Plenty went wrong for the Raiders in 2014. Head Coach Dennis Allen was fired after an 0-4 start. They finished with the 2nd-worst scoring offense and the worst rushing attack in the NFL. They also had the worst scoring defense in the league and generated the 2nd fewest sacks and takeaways. The entire team lacked in impact players and impact plays, and the end result was a 3-13 record.
There were some bright spots for the Raiders, however. Their rookie quarterback, Derek Carr, was only sacked on 3.9% of his drop-backs, good for 5th best in the league. This is especially impressive considering the Raiders were losing so often. Teams were able to pin their ears back and attack Oakland’s rookie signal caller, but the Raiders were still able to do a good job of protecting him.
This can be attributed to a few things. Carr has a very quick release. He flings the ball like a shortstop in baseball. He’s also athletic and has very quick feet (he’s a much better athlete than Johnny Manziel, for instance). This enabled him to escape pressure at times.
The Raiders’ play calling was seemingly designed to protect Carr. He threw plenty of quick passes where he got the ball out of his hand right away. The Raiders also used enough play-action to keep defenses honest. The offensive line deserves some credit as well. The interior O-line, composed of rookie left guard Gabe Jackson, center Stefen Wisniewski (free agent), and right guard Austin Howard, had a good understanding of stunts and blitzes. For the most part, they were impressive passing off defenders and helping out elsewhere when no one rushed them.
The Raiders do have some talent on defense as well. Rookie linebacker Khalil Mack is athletic and has a good understanding of the game. He doesn’t stray from his responsibility or try to play the hero. Cornerback D.J. Hayden is also very athletic as a cover corner. He has the chance to develop into a good player if he can stay healthy. Veterans like Charles Woodson and Justin Tuck, while not the same players they used to be physically, used their smarts to be effective in 2014.
Still, the Raiders have plenty of voids to fill throughout their roster this offseason. They need help in so many areas that any position group they choose to address would technically be the correct move. Even at the positions where they already have some talent, age and depth are factors. This likely won’t be an easy or quick turn-around in Oakland for new head coach Jack Del Rio.
So where should the Raiders look to improve first? In our opinion, they need to give their young quarterback some help. James Jones is their best receiver, but he’s more of a big-bodied possession receiver. Andre Holmes is a restricted free agent, but even if he returns to the Raiders, he doesn’t exactly strike fear in the hearts of defenses. The Raiders also lack a dangerous threat at tight end, which is why Julius Thomas would be a great fit if Del Rio can lure him to Oakland.
On defense, the Raiders have to do a better job of getting to the quarterback. As mentioned earlier, they had the 2nd-fewest sacks and the 2nd-fewest takeaways in the NFL. Those two stats go hand in hand. Pass-rush pressure forces sacks and turnovers, and the Raiders had no one they could rely on to generate sustained pressure on opposing quarterbacks in 2014. Oakland will also need to add some talent and depth to their secondary with corners Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers hitting the open market as free agents.
Still, much of Oakland’s improvement will need to come from within. Last season, they were bad defending the run largely because of their linebackers. Sio Moore was an undisciplined player with underwhelming awareness. Middle linebacker Miles Burris got caught moving sideways often instead of attacking the line of scrimmage, and this led to him overrunning his gap responsibility or easily getting blocked past it. The play below provides a perfect example.
Del Rio, a former linebacker, should be able to help with this.
Additionally, the Raiders’ offensive line was not as good at run blocking as they were at protecting Derek Carr. While they may have been a stout offensive line, they weren’t physical. They didn’t move the line of scrimmage. They weren’t athletic enough to stay on their blocks, or block through the defensive line up to the second level (they hardly ever got to the 2nd level with their run blocks). This made it easier for linebackers to attack the line of scrimmage unimpeded and stop the play for few or negative yards. Running back Latavius Murray did show some burst at times, and he could be a good fit in the Raiders’ backfield moving forward. Most of the time in 2014, though, he had no room to maneuver.
Finally, much of the Raiders’ success in the near future will hinge on quarterback Derek Carr’s progress. Getting help around him is vital, but he needs to become more disciplined with his mechanics. He has a bit of a funky arm slot, as he throws with a ¾ motion. While this is something that likely won’t change drastically (throwing motions are nearly impossible to completely overhaul at age 24), his footwork can be improved. Carr often lifts his back foot off the ground before releasing the football. This prevents him from transferring his body weight completely and getting everything he can out of his motion. This affects the velocity on some of his downfield throws. It also hinders his accuracy.
Carr does manage to get a lot of velocity on the ball for being mostly an arm thrower. Most of it is generated by the flick of his wrist at the end of his motion. He gets away with it sometimes because most of this throws are short and quick passes. However, when a quarterback’s feet are all over the place, it’s tough to replicate your motion repeatedly. This leads to a decrease in accuracy, especially on those downfield passes.
Carr does have a chance to make it, and the Raiders do have some intriguing talent already on their roster. It would be tough to imagine them not being a better team in 2015 than last year.