Oakland Raiders losing touch in wild wild AFC West

By Josh Walfish
Steve Mitchell- US PRESSWIRE

It’s hard to say a team is done after two games, especially in such an unpredictable league like the NFL. However, the Oakland Raiders could be in that club after their pitiful performances in the opening two weeks.

The only solace the Raiders have is they play in a division  that is completely up for grabs. The San Diego Chargers lead the AFC West as the only undefeated team, but they have some issues particularly with the running game. The Denver Broncos have all the hype after acquiring Peyton Manning in the offseason, but they looked extremely vulnerable against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 2. There is nothing good to say about the Kansas City Chiefs who can give Oakland a run for its money as the worst team in the division.

Oakland’s biggest hurdle to getting back in the division race is a brutal schedule in the next four weeks, with three games against playoff teams from a year ago and the bye week. If the Raiders want to find a way to turn it around and climb back into the conversation as a legitimate contender they must improve on three areas of their game.

It all starts with the running game which is the second worst in the league after two weeks with a putrid 68 yards. Oakland averages an NFL-worst 2.0 yards per carry and have the shortest longest carry on this young season. One of the biggest issues for the running backs is the ineffectiveness of the offensive line in creating holes to run through. With the defense swarming the backfield, Darren McFadden and the other two running backs have very little space with which to work. Add to that the fact the Raiders have the second fewest attempts in the league and teams have no reason to respect the run. The rushing attack normally sets up the passing game, but Oakland is trying to do the inverse and it is not working very well. Dennis Allen must get back to the power football and take the pressure off Carson Palmer to win the ball game.

It comes as no surprise the Raiders have the second most passing attempts in the league and give credit to Palmer who has done an excellent job at not turning the ball over, with his only interception coming late last week with his team down a couple of scores. His nearly 60 percent completion percentage probably should be higher, but his receivers have not shown up in two weeks. A pass can be given to Jacoby Ford whose foot injury will most likely sideline him the entire season, but top receivers Darrius Heyward-Bey and Denarius Moore have not stepped up and proven they can be a top receiver in this league. Palmer does not need the two to be as good as Larry Fitzgerald or Calvin Johnson, but they should not be behind tight end Brandon Myers and McFadden on the list of leading receivers by yards. Granted, Moore missed the first week with a hamstring injury, but the pair of Moore and Heyward-Bey should be leading the team in receiving and finding ways to catch 80-90 percent of the passes that come their way. The other receivers in the group, Ron Streater and Derek Hagan,  are both relatively new to the team and both have made some good contributions when targeted. Streater has only caught six of 14 passes thrown to him, but that can be chalked up to a rookie’s nerves especially since six of those misfires came in the opener. Bottom line, the receivers must reassert themselves and give Palmer targets vertically so he doesn’t have to continue to use the dump-off play.

As dysfunctional as the offense has been, the defense has been inconsistent. A week after getting torched by the Chargers’ passing game for big plays and stuffing the run, the Raiders’ defense could not stop the Miami Dolphins‘ running game Sunday, giving up big plays left and right while limiting the Miami aerial attack. The big issue is the defense has yet to force a turnover  and statistically is weak in many underrated categories. Oakland only has two sacks, which is the second-least in the NFL and only has three pass breakups. This means the Raiders have not done a good job at staying with receivers consistently or having a one-man breakdown in coverage which leaves a receiver open. The lack of quarterback pressure is also an issue and makes the secondary’s job so much more difficult, which can give receivers time to break away from coverage. Oakland must find a way to put more pressure on the quarterback and hurry up the decision-making process and allow the secondary to stay with the receivers and break up plays.

The AFC West is wide open for the taking and unless the Raiders act quick and make adjustments, the division will quickly be out of Oakland’s grasp.

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