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Raiders’ 2014 Analysis: Wanted — home, head coach

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ALAMEDA, Calif. — A 2014 campaign that began with a letter to season ticket holders proudly proclaiming the Oakland Raiders a championship contender and extolling the virtues of their roster, ended with a 3-13 record and the team still looking for a home, and maybe a coach, for 2015.

While it looks as if the Raiders really have no other option than to sign a one-year lease to remain at O.co Coliseum, it remains to be seen if there was enough progress have much cause for optimism next season.

Coach Dennis Allen, author of that preseason letter, didn’t last long. He departed with an 0-4 record for the year, 8-28 since hired to replace Hue Jackson in 2012.

Tony Sparano, the assistant head coach and offensive line coach, assumed command on Sept. 29. His first act was to bury a football at the practice facility, then ask players to take the shovel in a symbolic act to put the past behind them.

The problem was that the losing continued, with the Raiders more competitive but losing six more games before beating the Kansas City Chiefs on a Thursday night just when talk was beginning that they could make a run at 0-16.

The Raiders actually made a bit of a run at their home stadium, beating the Chiefs, 49ers and Buffalo Bills in succession — all teams that had winning records and hopes of making the playoffs. The wins over Kansas City and Buffalo essentially knocked those teams from the playoffs.

However, on the road, the Raiders were awful. They finished 0-8, losing their last three a combined score of 130-27, including a 52-0 loss to the St. Louis Rams that could be the blow from which Sparano cannot recover as owner Mark Davis examines his options.

The biggest offensive failing for the Raiders was the running game, considered vital, especially after rookie second-round pick Derek Carr beat out Matt Schaub in the preseason as the starting quarterback.

The Raiders finished 32nd in the NFL in rushing, averaging a miniscule 77.5 yards per game. The Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden tandem got nowhere, as the Raiders showed no signs of life until second-year back Latavius Murray emerged to run for 424 yards and average 5.2 yards per carry.

The Raiders had only four rushing touchdowns in 16 games.

Carr started all 16 games and highlights included a 21-to-12 touchdown pass-to-interception ratio and only 24 sacks allowed. Carr averaged only 5.5 yards per pass attempt and often threw short of the stakes on third down, in part because receivers failed to gain separation, and in part because of the emphasis on avoiding sacks.

The Raiders led the league in three-and-outs and even if Sparano remains, chances are offensive coordinator Greg Olson, quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo and wide receivers coach Ted Gilmore won’t be back.

Defensively, the Raiders were crippled by injuries — ending the season without either of their free agent starting cornerback signings, Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown. DJ Hayden wasn’t healthy until near midseason, and it would have been a complete disaster had Charles Woodson not had an excellent season at age 38 at free safety.

The Raiders had no consistent pass rush other than rookie strong side linebacker Khalil Mack, who affected quarterbacks with hits and pressures more than he sacked them (four times).

Special teams were good at coverage for much of the season but broke down late, and the Raiders did little in the way of returns themselves all season. Place kicking and punting was adequate but not game-altering either positively or negatively.

Even with the late rally and Sparano’s optimism about a young foundation for the future, the bottom line is the Raiders still are prone to getting blown out (12 losses of 20 or more points over the past three seasons). Their winning percentage of .188 was the fourth-worst in franchise history and the 13 losses was one more than Allen’s Raiders had in both 2012 and 2013.

Oakland has lost 10 or more games in 10 of the past 12 seasons and never been over .500 since winning a division and AFC championship in 2002.

–Carr had 348 completions — the second-most by a rookie in NFL history — but has chosen to focus on his overall development as a rookie quarterback. About the only thing he didn’t get out of his first season were wins.

“Obviously you want to win more,” Carr said. “That’s really all I care about. I met with the coaches, with (general manager) Reggie McKenzie and with (director of football administration) Tom Delaney and I progressively got better and that’s what we wanted to see.

“Now it’s all about building, building this team, taking the guys we’ve got, getting better and adding new pieces to it and going from there. Winning more is where my mindset is at.”

–Rookie linebacker Khalil Mack found the biggest adjustment to playing in the NFL was realizing he could devote as much time as he wanted to honing his craft without the restrictions of school.

“You have a lot of time to dedicate to this game, and the way you use it is the way you’ll see it reciprocated on Sundays,” Mack said. “The time you put in taking care of your body and studying the game is what you’re going to get out of it on Sunday, and that’s what I’ve learned.”

–Left tackle Donald Penn rebuilt his reputation after a difficult year in Tampa Bay. He was cut for the first time in his life and chose the Raiders over the Washington Redskins as a free agent because Washington wanted him to move to right tackle.

The won-loss record hurt, but Penn felt vindicated in a sense.

“It was a good bounce-back year from having an up-and-down year last year,” Penn said. “Last year was real up and down. I am going to take a couple of weeks off, but I always have my film with me and I’m going to go through stuff and find a way to get better.

“I have a lot more in me. I want to get this thing (with the Raiders) turned around. I’m tired of losing. I want to start winning and we have a great group here.”


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