Back to the Bay with Rory Anderson is a weekly column from one of Just Blog Baby’s podcast hosts, this week Rory discusses the Raiders Week One opener against the Colts and the unanswered questions we are about to find out on Sunday.
We are almost there. Week one, no more games that don’t matter, no more training camp, and for the love all things holy some questions will be answered. If you have listened to the podcast you would know that I am a patient person when it comes to this rebuilding process, although I like many in Raider Nation do not agree with every move that have been made, I also understand why they have been made. What makes Raider Nation great is also what makes Raider Nation very difficult at times, and that is the passion. Raiders’ fans are a passionate lot and when things are bad the complaints are amplified. This column is not going to justify anything that Reggie McKenzie has done, but I will answer questions plaguing Raider Nation.
The Run Defense
I have long said after watching each preseason game that what has killed this defense is the obvious lack of game planning. This is a very tiresome discussion that I have had with many in Raider Nation, but simply put, I cannot in any way envision this defense taking a step back. In 2011 the defense gave up 2178 yards on the ground, but last year the defense improved only giving up 1897 yards and that was with an injured Richard Seymour that really only contributed a name and a lazy Tommy Kelly that didn’t even contribute that. Now enter Pat Sims who made his impact obvious against the Seahawks and is regarded as a solid run stopping defensive tackle. Furthermore, add in a much more solid linebacker corps that is much more versatile and you have the ingredients to make a fairly decent run defense.
The Pass Defense and… DJ Hayden
If there are four things we have learned about defensive coordinator Jason Tarver. The first is he is crazy both as a coach and a play caller. Second is that he loves to blitz. Thirdly, he doesn’t care about giving up yards only points. Fourth, he will give up a field goal to prevent a touchdown every drive. With that in mind, don’t be surprised or get upset if this pass defense gives up a ton of yards. Tarver is a young, modern defensive coordinator and what he cares about is turnovers and not giving up touchdowns. That is exactly why Reggie McKenzie drafted DJ Hayden. You may be upset as a fan that Reggie did not “address a need” such as offensive line or defensive line, but let us not forget he has drafted two offensive lineman (one of which is now the starting left tackle), and three defensive lineman (one was cut because an undrafted free agent outplayed him). Simply because there has not been a first round draft pick dedicated to either group does not mean the issues have not been addressed. Desmond Bryant who is a favorite in Raider Nation and was lost to the Browns this offseason, was an undrafted free agent, and Jared Veldheer was a fourth round pick, so please stop with the nonsense about NEEDING to use an early draft pick on either line.
What this passing defense needs is a playmaker and Reggie McKenzie drafted his highest rated player whom he believes will be able to turn the tide of games against even great quarterbacks like Peyton Manning. The one comment every scout made about DJ Hayden was that he was a playmaker and had great ball skills after an interception. Sound familiar to any other free agent corners the Raiders signed? Tracy Porter? Yes, he may not be a shutdown corner, but he is known specifically for having solid ball skills. Furthermore, Mike Jenkins was known in college as a playmaker and even had a 100 yard kick return touchdown. Sensing a trend? DJ Hayden may not begin the season as a “starter”, but he will play a ton in nickel packages on the outside and Porter will cover the slot.
When you boil the offensive concerns down to their most basic parts what becomes apparent is the need for a decent offensive line. I have said on countless occasions that Menelik Watson was an amazing pick in the second round and he should have been a left tackle prospect. I honestly had the feeling that the Chargers were going to draft him in the first round. When I wrote for a different site, I did a four round mock draft including trades and I had the Raiders selecting Watson with their second pick. When Veldheer is healthy, the Raiders a solid threesome for the next decade when you add in Stefan Wisniewski, but until then, the addition of Tony Pashos will help solidify the right tackle position and the guards although mediocre will not be as bad as we have seen. I am a big proponent of Lucas Nix. He’s a big mauler type with nimble feet to pull, but he has a tendency to lose his leverage which gets him blown up. I think ultimately Barnes moves to the right guard position and this offense is really able to be pretty decent. Especially when you add in Terrelle Pryor’s running abilities.
Much of the issues we saw with blocking in the preseason came from the lack of audibles and line adjustments. There will be issues, and I would never say this line will be great, but with similar personnel this offensive line only gave up 27 sacks last season and rated fourth in Football Outsiders’ pass blocking rankings. I don’t doubt that there will be struggles, but I am confident that Greg Olson with his background and his delight with his new toy Terrelle Pryor will make this offense work and at minimum make it a middle of the road squad.
Another thing I have long said is Terrelle Pryor is not Reggie’s or Dennis’ guy, but he has a chance to prove he is the man of the future for the Raiders. I have been a fan of his since Ohio State and his work ethic has shone through these past years. The Tim Tebow comparisons have never made sense to me. Anyone who watches him knows the guy can throw and if he has cleaned up a couple small mechanical issues he can very solid. I would guess a 55-60 percent passer. Combine that with his running abilities and I like what he can do. The real threat I see is an upcoming draft that is very deep at quarterback and he may be ousted next season. Pryor must convince management he is the guy and if he does, this team will succeed.
What All This Means
Coming into week one I am predicting a Raiders victory in Indianapolis. The “experts” will say the Colts are poised to dominate the Raiders, but let us be serious for a moment. The Colts defense IS terrible. They lost Dwight Freeney and didn’t really add anybody of consequence. Furthermore, the Colts drafted Bjoern Werner and are having him switch to outside linebacker. They are having a 280 pound defensive end whose sacks all came from in a couple games against bad competition as a backup outside linebacker and mostly a pass rush specialist. Davis and Toler are decent corners, with Davis being a pretty decent press man guy, but neither is really outstanding. There is some talent on the defensive line, but this is a 3-4 defense and none of them are really game changers. Of course Andrew Luck is great, but this also isn’t the same offense as last year which has its positives and negatives. On the negative side, Arians’ defense would get quarterbacks killed with the seven step drops and Pep Hamilton will run a more west coast system making sacks more difficult. Positively, the Raiders have a good idea what Hamilton will do because Tarver coached with him at Stanford, and that knowledge will allow Raiders defensive backs to sit on some routes and make some plays. I expect a close game, but a Raiders’ victory. 20-17 Raiders.
For the season I am predicting the Raiders win seven games. I am confident this team will come together. I love the chemistry and the way they are buying into this system and coaching staff. The addition of Charles Woodson will really help bring it all together. Combine that with an overrated schedule, I think this team is able to win seven games. I will not tell you at the moment which games I think they win so keep reading.
Rory Anderson is one of the co-hosts of the Just Blog Baby Podcast on BlogTalkRadio.com follow him on twitter @holistic_pickle for more Raiders opinion.