Saturday, August 22, 2009

Quick Thoughts on the 2009 Raiders

Not that I'm an integral member of Raider Nation or anything but I do follow this topsy-turvy team. Here's a few kernels on the Silver and Black as the preseason lurches to the finish line:

* Overall the quarterback situation is in good shape. JaMarcus Russell looks to be progressing nicely from last season's strong finish. He still gets frustrated easily after a play goes awry but otherwise I've been impressed with his decision making and accuracy. Still more potential than production at this point but #2 is definitely trending up. Behind him we all know what the ageless Jeff Garcia brings. His physical tools are nothing special but the guy has played well and won games for a decade. And behind him Charlie Frye and Bruce Gradkowski battle for the third spot. There's more than a few teams with worse depth charts at the most important position.

* That being said the passing game will struggle. Top receiver Chaz Schilens is out for a month with an injury. He was a tremendous value as a seventh-rounder in 2008 but Chaz has got a way to go before he's a legit #1 WR. No one can assume Javon Walker will be productive. Darius Heyward-Bey looks lost on routes. At least TE Zach Miller is great. Also fourth-round pick Louis Murphy looks promising.

* Oakland might have the best CB combo in the league. Nnamdi Asomugha and Chris Johnson are superb man-to-man defenders. Their physical play will help mask the decent safeties and ho-hum linebacking corps. Raiders could definitely use an OLB upgrade alongside Thomas Howard.

* Run defense is horrible. While the DLine gets good penetration against the QB it's horrific against closing gaps. In a division with LaDainian Tomlinson, Darren Sproles, Larry Johnson an Knowshon Moreno that spells trouble. I have a feeling this will be another season where the Oakland defense has decent numbers against the pass but gives up 150+ running yards per game.

* I fully expect Darren McFadden to be the starting running back -- and deservedly so. While Run-DMC has never had that elite breakaway speed it's his blend of power and swiftness that enables him to rack up the yards. Every now and them I want him in some Wild Hog formations and split wide as well. He's a dynamic talent who needs the ball. Michael Bush as the big back will form a great compliment to Darren. Barring injury (and that's far from guaranteed considering McFadden's toe and Bush missing his senior year at Louisville with a broken leg) I don't expect Justin Fargas to see significant playing time.

* Shane Lechler is one of the greatest punters in NFL history.

All things considered this is an average team with limited upside. That's not even getting into the off-the-field problems with ownership and coaches beating up each other.

There's a lot of big questions that still need to be answered. Can JaMarcus take the next step? Will a patchwork offensive line give him time to thrive? Can McFadden stay healthy? Will Michael Huff finally seize a safety spot? One bright spot is that many of the players are still young and can improve. I think the Raiders are in the range for 4-8 wins. Right now I'd pegged them for five.

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