The Oakland Raiders have been slumming in general mediocrity for some time. The team and its coaching staff have been in an almost constant state of turnover and transition over the last decade or so. Last season, Dennis Allen took over as head coach and led the Raiders to a 4-12 record.
That's obviously not a great start, and coupled with inconsistencies in the offensive gameplan, the Raiders never had a chance last year. Oakland tried to build an identity on offense that didn't seem to fit the personnel, which crippled the team's best weapon: running back Darren McFadden.
Fortunately, the Raiders plan to move back to a power-running attack to facilitate McFadden, who had just 707 yards in 2012 over 12 games. His per-carry average was just 3.3 yards, and he only managed two touchdowns.
The theme of the offseason has been simple: purge poor contracts and get back in the black. Oakland made a point to overvalue and overspend over the past decade, and though a lot of talent is leaving the team, they're making the changes necessary to get closer to long-term sustainability. Unfortunately, that may not lead to wins in the near future.
Let's take a look at what they need to do to be successful, what can go wrong and what constitutes a successful season in Oakland.
3 Steps To Success
1. Find a long-term answer at quarterback
The Raiders drafted Tyler Wilson this year, and brought in Matt Flynn from the Seattle Seahawks. Flynn carries a bit of hype, but that hype was based solely upon his role as a backup to Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, two teams ago. But whether it's Flynn, who is still relatively young, or Wilson, the Raiders need to find somebody this season. Instability at the position will push back any progress the team is making.
2. Play to the offense's strengths
Who knows if Darren McFadden is healthy or if he'll hold up over the course of a season — the fact is that the Raiders must lean on him. McFadden is the star of that offense, and he needs the football. If the Raiders find their quarterback, then great. But they shouldn't turn into a pass-happy team, and they shouldn't switch to an ill-fitting zone-blocking scheme.
3. Get production from rookies
The Raiders took a flier on Houston cornerback D.J. Hayden in the first round of the 2013 draft. Hayden had significant injury concerns, and the Raiders took a big risk by bringing him in. However, he could be great if he pans out, and the Raiders need to get him on the field as a starter sooner rather than later. Menelik Watson could be the right tackle of the future, but the Raiders would do much, much better if they can get him on the field and have him be productive right away. Linebacker Sio Moore seeing the field and one of the late-round defensive linemen making it would also be huge.
3 Feats Toward Failure
1. Defensive line playing like everyone expects
The defensive line is probably the weakest aspect of the team. They need defensive ends, they need defensive tackles, and they neglected to invest in either position with a high pick in the NFL Draft. If none of the players on the roster step up, they'll be in big trouble.
2. Any injuries to wide receivers
Oakland needs to get the quarterback situation set, but they're seriously lacking in wide receiver targets. Jacoby Ford and Denarius Moore can both be successful, but the injury concerns are there. If either of those players gets hurt, then how is either Flynn or Wilson to succeed next season?
3. Hayden struggling or getting injured
With a lack of top-flight talent throughout the roster, the Raiders really will be depending on some rookies. Hayden will be expected to start, and if he gets injured or struggles, then the Raiders having a solid defense next season is pretty much out the window. Other than the outside linebackers, there's not a whole lot to like, so every piece counts.
So what would be a successful season for the Raiders? They're far away from competing for a Super Bowl, but no team going 4-12 over and over again is heading in a positive direction, regardless of what moves are being made in the offseason.
The AFC West is in an interesting position, as the Denver Broncos seem to have everything riding on quarterback Peyton Manning, the Kansas City Chiefs were the worst team in the league last year, and the San Diego Chargers are at a turning point in which they can either continue their downward spiral or pull out and rejoin the NFL's elite.
Winning the division is probably out of the question. But if the Raiders manage eight wins or perhaps even a record above .500, then fans would probably feel good about this team heading into the following offseason, where they'll have money to spend.