The "what ifs" that haunted the Raiders in 2013

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Well, we’re officially into the Raiders offseason. Raider Nation is deeply entrenched in speculating what general manager Reggie McKenzie will do personnel-wise with all this breathing room in the salary cap. The arguments have already begun about what the Raiders will do with the first round draft pick. Pick up a rookie quarterback or deal the pick?

Speculation: Raider Nation’s greatest skill.

While it’s all wildly entertaining, I feel like it’s worthwhile to take a look back on the 2013 season. The Raiders ended 2013 with the same record as they did in the 2012 season. Despite the records being the same, the 2013 season really did show an improved team even with the lack of depth of talent. That being said, one still can wonder what if the season had gone differently…

The 2013 preseason displayed a Raiders defense that was really bad. A defense that was not finishing plays featuring players who would get to the right place at the right time, only to pull up or second guess themselves rather than finishing tackles. Heading into the season, Raider Nation did not have a huge vote of confidence for the Raiders defense.

A lot of expectation awaited cornerback DJ Hayden in his highly anticipated start for the Raiders. As the team’s first round draft pick, fans everywhere waited to see if he was worth the pick. Most of sports media and Raider Nation had speculated that the Raiders would select Sharif Floyd. Hayden hadn’t even played his entire senior year due to a torn vena cava suffered during practice.

McKenzie really had to hustle for the Raiders during the draft and picked a lot of players who were unproven, to a degree.

The season began and Raider Nation was pleasantly surprised to see a defense that was much improved from the preseason. Fans could tell that defensive coordinator Jason Tarver had been putting in some serious time with the team. Where the offense was failing to produce, the defense would step in. They created opportunities for the offense by recovering fumbles and intercepting the ball. The first half of the season didn’t seem to be as dismal as Raider Nation had the defense to look forward to as the bright spot in the games. Fans got glimpses of what type of defense the Raiders could have in rookie players and undrafted free agents.

These players definitely stepped up to show that they were playing hard regardless of what people thought about them being second string talent.

The Nation was delighted to see rookie Sio Moore really step up and make a difference. He logged 38 solo tackles along with 4.5 sacks. Veteran players such as Lamarr Houston really shined as well. He logged 56 tackles and six sacks. The leaders on the team for interceptions were Tracy Porter and Mike Jenkins, who each logged two interceptions. This pales in comparison to leaders on other teams and is a definite indicator of the dropoff that the Raiders defense experienced this season. The defense seemed to be carrying the offense and then midseason hit and the defense, as much of the Raiders team, was plagued with injury.

As the season dragged on, the defense just appeared tired and worn out.

The defense that had been the bright spot, carrying the team along, faltered. The second half of the season didn’t resemble the first half at all. What could it have been if the defense had remained healthy and stayed on track with the trajectory that they were on? The statistics would definitely have been more comparable to teams across the league. And the Raiders, would the Raiders have won more games in the second half of the season? The Raiders have been plagued with a lack of consistency over the last few years. Ironically, one could say the Raiders are consistent at being inconsistent. The defense faltered pretty quickly as the line was hit with injury, leaving it to be a pieced together patchwork of players who don’t normally play together. This can definitely weaken a defensive line.

If the defense had managed to stay healthy this season, then I think the Raiders would have won some of those frustrating losses that they suffered. Where Raider Nation was just scratching their heads wondering why their team didn’t come out on top when the match up was easily in the Raiders’ favor.

As has been the tradition over the last decade, now is the time when Raider Nation comes together and muses at what could have been if any number of factors had gone differently. The offseason can be painful at time with all the would have, should have, could have, but at least Raider Nation can take their focus off of that and focus on the ridiculous amount of cap space opening up and start flexing their general manager muscles to speculate how to spend it.

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