How far can Kiffin lead the Raiders?

If you look back at the stats from two years ago, the offensive numbers weren't awful. Wholesale changes by former head coach Art Shell never seemed to click on offense, while the defense continued its ascent with Rob Ryan steadying the direction. Can Lane Kiffin put the offense back on the map in a season? These are some of the burning questions as the season draws near.

Lane Kiffin accepted the job as head coach of the Raiders and promised his team "would play fast and play happy."

It's a lot to ask of a team that was a step behind mentally and physically and decidedly unhappy in compiling a 2-14 record, the worst since Al Davis became involved with the franchise in 1963.

The NFL's worst record is a bit deceptive in terms of Oakland's potential for a turnaround because the majority of the blame falls on a pathetic offense that generated only 12 touchdowns in 16 games.

Defensively, the Raiders were ranked No. 3 in the NFL in terms of yardage allowed, and while that figure is misleading in the fact that many opponents shut down their offense late in games that were well in hand, Oakland does have speed, talent and a well-regarded coordinator in Rob Ryan on that side of the ball.

The Raiders replaced their entire offensive staff and dispatched Randy Moss to the New England Patriots, moves which already had the team playing happy.

Three keys for the season

1. Line coach Tom Cable must work miracles with the offensive line. Cable replaced the troika of head coach Art Shell and co-coaches Irv Eatman and Jackie Slater, whose expertise led to 72 sacks and the league's 29th rushing attack. Cable junked man-to-man blocking for zone blocking with an emphasis on cutting, reinstated Barry Sims at left tackle, moved Robert Gallery to left guard and put imports Cooper Carlisle and Cornell Green on the right side at guard and tackle. The early results have been encouraging in both run and pass blocking.

2. Kiffin must find a quarterback who can take care of the ball. The Raiders offense should be better, but isn't likely to go from pathetic to above average over night. Whether it's Daunte Culpepper or Josh McCown, Kiffin needs an on-field leader who will get rid of the ball quickly, avoid interceptions and fumbles and keep the Raiders defense in good field position. For the Raiders, a good possession could be a couple of first downs and a Shane Lechler punt inside the 20-yard line.

3. The Raiders defense must stop the run. Oakland's pass defense has excellent cover corners in Nnamdi Asomugha and Fabian Washington and superb pass-coverage linebackers in Kirk Morrison and Thomas Howard. None of that will matter if the run-heavy AFC West (LaDainian Tomlinson, Larry Johnson, Travis Henry) is able to gouge the Raiders for big yards on the ground. Oakland finished 25th against the run last season. Some of that was circumstance, as opponents did not fear the Raiders offense and simply ran the ball knowing Oakland couldn't score. The Raiders ranked 12th in yards given up per rushing attempt. The Raiders signed Terdell Sands, their best run-stopper at defensive tackle, to a four-year contract before he hit free agency.


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