The Oakland Raiders saw a promising season fizzle out in the end as they lost their final game to finish 8-8 and miss out on the playoffs yet again. The 2011 season, however, was really about an off the field loss of massive proportions.
Passing of a Legend
Legendary owner Al Davis died on October 8, 2011 of heart failure. The engine that drove this team, Davis had become a bit of a caricature in his final years as age dimmed his light a bit. That being said, Davis was a force in the NFL for nearly its entire history. His initial role as commission of the rival AFL made him a power broker in sports, which continued when the league merged with the NFL in a negotiated deal. He set all types of firsts. For example, he was the first owner to hire an African-American head coach [Art Shell] and female executive [Amy Trask]. He was a man who never backed down and coined the famous phrase, “Just Win, Baby!” His loss seemed to spur the Raiders on to their best season in nearly a decade.
The team finished 8-8, which was good enough for a tie for first place in the weak AFC West. The team would have won the division and gone to the playoffs if they didn’t lose their last game at home against the San Diego Chargers. That let the Denver Broncos squeak into the playoffs as the division winner. Still, after a decade of mediocrity, the team appeared to have turned the corner with a solid set of talented players. This team should be a force to reckon with at the start of the 2012 season.
Hue Jackson became the head coach in 2011 after having served as offensive coordinator in 2010. The move seemed a success at first as the Raiders became a physical force on offense with a rushing attack led by Darren McFadden and a long ball passing attack led by quarterback Jason Campbell. The offense physically punished opponents for much of the early season and ended the first half of the season 4-4, which was a major improvement over previous years.
They then suffered injuries to McFadden and Campbell that would keep them out the rest of the year. These injuries were devastating news to fans everywhere! Sensing the opportunity to win a weak AFC West, the team went out and traded multiple first round picks to the Cincinnati Bengals to get disgruntled quarterback Carson Palmer. Reserve Michael Bush stepped in at running back and there was a new spark to this team.
The team was sitting at 7-4 at one point, stared in the face of their first championship in over a decade. They then proceeded to lose four out of five to miss the playoffs. There were many reasons for the collapse, such as leading the league in penalties…again. The dominant reason, however, was a defense that absolutely fell apart as the end of the season neared. The defense managed to give up 34, 46, 28 and 38 points in its four losses, numbers that the offense simply could not overcome. Even when faced with a win and go to the playoffs scenario in the final home game, they were blasted for 38 points by a Chargers team that had nothing to play for. Their defense was so bad that it set a franchise record for TD passes allowed (31), yards per carry allowed (5.1), yards passing allowed (4,262) and total yards allowed (6,201). The team gave up 433 points for the season, the second most in Raider history. We could only hope that the organization knows what needs to be done for next season.
Despite making big steps forward towards credibility, the team appears to be in for another offseason of major changes. It appears Marc Davis, the son of Al Davis, has moved into the dominant ownership position. He has already hired Reggie McKenzie from Green Bay as his general manager. In a surprise move, head coach Hue Jackson was fired. Many fans were disappointed to hear this news and started a boycott of Raiders tickets in reaction. In a less surprising move, so was defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan and three of his defensive assistants.
With a general manager in place, the offseason can get rolling. The first task is to find a head coach and new defensive staff. Once that is done, one can expect the team to focus almost entirely on finding linebackers and defensive backs that can actually play at an NFL level. This team has never been afraid of spending big money on free agents, but nobody really knows how Marc Davis will run the team. His appearance does not inspire confidence, but the proof will be in the pudding with the moves made this offseason.
They have a potent offense and a terrible defense. The AFC West is up for grabs. If they can find a decent head coach and upgrade the defense to a point where it is even just average, the team could easily take the division. Being the Raiders, one suspects it is more likely the team will find someway to blow it instead. With Marc Davis now in charge, a new era has begun for better or for worse. It is still to early to turn in my Raider tickets. I can only hope that when I am sitting in the stands, things have changed for the better.