By Sam McPherson
Playing in the toughest division in the NFL, the 2013 Oakland Raiders struggled through a hard 4-12 season, going 1-7 in the second half and losing their final six contests by an average of 12.5 points per game.
Basically, there’s nowhere to go but up in 2014, although it will still be a tough proposition with the Denver Broncos, the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Diego Chargers in the same AFC West situation.
Offensively, the Raiders had injuries at all three main skill positions: quarterback, running back wide receiver. With the talent level questionable already, these problems didn’t help Oakland at all, obviously.
The team finished 23rd in total yards offensively, ahead of playoff teams like the San Francisco 49ers (24th) and the Carolina Panthers (26th), but the issue was more about converting those yards into points: for comparison, the Raiders finished 24th in points (20.1 per game), while those two other playoff teams finished 11th (S.F., 25.4 ppg) and 18th (Carolina, 22.0 ppg).
Oakland also finished 26th in third-down conversions, making a first down just 35% of the time: the inability to consistently put together long scoring drives hurt the Raiders all season, especially in the second half of games where they had the lead and lost it — which happened many times in 2013.
And the issue really was at QB, where the Oakland offense couldn’t get any consistent play this season at all. Both Terrelle Pryor and Matt McGloin have potential to be good NFL quarterbacks, but they’re both young and raw right now. Completing a combined 57.4% of their attempts, the two QBs just couldn’t move the sticks enough, averaging just 7.0 yards per attempt.
Pryor (6.6 ypa) had more issues throwing downfield than McGloin (7.3 ypa) did, but they both have a lot of room to improve if the team doesn’t take another QB in the 2014 draft. Pryor runs better than McGloin, but as NFL history has demonstrated, even the best of running QBs have to know how to throw consistently if they want to be successfully and stick in the league for a long time.
The Raiders’ running attack finished 12th in the NFL with 125.0 yards per game, so that was a strength for the team, despite the injury to Darren McFadden who has probably played his last game in an Oakland uniform. Rashad Jennings did a great job filling in for him, running for 733 yards on only 163 carries.
Overall, the team ran for 2000 yards even on the year, averaging 4.9 per carry. But Pryor accounted for 576 yards on his own, for 6.9 per scramble, and that’s not a recipe for long-term NFL success.
Wide receiver Rod Streater was the passing game’s equivalent of Jennings: when No. 1 WR Denarius Moore went down, Streater stepped up to lead the team with 60 catches and 888 yards. Moore finished with 46 receptions for 695 yards, but if he had been healthy all year, it would have helped the young QBs significantly.
So, with two QBs splitting time and the two No. 1 options in two phases of the offense going down with injuries, it was a tough year for the offense.
But the defense had it worse, by far: the team gave up 363.7 yards a game (22nd) and 28.3 points per game (28th). It’s hard to blame the defense’s issues on injuries — more so, it was just a lack of talent and a tough schedule of offenses this year. Overall, Oakland was 13th in the NFL against the run (107.9 yards allowed) but just 28th against the pass (255.8 yards allowed).
Since the offense wasn’t going to outscore anyone, the team really needed the defense to make the difference in a lot of games — and it only did so negatively with the multiple blown second-half leads in 2013: the Raiders gave up 16.8 points per victory this season, but they surrendered 32.2 per game in the 12 losses.
The whole team needs to get better in 2014, of course, but it’ll need to start with the defense — you just can’t win in the NFL with a bad defense and a bad offense.
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Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering all things Oakland A’s. His work can be found on Examiner.com.