Week four of NFL action is in the books. It’s hard to believe that at one point this year there were question marks about whether or not there would even be football this season. The Oakland Raiders find themselves at 2-2 at the quarter mark, but they certainly had the opportunities to come out of September a 4-0 football team. So what can the Raiders do to make October a more productive month this football season?
One of the things they need to shore up is the concentration penalties: false starts, lining up in the neutral zone, and unsportsmanlike conduct. The Raiders have had their fair share of all of these this season and that's certainly something the coaching staff is well aware of, something that Hue Jackson claims will not become a stigma this season even though it has been in years past. The Raiders did a good job of trimming the penalties in weeks two and three after posting 15 in week one. But the penalty bug reared its ugly head again in week four at home against the Patriots.
Which leads me to my next point: The Raiders need to become more consistent. In week one and week three, they were a formidable force against their opponent's rushing attack. In weeks two and four, they allowed far too many yards on the ground. Some would say that is being consistent, that they stop the run well every other week and that bodes well for them against the Houston Texans in week five.
However, that is not the consistency that Coach Jackson wants to see. He wants them to give up an even 70 yards (preferably less) on the ground every week rather than 140 this week, 30 that week. You need something you can rely on and build on, and when there is a discrepancy like that it becomes difficult to form your game plan because you really don’t know which team is going to show up.
Rushing defense is not the only inconsistency in the Raiders’ game at this point of the season. Their passing game has been hot and cold as well. Quarterback Jason Campbell says that some games turn into running games where they don’t need to pass as much and some turn into passing games where the team won’t run the ball as much. That’s all well and good, but when they actually do need to throw the ball, in second-and-long or third-and-long situations, they need to convert more of those plays.
Coming into the mid-part of the season, the need to convert those plays is going to become more and more urgent. If the Raiders want to turn losses into wins and actually win the AFC West this season, they have to be able to get that conversion rate to at least 50 percent. Right now, they are converting 44 percent of their third downs. That may seem like it isn’t that much of a difference but when you start talking about 188 third down attempts in a season, you also start talking about converting 94 of those instead of 84. That is ten times that they get another set of downs. Plus, this will keep the defense off the field resting and the opposing offense off the field as well.
Another factor that has been pivotal in deciding what the quarter mark record is this season is the injury bug. Thus far, the team has had several key players banged up. The following players have missed games this season: Michael Huff, Kevin Boss, Marcel Reece, Chris Johnson, Louis Murphy, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Jacoby Ford, Matt Shaughnessy, Demarcus Van Dyke, and Mike Mitchell.
Mitchell and Ford returned to action last week after missing multiple games. Kevin Boss saw a little bit more action after returning from his knee injury in week three. He had three catches for 58 yards. Marcel Reece, perhaps the biggest fullback weapon in the NFL, was knocked out of action in week three. His status is currently unknown for week five. Chris Johnson was knocked out early in week three against the Jets and his status for week five is also unknown. Darrius Heyward-Bey was inactive against the Buffalo Bills, returned in week three, and made an impact in week four with his career high 116 yards on four catches. Matt Shaughnessy is expected to play in week five. Louis Murphy is expected to practice on Wednesday for the first time since the first week of preseason. DVD is day to day.
When the Raiders can go out and win two of their first four with this list of hospital hopefuls it shows that they have some good depth happening. That next man up theory appears to be doing okay, but having this list be healthy instead of hurting is going to be impactful for the team down the stretch of the season. The injury bug is expected to play a pivotal role in every team's season and it's no excuse for not winning. However, I think the names on this list (well, most of them) speak for themsleves in terms of what has actually been missing from the field any given Sunday.
One thing Coach Jackson does that you have to respect is to make sure his guys are at least at 90 percent before they go out on that football field. At this early stage, the last thing you want is to lose a guy for the season because he came back to action too soon. That said, the lofty list of injuries has not helped the Raiders be winners this year. But once they get all these guys back and healthy, you’d better believe they have a better opportunity to win games. The inconsistency here is: when they do get back, who else is going to be out? Jackson's approach to this situation gives hope that most of these guys wil be on the field together at some point this season.
In conclusion, the Raiders have some work left to do to be that bully they want to build. I’m sure there are more issues contributing to the two losses thus far that I forgot or left out on purpose. Once they get these issues ironed out and stop beating themselves and being their own worst enemy, this team will look great instead of just above average. At the present time, however, it appears that the inconsistencies will continue to get the best of them. Don’t be surprised if they go into that bye week as a .500 team. But I’d be very surprised if they lose two in a row before they win two in a row this season.
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