It's been a long time since the Raiders have entered into Turkey Month (November) with their season not effectively over. Since 2002, to be exact. Entering the preseason, the Raiders had some people whispering that they may be one of this season's dark horse teams, but overall expectations were still relatively low. The generals consensus in Vegas lines had the Raiders Over/Under on wins sitting at six.
Originally, that looked to be generous. The Raiders came out of the gate flat and had everyone who took the over a little nervous. They got blown out in the opener and found themselves 1-3 after four games and on the heels of a brutal last second loss to the Arizona Cardinals.
My how quickly things turn. The Raiders have gone 4-1 since then and are currently sitting on their first three game winning streak since that 2002 Super Bowl season. So what has been the reasons for the turnaround you ask. Well, here are the top 5 reason why the Raiders are relevant again and over 500 in November.
Special Mention: Scheduling
Raiders opponents are a combined 29-36. Only two of their opponents are currently over 500 and that is the Titans and Chiefs. Two of the teams are 500, the Rams and the Seahawks.
The ease of schedule leading to their success is a bit of a mirage. After all, they are 3-1 against the 4 teams they have played that are 500 or better. Still, this schedule is far more favorable than the ones they have faced in recent years. More than scheduling, however, it is these next five reasons why the Raiders are over 500.
5. The Rookies
The Raiders had a tremendous draft. Every player they drafted made the squad and every rookie, who has been healthy, is contributing with the exception of RG Bruce Campbell, who is being brought along slowly.
Rolando McClain and LaMarr Houston have started every game and they have both brought toughness and run support to the defense. Third round pick, Jared Veldheer, is now the starting LT. He and Robert Gallery have been opening up huge holes for the NFL's second ranked rush defense. Fourth round pick, WR/KR Jacoby Ford, almost singlehandedly beat the Chiefs and he has added a spark to the Kickoff return game that hasn't been their in years.
Seventh round pick, DB Jeremy Ware, has been solid in special teams and as a CB when pressed into action after Nnamdi's Week Eight injury. Ware had a key pick and pass defensed, both in the endzone, in the Week Nine victory over the Chiefs. Seventh round pick, DB Stevie Brown, has made some big special teams tackles and is seeing increased playing time at FS as Micheal Huff has been asked to play some corner due to injury issues.
4. Richard Seymour
Seymour set the tone from the very start of training camp by not letting contract status become a distraction. He signed his franchise tender early and then was the first person in camp as he led the rookies off of the rookie, plus Richard Seymour, bus. He has become a vocal locker room leader. On the field, the guy is backing it up. Seymour can be downright unblockable. The Defensive Line is proving to be the strength of the defense and the line play all starts with Seymour.
Seymour is often double teamed, which helps free up the rest of the guys on the line. He is the kind of DT that you cannot judge by stats, but his stats are still pretty good. He currently has 4.5 sacks and 4 tackles for loss and this is despite missing about a game and a half due to a hamstring injury and playing his first game back at less than 100 percent.
The entire defensive line deserves a nod here. Tommy Kelly is enjoying a resurgence and he is playing as good as ever. Matt Shaughnessy is turning into a really good every down defensive end. Kamerion Wimbley has done a great job as DE in pass rushing situations and LaMarr Houston is having a solid rookie season.
3. Darren McFadden
There are not enough superlatives to describe McFadden. He is finally living up to his draft status and then some. He leads the league in yards after contact. This coming from a guy, prior to this year, was known as McFalldown. This is just the beginning of impressive stats for McFadden. McFadden is leading the NFL in yards per game at 108.1. He is third in Yards Per Carry (over 30 carries to qualify) at 5.4. Then throw in his 24 catches for 242 yards and you have one of the best offensive weapons in football. He has also turned into a capable pass blocker.
McFadden is not doing it on his own. Like any back finding success in the NFL, he is getting help from the big guys up front. The Offensive Line, while struggling in pass blocking, has been wearing teams out in the run game.
2. Overcoming Adversity
During the Raiders recent run of futility, they would seem to grasp at any excuse to quit. Bad calls by the refs, a bad quarter, a disinterested QB, injuries or anything else you could think of and this often led to blowout defeats. That is not the case this year. This team has fought through bad calls, penalties, deficits and heartbreaking losses. They will not use anything as an excuse and they come back ready to fight on the next play.
The most impressive quality here is the Raiders ability to fight through injuries. They have been one of the most injured teams all year and these injuries have been to key players. Darren McFadden, Richard Seymour, Nnamdi Asoumugha, Bruce Gradkowski, Louis Murphy, Robert Gallery, Michael Bush, Zach Miller, Chris Johnson, John Henderson and Chaz Schilens just to name some of the more consequential injuries.
1. Front Office and Coaching
As with anything related to the Raiders, it begins and ends with Al Davis. Too often, people are willing to throw the negative his way and not the positive. It doesn't work like that. Al Davis has learned from the recent struggles and he changed his offseason philosophy. He is building this team through the draft and refraining from signing over priced free agents.
Most importantly, Davis was willing to cut ties with JaMarcus Russell--despite the famous overhead "Lance" Kiffin press conference, when he proclaimed that Russell was a good football player and "Lance" should just get over it. He also retained continuity in keeping Tom Cable. He did, however, force Cable to let someone else call the plays.
This led to the addition of Hue Jackson. Jackson's play calling and energy have brought new life to this offense. Just over halfway through the season, this offense has passed or getting close to the numbers the Raiders offense put up in 2009.
Still, it is Tom Cable that sets the tone and identity of this team. He has made some questionable calls this year, but those calls spring from aggressiveness and that aggressiveness if rubbing off on his team. All those points about this team battling adversity begin with Tom Cable. Cable has this team playing hard, aware and intense and they are right in the thick of the playoff hunt.