The Oakland Raiders saw a huge drop in performance in 2017, as reflected by their losing record. This year in review points out what went right for the team this year.
For Raiders fans, 2017 has been disappointing, to say the least. A team that looked like a possible Super Bowl contender reverted back to the Raiders of the 14 years before. Now that the season is practically wrapped up for the Raiders, it’s time to do a year in review with a few changes this year that make it a little easier to look forward to next season.
Norton out, Pagano in
Before the 2017 season, well before training camp, and ahead of OTA’s, Raider Nation was calling for Ken Norton Jr.’s head on a stick. The former Seahawks’ linebackers coach turned Raiders’ defensive coordinating nightmare seemed to be lost in a sea of talent, with no idea how to make that talent thrive.
In reviewing the abysmal performance throughout the season by the defense as a whole, Norton was let go after Week 11’s heart-breaking loss to the Patriots, who many expected the Raiders to challenge for the “top dog” crown going into the season. Needless to say, it was time to move on.
When the Raiders announced prior to the season that they were bringing in defensive guru John Pagano, parties were had and daylight finally shone on Raider Nation.
Pagano had spent the previous five seasons in San Diego, slowly but surely building a defensive pass rush and a secondary attack that make the Chargers legit. Teams needed to adjust for the playbook Pagano built because as my dear friend and fellow Rambler Phil Robinson says, expect a rush to come from anywhere, even the popcorn guy in the stands.
Prior to Norton’s departure, the Raiders were the first team in NFL history to go 10 games without an interception. In the first game under Pagano, NaVorro Bowman pulled in the team’s first pick of the season. That certainly supported a case for things being back on track.
Another couple of tidbits about Pagano’s defense. The team has improved their total defense, previously surrendering on average 24.7 points and 367 yards per game, dropping to a mere 19.2 points and 287 yards.
Since Week 12, the defense has forced at least one turnover per game, totaling eight. They totaled six in the 10 games prior to Norton’s departure.
Do that math and it’s a huge improvement that any coach would be proud of.
Mid-season acquisitions haven’t been commonplace for the Raiders recently, but when they saw an opportunity to improve the defensive front seven, they wisely jumped at the chance. They almost immediately improved after adding former San Francisco linebacker NaVorro Bowman.
Bowman is a perennial tackle threat, racking up 100+ solo tackles in every year that he’s started all 16 games, all but two of his eight seasons. Coaches were so impressed with him in the first three days that they gave him the green dot. Essentially, they handed the defensive quarterbacking duties to him, which is almost unheard of. Finally, the Raiders had a voice. If he continues to meld with this defense and take a leadership role, the team will see a huge return on this investment.
The football world was shocked last April when seemingly retired Marshawn Lynch decided to join his hometown team. Even more surprising was that the Seattle Seahawks, who still held Lynch’s contract, dealt him away with little resistance.
Once the deal was done, Lynch visited Raider headquarters. The photo of him getting his helmet said everything. Raider Nation was giddy to see him on the field.
(photo courtesy of imgur.com)
Beast Mode was clearly excited about being a Raider, but his tenure in the Silver and Black didn’t start out well. Stats dropped consistently after Week 1. Since bottoming out Week 4, he’s improved almost every week. He’s scored seven touchdowns, tied for 7th in the league. Pro Football Focus ranks him as the third most elusive runner in the league, which is what the Raiders need on third and short. For a bulldozer running back who has the fourth highest yards after contact of all running backs, he’s doing the job he was hired to do.
Even though his stats aren’t visually overwhelming, there is a sweet spot for Lynch. In games where he has 11-18 touches, he averages 4.67 yards per carry. When he had more or less than that, his average drops to 3.47. That’s something to build on and with another offseason with the team and a more tuned-in offensive coordinator, the team can refocus their strategy to revolve around this sweet spot and involve the younger backs more.
A case for optimism
While much of the team remained the same, the few changes that they’ve made were incredibly positive. Their benefits will become apparent in little time. There were other positives for the team this year, however, these were the most impactful changes that the Raiders made for 2017. Continuing this late momentum into 2018 is crucial, and with the right pieces in place for long-term success, this team can get back in the championship conversation.