|Darren McFadden averaged 5.4 yards per carry in 2011, but could only stay healthy for seven games.|
With the 2011 season in the rearview mirror, it's time for NFL.com's annual "Exit Interviews," a chance to review the ups and downs of each team's past season and spin it forward.
2011 in a Nutshell: Remember Star Trek, and how all the actors pretty much never worked other than on Star Trek? They were all buried in a role. That is exactly where the Raiders are: buried in a role. A role that consists of changing head coaches and racking up penalties like it's nobody's business. This has been going on for years, with 2011's 8-8 Oakland team just the latest installment.
What went Right: A lot, actually. We finally saw some potential out of Darrius Heyward-Bey, and Denarius Moore has the makings of a big-time vertical threat. He singlehandedly destroyed the Chargers on "Thursday Night Football." Michael Bush served notice in that same game that he's nobody's backup. No. 29 ran hard in 2011. He is set to become a free agent, but there are reports that Oakland will make re-signing Bush a priority. In general, special teams should be more of a priority around the NFL, but in Oakland, they're a luxury. Simply put, the only kicker-punter tandem as good as the one the Raiders have resides across the Bay in San Francisco. Sebastian Janikowski went 31 for 35 on field goals, scoring 129 points. Three of those misses were from 50-plus yards. Punter Shane Lechler continues to be among the best ever at his position, averaging over 50 yards per punt and dropping 27 inside his opponents' 20-yard line. Darren McFadden has the explosiveness to be a modern-day Eric Dickerson. Through seven games he tallied over 100 scrimmage yards per game. He really could be the centerpiece for this franchise ...
What Went Not So Right: ...if, that is, McFadden can stay healthy. Isn't that always the question with him? The guy averaged 5.4 yards per carry -- that's no joke. But sometimes a player's best ability is availability, and McFadden has not been available for a good portion of his career. Carson Palmer was acquired via trade last season in one of the overrated dramas in recent memory. Palmer is still a middle-of-the-pack quarterback, as reflected by the 16 costly interceptions he tossed in half a season. The offense was ninth in the NFL overall, but when the Raiders really needed both Palmer and the defense to play big, they didn't -- particularly at home in Week 17 with the division on the line.
There were times the defense couldn't play big or small. The front seven did not play well against the run, as in a midseason home loss to the Broncos. Moreover, the secondary was beaten for big plays often last year, with and without starter Chris Johnson, who was hurt early. Stanford Routt was up and down, and is now gone. Losing Matt Shaughnessy to injury deprived the back four of its best friend: a front four that gets pressure. Shaughnessy's absence was a painful one.
Offseason Crystal Ball: Dennis Allen is the Raiders' first head coaching hire from the defensive side of the ball since John Madden replaced John Rauch in 1969. He'll have his work cut out for him this offseason, but he did a solid job with the Broncos' defense last season.
How can this team afford to pay Bush what he'll be able to draw on the market when he's slotted to be a backup behind McFadden? He'll have a chance to go elsewhere and be the guy. But therein lies the rub, because the current Man in Oakland seems to be more of a Tin Man. Let's shoot straight here: McFadden can't stay healthy. It's a problem, one that might necessitate a trade, especially if Taiwan Jones has more than just potential. Is free-agent-to-be Jason Campbell going to part ways with the Silver and Black? Other major potential free agents to contend with for newly minted general manager Reggie McKenzie are safety Tyvon Branch and right tackle Khalif Barnes.
Is this the point of the article where we should mention an NFL-record 163 penalties? Correcting that unholy stat might be the story of the offseason for the Oakland Raiders.
Team Needs and Draft: Cornerback is certainly a need. Finding outside linebacker, middle linebacker and defensive line help wouldn't hurt. Aaron Curry is not a big-time player at one of the outside slots, and Richard Seymour ain't getting any younger on the front line -- believe it or not, he'll be entering his 12th season in 2012.
Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @Harrison_NFL