The Oakland Raiders have had a tough twelve years, because that’s how long it’s been since they made the playoffs, let alone a winning season. They are a combined 8-24 the past two seasons and were 8-8 in 2010 and 2011. Their most dangerous weapon, Darren McFadden, has played in seven, 12 and 10 games respectively the last three years. Their leading receivers have had 64, 79, and 60 receptions in the last three seasons, none of them going over 1,000 yards. They have ranked in the bottom five in total offensive points the past three seasons. Six different quarterbacks have started a game over that time. In 2012 Carson Palmer started 15 games. The next best total in a season during that span is nine. If it looks like the Raiders have had problems, it is because they have, but it could be changing. After an already busy offseason, the Oakland Raiders traded for quarterback Matt Schaub, and are looking to him as the answer to their woeful offensive ways.
Schaub’s image was destroyed last year when he had one of the more forgettable NFL quarterback seasons. Despite that, he’s been, on average, an above-average quarterback. From 2009 to 2012 Schaub averaged 3,907 yards, 22 touchdowns and 11 interceptions (he missed the last six games of the 2011 season when he was placed on IR). He also has a lot of similarities to Rich Gannon, who averaged 3,947 yards, 26 touchdowns and 11 interceptions for the Raiders from 1999-2002, the last years they made the playoffs. It was not until his disastrous season last year with the Texans that people started to question him. Adding in last year’s stats, his average falls to 3,587 yards, 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions over those five years.
Indeed, he was bad last year, setting an NFL record for throwing a pick-six in four straight games, but the team in general had trouble finishing drives and that added to their poor overall record. Arian Foster was plagued by injury, only playing in eight games, and linebacker Brian Cushing was placed on season ending IR after seven games. Andre Johnson had over 1,400 receiving yards and DeAndre Hopkins had 52 receptions for 802 yards as a rookie. The offense ranked eleventh and the defense ranked seventh in total yards, both respectable spots, but the offense dropped to 31st in points scored while the defense was at the bottom of the league in points allowed. Basically, the Texans were an efficient team, that could not get the ball into the end zone on offense and keep it out on defense. Their punter punted 88 times too, which is 5.5 times per game. One year after being the number one seed in the AFC, the Texans dropped to the worst team in the league.
The Raiders on the other hand, also had a bad 2013 season, but their woes were because of bad players. Coach Dennis Allen wanted to create competition during camp so he had Terelle Pryor, Matt McGloin, and Matt Flynn all fighting for the starting job, and it became a circus. Terrelle Pryor finally beat out Matt Flynn at the 23rd hour and was named the opening day starter. Pryor was young, fast, had a strong-arm, and was ready to take the team to the next level. He got them off to a 1-1 start, and held strong till 3-4, after which, they lost the remainder of their games and Pryor missed seven games from injury. Offensive coordinator Greg Olson all along wanted Flynn to win the job, but couldn’t pull the trigger.
The Raiders are built to have a pocket passing quarterback. When healthy, their running back Darren McFadden, is one of the best in the league. They have two solid receivers in Rod Streater and Denarius Moore, and change of pace back Rashad Jennings is capable of ripping a 30 yard run at any time. But Pryor was not the pocket passer they wanted. Like Cam Newton’s first two years, his instinct was to run the ball if no one was immediately open because he is one of the fastest players in the league. In his nine games last year, Pryor threw the ball 272 times and rushed 83. He averaged more rushing yards than yards per attempted pass. It was fun for Oakland, the fans never knew what they were going to get with Pryor, but in the end, he was not the right quarterback for their system. Enter Matt Schaub, an experienced pocket passing quarterback who looks, to the Oakland Raiders, as their answer and missing puzzle piece.
The Raiders have had a busy offseason so far. They’ve bolstered their defense by adding safety Charles Woodson, defensive end Justin Tuck, cornerback Terrell Brown and lineman Antonio Smith. On offense they’ve added a third receiver in James Jones, as well as lineman Kevin Boothe . Now they’ve traded away a late round draft pick for quarterback Matt Schaub. He will still have to compete for the starting job, but is expected to get it. Schaub’s best years came when the Texans had a strong defense, a versatile running back (Arian Foster), an elite wide receiver (Andre Johnson) and a pass catching tight end (Owen Daniels). The Oakland Raiders have all those components on offense, and if the defense can turn it around with its new acquisitions, they might find themselves competing late in games.
Offensive line coach Tony Sparano (though he’s gone from head coach to line coach in a matter of years) should bolster the front line and give who ever is at quarterback more time to throw and open holes for running game. Sparano was also key in bringing the wildcat offense to the NFL, which means if Schaub does win the starting job, Pryor could be lethal in that spot. James Jones has quietly been improving on his numbers each year in the league as well. He will be 30 years old this season, so the Raiders will not expect him to be more than a number two/three receiver, but he still brings veteran experience to a young locker room. They also have the fifth pick in the draft and are expected to take a wide receiver.
Many question why the Raiders would spend a draft pick on Schaub, especially since he was expected to be released by the Texans. The Cleveland Browns had expressed a lot of interest in the quarterback because Kyle Shannahan has history with him. The smart move was to throw away a late round pick that will most likely be a bust, and get Schaub, who most likely would have signed with the Browns. Pryor is the X-factor in the whole situation. Last year the coaches wanted Matt Flynn, a traditional pocket passer, as the quarterback, but he did not perform well enough to win the job. Pryor started, became a fan favorite, and helped the team win games too.
Flynn and Matt McGloin are still on the team, so it is becoming an increasingly crowded position, but they have shown in the past they like to keep their options deep at quarterback. Maybe they will even draft another. If Matt Schaub can get back to being a consistent, game managing starter, as the Oakland Raiders hope he will, then they may be finally looking at their answer. If he continues to regress, then the Raiders will find themselves back in an all too familiar position.
Commentary by Chris Dragicevich