Well, at 3-6 heading into the bye week, they are closer to the former. The feeling before the season was that the Oakland Raiders were better on paper but had a lot of question marks at every position. The Raiders can feel good for two weeks now because they snapped a five-game losing skid with a 27-24 win over Carolina and have a bye week.
In August, silverandblack.com examined the Raiders at each position with question marks. Today, we revisit that topic with "questions then, answers now."
Quarterback: Questions then: If you go with Rich Gannon over Kerry Collins, which Gannon are you getting? The 2002 NFL MVP or the 2003 dear-in-the-headlights version? If you go with Collins over Gannon, which Collins do you get? The one that can be "lights out" or the one who looks like Shemp from the Three Stooges? Answers now: Gannon did not resemble the 2002 edition but played decently until sustaining a season-ending neck injury but Collins has not made the seamless transition most people thought. Oakland's problems are not limited to Collins but a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 5-to-12 won't cut it. The Raiders miss even a declining Gannon more than they thought.
Running back: Questions then: Granted, having a back that can carry the ball 25-30 times is not necessary -- but -- since first-year head coach Norv Turner likes to run the ball with one lead horse, I think you might want a guy for 15 carries every week. Between Tyrone Wheatley, Amos Zereoue, Justin Fargas and Troy Hambrick -- do any of those guys fit the bill? Wheatley, and maybe Hambrick, but is either convincing enough to say yes? Answers now: Hambrick is now an Arizona Cardinal. Fargas has been a nonfactor because of injuries. Zereoue filled in for Wheatley, who missed four games with a shoulder injury but proved why he is a change of pace runner. Wheatley's return gave the offense a lift against Carolina but the Raiders running game, which was supposed to be better gets a failing grade.
Wide receiver: Questions then: All due respect to Tim Brown but perhaps the Raiders were right to send him on his way. He is no better than the third best receiver on the team behind Jerry Rice and Jerry Porter. For the sake of discussion, Porter is clearly the best but can he stay healthy -- and consistent? He's only done both one time (in 2002) going into his fifth season. Answers now: The Raiders parted ways with Rice after trading him. Porter is the team's leading receiver but by expressing desire to void the last season of his contract, he has not shown the leadership the team had in mind. On the other hand, Ronald Curry and Doug Gabriel have shown promise.
Tight end: Questions then: Can Teyo Johnson and Doug Jolley improve as blockers? Is the best blocker of the bunch (Roland Williams) recovered from knee injuries that kept him shelved for most of 2003? Answers now: Johnson was chained to the inactive list until last week but could see more time with Courtney Anderson's season being potentially over. Williams, however, has been conspicuously absent while Jolley has had a decent year catching the ball.
Offensive line: Questions then: Most likely an entirely new group across the board plus two rookies -- tackle Robert Gallery and center Jake Grove. Yes, those guys have great potential and the Raiders had to fix what was broken but until they get it done in a game situation, there's no way of telling for sure. Answers now: Gallery has quietly had a solid rookie season while Grove is now in the starting lineup at guard after Frank Middleton and potentially Ron Stone had season-ending injuries.
Defensive line: Questions then: Which Warren Sapp are the Raiders getting? The one that was a premier defender from 1995-2000? Or the one whose performance declined from 2001-2003? Which Ted Washington are the Raiders getting? The difference make or the one that gets hurt every other year for the last five? Answers now: The pass rush is still invisible and Sapp and Washington have not been the difference makers the team hoped.
Linebacker: Questions then: Well, you still have Napoleon Harris. That's a good place to start but the unit looks weaker without Eric Barton (now a New York Jet). Answers now: Free agent acquisition Danny Clark has been the unit's bright spot. Harris, while good, is maybe a middle of the road player.
Secondary: Questions then: Will Charles Woodson get to camp? Can Phillip Buchanon make as many plays as he gives up? Can Ray Buchanan adequately replace Rod Woodson at free safety? Keep in mind, Woodson moved from corner to safety, like Buchanan is attempting to do late in his career. Can Buchanan enjoy a similar revival? Will this be the year Derrick Gibson loses his job? Answers now: Woodson did get to camp and has played well but is also slowed by a hip injury. Buchanon, the corner, is no better than last year. Buchanan, the safety, has had his moments but no Rod Woodson-like revival. Gibson landed on injured reserve. Somebody, please cover a tight end.
Special teams: Questions then: The kicking game and return game are solid but will the coverage units please make plays? The good news is that new special teams coach Joe Avezzano will not tolerate anything less. Answers now: No problems from Shane Lechler and Sebastian Janikowski and Avezzano's presence has not helped the return and coverage units appreciably.
Coaching: Questions then: The staff is about 80 percent new and the players are responding well. Then again, they responded well to Bill Callahan because he was not Jon Gruden -- and look what that got him two years later. Turner looks like he has surrounded himself with some quality coaches with new ideas. Then again, new coaches and schemes take time to acclimate. Answers now: No player-coach mutiny yet and that would count as progress but the new coaching staff has not eliminated old problems.
Upon further review: Statement then: You can make a case for 10 or 12 wins and it would be no surprise. But given the amount of "ifs" -- 7 or 8 are more likely. Answer now: The Raiders finally snapped their 13-game road losing streak but 7 or 8 wins looks like a stretch.