The 2011 Season Review:
To say the 2011 season was frustrating for the Oakland Raiders would be an understatement.
The team went through a roller coaster ride of a season with ups and downs eventually leading to a disappointing finish as the Raiders missed out on the playoffs again.
The season started off with a thrilling win in Denver that saw an NFL record fall. The Raiders pulled out a 23-20 victory behind the legs of Sebastian Janikowski and Shane Lechler.
Sebastian Janikowski nailed three field goals including a record tying 63 yarder and Lechler averaged over 58 yards on 6 punts (one that went 77 yards) to lead the Raiders to victory.
The season quickly turned disappointing, as the Raiders allowed the Buffalo Bills to come back from an 18 point halftime deficit to fall to 1-1.
After splitting games against AFC East opponents the Raiders headed to Houston to play the Texans when the season again changed dramatically.
Longtime owner and NFL legend Al Davis passed away, putting the franchise under a new leader for the first time since it moved to the NFL.
After Davis’ passing, the team went out and won a pair of games against the Texans and Browns, but lost Jason Campbell along the way.
Without Campbell, the Raiders traded for Carson Palmer, giving up a pair of picks (one of them a first rounder) in a bold move that eventually didn’t pan out.
The Raiders season hit its lowest point in a 28-0 home loss to Kansas City. Kyle Boller was atrocious and Carson Palmer was forced into the game without knowing the full playbook. The result was 6 interceptions and no points against a division opponent.
To make matter worse, star running back Darren McFadden was injured and eventually missed the rest of the season (although the team seemed to hope he could come back almost every week).
Despite losing McFadden, the Raiders went on to win three in a row in weeks 10-12, putting the team at 7-4 and in good position for the postseason.
However, they dropped their next three, and the season seemingly slipped away in a week 15 loss to Detroit. The Raiders had a lead and gave Detroit the ball 98 yards away from the end zone with less than two minutes to play. Somehow, they allowed Detroit to easily move down the field for the winning touchdown.
On the last day of the season, the Raiders had a shot to make the playoffs with a win and some help. Although Denver lost, the Raiders fell flat against the Chargers and missed their chance to win the division, resulting in another disappointing season.
The Raiders entered into a new era with the hiring of Reggie McKenzie as their first General Manager since Al Davis passed away.
McKenzie fired Hue Jackson and the Raiders are currently searching for another head coach (which seems normal for the team at this point).
Without Jackson, even Carson Palmer’s future in Oakland could be in doubt, as the Raiders can get out of his contract and McKenzie might want to bring someone he likes in to lead the offense.
If Palmer stays, the offense looks to be in solid shape with the chance to be great if Darren McFadden stays healthy.
McFadden is one of the best backs in the NFL and Michael Bush is terrific as a backup/short yardage option. The Raiders have a young group of good receivers that also have struggled with injuries.
Denarius Moore had a solid rookie campaign and Darius Heyward-Bey took a huge step forward in 2011, finishing with 975 receiving yards (easily a career high).
The main questions come on the defensive side of the ball. The Raiders allowed more than five yards per carry and over 30 touchdown passes in 2011, showing they need improvement against the run and pass.
The defensive line is solid and Richard Seymour has been terrific since coming to Oakland. Rolando McClain is a promising young middle linebacker who should be a leader on the defense for years to come.
The main questions lie at outside linebacker and in the secondary. The loss of Nnamdi Asomugha hit the team harder than expected and the team needs improvement if they want to compete in 2012.
Unfortunately, the Raiders have lost all but two of their draft picks for this year. They currently hold only their fifth and sixth round picks (although they should get some compensation picks for losing Asomugha, Zach Miller and Robert Gallery). It’s likely their first pick will be right after the end of the third round.
Without the ability to improve much through the draft, McKenzie will have to find some bargain free agents to improve the defense.
Luckily for the Raiders, the AFC West should still be one of the weakest divisions in football next year, giving the team a chance to make the playoffs.
Things will be different for the Oakland Raiders in 2012 with new GM Reggie McKenzie and a new coach leading the team. For Raiders fans, hopefully things will be different in the postseason as well, as the Raiders look to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2002.