up the defense, sure, but who saw the former Indianapolis Colt, who signed as a free agent for a relative pittance of 700,000, being such a force? The strongside linebacker flies to the ball, is a force against both the pass and the run, leads the team in tackles with 65, and has taken the "green sticker," the on-field mic to communicate with the sidelines, from middle linebacker Rolando McClain. Wheeler has been on the field for 509 of 511 defensive snaps this season. Only Michael Huff (511) and Tyvon Branch (510) have more. Yeah, it's time to talk extension with Wheeler and his long braids.Best rookie: While undrafted rookie receiver Rod Streater has flashed -- he has two touchdowns among his 18 receptions -- fourth-round draft pick Miles Burris appeared in every snap over a two-game stretch (he has appeared in 379 snaps total), and started every game at weakside linebacker. Burris' speed and high motor -- code words, I know, but they apply to the San Diego State and Granite Bay High product -- have been a refreshing sight for fans used to the Raiders linebacker corps being a slow-to-react weak link. Burris has 38 tackles and his sack of Jacksonville's Chad Henne was a thing of textbook beauty.Key to the second half: The same as it was coming into the season -- getting the running game going on offense and stopping the run on defense. The Raiders have not been able to do either with much consistency thus far. And if Darren McFadden is gone for any extended length of time, would it really matter? Heresy perhaps, I know, but it's not like last season, when he was running wild before suffering the Lisfranc to his right foot. He has hardly been a factor, though his game-breaking potential is oh so teasing. Otherwise, Carson Palmer will continue to put up awe-inspiring numbers, but in losing causes.
On the other side of the ball, Oakland did have a nice three-game run against Atlanta, Jacksonville and Kansas City, limiting that trio to just over 200 rushing yards total. But Tampa Bay's Doug Martin shredded that theory with his 251-yard day. It puts a lot of question marks over the heads of high-priced veteran defensive tackles Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly. And if they do not produce over these last eight games, not only would it be tough to see the Raiders having defensive success the last eight games, it would also be hard to imagine either one of them returning to Oakland in 2013. And more pressure on the quarterback, i.e., more sacks, will also result in more interceptions.

Raiders snap count: Riley over James; Murray a feature back

Raiders snap count: Riley over James; Murray a feature back

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Malcolm Smith was fully recovered from a quadriceps strain, ready to assume his typically extensive workload at weakside linebacker.

That allowed the Raiders to make a personnel change in the middle. They started relative newcomer Perry Riley at middle linebacker over rookie sixth-round pick Cory James, a young player forced into action due to Ben Heeney’s ineffectiveness and health.

Riley has six seasons and 72 starts to his name, given the Raiders experience at a position expected to make reads and checks and communicate information to teammates before the snap.

Riley fared well in that spot in Sunday’s 33-16 victory over Jacksonville, with a pair of tackles in 100 percent of the defensive snaps. He was Pro Football Focus’ highest-rated Raiders defensive player, with positive marks against the run and pass.

It was uncertain how much Latavius Murray would play in his return from turf toe, but the Raiders did not attach a short leash. Murray played 42 snaps and had 20 touches in this game.

He was the feature back in this one, a new approach after the Raiders used a near-even split with DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard. That wasn’t the case this time. Washington got the start but played just 13 snaps and six touches. Richard only had two touches in limited action.

Murray sparked the Raiders run game, with 18 carries for 59 yards and two touchdowns. The work left him no worse for the wear, a positive sign for a team that needs Murray running strong.

Let’s take a look at the entire Raiders snap count:

72 – OL Donald Penn, OL Gabe Jackson, OL Austin Howard, OL Rodney Hudson, QB Derek Carr
71 – OL Kelechi Osemele
68 – WR Amari Cooper
50 – WR Michael Crabtree
49 – TE Clive Walford
47 – WR Seth Roberts
42 – RB Latavius Murray
25 – FB Jamize Olawale
17 – WR Andre Holmes, Mychal Rivera
13 – RB DeAndre Washington
12 – OL Matt McCants
11 – OL Denver Kirkland
5 – WR Johnny Holton
4 – RB Jalen Richard
1 – OL Jon Feliciano

67 – CB Sean Smith, S Reggie Nelson, CB David Amerson, LB Perry Riley
66 – S Karl Joseph
63 – LB Malcolm Smith
60 – DE Khalil Mack
57 – LB Bruce Irvin
52 – CB DJ Hayden
42 – DL Denico Autry
34 – DL Jihad Ward
21 – LB Shilique Calhoun, DL Justin Ellis
20 – DL DL Darius Latham, DL Dan WIlliams
7 -- DL Stacy McGee
4 – S Keith McGill
2 – CB TJ Carrie

29 – Darren Bates, Nate Allen
25 – Andre Holmes, Jamize Olawale
24 – Shilique Calhoun
23 – Johnny Holton, Mychal Rivera
16 – Cory James, Sebastian Janikowski
14 – Antonio Hamilton
13 – Jon Condo, Marquette King
12 – Clive Walford
11 – Jon Feliciano
10 – Jalen Richard
9 – DJ Hayden, Karl Joseph
7 – Matt McCants, Denver Krikland, Gabe Jackson, Kelechi Osemele
6 – RB DeAndre Washington, Donald Penn
4 – TJ Carrie, Dan Williams, Darius Latham, Denico Autry, Bruce Irvin, Khalil Mack
3 – Justin Ellis
1 – Jihad Ward, Amari Cooper, Austin Howard
NOTE: Snap counts taken from official NFL game book

Notes: 'Carr to Crabtree was special' in Raiders' win over Jaguars

Notes: 'Carr to Crabtree was special' in Raiders' win over Jaguars

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Raiders receiver Michael Crabtree was a non-factor in last week’s loss to Kansas City, an aberration of the highest order this season.

It proved to be just a one-game lull.

Crabtree was an offensive catalyst yet again Sunday in a 33-16 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars. He had eight receptions for 96 yards and a touchdown, including a long bomb that changed the game.

Quarterback Derek Carr went big on 3rd-and-5 late in the second quarter, sending a perfectly-arched ball down the right sideline that Crabtree caught over his shoulder at full gallop for a 56-yard gain that set up the Raiders’ second touchdown in five minutes.

Crabtree got it, again on third down, using a quick slant just beyond the goal line.

He refused to speak with the media again, but those around him were again wowed by his impact on the game, especially when Jaguars corner shadowed and largely shut Amari Cooper down.

“Michael Crabtree made some incredible plays today for us,” Del Rio said. “…Throughout the game he came up big for us and I thought he play really, really well for us. Obviously our quarterback is a good player. He did a good job for us hooking up with different receivers, but today Carr to Crabtree was special.”

King shows speed: Raiders punter Marquette King doesn’t have to run much. Players at his position usually don’t, except as a last resort when chasing a return.

King ran forward this time, prompted by a uncharacteristically poor Jon Condo snap. He didn’t have room to punt so he took off running, converting a 4th-and-24 with a 27-yard run down the sideline. It was a move that showed great athleticism, one he

“I just picked the ball up and started running,” King said. “After I passed the orange sticks, I got a little light-headed and realized ‘I’m really running the ball right now.’ It’s been since high school that I ran from the punting formation. I came in as a wide receiver for Fort Valley State and was really good at punting so they stuck with me.”

King ran out without getting hit – a plus in the coaches minds – and extended a drive that ended with a game-icing touchdown from Latavius Murray.

Too many field goals: Sebastian Janikowski had four field goals on Sunday night, which isn’t always a positive sign for the Raiders offense. They let too many touchdown-scoring chances escape, which bothered offensive players despite the fact they scored 33 points.

“When we’re in the red zone, we want points,” Murray said. “That’s most important, but we need touchdowns over field goals. We have a lot of work to do and we’ll keep striving to get seven points over three.”

Winning turnover battle: The Raiders forced three turnovers against Jacksonville and didn’t give up any.

David Amerson had an interception. So did Reggie Nelson. Andre Holmes recovered a punt muffed by Rashad Greene. That’s a recipe for success, something that’s become common for this Raiders team.

They’ve forced three turnovers without coughing it up three times this season. They’ve ended up with a plus turnover ratio six times in seven games.

Notes: Raiders LB Bruce Irvin recorded his fourth forced fumble of the season against Jacksonville, which are the most by a Raiders since Nick Roach equaled that total in 2013. …DE Khalil Mack had his second sack in as many games, and now leads the team with three. … Nelson nabbed his second interception this year and has 32 since 2007, a total that leads all active safeties. …RB Latavius Murray has five touchdowns in seven games, the highest total in that span since 2005. … The Raiders are 4-0 on the road, a mark that hasn’t been matched since 2000.