32 Questions in 32 Days: Oakland Raiders

Raiders RB Darren McFadden
Raiders RB Darren McFadden
Dec 30 2012 San Diego CA USA Oakland Raiders running back Darren McFadden 20 runs the ball toward San Diego Chargers cornerback Antoine Cason 20 during the second quarter at Qualcomm Stadium Jake Roth USA TODAY Sports

As we count down to the NFL season, XN Sports will be bringing you 32 questions in 32 days. Each day, we’ll feature one of the most important questions for a different NFL team heading into the opening weekend of the league.

Today’s feature team and question?

The Oakland Raiders: Can the patchwork offensive line be effective?

When last we left the silver and black, the Oakland Raiders were finishing a horrendous 4-12 season. With significant questions all over the field, the Raiders could again be in for a difficult year.

Oakland’s offensive problems were numerous in 2012. Quarterback Carson Palmer gave the team a legitimate passing game, throwing for more than 4,000 yards and 22 touchdowns. However, his effectiveness was balanced out by 14 interceptions and seven fumbles. Running back Darren McFadden took another step back. Despite rushing for a few more yards than he did in 2011, his final tally of 707 was below average. The eye-opening stat for McFadden, though, were the meager 3.3 yards per carry he rushed for last season. Equally as questionable were his two rushing touchdowns – the second straight year that number has decreased for the running back.

One unit that was a bit up and down was the offensive line. Oakland’s line protected Palmer extremely well all season. The 27 sacks and 63 hits on the quarterback were among the lowest totals in the league. Where the line struggled was in the running game as they found it difficult to give McFadden and the other running backs daylight. Oakland tallied only 1,420 yards on the ground all year, finishing near the bottom of the NFL. The four rushing touchdowns the team accumulated were dead last in the league.

To be fair, though, part of the blame has to go to McFadden. The running back has wildly underachieved in the NFL and has only one 1,000-yard rushing season in his five years in the league. Further proving the point that the line wasn’t the sole issue in the running game is that the Raiders’ backups produced in limited action. Backups Marcel Reese, Mike Goodson, and Jeremy Stewart only had 119 carries between them, but averaged about 5.0 yards per carry – significantly better than McFadden.

Still, questions linger about the offensive line this season and unfortunately, the Raiders may find it difficult to get good production out of that unit.

Thus far, the results haven’t been pretty. Projected starting quarterback Matt Flynn was sacked five times in a recent half of a preseason game. 2011 second-round pick center Stefen Wisniewski and right tackle Khalif Barnes look to be two guaranteed starters at this point. Both are solid pros, but can’t do it all themselves. Surrounding them are several unknowns.

Mike Brisiel is expected to start at one of the guard spots but was nagged by injuries last year. Coach Dennis Allen didn’t think he was healthy recently and that could be an issue since the Raiders are pretty thin on quality depth. 2012 3rd-round selection Tony Bergstrom looks to be behind an undrafted free agent from last year, Lucas Nix out of Pitt, at guard. Nix could be decent, but rarely does a second-year undrafted free agent win a starting job and that really speaks to the depth issues in Oakland. Even worse is the situation at left tackle. Jared Veldheer was expected to start there, but with a partially torn triceps, he’ll miss a good chunk of the season. Forced into action there could be Alex Barron – he hasn’t played since 2010.

The Raiders’ offense is already a question mark with Palmer heading to Arizona and McFadden’s questionable play. The offensive line is yet another thing up in the air as the preseason rolls along.

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Anson Whaley
Anson Whaley is a freelance writer with more than 16 years of experience. He is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and a current member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and the U.S. Basketball Writers Association (USBWA). Mr. Whaley has also been a credentialed member of the media for various events. !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src=p+'://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js';fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, 'script', 'twitter-wjs');