In this week's edition of Behind Enemy Lines, we hear from die-hard Raiders fan Rich Langford of Silver and Black Pride.
Andy Tisdel: Let's start with the biggest trade of the season: Carson Palmer. How did Raiders fans react upon his arrival? How has he done since becoming a Raider, especially in terms of learning the offense?
Rich Langford: Raider Nation was fairly split on the trade. Some were appalled by the high price, and others were just excited to get a legitimate QB. Price aside, almost everyone was happy to have him on the team. It became apparent quickly that this team would be going nowhere with Kyle Boller at the helm for an extended period of time.
Carson has done a fine job of learning the offense in a short time. What is stunting his growth though is the injuries to the WRs. Jacoby Ford and Denarius Moore were clearly his favorite targets. Ford was lost in Carson's third start, and Moore in his fourth. This has left Palmer trying to build chemistry with a patchwork receiving corps, and what doesn't help matters there is that the receivers that are left do not run consistent routes.
AT: With only two low-round picks in the 2011 draft, the Raiders will have to rely on free agency this offseason to strengthen their team. Where are their positions of need right now?
RL: Well first, it is important to point out that the Raiders should receive a few compensatory picks. They lost CB Nnamdi Asomugha, TE Zach Miller and G-T Robert Gallery and they did not bring in one starter via free agency.
So when the Raiders do address needs in the offseason they need to focus on three spots. They need to bring in a guard. This will allow Stefen Wisniewski to move to center and help solidify an inconsistent unit. Defensively, they need to add a corner and a linebacker. Chris Johnson is a decent No. 2 corner, but he is injury prone and can't be counted on. The Raiders drafted two corners this year, but they have both suffered through injuries, and there is little reason to believe either one will be ready to be No. 2 next year.
The Raiders need a LB as they decide if they want to bring Aaron Curry back or not. Curry and Kamerion Wimbley combine to what has to be the worst OLB combo in pass defense in the NFL. They must upgrade in that area.
AT: Did anyone foresee the Raiders being tied for the division lead after 12 games this year? What were the expectations going into this year, and have they been borne out for the most part?
RL: Following the end of last season, hopes were high that the Raiders would contend for the division. Then they suffered big losses in free agency and did not bring anyone in. They followed that up with a completely inept preseason, and few thought they would contend.
The Raiders have been far better in pass defense than was expected leading up to Week 1. Their offense has also greatly outperformed expectations. That starts with the offensive line. The O-line was terrible in pass protection last year and in the preseason. They have been solid this season, although the past two weeks have been awful. This run defense is atrocious and that is about what most expected. The run D has finished very close to the bottom of the league for almost a decade.
AT: You wrote a post after last week's Raiders-Dolphins game about how the Raiders, despite their reputation as the meanest, toughest guys in the league, tend to crumble when matched against more physical teams. Could you expound on that a little here? What do you think the causes of that are?
RL: The Raiders key to victory is winning in the trenches. On offense they like to run the ball. On defense, the line is the heart and soul. If the line isn't plugging the running lanes, backs almost always find a LB out of position. When this team gets bullied in the trenches, it destroys everything this team wants to do. And while it has vastly improved over the years, this team can go into a funk quickly and games can be over almost before they begin. Case in point, last week against Miami.
AT: What's your take on excellent LB Rolando McClain's arrest last week?
RL: My take is that it was an incredibly foolish predicament for McClain to put himself in. It showed a complete lack of maturity and professionalism. As one of the highest paid players on the team, McClain needs to set an example and he did the exact opposite. That said, I didn't have a problem with him playing last week. My hope is that Hue Jackson told him that this was his one warning, and that he would be expected to act as a professional from this point forward. If not, I would support the Raiders cutting him.
While reports made McClain look like a complete scumbag villain, I think it was more of a case of him trying to be a gangster more than just an evil raving lunatic. He and the man alleging the assault. The victim came out and said McClain accused him of breaking into a house that McClain owns and stealing a TV. While this was a horribly stupid way for a man in McClain's position to handle the situation, I think it is also a bit of a natural consequence for the lifestyle the people involved are wrapped up in. And that is a lifestyle McClain clearly needs to leave in the past if he ever wants to become an elite player.
AT: The Raiders' undisputed greatest strength is their running game (current average: 140.6 yds/game, 4th in NFL). Could you break down what enables them to consistently dominate opponents on the ground?
RL: Well, I wouldn't say that they consistently dominate in the run game. They have struggled on the ground the last two weeks. This goes hand-in-hand with what I was talking about with the Raiders getting bullied. This offensive line is not dominant at the point of attack. If they play a great defensive line, the run game will struggle.
This is not a four yards every carry running attack. This is a one yard, two yards, 15 yards type of rushing attack. C Samson Satele and RG Cooper Carlisle are far better blocking on the second level than at the point of attack. Also, the Raiders receivers are almost all very good run blockers. If the line can consistently open up holes at the line, than this running game will have a big day.
AT: What's your predicted final score?
RL: It would be completely foolish for me to predict a Raiders victory, but that is what I am going to do. I never bet on the Raiders because when I look at a game, I only see way in which they will win. I haven't predicted a loss for this team since JaMarcus Russell became free to be a full-time purple drank consumer on his couch (my homerism knows some bounds). So when I look at this matchup, I see a Packers team that has struggled to stop the run game.
Green Bay is 29th in yards allowed per rush at 4.9. They have been even worse over their last three allowing 5.9. Their last three games have been the Bucs, Lions and Giants who are ranked 12th, 13th and 32nd respectively in yards per rush. The Raiders are seventh. The Packers are not doing anything well on run defense. They are 28th in power plays, 29th in stuffed plays, 28th in the second level and 22nd in the open field. This is good news for the Raiders offense, as they will have to control the ball and sustain drives.
Defensively, there is no hope of stopping the Packers offense. However, the Raiders are far better equipped to stop an elite passing game than they are a running game. Oakland's defensive line is capable of getting pressure on the QB from all positions. The hope is that this will lead to a couple of timely sacks, and get the Packers off of the field in key situations, which will lead to the Raiders grinding away on long drives with the running game.
Also, the Raiders have an uncanny knack to be at their best when no one gives them a shot and their backs are against the wall.
Raiders win 27-24.