I’ve already gone on the record saying the Oakland Raiders will win the AFC West if Darren McFadden can remain healthy in 2012. Not exactly a bold proclamation considering how weak the West has been and that my not-so-bold claim has an if/then contingency.
So I’m going to take this one step further with another somewhat bolder yet none the less conditional claim.
If the Oakland Raiders can get their defense up to middle of the road standing in the NFL hierarchy then they’ll be true title contenders.
Don’t look now but Dennis Allen could be building his version of the New Orleans Saints West. On paper there are some similarities the current Raiders share with the previous World Champion Saints.
In our version of the New Oakland Saints we’re going to swap out Drew Brees for Darren McFadden as our focal point of the offense. While the position of running back isn’t as influential on the outcome of a game as quarterback there is no doubt Run DMC is capable of taking a game over in crucial moments. But Carson Palmer is no Kyle Boller and when he’s on his game CP3 is still among the best throwers in the game.
But we’re not here to talk about Oakland’s explosive offense. By now the league knows all too well what this offense at full strength can be.
What we’re focusing on is getting the Raider D back up to championship level.
Now in years past having a championship defense meant being dominant. That’s not the case anymore. Not in a pass happy league with rules tailored to the offense. Just look at the sad excuse of a defense Bill Belichick dragged into the Super Bowl last year. Better year look no further than the opportunistic D the Saints rode into Lombarditown.
New Orleans didn’t have a great secondary nor did they have a dominating group of linebackers. What they had was a bend-but-don’t-break approach that featured defensive playmakers. You could move the ball on the Saints with ease but mistakes were severely punished.
The Raiders can be the same type of team.
The strength of Oakland’s defense is the D-line, without question. Though that unit hasn’t always played up to par it’s an athletic, versatile and mean collection of talent capable of pressuring passers into careless mistakes.
Beyond the line it’s going to be up to Jason Tarver to scheme his defense into becoming more opportune. Tyvon Branch is the lone standout in the secondary and the linebackers are very much a question mark.
That’s where this nice and neat idea gets a reality check. We’re not exactly sure what to expect of the defense. Coming off of another awful season Oakland’s defensive performance has got to improve. Even with a new offense being installed you’d still expect Run DMC and company to kill it every Sunday. That alone can carry this team to the top of the AFC West.
Getting deep into the playoffs will require a much more of the defense. Not a drastic improvement, mind you. Just enough of an upswing that the offense won’t be required to constantly go point-for-point with the opposition.
It’s not a bold prediction by any means but it’s one that could definitely come to fruition if the Raiders are up to the task of becoming an improved defensive team.