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Raiders On Road To Improvement

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The Oakland Raiders are counting on defensive end Lamarr Houston (99) to ramp up their pass rush. Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images.
The Oakland Raiders are counting on defensive end Lamarr Houston (99) to ramp up their pass rush. Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images.

Expectations aren’t high for the Oakland Raiders after a 4-12 season, but improving a few crucial weaknesses could make them much more competitive in 2013.

The Raiders’ defense had many flaws in 2012, and Oakland had one of the weakest pass rushes in the league. The Silver and Black managed just 25 sacks a year ago, finishing ahead of only the Jacksonville Jaguars. It was a key factor in the Raiders’ below-average pass defense, which surrendered 28 touchdowns and an average of 240 yards per game. With Alex Smith joining the Chiefs, Oakland will face three veteran quarterbacks in the AFC West and will be in trouble without a competitive pass rush.

With nine new starters, Oakland has completely overhauled its defense. The Raiders have added Jason Hunter at defensive end to join returners Lamarr Houston and Andre Carter. Where the Raiders’ pass rush could really see improvement is at linebacker. Veteran Kevin Burnett will line up outside to give the Raiders a legitimate threat to get to the quarterback. If third-round draft pick Sio Moore can earn some snaps, he brings 16 sacks from his days as a hybrid linebacker at UConn as well.

The 2012 Raiders also failed to get many big plays from their defense and special teams. They were just one of five teams to fail to score a touchdown on defense and one of many to fail to score a touchdown on special teams. The additions of ball hawk Charles Woodson and speedster D.J. Hayden could result in some big plays from the defensive backs in 2013. Specialists Josh Cribbs and Jacoby Ford will keep opponents on their toes as the two have combined for 12 career touchdowns in the return game.

The Oakland Raiders also had an unusually dismal season on the ground. The Raiders averaged just under 89 rushing yards per game, ranking them 28th in the NFL. Oakland’s 1,420 rushing yards were the lowest total in the Darren McFadden era. McFadden’s health played a role in the Raiders’ struggles on the ground, but even in the 12 games he played in 2012 he averaged a career-low 3.3 yards per carry.

While running backs Marcel Reese and Mike Goodson performed well for Oakland, the lack of a Michael Bush or a Justin Vargas to pair with McFadden proved to be a problem. The Raiders added Rashad Jennings via free agency, but McFadden will likely carry the load as he enters his final year on his contract. The offensive line remains largely the same, with the biggest addition being second-round pick Menelik Watson.