By Sam McPherson
When the Oakland Raiders lost their first 10 games in 2014, many people thought they would go 0-16 to match the 2008 Detroit Lions as the worst team in recent NFL history. But the Silver & Black rallied to win their final three home games at the Coliseum—all over playoff contenders, no less—to show they still had some fight left in them.
However, the Raiders couldn’t win on the road, and with 11 straight defeats now away from Oakland, the team needs to take the next step in 2015. Who will be coaching the team is up in the air, as is how the roster will be re-shaped next spring with so much potential cap space available.
For now, let’s look back at 2014 one last time to see what went right—and what went terribly wrong.
The 10-game losing streak to open the season was pretty scary, even if the team was close a few times to winning in the fourth quarter. The Raiders lost five of the first 10 games by a touchdown or less; seven losses were by 11 points or less. They really weren’t as bad as the record suggested, but in this day and age, it’s all about the Ws.
The defense was mostly terrible in 2014, as well. Despite some good showings here and there, overall the Silver & Black let a lot of average teams score a lot of points against them. Oakland was 21st in overall defense, 22nd in yards per play against, 30th in sacks, and dead last in points scored against them.
Until Latavius Murray burst on to the scene in Week 12, the Raiders were on pace for a historically terrible rushing offense. They still finished dead last in the league with just 77.5 yards per game. That really hindered the team’s rookie quarterback (see below) and the offense as a whole. It’s hard to win in this league without a competent running game.
Rookie QB Derek Carr did a pretty good job in his first season, all things considered. He started all 16 games, completing 58.1% of his passes for 21 touchdowns and just 12 interceptions. Those are good numbers for a rookie with no running game to support him (see above). Sure, he fumbled 10 times (losing only four of them), and the 5.5 yards-per-attempt mark was atrociously low. But those things will improve with the increase in talent around him. Carr is a keeper.
While veteran RBs Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew combined for just 3.2 yards per carry, second-year back Murray was a revelation: He averaged 5.2 yards per carry on 82 attempts, and Murray also caught 17 balls out of the backfield. Look for him to be a centerpiece of the offense in 2015.
The ageless Charles Woodson led the defense as best he could, leading the team in tackles (112) and interceptions (four). The veteran free safety hopefully will come back for one more season with the Raiders, because he still was the best player on the defensive side for Oakland in 2014. If the team can add some talent around him, there is potential here for a significantly improved squad next year.
Outlook for 2015
The Raiders have the No. 4 overall pick in the draft, and the roster is going to see a lot of changes. Overpriced and unproductive veterans will be swept away; young, hungry and cheap talent is going to be collected (if the team knows what’s right for it). A lot will depend on the coach the organization hires, too. Tony Sparano may have done enough to keep the job, but he’s also not very “sexy” in terms of a publicity hiring.
Perhaps someone like Rex Ryan—just fired by the New York Jets—could be the answer in Oakland, since the defense needs more help than the offense. But either way, the new head coach will have to be given a better roster with which to build the Raiders’ first winner in a long time. That’s perhaps more important than who is roaming the sidelines at the Coliseum next September.
In the end, though, the Silver & Black are still stuck in the AFC West: The other three teams in the division went a combined 30-18 while outscoring opponents by a collective 200 points. That’s what Oakland has in its way if it wants to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2002, and it won’t be easy, folks, no matter who the coach is.
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Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering all things Oakland A’s. His work can be found on a Examiner.com.