95.7 The GAME personality and Raiders.com columnist John Lund takes a look back at the first half of the season and previews the second half.
MY HALF-WAY POINT OF THE YEAR AWARDS:
I can't believe we are halfway through the Raiders season. The perfect time to analyze what we have seen and what I think we are going to see. I'll give you ten things from the first half in no particular order and five things to watch in the second half of the season.
Ten from the first half:
10. Run defense: While the Raiders pass defense gave up an NFL record-tying seven touchdown passes to Eagles quarterback Nick Foles last Sunday, the Raiders run defense has been outstanding all season long:
Raiders Rush Defense last 5 seasons:
2013: 94.6 - 6th
2012: 118.6 - 18th
2011: 136.1 - 27th
2010: 133.6 - 29th
2009: 155.5 - 29th
9. The pass rush. Last season the Raiders had 25 sacks the entire year. This year at the midway point, the team has 23 sacks by 15 different players. Defensive Coordinator Jason Tarver's attacking style has been effective and entertaining. Offenses don't know who is going to be "activated" next to unleash the fury to the quarterback. DE Lamarr Houston leads the team with four sacks after being moved from base end on the left side to the team's primary pass rusher on the right side this season. According to Pro Football Focus, Houston's 36 total pressures (a combination of sacks, quarterback hits and hurries) is second in the NFL.
8. Sio Moore. The third-rounder from UConn has been the Raiders best rookie with 16 tackles and 2.5 sacks. He also brings energy and passion and is quickly becoming a favorite of the Black Hole.
7. Porter in the slot. People forget as a member of the New Orleans Saints under his defensive backs coach Dennis Allen cornerback Tracy Porter picked off Peyton Manning to secure a Super Bowl win. This season, Porter has the seventh most snaps in the NFL from the slot. It is one of the toughest positions now in the NFL to play because of the route combinations a player can run and the quick and athletic players slot corners face each week. The Giants best receiver is Victor Cruz, who Porter will cover in the slot this Sunday in New York. Porter has been up to the task most weeks this season.
6. Charles Woodson. Woodson is the Raiders third leading tackler with 45 and his fumble return for a touchdown in Week 5 vs San Diego tied the record for most defensive touchdowns in a career. Woodson has proven at 37 he is far from finished.
5. Free agent finds. General Manager Reggie McKenzie deserves credit for finding so many quality defensive free agents on a limited budget. The Raiders top four tacklers on defense were not here a year ago. Middle linebacker Nick Roach leads the team with 57 tackles; outside linebacker Kevin Burnett has 56 tackles. Of Oakland's Top 10 tacklers, seven were brought in as free agents by McKenzie in the off-season.
4. Close calls. Despite the Raiders 3-5 record, players told me this week on my radio show the team is far different than last year's version who was also 3-5 through nine weeks. Look no further than the games they have lost for proof. In a 21-17 Week 1 loss at Indianapolis, the Raiders led the Colts 17-14 late in the fourth quarter and outgained their opponent overall by 98 yards. Oakland's final offensive possession stalled at the Colts 8-yard line with less than two minutes to play. In a 24-14 Week 4 loss at home to the Redskins, the Raiders led 14-0. In a misleading 24-7 loss at undefeated Kansas City in Week 6, the Raiders were down only 14-7 midway through the fourth quarter and ended up outgaining the Chiefs by nearly 60 yards for the game. These aren't excuses, I am merely pointing out the Raiders need to learn to close out games when they have the chance.
- Denarius Moore. Coaches preached consistency to Moore in the preseason. His career had been marked prior to this year by a spectacular game followed by a couple games where he would disappear. He is on pace for 64 catches for 1,026 yards and eight touchdowns, all would be career highs. He turns 25 in December, so the former fifth rounder out of Tennessee is still a young receiver who is being thrust into a #1 role leading this inexperienced receiver corps.
- The running game. Led by Terrelle Pryor, the Raiders have the NFL's 5th best rushing attack, averaging 147.8 yards per game with the second best yards per carry at 5.0 per shot. Despite all the injury issues along the offensive line, Oakland's eight rushing touchdowns are tied for third in the AFC. Now imagine what a healthy line could do. Oakland is the only team in the NFL this season with three separate players each rushing for 100 yards in a game. Terrelle Pryor (Week 1 and 8), Darren McFadden (Week 2), and Rashad Jennings (Week 9).
- The quarterback. I said I was writing these in no particular order, but let's face it, any quarterback is the big news and when it comes to Terrelle Pryor, he's the biggest news. The good is Pryor leads NFL quarterbacks with 485 yards rushing and barring injury, will surpass Rich Gannon's team record of 529 rushing yards by a quarterback set in 2000. In terms of throwing the ball, the numbers don't always show his improvement and the work he has put in. When Pryor first joined the team out of the supplemental draft in 2011, he couldn't throw accurately against air. By that, I mean I would watch him warm up before he was an active member of the team and even the most basic throws were tough for him. Now, his tireless work has improved his throwing ability to the level where the questions are more about the mental side of the game where many young quarterbacks struggle, than the physical side. I have been told by numerous scouts if Pryor were in the upcoming NFL draft he would be a first round pick. The question is how patient the team can be in letting him develop. It used to be a team could sit and wait a few years for a quarterback to develop. If the Raiders can be patient, he could be special running and throwing. Pryor's 93-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage vs the Steelers is easily the top offensive play of the year for Oakland so far in 2013.
Five for the second half:
5. DJ Hayden's improvement: At times in the first half Hayden looked like what he is, a rookie who didn't play much of his senior year of college due to a catastrophic injury and a raw player who missed most of camp. In talking to both teammates and coaches, they expect the 12th overall pick to be much better in the second half of the season. Former Raiders Hall of Fame defensive back Rod Woodson told me he struggled in his rookie season. Most rookies in the defensive backfield do. Hayden has the physical tools, his head will catch up, his confidence will come back.
4. A healthier offensive line. Things couldn't have gone further away from the original plan after left tackle Jared Veldheer suffered a triceps tear in camp. Rookie tackle Menelik Watson has fought calf and knee issues, tackle Tony Pashos through a hip injury and center Stefen Wisniewski has battled a knee issue. Watson is expected to make his first regular season NFL start this Sunday and Veldheer is expected back at some point later this season.
3. Tough schedule. The Raiders played five of their first eight games at home in 2013, that will flip in the second half. Included in the roadies are two trips to New York and two to Texas. Six of the eight teams are .500 or better at this point and the teams the Raiders will face have a combined record of 38-29, including the 9-0 Chiefs and 7-1 Broncos, both at home.
2. A better Seabass. Raiders long snapper Jon Condo told me this week Sebastian Janikowski is back to being his 2012 self. He has already missed more field goals this season (four) than all of last season (three), but Condo sees better continuity between himself, Janikowski and first year holder/punter Marquette King after some first half adjustments.
- More improvement from Pryor. Yep, back to the quarterback. We know Pryor can run, now he needs to throw the ball to win. Teams are adjusting to the Raiders running game by putting more emphasis on stopping Pryor and forcing him to throw, which will continue in the second half of the season. The most important element among them all to decipher in the second half is if Pryor can be the quarterback of the future for the franchise. The decision will be determined on how well he throws the ball the rest of the season.