Oakland Raiders 1st Quarter Offensive Awards
Justin Smith – Oct 8, 2012
The Oakland Raiders came into the 2012 season expecting their offense to gel with Carson Palmer having a full offseason and Darren McFadden healthy and ready to roll. New offensive coordinator Greg Knapp implemented the zone running game to set up the new West Coast passing game.
McFadden was supposed to excel; Palmer was supposed to get it.
The health of the wide receiving corps, coupled with some difficulty adapting to the new running scheme has caused those expectations to stagnate, especially on the ground where McFadden is simply ill-suited for the one-cut and go zone blocking style and it's showing in the standings as the Raiders, consistently a top ten rushing attack the last few years, sit dead last in the league at a paltry 60.75 yards per game.
The Raider passing attack has been somewhat effective between the 20's, but there's been some difficulty getting the ball in the end zone. The offense is struggling. But still, there are some bright spots.
So in all of this mess who has been the MVP on offense? The most improved? The most disappointing? I'll give you a hint: two of the three have already been mentioned.
FIRST QUARTER OFFENSIVE MVP - CARSON PALMER, QB
Due to the aforementioned struggles in the run game, the Raiders have been forced away from what they wanted to make their identity and become a one-dimensional passing team. If you had told me before the season started the Raiders would have a 69% - 31% pass/run ratio, I'd tell you the team would be in trouble. And I would be right.
Despite having to drop back 40+ times a game and having the worst rushing attack in the league to lean on, Palmer has played well. He's been sacked seven times, but under pressure much more, yet he has more mobility than people think - not to scramble, but to climb the pocket and find open receivers.
He's completing 61% of his passes for 1,081 yards and 5 TD's to 2 INT's. His QB rating is 86.0; hardly shout from the rooftops statistics. Until you consider what he's had to work with this season.
I've already mentioned he has no run support to speak of, so teams have been taking leads and teeing off on Palmer while sitting back in coverage. Not an easy task. He's also had to deal with injuries to his top three - and only experienced - wideouts. Jacoby Ford is out for the season with the cursed Lisfranc fracture, Denarius Moore missed the first two games with a hamstring issue, and Darrius Heyward-Bey was kited by Ryan Mundy and knocked unconcious, (thankfully he's practicing and looks to be okay) and left the Pittsburgh game, missing the next week in Denver.
That's left Palmer to be able to consistently rely on rookie Rod Streater, re-signed castaway Derek Hagan - who's been a pleasant surprise - and tight end Brandon Myers, who has shown star potential and has become Palmer's favourite bail-out target thus far.
Palmer hasn't lit the world on fire, but he's played solid, consistent football and was largely responsible for the Raiders victory over the Steelers. He's done little thus far to cost the team; he's simply been a lone soldier trying to make things work in a system that isn't helping him.
MOST IMPROVED - BRANDON MYERS, TE
Myers has been great. He's caught every single pass thrown his way thus far this season, he's been a chain mover in critical situations, and he can block pretty well when he needs to, (aside from a below average performance blocking against the Broncos).
Coming into the season the Raiders were concerned about their tight end situation. With the rise in importance in athletic, pass catching tight ends in recent seasons, it seemed that David Ausberry, the second year wide receiver turned tight end from USC, was the most logical choice.
But Myers has had other plans. He's leading the Raiders in receiving yards and is second to McFadden in catches with 16. In short, he's been a revelation at a position the Raiders needed production, and with 15 of those catches in the first three games - the Denver game was a debacle on every level and can be forgiven for the purpose of his one catch - he showed he can be a reliable and consistent target.
He's also averaging 14.3 yards per catch, so he's not just sneaking into the flat for five and seven yard slogs. He's getting down the seam and beating linebackers regularly in single coverage. I expect he and Palmer to have a happy and fruitful relationship going forward as they get even more comfortable and as Myers seperates himself further in consistency from the talented Ausberry and the big, burly Richard Gordon.
He's the number one tight end now, of that there is no doubt. It's time for him to take the next step, and he's shown he's more than capable.
MOST DISAPPOINTING - DARREN MCFADDEN, RB
I have always been a huge Run DMC/D-Mac fan, all the way back to his Razorback days. I was ecstatic when the Raiders drafted him; the most talented size-speed combination in Silver & Black since Bo knew everything.
His first year was disappointing, as he struggled to acclimate to the zone blocking scheme ran by then - and now - offensive coordinator Knapp. It was clear even then with his size and strength he was better suited for a power blocking gap scheme where he followed his blockers and cut upfield, going ghost as defenders hopelessly chased his vapour trail.
Injuries plagued him the last few years, but when healthy he thrived in the power scheme implemeted by coach Hue Jackson and coordinator and advisor Al Saunders. He was showing his chops as a top tier NFL running back; he just needed the right scheme and a dose of good luck.
Well, he's healthy this season, but here's the old zone blocking scheme back to trip him up again. He's become that fall down runner we remember and frustrated us; the guy who went down on first contact because there was nowhere else to go.
You can't solely blame the scheme for the failures of McFadden, as he's had chances to cut back and take different routes when blocking breaks down yet he just seems to consistently run into the pile. But that's exactly it; he's not a cut back runner. He's not a stop and choose and go guy. He's a bulldoze a hole and I'll hit it and cut off your backside type runner; and Jared Veldheer, Stefan Wisniewski and Khalif Barnes are those types of blockers as well.
McFadden, a guy who averaged nearly six yards per carry last season and led the league in rushing before getting injured, currently sits with a meager 201 yards (50 per game) on 3.5. yards per carry. And that's with a 64 yard TD against Pittsburgh. Take that away and he's got 137 yards and is averaging 2.4 ypc. Not exactly best back in the league status, which is where many ranked him before the season started.
Knapp is trying to fit square pegs into round holes, and it's been a travesty. Darren McFadden shouldn't look this awful; the Raiders rushing attack, a point of pride where few others have existed the past few seasons, has become the laughingstock of the NFL.
It's hard to watch McFadden cut and go into a hole only to see it close, and equally as hard to see a hole open up on the backside and he be too ill-suited for the scheme to see it and pounce on it. It's an unhappy marriage no matter what McFadden is saying publicly, and it's making one of my favorite players look bad on a weekly basis.
Something has to give, because McFadden should never find himself on any list of most disappointing anything. He's shown he's too talented, too solid, too well rounded a back.
The Raiders offense is in trouble if they continue a 70-30 pass-run ratio; but if the run game continues to sink in quicksand, that's exactly what will happen. I hope during the bye week they implemented some of the running plays McFadden is more comfortable with and that showcase his abilities.
If not, Palmer isn't enough to overcome the lack of run game and defense the Raiders have displayed thus far. He's played well; but he can't do it alone.
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