Much like the understanding that the NFL has become a passing league, it has also has adopted the “running back by committee” model. In a day and age where running backs seem to be a dime a dozen, teams are less likely to commit to one guy and therefore take on the RBBC approach to the season. With the mindset of having multiple backs sharing the touches, many also assume that each team needs a “speed back” and a “power back”. The idea, of course, being that the power back gets the tough yards and wears down the defense while the speed back plays the finesse role and provides the home run threat to the offense.
The last few years the Raiders have had the luxury of a backfield that consisted of Darren McFadden and Michael Bush. In some ways, it seemed to be the perfect combination power and speed that would be a nightmare for any defense. Except when you break down the games when both running backs were healthy last year, you saw more of McFadden wearing down the defense and Bush playing more of a backup/short yardage role. Bush only averaged 7 touches per game through the first 6 games last season while McFadden was averaging nearly 22. With that stat alone, it’s tough to make any kind of argument that Bush had a big impact on games while McFadden was playing.
Of course Bush was also used as the short yardage back which lead many to wonder how the Raiders would convert short yardage plays without him. There is no doubting that Bush was pretty effective in short yardage and he proved that over the last three years by converting a respectable 42% (15 for 36) of his carries inside the 5 yard line for touchdowns according to Chet Gresham of writing for thefakefootball.com. However, with Bush getting most of the short yardage carries, it was assumed that McFadden couldn’t handle those duties when that is far from the truth.
Per the same data, McFadden has converted 7 of his 9 attempts from inside the 5 yard line over the last three years (78%). That conversion percentage is tops in the league for that statistic, meaning McFadden is more than capable of converting short yardage plays as well. Cedric Benson, who many have been calling for to replace Michael Bush, had a 31% (12 for 39) conversion rate from inside the 5 over that same span.
While McFadden possesses the speed and agility to turn any play into a home run, he certainly is not your prototypical speed back by any means. McFadden brings with him a wicked stiff arm and is not afraid to lower his pads and seek contact. Take a look at a few examples:
However, even though Darren has the ability to do it all, Dennis Allen will have to find the right balance between his running backs and not overuse him throughout the season. Mike Goodson and Taiwan Jones are vying for the backup role and both have the ability to provide a spark off the bench to help keep McFadden rested, but neither bring much value to the short yardage game. Owen Schmitt and Marcel Reece will get a chance to show what they can bring to the backfield at times this year too, and both are capable of hammering out a few yards when needed. Lonyae Miller is also one to keep an eye on. Miller has a much more hard-nosed running style was impressive at times with Dallas last season. Be careful how quickly you judge the unknowns like Miller, because Arian Foster was also once an undrafted free agent.
When people talk about wearing down defenses, why is it that big backs always come to mind? Sure they can punish tacklers at times, but more times than not bigger backs are slower to the hole and can be bottled up and gang tackled before doing much damage. Speed backs on the other hand force the defense to always be chasing for fear of being a step late and giving up a potential touchdown on every play. You factor in a guy like Chris Johnson who can stop on a dime and reverse field and McFadden who can deliver a devastating stiff arm if you do finally catch up to him and you begin to reevaluate which one would wear you down quicker.
With new management in Oakland comes many changes including personnel, schemes, philosophies and even media relations. By nature change tends to make people uneasy. It’s hard to get that comfortable feeling many fans are looking for this time of year when there is so much change happening all at once. Many will agree that change is not always bad, but its the unknown of it all at the present time that make it tough to grasp. While I would love to answer the question of whether the changes are good or bad, the fact remains that only time will tell the whole story of how they will impact the franchise.
As I mentioned earlier personnel changes are part of the whole process and many player decisions are being made. On the surface it seems that the Raiders are just unloading bad contracts which leads many to believe the Raiders are just rebuilding for the future. Its understandable where that thinking is applied, but lets take a deeper look into the player changes to this point.
In week 6 of last season, Jason Campbell broke his collarbone. Very soon after the Raiders traded for Carson Palmer and it was at that point that everyone knew who the future starter was of the Oakland Raiders. The loss of Jason Campbell to free agency comes as no surprise. Out of no disrespect to Jason, the Raiders did not pursue him as a backup. They gave him the opportunity to go seek another starting job elsewhere. The market did not develop for Jason and he signed a contract with the Bears to backup Jay Cutler. As fans, the first reaction is “why not come back to Oakland as a backup”? No one will really know how both sides felt about the situation, but one thing is clear. Jason Campbell has a lot of close friends on the Raiders roster, many of which are wide receivers. If the Raiders are moving forward with Carson Palmer as the leader of the offense, then everyone has to rally behind him and believe that he is the man for the job without question. Jason is a good guy, but knowing he might still be the starting quarterback of the Raiders had he not broken his collarbone would always leave the sense of “what if” with the team. It was best for both sides to move on and start fresh.
Last seasons depth chart at quarterback consisted of Jason Campbell, Kyle Boller and Trent Edwards to start the year. Terrell Pryor was serving his suspension as handed down by the league, and later replaced Edwards as the third string quarterback. Once Jason Campbell went down two things became very clear.
1) Kyle Boller was not very good, which was assumed by his past failures.
2) The Raiders coaching staff had no faith in Boller’s ability to lead the team and remain competitive.
It was no secret that Boller would not return as the backup quarterback the next season which brings us to the present. Last year’s starter Jason Campbell has been replaced by Carson Palmer. For the time being Terrell Pryor takes over as the backup, but will have competition in camp when the Raiders add another quarterback.
From last season to this season, I don’t see any drop off in talent at the quarterback position.
One of the big story lines this off-season was the fact that Michael Bush was a free agent. He was a fan favorite of many because of his size and power, and he and McFadden gave the Raiders backfield that “Thunder and Lightning” combo. As much as Reggie McKenzie would have loved to have Michael Bush back as the Raiders backup running back, he knew it wasn’t going to happen at a cost he wanted to pay. Bush received 3.5 million per year over 4 years to back up Matt Forte in Chicago. That is a perfect example of “overpaying” for a position in this league. Something the Raiders are not looking to do anymore.
Michael Bush got his share of carries last season due to the injury of Darren McFadden. He finally got his chance to showcase his value to the whole league, while working as the primary running back in Oakland’s offense most of the season. He carried the ball 256 times for 977 yards with a 3.8 yards per carry average. There were only 8 running backs in the league last year with a lesser yards per carry average who had at least 100 carries. It’s hard to argue with numbers and as much as Bush was loved by the Raider Nation, Reggie did the right thing in letting him walk.
The Raiders later traded for Mike Goodson of the Carolina Panthers. Goodson was buried on the depth chart in Carolina behind DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. He is a much different back than Bush so it’s not really an apples to apples comparison between the two. Mike Goodson missed most of last season with a hamstring injury, so looking back at 2010 Mike Goodson carried the ball 103 times for 452 yards with an average yards per carry of 4.4.
With the Raiders once again moving back to the zone blocking scheme under new offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, Goodson should be a good fit in Oakland. He is a one cut and go type runner which is exactly what you need to be in the ZBS system. He has the agility and speed to make big plays from the running back position as well, but will have to work on his ball security.
Not to be forgotten is Taiwan Jones who is working very hard to prepare for his Sophomore season. With one year in the pro’s under his belt now he should be ready to make his contributions to the offense as well.
Overall, while the Raiders will lose some power at the running back position, they also gain some explosiveness, and the overall production from the position should not decrease at all.
Kevin Boss was brought in last season to fill the void left by Zach Miller. Boss had high expectations to live up to after Miller had so much success in Oakland, and fell very short of meeting those expectations. Boss was mainly used as a blocking tight end and only caught 27 balls and 2 touchdowns on offense all season. He added a touchdown catch on a fake field goal as well. Giving that his contract was for 4 million per year over 4 years, its obvious his production did not line up with the money he was making. In their lies the reason in which he was cut. Four million dollars per year is way too much to being paying for that kind of production.
The Raiders will not have trouble replacing that production at tight end with Brandon Myers proving he is very capable of blocking and David Ausberry quickly emerging as a threat in the passing game from the tight end position. Reggie McKenzie also made it known that if he finds a tight end he likes, he won’t hesitate to bring him in as competition as well.
I don’t see the Raiders losing any production from the tight end position going forward, and with some younger guys developing their game it could soon become another dynamic position for the Raiders offense.
Stanford Routt’s release was the first big bang of the Reggie McKenzie era. Routt was a solid man to man corner back even though he led the league in penalties and surrendered 8 touchdowns to opposing wide receivers last season. However, it didn’t take anyone (including Reggie McKenzie and Dennis Allen) long to figure out he was being overpaid. Not only was he being overpaid for the current season, but he still had 4 years left on his contract averaging about 10 million per year. That alone had a lot to do with his release, but was not the only factor.
Routt built his entire game around playing bump and run man coverage. As part of the changes taking place in Oakland, the Raiders will be moving away from the philosophy of running strictly man to man coverage on defense. That change even further devalued Stanford Routt’s services as he had next to no experience in zone coverage. Zone coverage is very different from man to man and not every corner back in the NFL is capable of playing both. Look no further than DeAngelo Hall as an example of that.
The Raiders have brought in four new corner backs this off-season so far. Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer both bring a lot of starting experience and history of solid play at the corner back position. While neither player is viewed as a superstar, both are very capable of holding their own in pass defense and have played in similar schemes to what the Raiders will look to do this year. They have combined for 19 interceptions in their career to this point.
Brandon Underwood and Pat Lee were also brought in as players who will get a chance to show what they have in training camp. Both have been in the league for a few years and have shown flashes of talent at times. Reggie knows what he is getting with these two as they were part of the Packers organization as well and wants to see if they can earn a spot on the roster this year.
Overall the loss of Stanford Routt will be extremely softened by the switch in defensive philosophy. Also the additions of Bartell and Spencer might prove to be two very undervalued pickups by the Raiders.
Probably the hottest topic in the Raiders off-season to this point was the release of Kamerion Wimbley. Even though he played out of position for most of his time in Oakland, Wimbley brought an edge pass rush to the Raiders defense that will be tough to replace.
The Raiders recently added free agent Phillip Wheeler and he will likely slide in as the starting strong side linebacker. Wheeler is a very interesting value pickup for the Raiders. He totaled 84 tackles last season for the Colts and was quietly very stout against the run for them, an area in which Oakland has struggled in recent years. Wheeler also brings better coverage skills which was very much a pain point in Wimbley’s game at outside linebacker.
While the Raiders won’t be looking for Phillip Wheeler replace Wimbley’s pass rushing abilities, it is worth noting that while playing linebacker at Georgia Tech he totaled 18.5 sacks in 3 years from the linebacker position. One scouting report had this to say of Phillip Wheeler about his time in college “considered by many as one of the nation’s best-blitzing linebackers”.
The Raiders will need to find new ways to pressure the quarterback this year, but that should not be a problem under new head coach Dennis Allen as he thrives in that department. What the Raiders lose in pass rushing ability from Wimbley, they gain in run support and pass defense with Wheeler. With new defensive coordinator Jason Tarver and Dennis Allen dialing up blitzes on game day, getting after the quarterback should not be a problem for this defense going forward.
So to answer the question of…”Are the Raiders rebuilding or reloading?” I’ll let you be the judge.
The Oakland Raiders came into the offseason with salary cap issues and needing to improve a team that finished a disappointing 8-8 last season. New general manager Reggie McKenzie was hired to reshape the Raiders’ front office and establish a new philosophy to guide the team into the future.
McKenzie has a plan and as time passes his philosophies will slowly be revealed. So far, McKenzie has made a flurry of moves designed to help the Raiders reach short-term and long-term goals such as getting under the salary cap and shedding back-loaded contracts that would have handicapped his plans in 2013 and beyond.
A lot of activity doesn’t always indicate a lot of change. As it stands, the Raiders will return 16 of 22 starters.
What does the Raiders activity or lack of activity mean for the team in 2012?
1. Reggie McKenzie wants to win and knows how to build a team to do it.
Overreacting, overvaluing and overpaying is not a recipe for success in the NFL. The most successful teams find value. Making a big splash is free agency is usually a recipe for failure.
The top free agents are almost always overvalued and no team loses a player they truly want to keep.
Without the cap flexibility, the Raiders were never going to be big players in free agency, but instead of signing one top free agent and overpaying for his services, McKenzie has already brought in two value free agents at positions of significant need.
McKenzie knows building a winner requires patience. Even with limited cap space the Raiders should be able to sign a handful of free agents that can help the team for a reasonable price.
The moves being made aren’t just moves to help the team in the future, but moves that can have a positive impact on the win total in 2012.
2. The Raiders may struggle to find a natural pass rush.
With the release of Kamerion Wimbley, the Raiders lose their best edge rusher. Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly will continue to apply pressure up the middle, but the Raiders lack a natural edge rusher.
A healthy Matt Shaughnessy will help the pass rush, but the Raiders will still have to rely on the blitz much more than they ever have before.
The struggle with the blitz is that elite quarterbacks can beat it consistently and the Raiders’ division could be adding another in the form of Peyton Manning to go along with Philip Rivers.
McKenzie still has time to find a natural edge rusher, but as it stands the Raiders will have to manufacture pressure on the quarterback.
Allen’s entire defense hinges on the team’s ability to get a pass rush, so the blitzing safeties and linebackers will have to execute in their new roles.
3. Darren McFadden’s health is vitally important.
Dennis Allen hinted that the Raiders would look into if the practice fields were contributing to the high-rate of foot injuries the team had sustained over the last few years. If the Raiders’ practice field has contributed to foot and leg injuries, McFadden has been hurt by it the most.
Michael Bush is testing the free agent market and is likely to find a team that will make him a full-time starter. That leaves Taiwan Jones and Marcel Reece to backup McFadden.
Jones and Reece are both very capable, but neither are proven running the ball or carrying the load when an injured starter goes down.
With Carson Palmer in the fold, the team can survive without McFadden, but if the team has playoff aspirations McFadden must stay healthy.
4. The offensive line is in flux again.
The Raiders offensive line has been in a constant state of change over the past decade. Tom Cable and the zone-blocking scheme initially brought some success, but that quickly faded and the Raiders began the transition back to the man blocking scheme over the past two seasons.
Greg Knapp’s return to Oakland means the zone-blocking scheme is coming back and the Raiders return only two of the five starters on the offensive line from a season ago.
To solidify the offensive line, the Raiders signed right guard Mike Brisiel from the Houston Texans. Brisiel is a solid zone-blocking guard that will provide a nice upgrade over Cooper Carlisle. Brisiel may also help implement the scheme as he is familiar with Knapp and offensive line coach Frank Pollack.
The question remains what the Raiders will do at right tackle, left guard and center. Stefen Wisniewski will either stay at guard or move to center and the Raiders will need to address whichever position Wisniewski doesn’t play.
The theory behind the zone-blocking scheme is that high-priced lineman are not required if the team knows what traits to look for in an offensive lineman. The Raiders will put the theory to the test in 2012.
Jared Veldheer and Stefen Wisniewski will also have to learn the zone-blocking system. Both should be able to pick up the scheme and both have traits that should translate, but it’s still something new and developing a new skill takes time away from their development of existing skills.
The Raiders should be able to run the ball, but pass protection could be an issue when the line might have three new starters.
Perhaps Joseph Barksdale is ready to compete for a starting job and maybe the zone-scheme can salvage Bruce Campbell’s career.
In the end, the offensive line could be a strength or a weakness of this team. We’ll just have to wait and see.
5. The Raiders will be much better in coverage.
The Raiders released 2011 starters Stanford Routt and Chris Johnson, but brought back Michael Huff and Tyvon Branch. After a terrible year in coverage, a few changes were merited and McKenzie has started the process of solidifying the secondary.
McKenzie signed Ron Bartell to play cornerback on a modest one-year deal. It’s the kind of bargain contract that can pay huge dividends for the Raiders if Bartell is fully recovered from a neck injury he sustained early last season.
Bartell is 30 and had seven solid seasons in St. Louis before being released. He still has all the physical tools to be successful and he can obviously play, but even if there was some question if Bartell had lost a step, McKenzie is known for his ability to tell which players can play and which players can’t.
The Raiders have to figure out what to do on the other cornerback position. One option is free agent cornerback Tracy Porter who will have a visit with the team later this week according to Vittorio Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle.
Porter is a young cornerback with the skills that will fit what Dennis Allen likes to do on defense. Porter’s best seasons came when Allen was his position coach in New Orleans.
Allen’s defense will help take the pressure off the secondary, but the changes have already been positive and McKenzie should continue to add solid depth.