I must admit, I saw certain things in the preseason that almost made me sorry I put out a hopeful preview of the Raiders 2013 season. Granted, the Raiders undertook a massive bloodletting and subsequent reshaping of the roster, feilding a defense with 10 new starters in particular. Most “experts” were therefore down on the Raiders chances to compete this season. Never mind the fact it was obvious serious change was necessary. The defense has a completely new face, but the facts are, it needed it. The defense has been atrocious against the run for years and following the loss of Nnamdi Asomaguah for the planned “Dream Team” in Philadelphia, the pass defense became atrocious too.
No matter, I really liked the moves that Reggie McKenzie made this offseason. Some of them turned out to be duds, such as the draft pick spent on Tyler Wilson, and the draft picks traded for Matt Flynn, however, those hold some value as well, as Matt Flynn at the very least makes a good backup. The draft yeilded at least three potential starters, in CB D.J Hayden, OLB Sio Moore, and Tackle Menelik Watson. The linebacking corp is totally new, and so is the starting defensive backfield. The offensive line was rendered patchwork by the loss of LT Jared Veldheer.
Beating up on the Raiders is all too easy to do, but I look at the Raiders and see a team that is positioning itself to compete with the best. I like the moves it took to stregthen it’s coaching staff, as well as the total restructure of the defense.
But football these days is all about the quarterback, and that was the biggest area of concern for many. It was clear from the preseason that Matt Flynn would not be able to survive and be effective as a drop back passer behind a make shift offensive line, so Terelle Pryor was tapped to start. Three years ago, in the last season of Al Davis, I thought the Terelle Pryor draft pick was a good pick. At that time, I thought the Raiders team had a lot of promise but would ultimately need a more explosive quarterback than the successfull but pedestrian Jason Campbell. The Raiders underwent much upheavel since then, firing coaches and bringing in other quarterbacks, but Pryor stayed there working on his game. He was finally rewarded yesterday, being handed the keys to the car for the second time since arriving in 2011.
Pryor played a very good game yesterday. Point blank, mistakes aside, he moved the ball, both in the air and with his feet. He made several good decisions, and some poor ones that were rather costly too. But at every step of the way, he made plays to put the Raiders in position to win, rallying back in the final minutes of the game. It’s true opponents will be gearing up to stop him, but hopefully that will open up things for the other skill position players.
The defense had serious problems containing the short passing game of Andrew Luck and Indy early, but solidified itself later. Blitzes were a big part of getting pressure on Luck. There were several that did not get home, but the Raiders were serious about sending linebackers and defensive backs after the quarterback. All in all, the Raiders were able to hold Indy to 21 points, which is much lower than anybody thought the explosive Indianappolis offense would score.
So even though the Raiders lost, they did set the stage for a most interesting season of growth. If they learn and tighten things up from this week, they’ll be a very exciting team to watch on offense and a team that can make big plays and get key stops on defense. I hope they blow up all this foolishness in the media about a 1-15 season and an 0-16 season and finish somewhere in the respectable mediocre range of 6-10, 7-9. Some fans wish the Raiders could tank to draft Jedvon Clowney, but I’d rather see steady improvement, a draft of several starter caliber players, and some key free agent signings with the surplus of cap room that will become avaliable next years. And then, we might get to see a return of the “greatness of the Raiders.”