The Raiders have reached the halfway point. They’re 3-5 heading into Sunday’s game against the New York Giants, which starts a series of four road games in five weeks.
While the Raiders have had mixed results, they’ve been more competitive than most people thought. Once considered among the NFL’s worst, the Raiders have exceeded expectations thanks to a spark from athletic quarterback Terrelle Pryor and a defense that has thrived (generally speaking) under coordinator Jason Tarver.
Head coach Dennis Allen’s seat is far cooler than it was as season’s start, although it could warm back up if his team tanks in the second half.
Pessimism reigns after a disastrous loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, but the Raiders have done some good things thus far.
They've been competitive against most every team, but the Raiders must play far better to win games in the second half. They must learn how to finish. They must learn how to pass effectively and protect the quarterback. They have to figure out how to play well on the road.
They should get healthier, with left tackle Jared Veldheer, safety Tyvon Branch and linebacker Miles Burris set to relatively return soon.
While the Raiders are focused on the future, here’s a look at back at the season’s first half:
Offensive MVP: QB Terrelle Pryor. The third-year pro took hold of the quarterback position in the preseason, and his athleticism has added a dimensional crucial to the Raiders success, especially with so many injuries along the offensive line. While the passing game ranks among the NFL’s worst, Pryor keeps the unit afloat, and his explosiveness allows the Raiders to compete with most everyone.
Honorable mention: C Stefen Wisniewski. Generally speaking, Wisniewski makes everyone around him better. The young center has been the glue that has helped an injury-riddled offensive line remain functional. His value was proven when a knee sprain held him out two games, when the line was at its worst. Wisniewski is excellent identifying defensive pressure, which takes some pre-snap burden off of Pryor.
Defensive MVP: FS Charles Woodson. The 37-year old defensive back was brought in to be a leader on and off the field. He’s filled that role well, with far more left in the tank than most believed. He has 45 tackles, a fumble recovery for a touchdown and an interception and has become the leader of a secondary that is the backbone of this defense.
Honorable mention: MLB Nick Roach. The Raiders have 10 new starters from over a year ago, yet play like a group with far greater continuity. Credit Roach for that. The middle linebacker is the defense’s on-field general, and has unified a unit that has molded into a force to be reckoned with. That’s especially true against the run, where Roach plays a major role.
Offensive play: Terrelle Pryor’s 93-yard touchdown on Oct. 27 was the long by a Raider, the longest ever by a quarterback, and a major reason why the Raiders scored an upset win over the Pittsburgh Steelers that gave them hope heading toward the season’s second half. The play exemplifies Pryor’s explosiveness, which is vital to the Raiders offense at this stage.
Defensive play: Weakside linebacker Kevin Burnett hit Chargers running back Danny Woodhead hard and knocked the ball loose. Woodson swooped in, picked it up and returned it 25 yards for a touchdown. The Raiders swarmed the football, executed well and provided a spark that spurned them on to victory.
Offensive disappointment: The Raiders altered their blocking scheme to fit Darren McFadden’s skill set. The veteran running back hasn’t been healthy enough to use it well. He’s already missed all or most of three games this season with a hamstring strain and could miss Sunday’s contest at the New York Giants. McFadden and the Raiders hoped for a better different result this season, but he’s once against struggled to stay healthy.
Defensive disappointment: How about that Eagles game? The unit’s rise to respectability dropped like a rock following a 49-20 loss where backup quarterback Nick Foles tied an NFL record with seven passing touchdowns. The defense was shredded by speed, lessening the confidence in this well-rounded unit.
Special-teams roundup: The Raiders have excelled in punt and kickoff coverage. They’ve blocked a field goal and both blocked and tipped a punt. They have struggled in other areas, including the return game. Sebastian Janikowski has had a rough start to his season, which stems from his chemistry with holder Marquette King.
Quote: “I don’t think anyone was close to catching him. He’s a dadgum gazelle out there. ” -- Raiders right guard Mike Brisiel on Terrelle Pryor’s 93-yard touchdown run.
Looking ahead: The Raiders are two games under .500 heading into a difficult road stretch. They play four of the next five games away from home, where they haven’t had a signature win since 2011. The Raiders must respond well after a crushing loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, or the losing could spiral out of control.