Examining the Oakland Raiders new offense

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 13: Zach Miller #80 of the Oakland Raiders runs with the ball during their game against the Washington Redskins at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on December 13, 2009 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

The Oakland Raiders’ 2009 offense left much to be desired. They only showed sparks, they were like a motor that just wouldn’t start. A double knee injury to the replacement quarterback, Bruce Gradkowski, killed all signs of consistency the offense had shown. However Charlie Frye, the original third string QB, did manage to throw a three hundred yard passing game against the Cleveland Browns (a game in which he also threw three picks).

 

Injuries decimated what could have been a decent offensive line early on last season as well. Robert Gallery had an appendix surgery early last year. Then he succumbed to a broken leg in week 2 and after that he finished the year on IR having to have back surgery. Khalif Barnes, who was supposed to compete with Mario Henderson for the left tackle spot, broke his ankle in training camp and ended up only playing in six games with a mere two starts. Boom, the left side of the Raiders O-Line was thin right from the onset of the 2009 season.

In addition to the spotty line, the Raiders best-looking wide receiver, Chaz Schilens, broke a bone in his foot before the regular season. Schilens missed the first eight games but still managed 29 catches and two touchdowns.

The ultimate project QB, JaMarcus Russell, started nine games before he took a semi-permanent bench vacation. He was later released by the team, harassed at a boxing match, and ultimately arrested for “PURPLE DRANK”. I hear that stuff is illegal and bad for you. It was bad for him anyway, as he got himself booed right out of the organization and it could also be the reason for his current court circumstances imposed by his former employer, Al Davis.

Nov 26, 2009; Arlington, TX, USA; Oakland Raiders players Mario Henderson (75), Bruce Gradkowski (5) and Justin Fargas (25) in a huddle during the game against the Dallas Cowboys at Cowboys Stadium. The Cowboys defeated the Raiders 24-7. Photo via Newscom

In a nutshell, Bruce Gradkowski gave the Raider Nation hope for the 2010 season, but was ultimately given “competition” as a reward in the form of former Redskins QB and first-round pick Jason Campbell. Now nobody can figure out who is going to be the third string QB, but they are pretty sure they know who 1 & 2 on the depth chart are. The offensive line that helped the rushing offense to back-to-back top ten in the league performances is a big question mark and aside from TE Zach Miller and possibly HB Michael Bush there was very little similar to steadiness in the offense.

So, where does the offense stand? Last year when Gallery was injured, the whole offense went completely flat. Bruce Gradkowski brought some energy to the huddle later in the year, but only started four games. Both Radkowski TM and Gallery are injury question marks. Jason Campbell is reportedly not a vocal motivator, but Hue Jackson is.

The keys to this sputtering engine will be given to the hands of this potential savior from the Baltimore Ravens. The hope of Raiders fans is that he can bring some tools with him from Cam Cameron’s scheme and make this offense hum like the exhaust of a supped-up 1970′s muscle car.

He certainly has the correct parts to get the job done so it’s just a matter of how quickly can this offense adapt to the ways of the new head mechanic. There is no doubt the Raiders have decent talent, but talent alone cannot get the job done, right Terrell Owens? No, even Terrell might tell you now that it takes heart, determination, and character.

So I did a little research and I attempted to try and see the Raiders offense prior to the 2010 season. I watched some Ravens highlights from 2009 and tried to evaluate some of the things that might be brought to the table by Hue Jackson.

Raiders

Ravens

TOTAL FIRST DOWNS

234

320

FIRST DOWNS (Rushing-passing-

by penalty)

81 – 131 – 22

115 – 187 – 18

THIRD DOWN CONVERSIONS

63/213

89/214

FOURTH DOWN CONVERSIONS

10/21

6/13

TOTAL OFFENSIVE YARDS

4258

5619

OFFENSE (Plays-Average Yards)

944 – 4.5

1014 – 5.5

TOTAL RUSHING YARDS

1701

2200

RUSHING (Plays-Average Yards)

410 – 4.1

468 – 4.7

TOTAL PASSING YARDS

2557

3419

PASSING (Comp-Att-Int-Avg)

255 – 485 – 18 – 5.9

321 – 510 – 13 – 7.1

SACKS

37

32

FIELD GOALS

26/29

21/30

TOUCHDOWNS

17

47

(Rushing-Passing-Returns-Defensive)

7 – 10 – 0 – 0

22 – 21 – 1 – 3

TIME OF POSSESSION

28:17

29:33

TURNOVER RATIO

-13 +10

 

 

 

Perhaps the two areas the Raiders need the most help in is total touchdowns and turnover differential. There is a difference of 30 touchdowns and a difference of 23 turnovers. These are two gigantic hurdles the raiders will have to overcome.

The first thing I noticed in researching the offense was that the Ravens went 9-1 in the win/loss column when they rushed for more than 120 yards on the ground. Their record without a good rushing offense was a meager 0-6.

Baltimore began the season 3-0 because of their offense. Joe Flacco started that run with two three-hundred yards passing performances in those three games. During the 3-0 start, Willis McGahee racked up six touchdowns as a backup however they dropped their next three games to three playoff teams by a total of 11 points.

Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice charges up field in the first half of the Pro Bowl at Sun Life Stadium in Miami on January 31, 2010. UPI/Roger L. Wollenberg

In week 7 in Minnesota, the Ravens transformed as their halfback, Ray Rice, emerged as a top NFL back. Rice finished the year with 1,319 yards and seven touchdowns rushing in addition to 78 catches for 702 yards and a touchdown.

Rice was a key part of their success, but he owes a portion of the credit to the excellent scheme developed by Cam Cameron and his offensive staff.

The basis of the scheme is simple: run the ball with three good ball carriers, Willis McGahee, Ray Rice, and Le’Ron McClain and spread the defense with the deep play action pass. I’d expect to see some FB runs by Marcel Reece and possibly even Michael Bush who could be lined up as a fullback in some I-Formation sets with teammate Darren McFadden, like Le’Ron McClain of the Ravens.

The Ravens offense likes to use a lot of power straight ahead blocking. If you watch their running game, you’ll see a lineman or two are five, seven, sometimes even ten yards up the field with the halfback. They had a lot of success with this system last year, ranking fifth in the league on the ground. The three runners combined for 2,063 yards on the ground with 23 rushing touchdowns. They also combined for 114 catches and three receiving touchdowns.

The Raiders do have talent in the backfield with two guys who are essentially top ten draft talents in Darren McFadden and Michael Bush. They complement each other’s styles very well. Where one is weak, the other has strengths. The Raider certainly aren’t lacking a guy who can catch the ball out of the backfield either, both guys have excellent hands. They should form a great one-two punch.

In the passing game, the Ravens liked spreading the defense out with multiple receiver looks for Joe Flacco. The second year quarterback threw 21 touchdown passes and only 12 picks while completing 63.1 percent of his passes. He posted a QB rating of 88.9.

In one red zone trip last year, they lined up a three receivers set with an offset I formation. Flacco read the safety bite on play action and made a quick throw quick throw to the one-on-one outside receiver, Derrick mason, for a touchdown.

In another instance, they used a four WR set with a shotgun formation. The defense is in a dime package. They motion the halfback out into the slot position; if this is the Raiders offense, you now have Darren McFadden one on one with the middle LB. This is what’s called a favorable match-up. If McFadden wins, this could be a huge gainer with the blockers the Raiders have as wide receivers. It’s similar to a screen pass in that it is almost an extended running play.

The Ravens used a lot of motion to inform Flacco if the coverage would be man or zone. But what appealed to me was the way they used their tight end, Todd Heap.

Split out wide like a wide receiver in the red-zone, with an I-Formation pay action pass to Heap or other wide receiver that are both running post routes. Jason Campbell can make this throw for sure. In another red-zone play, they line up two tight ends with a wide receiver opposite the number one tight end. Heap runs a corner route off of play action for a touchdown.

Jason Campbell was brilliant throwing in the red zone last year, obtaining 18 of his 20 TD passes in the sweet spot and throwing no interceptions. Also worth noting is that the Washington Redskins’ two tight ends were the third and fourth receivers on the Redskins squad last year. Fred Davis caught 48 passes from Jason Campbell as well as six touchdown passes. Meanwhile, Chris Cooley continued to show why he is a threat on the field with his 29 catches and 332 yards in just 7 games played. In 2007 and 2008 combined, Chris Cooley racked up 149 catches for 1,635 yards and 9 TD’s. He made the Pro Bowl in these consecutive seasons.

Dec 20, 2009; Denver, CO, USA; Oakland Raiders running back Michael Bush (29), right, celebrates with receiver Louis Murphy (18) after scoring on a 23-yard run in the second quarter against the Denver Broncos at Invesco Field. The Raiders defeated the Broncos 20-19. Photo via Newscom

In my opinion, the Raiders have better receivers than the ’09 Ravens. Evidently, that was the Ravens’ opinion as well, for they traded for Anquan Boldin and brought in Donte’ Stallworth. What occurred to me while watching Derrick Mason (who has been their best WR since he arrived in Baltimore) was that the Raiders could use a player like Mason in their receiving core. Could Louis Murphy become that fiery wide receiver with all the right type of attitude?

Mason has a presence on the field that reminds me a lot of Hines Ward from the Pittsburgh Steelers. I get the same vibe from Louis Murphy. Murphy made some championship quality catches last year for the Raiders, and they need a quick and shifty receiver with good hands and a big heart.

ALAMEDA, CA - MAY 08: Darrius Heyward-Bey #12 of the Oakland Raiders jokes with Robert Gallery #76 in the huddle during the Raiders minicamp at the team's permanent training facility on May 8, 2009 in Alameda, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

If Tom Cable can pull the rag-tag group of offensive linemen together this year, then the Raiders have all the right tools to get the job done on offense. I know some people think this line will be their downfall, but barring any injuries I don’t really see why it would. That’s not to say there are not weaknesses here, but to be honest, I would be more worried about the depth at guard and center than the talent at the tackle positions.

The Raiders may have the right pieces to turn the gears on this side of the ball. If the offense can get to 300 first downs from 234, the defense should be drastically better as well, even if they don’t put up the 24.4 points per game the Ravens posted on average in 2009. Based on his ’09 stats and those of Joe Flacco, Jason Campbell has a legit shot at posting 3,600-plus yards passing with around 20-plus touchdowns with interceptions in the low teens. If Campbell eclipses 2,500 yards passing this season, it would be the first time for a Raiders QB since Kerry Collins in 2004 and 2005.

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