Should the Oakland Raiders Be the Favorite to Win the AFC West?
Elias Trejo – Aug 21, 2012
Every team has played at least two preseason games and the yearly awards are already being handed out. The Patriots have already won the Super Bowl (again), Aaron Rodgers is the league MVP, Peyton Manning is already the best he's ever been, Andrew Luck just made the Hall of Fame and Tim Tebow is still the most talked about player in the NFL.
Listening to all of the experts talk about the AFC West you'd think there were only three teams in the division. The Broncos are always on TV, the Chiefs have the young up and coming team that is the dark horse of the AFC West, and the Chargers are the team with the "Most Talent" and with the ability to win. What happened to the fourth team? Did they get lost and disappear into a black hole?
If you look at the Oakland Raiders roster compared to the rest of the AFC West, you'll be surprised at what you find.
Fellow Raider Nation Times Blogger, Terrell White, claimed the Raiders have the best running back-quarterback combo in the AFC West. I'm willing to go a step further and say they have the best "Triplets" in the AFC West. The Oakland Raider's offense features the best "Triplets" in the AFC West. The combination of Carson Palmer, Darren McFadden and Darrius Heyward-Bey is without a doubt the best triple threat in the division. DHB was the second leading receiver in the AFC West in 2011 and has shown improvement in each of his three seasons with the Raiders. Palmer has the skill set to be one of the top quarterbacks in the league in 2012. This offense will feature a run first attitude, but will spread the field with the various weapons surrounding Palmer. You'll still see the Raiders take their shots deep down the field, but not as often as before.The shorter routes, screen passes and passes out to the flats should allow the receivers to get in open space and make plays with their feet. Darren McFadden could easily be the best player in the AFC West in 2012. Many critics bring up his health often, but right now he is healthy. None of his injuries are recurring and none have been as serious as Peyton Manning's or Jamaal Charles's injury.
The Oakland Raiders offensive line could be the strongest unit in the division as well. In 2011 they allowed the least amount of sacks in the AFC West and blocked for the 2nd best running attack in the division as well. Oakland ranked 7th overall in rushing which is pretty good considering McFadden missed the majority of the season and they also allowed the 4th fewest sacks in the league last season. They allowed one sack for every 21 pass attempts, which is a great improvement from 2010, where they allowed one sack for every 11 pass attempts.
This is an offense that is greatly improving. The Raiders have been in the AFC West race late in the season each of the last two years and it was the small mistakes that would keep them out. If the Raiders defense is as good as advertised then the pressure on the offense shouldn't be too great.
There is no denying that the Raiders have had talent on the defensive side of the ball for the last several years. The key thing Oakland has been missing on defense is a scheme that is up to date with today's NFL. I explained the importance of the new scheme and change in philosophy back in May in one of my articles. Al Davis ran the defense when he was around and he liked to play a certain style and that never changed even when the NFL changed. This hurt the team and explained why the Raiders constantly struggled on the defensive side of the ball. Dennis Allen and Jason Tarver will bring in a new philosophy that is filled with zone coverages and blitz schemes that haven't been seen in Oakland for 50 years.
The defensive strength starts on the front line. Oakland could very well have a top three defensive line and will give the New York Giants a run for their money for the best defensive line in the league. The line is anchored by the best interior pass rush in the league. The tandem of Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly was the best pass rushing pair of defensive tackles in the league as they were both among the leaders in sacks for defensive tackles. Matt Shaughnessy, who is arguably the best pass rusher on the line, returns from injury this year and should get back to his quarterback sacking days. The key to the defensive line's succes this year will be Lamarr Houston. Houston has been a beast against the run and is finding himself in the backfield more often this preseason. Look for him to have a breakout year in 2012.
The linebackers and secondary will find themselves excelling at gap discipline this year under the new defensive scheme. Too often under the old scheme they would find themselves with their backs towards the line of scrimmage making it easier for teams to run against them. This year they'll be more of a down hill defense clogging up holes and getting to the quarterback. Rolando McClain has been praised by all his coaches for his improvement. He's cut his weight this year so he can play faster and be more aggressive. Phillip Wheeler is the hidden gem on defense this year. Look for him to make a big impact on all run and pass plays. He may not have a direct impact on the ball carrier, but he'll be blowing up blockers or redirecting the runner often.
The secondary features a strong veteran group let by Michael Huff and Tyvon Branch. It will be the two safeties who will benefit the most from this defensive change in philosophy. Huff will find himself in more positions to make plays on the ball and Branch will find himself rushing the quarterback as well as stopping the run. Shawntae Spencer and Ron Bartell should benefit from a strong pass rush and fast safeties over the top this year.
Those outside of the organization and the Raider Nation may not see the potential for this Raiders team, but those who have seen the development of the younger players know what this team can accomplish. Guys like McFadden, Heyward-Bey, Denarius Moore, Jared Veldheer, Stefen Wisniewski, Rolando McClain, Tyvon Branch, Shaughnessy, Houston, Richard Gordon and many others are all players who were drafted a few years ago to lead the Raiders back to glory and that time is now.
There is a lot of potential with this team as has been the case the past few years. Many coaches have come and gone realizing the potential, but never reaching it. Dennis Allen and Reggie McKenzie are selling the New Era and if the team buys it, the NFL needs to watch out. It's not rare to see a team go from 8-8 and missing the playoffs to winning a division title the next season. There is not one team in the AFC West who is the clear favorite and for those who actually know the division and have been watching it for years know that Peyton Manning alone can't help the Broncos. In my opinion this year the race is between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Oakland Raiders. I can tell you this much, those players in the locker room aren't going to work everyday in hopes they get 2nd place in the divison. So stay tuned and play close attention to that Raiders defense.
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