Between now and the September 9th season kick-off, Hank Koebler, IV will be previewing all the NFL teams with new teams being released daily.
2009 final record (overall, division): 5-11, 2-4
Division finish: 3rd AFC West
Offensive rank (Points, Total Yards, Passing Yards, Rushing Yards): 31st, 31st, 29th, 21st
Defensive rank (Points, Total Yards, Passing Yards, Rushing Yards): 10th, 7th, 7th, 29th
2009 Individual Statistical Leaders
Rushing: Michael Bush, 589 yards, 3 TD; Justin Fargas, 491 yards, 3 TD; Darren McFadden, 357 yards, 1 TD
Passing: JaMarcus Russell, 1,287 yards, 3 TD, 11 INT; Bruce Gradkowski, 1,007 yards, 6 TD, 3 INT; Charlie Frye, 581 yards, 1 TD, 4 INT
Receiving: Zach Miller, 805 yards, 3 TD; Louis Murphy, 521 yards, 4 TD; Chaz Schilens, 365 yards, 2 TD; Johnnie Lee Higgins, 263 yards, 0 TD; Darren McFadden, 11.7 yards, 0 TD
Tackles: Kirk Morrison, 109 total tackles, Tyvon Branch, 98 total tackles
Sacks: Trevor Scott, 7.0 sacks; Greg Ellis, 7.0 sacks; Richard Seymour, 4.0 sacks
Interceptions: Chris Johnson, 3 INT, 0 TD; Michael Huff, 3 INT, 0 TD
2010 Season Outlook
September 2 at Arizona: The Raiders' offensive line will be put to the test here against the likes of players like Darnell Dockett and Joey Porter. Jason Campbell will be under tremendous pressure from the Cardinals' pass rush, and this will be his chance to show how much of an upgrade to the quarterback position he is. Meanwhile, the Cardinals have slowly transitioned into a running team in the last year of Kurt Warner's career, and with the retirement of Warner and the trade of Anquan Boldin, it looks like they'll definitely be a run-first team, which will test the Raiders' upgraded run defense.
October 17 at San Francisco: About two years ago, both of these teams looked hopeless, but they have started to show some major improvement and surprise everybody. Nnamdi Asomugha and Chris Johnson will look to shut down Michael Crabtree, while one of the safeties will have to blanket tight end Vernon Davis to keep him out of the game. This will put quarterback Alex Smith to the test of spreading the ball around to take the rest of Oakland's defense's focus off of running back Frank Gore. Jason Campbell will be similarly tested to make running back Michael Bush's battle against middle linebacker Patrick Willis a little less difficult. Regardless of who wins, this matchup between the two Bay Area rivals will be a hard-fought contest to remember.
November 21 at Pittsburgh: While this sounds like an easy win for the the Steelers, it should be remembered that the Raiders actually won when the two teams squared off in 2009. This offseason, the Raiders got a lot better, while the Steelers got a lot worse with the trade of Santonio Holmes and the season-ending injury to Willie Colon. On paper, this actually gives the Raiders the edge. On the field, the Raiders will have to establish a passing attack led by Jason Campbell to cause the Steelers' defense to back off of the run. If this can happen, the Raiders can beat Pittsburgh, which would be a major blow to the swagger of the 2008 season's Super Bowl champions.
Jamarcus Russell, QB; Kirk Morrison, LB; Cornell Green, OT; Gerard Warren, DT
Key Returning Players
Michael Bush, RB; Michael Huff, FS; Nnamdi Asomugha, CB; Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR
Key Draft Picks
Rolando McClain, MLB; Lamarr Houston, DT; Jared Veldheer, OT; Bruce Campbell, OT
Key Free Agent Signings
John Henderson, DT; Daniel Loper, OG
Key Acquisitions via Trade
Jason Campbell, QB
The release of quarterback Jamarcus Russell in itself ought to bring this team one or two more wins than it had last year. Words can't fully describe how awful he was, but my job as a writer is to try and put these types of things into words, so here it goes – terrible footwork, horrendous work ethic and leadership skills, literally JUMPING as he throws the ball, missing receivers completely, and absolutely no pocket presence. On the positive side, he has a really strong arm, so his passes have a great velocity when they fly into the hands of opposing cornerbacks. I hate to be so negative about a player, but when you put more effort into your ridiculous outfits than you put into your performance as a professional quarterback, the results are going to be ugly.
While quarterback Bruce Gradkowski played very well in lieu of Russell, the Raiders still looked to improve at quarterback, trading for Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell. This was an excellent trade. Campbell had a ton of talent, but had diminutive receivers, no offensive line or running game, and coaches whose offices had revolving doors, which prevented him from ever having time to master an offense. Despite all the instability he suffered in his crucial developmental years, he has shown improvement, increasing his yardage total, touchdown total, and completion percentages. However, the Redskins' recent slump stems mostly from another number that increased in each year of his career: the amount of times his offensive line allowed him to be sacked. Campbell is absolutely phenomenal at using his eyes to look all over the field and fool defensive backs, is pretty good at keeping his feet under him while throwing on the run, and has nice ball placement. These are all three subtle but highly important parts of becoming an elite quarterback. If he can get good protection, he's going to have a great year.
The Raiders' defensive line has been shuffled around as of late. Richard Seymour, acquired from New England last offseason, has been lining up at defensive tackle in training camp. Because he was a 3-4 defensive end, his build is similar to that of a 4-3 defensive tackle, and he is best-suited to be next to Tommy Kelly, the Raiders' other starting tackle. For depth, the Raiders signed former Jacksonville Jaguar John Henderson, who is a good run-stopper but struggles at rushing the passer. Matt Shaughnessy and rookie LaMarr Houston have been lining up as the first-team defensive ends. Houston played both end and tackle at the University of Texas, and from all accounts is flat-out aggressive, which is always a good sign for a lineman.
Middle linebacker Kirk Morrison was a polarizing figure. Some Raiders fans loved him, but others couldn't wait to see him leave. Whether you loved Morrison or hated him, rookie middle linebacker Rolando McClain will make you forget Morrison completely if you're a Raiders fan. Former Cleveland brown Kamerion Wimbley is set to start as strong side linebacker. There is some cynicism surrounding Wimbley, but they have to remember that he was playing for a Browns defense that lost its starting nose tackle, which makes the rest of the entire 3-4 defense look bad. The weak side linebacker spot looks to be open to competition between Trevor Scott and Thomas Howard. Additionally, the Raiders obtained third-year defensive end Quentin Groves from the Jaguars, and Groves could come in the game as either a defensive end or an outside linebacker from time to time.
The Raiders' defensive backfield is already great, and will look even better thanks to Oakland's improved pass rush and run defense. Safeties Michael Huff and Tyvon Branch are stars in the making, and cornerback Chris Johnson is very solid opposite of the league's highest-paid corner, Nnamdi Asomugha. There is heavy debate over whether Asomugha or the Jets' Darrelle Revis is the best cornerback in the league right now, and our own Jayson Braddock wrote in a recent article that he leans in favor of Revis, explaining that Asomugha:
“had 3 pass deflections in 2009 in 28 attempts. Revis averages more pass deflections a year (21) than Nnamdi's top year of 18. Asomugha averages only 8 pass deflections a year. Revis had 31 pass deflections in 2009 to go along with his 6 picks. Revis also is a better tackler and plays a bigger role in run support. Nnamdi averages 42 tackles a year and has only had more than 50 tackles in a season once, with 60 tackles in 2007. Revis had a career high with 87 tackles as a rookie and averages 66 tackles a year.”
Whether he is the best in the league or only the second-best, he is still absolutely phenomenal and quarterbacks will avoid throwing the ball at him at all costs. The Raiders weren't in love with their nickel back Stanford Routt, so they drafted Walter McFadden - the younger brother of Steelers corner Bryant McFadden - and Jeremy Ware to challenge for the nickel job. Early indications from camp suggest Ware is outplaying McFadden so far.
The Broncos' 3-4 defense saw the loss of coordinator Mike Nolan, but the loss of Nolan will be compensated for by the acquisition of projected starters at each defensive line position. With Justin Bannan, Jamal Williams, and Jarvis Green starting this year, the defensive line will be a lot more experienced and intimidating. In reality, the line was the weakest point of the defense last year. By completely cleaning house on the defensive line, the Broncos may well have improved their entire defense, as the linebackers will now be able to get more penetration with their blitzes. Also, the Broncos' defensive line starters from 2009 are now backups, which gives them great depth here. The biggest concern is Williams' health. He has been an absolutely dominant nose tackle throughout his career, but suffered a season-ending arm injury against the Raiders in the season opener last year. He is currently on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, but if he is healthy throughout the season he will be a massive factor in the Broncos' defensive improvement.
The best unit on the team last year was the linebacking corps, who absolutely flew to the ball and made a ton of plays. Outside linebacker Darrell Reid is returning from knee injury and the Broncos have obtained Philadelphia's Joe Mays to provide depth in the event that Reid isn't ready to play in the opener. On the opposite side, former defensive end Elvis Dumervil racked up a league-leading 17 sacks in his first year at outside linebacker. However, Dumervil's chance to improve on that number has been postponed indefinitely, as he suffered a torn pectoral in training camp that will keep him out of action for most, if not all, of the season. While Dumervil's contributions to the defense will be impossible for any one player to replace, the Broncos will likely look to a rotation between Jarvis Moss and 2009 first-round pick Robert Ayers. At inside linebacker, D.J. Williams led the team in tackles last year and will now be accompanied by former Dolphin Akin Ayodele, who amassed 71 tackles for the Dolphins.
The secondary was also bolstered by the signing of a former Dolphin. Despite being a reserve and starting only four games, strong safety Nate Jones racked up 45 total tackles, as well as picking off two passes. As a full-time starter, he and free safety Brian Dawkins will roam all over the field and make it a lot harder to move the ball against the Broncos. Cornerbacks Champ Bailey and Andre Goodman were excellent last year, but the Broncos will be shredded in nickel packages if neither Alphonso Smith nor rookie Perrish Cox steps up and fills that role.
Special Teams Overview
Kickoff and punt coverage is something that needs to improve this season. The Raiders allowed a higher average kickoff return distance than any other team in the league, despite the 15th-best average kickoff distance. Their average punt distance was the best in the league, beating the second-best by 3.5 yards. However, they still allowed the ninth-highest average yards per punt return. Although they allowed plenty of big returns, opposing teams did not return the favor: the Raiders ranked dead last in average kickoff return distance, and 4th-worst in average punt return distance.
Place-kicker Sebastian Janikowski had a career year in 2009. Last year, Janikowski made 26 out of 29 field goal attempts, including 20 of 21 attempts within the 50-yard line. However, he has only made 78.4 percent of his field goal attempts throughout his career, so this year will show whether he continues his success or if last year was simply a fluke.
Head Coach: Tom Cable
Job security isn't exactly something that comes with an employment contract with the Raiders, but Cable has made it tough for owner Al Davis to want to fire him. For the first time in a while, the Raiders showed quite a bit of fight the past two years, and they have done as well as you could possibly expect given the lack of talent there due to poor drafts and free agent signings. With the solid draft the Raiders had this year, expect Cable's team to get a step closer to becoming playoff contenders.
Top 2011 Free Agents
Michael Bush, RB; Zach Miller, TE; Johnnie Lee Higgins, WR; Zach Miller, TE; Khalif Barnes, OT; Mario Henderson, OT; Robert Gallery, OG; Samson Satele, C; Richard Seymour, DE/DT
3rd AFC West
The Raiders are getting good, but seven years of bad drafts and free-agent classes can't be erased over the course of one solid offseason. However, the Raiders have finally gotten on the right track, and if they stay the course they could easily become playoff contenders in the AFC West in the next year or two. The removal of bad Al Davis decisions such as Jamarcus Russell speak volumes about the direction in which this team is headed, and given all that Davis has done for the AFL and NFL, it would be nice to see the Raiders win a title before he passes away. - Hank Koebler, IV
Hank is a sports journalist attending the University of Missouri's school of journalism.
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