Already off to a slow start to the season, a tough matchup against the 1-1 Steelers comes this Sunday in Oakland. In the first two games, the Oakland Raiders have struggled on both sides of the ball, and will look to turn around those fortunes as soon as possible. If they are to have any shot at pulling off the upset this week against the Steelers, and getting the new regime’s first win, there are several key areas that will most certainly be at the forefront.
Secondary Stepping Up
Prior to the season, the cornerback position was already considered to be a weak area on this defense. Now, with both starters Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer out with injuries, the position becomes even more of a question mark. Dolphins rookie QB Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins receivers had their way moving the ball through that air against the Raiders last week. This week’s matchup provides an even tougher task, in QB Ben Roethlisberger, WRs Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown, and TE Health Miller. If the Raiders have any chance in this game, the pass defense must step up in a big way. If the secondary struggles anywhere near as much as they did last week in Miami, it will be another long day for the Silver and Black. The pass rush will be key in helping them excel, as it is another area that has be almost non-existent in the first two games of the season.
Offensive Line Coming Together
Despite the fact that the offensive line is roughly the same group as last year, other than new RG Mike Brisiel, they have been one of the team’s weaker areas in the first two games. It is no secret that it is taking time for the new zone blocking scheme to start clicking on all cylinders, but until that happens, the offense will continue to struggle as a whole. With an offense that is based on a strong running game, the entire gameplan takes a hit when virtually every running attempt is blown up at the line of scrimmage. As talented as Darren McFadden is, when he is getting hit at the line, having no running lanes to attack, he has no chance to make the plays he is capable of. Improvement on the offensive line in not only the running game, but in pass protection as well, will be key to a victory this week, and throughout the course of this season.
Passing Game Timing
With various key receivers being on and off the field both throughout the preseason, and into beginning of the regular season, the new look passing game has had difficulty establishing their timing. Despite putting up good numbers through the air so far, they have still left many opportunities on the field. The timing will get better as the season goes on, as the receivers and Carson Palmer get more comfortable in Greg Knapp’s offense together. However, like several other areas of this team, the time to get that timing down has already passed, and it will not get any easier this week against the Steelers defense. If the pass defense continues to struggle, the Raiders will find themselves in a lot of shootouts, and the offense will be relied upon to keep up. Getting that passing game in sync will be key to doing so, as the potential for explosive plays is there.
Getting off to a fast start on the season is a lost cause, but with 14 games remaining, there is still a lot of football to be played. The Raiders will certainly need to improve in these areas, among others, if they are going to make noise in the AFC West playoff picture. If the offense can come together under the new scheme, and if the defense can make up for some key injuries in the secondary, there is still a chance for them to do so. However, such prospects start this week against a very tough opponent, and continue in the weeks to follow. Starting the season 0-2 is not the end of the world, but starting 0-3, 0-4, or 0-5, could be too tall of a task for this young team to overcome by the end of the season. This Sunday’s game will be a huge test for the Raiders, and should show us whether or not this team is capable of competing with the top teams in the AFC.
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