By Sam McPherson
Yes, the 2014 Oakland Raiders still are winless, but the offense took a big leap forward in Week Six against the San Diego Chargers at the Coliseum. The Silver & Black were competitive and held their first fourth-quarter lead of the season. If the team is going to win a game, it’s because the offense is going to lead the way in an old-fashioned shootout.
And that’s okay. These Raiders are 0-5 and have no championship delusions. They just would like to win a game, and then they would like to win another one. Riding the offense is the best way to do that this season.
It almost worked against San Diego, and it is very possible it will work some time in the remaining 11 games. This offensive effort changes everything going forward.
Quarterback Derek Carr
Coming off the bye week and some injuries, Carr was at his best against the Chargers: 282 yards and four touchdowns. The team’s own website ranked it as the fourth-best effort by a rookie QB in team history, and that may be unfair to Carr.
Also notice on that list, the Raiders rookie signal caller has four of the Top 10 efforts—and he’s only played five games this year.
One huge difference in this last game was the vertical passing game that former Oakland team owner Al Davis used to favor so much: throwing the ball downfield. Not only does it stretch the defense, it also opens up lanes for the running game (see below) when the defense can’t put eight men in the box to stuff the run, knowing the QB isn’t throwing the ball very far.
Taking the chains off Carr was something the team could have done earlier, but maybe the head-coaching change to Tony Sparano was the ticket. After all, at this point, the team has nothing to lose and everything to gain. Why not let the kid loose?
Running back Darren McFadden
The veteran starter had his best game of 2014, by far, against San Diego, because there was some space to run, finally. With those proverbial chains off Carr, McFadden was much better. In the first four games, he averaged just 3.4 yards per carry. In the fifth game, McFadden ran for 5.7 yards per carry.
Somewhere in the middle there would be just fine with the Raiders; if he can run for 4.5 yards per carry for the rest of the season, Oakland will be very happy with that result.
The team also would be best served saving Maurice Jones-Drew for third-down passing situations and giving youngster Latavius Murray more carries as McFadden’s backup. That three-headed monster in the backfield has the potential to be quite potent going forward with this new scheme in place.
Wide receiver James Jones
The free-agent acquisition is on pace for 1050 yards right now, but that should get better with the new, improved offense. He has good hands, and Carr has developed a solid rapport with him—this was evident from Week One.
What Oakland—and Carr—need is one more wide receiver and/or tight end to step as a reliable target. The backs are all capable of catching the ball, but to stretch the field in true vertical style, someone needs to be going deep frequently … and making it count.
Andre Holmes looked like he could be that guy in Week Six against the Chargers, but he has just 15 catches in five games. He’ll need to pick up the pace a bit, while proving he can produce every week. Also, it would be really nice if TE Mychal Rivera could become a more reliable receiver—especially on third downs.
Hope for the future
No one is getting ahead of themselves here after the Chargers game. The Raiders are far away from being competitive in the AFC West. But they have some tools in place on offense to make every game competitive from here on out. The defense isn’t going to stop too many teams with consistency; the offense will have to outscore the opponent—figuratively and literally—for Oakland to avoid a winless season.
Carr is a building block for the future, though: his eight TD passes through five games are more than the Indianapolis Colts’ Andrew Luck threw in his first six NFL games. That’s a pretty soundbite stat, but Luck also had a much better team around him. Carr is the real deal.
The Raiders have their QB of the future, and now they need to ride him in 2014—and prepare to arm him better weapons and a better defense for 2015 and beyond.
For more Raiders news and updates, visit Raiders Central.
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering all things Oakland A’s. His work can be found on a Examiner.com.