When the Oakland Raiders lost at home 38-26 to the San Diego Chargers in the final game of the 2011 season it would cost them the AFC west title. The loss would also guaranteed that for the 8th consecutive year, Oakland would not be qualifying for the playoffs. To say the 2011 season was a roller coaster ride for the Raiders would be the understatement of the year. There was the death of iconic, longtime owner Al Davis in October at the age of 82. Less than two weeks after the passing of Davis, the Raiders would pry a disgruntled Carson Palmer away from the Cincinnati Bengals to replace an injured Jason Campbell. After starting the season 7-4, the Raiders would stumble with a 1-4 mark down the stretch, culminating with the loss to the Chargers. The late season collapse, and perhaps a need for new owner (Mark Davis) to put his own stamp on the Raiders organization, led Oakland to hire Reggie McKenzie as their first general manager since 1972. McKenzie had been the Director of Football operations for the Green Bay Packers since 1994 and is widely regarded as one of the sharpest front office minds in the NFL. One of the first casualties of the McKenzie regime would be head coach Hue Jackson, who was relieved of his duties in January. Hired to replace Jackson would be 39 year old former Denver Bronco defensive coordinator Dennis Allen. McKenzie, and his first time head
coach selection Allen, are now faced with the challenge of restoring the Oakland Raiders to their former days of glory.
As the 2012 NFL season gets underway, the Raiders find themselves in very familiar territory in terms of the salary cap. Once again, Oakland is woefully over the cap number for the upcoming season and have already cut defensive back Stanford Routt in a cost cutting move. There will be more cap casualties along the way for the Raiders as McKenzie begins to clean up the books in Oakland. Do not look for the Raiders to be very active in either free agency or this year's draft, as they have only two picks -- in rounds 5 and 6. So whatever improvements the Raiders are going to make heading forward, they will be doing it with many of the same names from the 2011 roster. Dennis Allen has hired Greg Knapp ,former Texans quarterback coach, to be the new offensive coordinator in Oakland. Knapp has previously been the offensive coordinator in Seattle(2009), Atlanta(2004-2006), and San Francisco(2001-2003). The hiring of Greg Knapp will also mean the return of the west coast offense to the Oakland Raiders, and the question of can it work with the current personnel? In his 9 ½ games with Oakland last season, Palmer struggled once again with interceptions as he has in Cincinnati the last few seasons. Throw out the 3 picks in week #7 as Palmer literally had less than a week with the Raiders under his belt before being thrown in to replace a floundering Kyle Boller(if I had a nickle for every time I've written that), and Carson still threw 13 interceptions in 9 games. A premium must be placed on the quarterback position protecting the football better for Oakland in 2012. Knapp, and the west coast system, must find a way to cut down on the number of interceptions Palmer has recently been throwing. At first glance, Carson Palmer is not the prototypical quarterback to execute the true west coast offense, which tends to roll out the quarterback on play action quite a bit. Carson Palmer is still a hell of a competitor who has many positive attributes to bring to the table,mobility is definitely not one of them. Head coach Allen addressed this issue recently at the NFL combine and stated that the system would be tweaked to fit Palmer and his strengths, citing the work Knapp has done with Matt Schaub in Houston of late, as an example of how Carson can be successful in the offense. The fact that the west coast system is a horizontal passing attack and based on timing and the quarterback throwing to a spot where the receiver will be may actually help in cutting down on interceptions. It will be vital that Palmer and the Oakland receivers work extensively together this off season to develop chemistry working in the Knapp system. Looking at the wide receivers still under contract for the Raiders heading into the 2012 season, they do have the potential to be productive in a west coast offense. Darius Heyward-Bey had a breakout season last year with 975 yards receiving, 4 touchdowns and possesses the run after catch ability to fit nicely in the new scheme. Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford will both need to work on their route running heading into 2012, but each have dazzling speed and the ability to break any play for a long gain. Louis Murphy is very cap friendly with his 2012 salary so should be kept on board, and could also thrive if he can manage to stay healthy.
Staying healthy is paramount for Darren McFadden heading into next season; if he can remain so, then the sky could be the limit for Darren in the west coast system. Catching passes in the flat and being used in space as a receiver out of the backfield are mainstays in this system and McFadden could put up huge numbers. He catches the ball well and would also benefit from the running lanes that will be available as the defense is spread out chasing speedy wide receivers. If McFadden can not get healthy,and more importantly, stay healthy, then Taiwan Jones could be the beneficiary of more playing time and a breakout season. Michael Bush will more than likely be on another team in 2012 as he walks in free agency. Marcel Reece is an ideal fit for the new system, and if Bush does leave may actually get a few more carries to go along with the 25 or so receptions he's averaged the last 2 seasons. The tight end position is in good hands moving forward with the steady Kevin Boss being a solid blocker and able to catch the ball in traffic. The pieces are in place for the Raiders to not only be able to implement the west coast system, they will be able to thrive in it.
In 2011, Denver, Oakland, and San Diego all finished at 8-8 with Kansas City only a game behind at 7-9. The Oakland Raiders were one game away from winning the AFC west division in 2011 and with the changes to their coaching staff, are primed to make a run for the division title again. An entire off season for Carson Palmer and his receivers to work together, and more importantly incorporate the west coast offense will prove invaluable. San Diego brought Norv Turner back as head coach so will continue to waffle through seasons until he is shown the door. Kansas City and Romeo Crennel will continue to struggle on offense with either Matt Cassel or Kyle Orton under center.'Tebowmania' was a nice story in 2011, but that style of offense is not sustainable in the NFL. If you can't throw at least a little bit, the league will catch up to your team sooner rather than later Look for the Raiders to unseat the Broncos in 2012 as the AFC west division champions.